Pray the hippos aren't hungry hungry.
28.02.2008 - 01.03.2008 34 °C
In typical fashion the 4WD met us half an hour after the agreed time. When it did show up an unknown passenger needed to do some shopping before we left. As it turned out we needed to change our US for some newer bills so it wasn't really a problem.
The drive south started on a road under construction but once we passed the workmen we cruised along. Around an hour later we stopped for lunch. According to the map in the L.P. we were almost halfway. I was starting to get false hopes but I was brought crashing back down to earth when we hit the dirt and saw the signs.
Overall the trip was still pretty quick thanks to the 4WD. Our destination was Hippo Camp and we arrived mid afternoon. We dropped our bags off and were almost immediately directed into a boat. Without wasting time we cast off. The driver traced the edges of the river pointing out all sorts of birds along the way. Whilst birds are not really my thing I was particularly taken by the bee eaters. They're a brightly coloured bird with long slender tails which wave along behind them as they fly. We were also shown several species of monkeys, many of which had captivatingly playful babies amongst them. Above all though the hippos stole the show. We got so close to some large pods of them that I was waiting for the boat to be torn apart from below. Thankfully the captain kept a careful eye on any would be aggressors. I had hoped that we might see some large mammals drinking from the river but I was told that I would need to wait for tomorrow.
That night the hippos grunted and carried on until the wee hours. It was so loud and close that Laura, the other tourist on the trip, said that she couldn't sleep. With or without sleep I was wide awake with excitement in the morning. I was going on a real safari. As Tanzanians are very opposed to the idea of getting up early we didn't really get away until the sun had fully surfaced.
We had a long wait at the park gates but I was kept occupied by the antelopes in the distance. When bureaucracy time was over we were underway. Within 100m we had stopped to observe some large groups of impala. I was still not ready to go when we pulled away but I was soon to find out they were a dime a dozen. I am not sure how I didn't see it but the next time we stopped we were less than 10m from a giraffe. When I eventually let my eyes wander from the beautiful yet gangley looking individual I realised there were even more of them. Each watching us as intently as we were watching them. They are such a unique animal that it's impossible not to marvel. Their camouflage is mesmerising and their figure is like nothing else. With the promise of more giraffes we were torn away. Thankfully our driver knew where to go because there were so many roads I would have got lost. As we navigated the well worn tracks we saw many birds which our driver identified and gave us a background on. I spotted a bovine animal in the distance and pointed it out, apparently it was a wildebeest. I was wondering why we weren't going to check it out when we pulled over, our guide had found something even better; a lioness. She was sitting under the shade of a tree to escape the already beating sun. Clearly unphased by our presence she just sat and panted. As we were about to leave she put on a show, eating the grass near her head. Not exactly the action-packed take down I had hoped for but we did see a lion catch its food. After watching the lion feed it was our turn, we drove about a k from the lion and to my surprise the driver got out. Nervously we followed his lead. We ate outside the vehicle but I was ever vigilant and never too far from the car. After all I could almost see where the lion was. After lunch we came to a sparsely treed area where a huge pack of up to 30 wild dogs were congregated. Whilst not exactly leaping around they were more active than the lion. Several of the dogs made tracks from one tree to another, greeted the dogs there and continued on to another group. It was almost emotional for me to see such a large group of this seriously endangered animal. They had been the top of my list of things to see in Tanzania and Di's faced beamed back at me to show she knew just how I felt.
Things were going well. The only other things we really wanted to see for the day were elephants and leopards. The driver took us to a forest where the leopards are almost guaranteed to be and on the way we spotted some fighting giraffes and a herd of elephants in the distance, although binoculars were required to make out their features. We were slightly disappointed when we couldn't see any leopards but you can't have it all. We were around 100km from camp and we had to start heading back. The tempo was increased and I figured that the safari was all but over. We watched the ever present antelopes and giraffes whizz by on our way back to the gate. When we were only a few kilometers from the park entrance we stopped to take some photos of a large vulture perched atop a dead tree. When we drove around to get a better angle (you don't have to stay on the roads in Selous) the driver spotted a mammal behind some bushes; another lion. Forgetting about the vulture we drove around to get a better glimpse of it, just as we had a clear view we saw some lion cubs scamper off through the grass in the distance. One lion had turned into four, it was a whole pride. There was even a dead wildebeest to prove that they were real. The lions were all within 10m of the car. One of them was a little distressed at our presence and approached the vehicle. The driver backed off and I thought he was concerned about our safety but he explained that if we gave them a little distance the cubs would return. Sure enough after spending 15 minutes in the company of wild lions the cubs sheepishly returned. Clearly in a playful mood the cubs clambered all over the grown adults and greeted each one in turn. In all we watched 4 lionesses and 6 cubs playing around under the shade of the tree. It was more than you could dream of, especially because there was not another car in sight. We were running out of time as the park was nearing closure and the sky was darkening. Just 500m from the park gate a lone elephant stood as if placed there just to top everything off.
We returned to Hippo Camp and watched the sun go down from the manicured lawns which fronted straight onto the mighty Rufiji river. We cooked student food for dinner and had a cooling shower. Bedtime was nice and early because the next morning was too.
We arose before the sun because we needed to be at the gate as the sun came up. We were going on a walking safari and we knew it was going to be hot. We parked the car at the park gates and our driver went to find the armed ranger; he was in the shower, even after we had stopped by yesterday to remind him what time he would be there.
There are no specific walking paths so it was up to the rangers discretion where we walked. For the first part he led us along the grass airstrip that ran alongside the road. There were many giraffes and Impala grazing its pastures. It was particularly interesting to see how differently they perceived our presence compared to when we were inside the vehicle. They keep a constant eye on our group and kept no less than a 50m gap between us. I had been skeptical about the walking safari but the start was good. However afterwards things got a little boring, the animals were very few and far away. I was kept interested by the footprints on the ground, stopping every now and then to ask "what made this". At least I didn't need to ask about the elephant's. The girls were starting to complain about the heat so we returned having spent at most 2 hours in the park.
We were driven back to camp to have breakfast and pack up. Everything was packed into the car and we drove back to Dar. We stayed in the same hotel yet again. Before bed we booked our tickets to Arusha for the following day.