Selous Game Reserve (Part Two)
Southern Circuit, Tanzania
After the bizarre walking safari, I devour a feast for breakfast back at camp then head off on our game drive inside Selous. I meet yet another guide, Kiver, and we are driven to the gate of Nyerere National Park. The park was only established last year, situated inside Selous Game Reserve, and hunting is mercifully prohibited in this section.
The first area we drive through consists of pale, dense, dry forest, allowing the animals to quickly hide as they hear us approach. Most of my photos are of trees, in front of which an animal stood only milliseconds before. I guess they don't come into contact with many people here. We venture down several of the side roads, which are rough and overgrown. There are times I don't know if the Land Cruiser will make it over or through particularly gnarly patches, and quite often we come away sporting large chunks of foliage. At first the fauna sightings are few and far between, but the further we proceed along these barely-formed tracks, the more action we encounter. Many of the roads lead down to small lakes formed by the Rufiji River, which are surrounded by vibrant green grass and few trees. Here is by far the best place for wildlife viewing.
Animals spotted this morning (in order):
Giraffes. Millions of them, forming large herds almost everywhere in the park. If you love giraffes, you must come to Nyerere.
Several crocodiles, sitting on the banks of the water, their jaws menacingly ajar. Although this posture is for thermoregulation, the sight of all those teeth up close is intimidating. We come within five metres of a six foot croc.
Impala. Also numbering in the millions.
Zebra. Fast on their feet, difficult to photograph.
Hippos, who seemed to dominate almost every lake. In one of these lakes we stare at a male hippo crashing through the water, chasing a female. He catches her, mounts her and everything settles down again.
Kudu. Very sneaky, hiding behind a tree and watching us while we watch him. He doesn't seem to mind the bird hitching a ride on his back.
Buffalo. I only catch the briefest glimpse of him in the distance before he bolts, never to be seen again.
Wildebeest. A solitary creature who doesn't seem to have any friends.
We eat lunch under a tree, listening to hippos grunt in the background. There are no rug or chairs, so we stand up and eat off the hood of the car. My small lunchbox contains four tiny samosas, fries in a thick batter, a couple of slices of tomato and cucumber, and a banana. It all tastes good but there's way too much deep-fried food. Calorie dense, but not overly satisfying.
The afternoon is all about looking for the big five. This time we drive through an area with slightly less vegetation, allowing us to see more of the landscape, but there doesn't seem to be as much wildlife around here. We search countless clumps of bushes and trees, hoping a lion has decided to take a mid-afternoon nap under one. All we see are more of the same animals, plus an eland and an Egyptian goose, but no cats.
Eventually we hit a mini-jackpot and find a small herd of elephants. As we edge closer, the large bull becomes either territorial or afraid (or both). He takes a few threatening steps towards us, stomps his feet a few times, and makes the iconic trumpeting sound. Every time we inch forward, the same actions are repeated. The family soon trudges away, the male frequently turning around to check we are not following.
After hours of searching it's time to give up, and we drive along the main road back towards the gate. Suddenly, Kiver excitedly shouts "Lion! Lion!" Two female lions are strolling along this wide, truck-laden road, not caring at all about the traffic. As we roll up, they lie down on the shoulder of the road and don't move again. All that time circling trees and they are in plain sight. Although they don't do anything while we observe them, I still manage to take 100 photos.
Further along the road we spot a hornbill, more baboons, a pretty blue bird that no one can identify for me, female kudu (one wearing a whole cloak of birds) and a giant pack of warthogs (I've never seen more than two together before). Over the entire day we don't spot any other tourists, or anyone at all on the side tracks, only trucks and cars plying the main road, travelling between the gates. The registry book confirms I had the park all to myself - I was the sole foreigner who had signed in today.
I am elated to see elephants and lions this afternoon, but overall I feel the safari wasn't as spectacular as the parks on the Northern Circuit in Tanzania. We spotted far fewer of the larger mammals, and sightings were scarce. This may have to do with tourism being so quiet here, which prevents guides from sending messages to each other when they spot a rarer animal.
Another letdown is my driver and guide. Athuman is definitely not as experienced as Richard (our driver for the Northern Circuit), stopping in awkward places for photos or taking off while I am still taking photos. He didn't seem to be aware of when he would scare the animals, and his driving was erratic at times. Kiver, on the other hand, didn't really spot any animals that weren't right in front of us. Athuman spent the entire day talking in Swahili to Kiver, which may have distracted him from what he was supposed to be doing. Kiver also treated me a little like an idiot, but this was possibly due to him not being familiar with Western culture or tourists. An example of Kiver's teachings: "This is a hippopotamus. We have a short name for it. We call it hippo."
Athuman and I depart at 7 a.m. for what he tells me is a seven-hour drive to Mikumi, where we will undertake an afternoon game drive. As a bonus we will travel through Nyerere National Park, moving east to west from one gate to the other. Unfortunately we will only be sticking to the main road but I am happy to have another chance of spotting wildlife.
There is some confusion at the first gate and Athuman is on the phone for an eternity. I pass the time by walking back and forth along the road, watching on as impala, warthogs and monkeys saunter up and down the adjacent airstrip. Eventually Athuman tells me the problem. The permit we bought yesterday to enter the park has always been a two-day permit, but the park staff are saying the rules have changed and now it's only valid for one day, meaning we have to pay again today. Athuman has no credit card and they do not accept cash. The manager of the tour company, working from Dar Es Salaam, has done everything on her end to sort out the issue but to no avail. In the end she asks if I can pay on my credit card for both me and the driver, and she will reimburse me at the end of the trip. I don't feel particularly comfortable doing this, but I am anxious to get moving so I agree. Just after I purchase the permits the power goes out, meaning a receipt can't be printed. They promise me I can pick it up at the exit gate.
Ninety minutes after arriving, we are finally on our way. As we speed through the park we spot giraffes, baboons, squirrels, impala, warthogs and wildebeest. We don't stop for any of them, except for a few giraffe standing in the middle of the road. Much of the scenery is thick forest, hindering our ability to see more animals. Occasionally there is a more exposed section, but there is no wildlife to be seen here.
Towards the western gate the forest changes. Different species of trees appear, the grass is taller, and the landscape becomes greener. This is accompanied by poorer roads, the rocky surface causing us to significantly reduce our speed. There are long sections without any animal sightings.Yesterday's game drive was definitely in the better area of the park.
It takes an hour and 45 minutes to reach the exit, where we have to wait almost half an hour for the permits and receipts to be printed. In total we have lost two hours from the day due to this hold up. I'm not liking my chances of visiting Mikumi National Park today.