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Trip Report Mikumi, Ruaha, Selour Trip June 2005

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Here is the first installment of our report for the trip to three areas in southern Tanzania during the second half of June, 2005

I offer these notes not only to address several topics included in questions on Fodor’s Africa and Middle East board but also as a means to recall our experience later.

Late in the Fall of 2004 we began to think about returning to Tanzania. Having been to northern parks we gave serious thought to the less traveled and more remote parks in southern Tanzania. I began to explore itineraries and prices of several companies via the Internet as to Mikumi and Ruaha National Parks and the Selous Game Reserve. Based on excellent commentary from more than one poster on Fodor’s and the fact that companies traveling to these parks use camps operated by Foxes of Africa we leaned towards that company. Soon I was exchanging emails with Jane Fox and reading the brochure she provided. Jane is located in the UK and is married to one of the Fox brothers. Besides using small aircraft to reach camps a private Safari Train offered by Foxes had appeal to us. But, I also understood arrangements were somewhat tenuous as the government was a bit fickle on this affair given commercial traffic on the same rails. In late January we mailed her a down payment for the three of us (wife Darla, 18 yr old Beth and myself) for a trip including one nite in Dar es Salaam, two nites at Foxes Safari Camp in Mikumi NP, five nites at Foxes Ruaha River Lodge in Ruaha NP and three at Rufiji River Camp in Selous Game Reserve. Instead of having to wire the payment (with some additional expense) we were able to send a personal check from our bank providing the amount was less than the $5,000 amount set by the government. Actually, I mailed a bit more than the minimum necessary so the final payment due some 30 days before departure would be less than the $5,000 maximum. Jane provided email responses to our questions and also forms for us to list particulars such as incoming flight, special dietary needs, etc. As we were experiencing problems with our internet provider, her responses were delayed and this lead to some tense times on my part. So, I called her U.K. office and was assured our down payment arrived and we were booked. All worked out quite well.

As in previous two visits to East Africa we used Travel Co. by Karen at Kwillar@suscom.net to arrange air travel. She provided various options. Again, we desired to travel from our the State College, Pa airport via NW/KLM to Detroit, Amsterdam and then on to Dar es Salaam. Unfortunately, she encountered a difficult consolidator and we missed the deadline for payment. So, to maintain our preferred schedule we flew from Amsterdam to Nairobi. There we recalled the shops and seating areas from last year. It was not readily clear where our departure gate was but friendly airport staff showed us. Then, on to DAR via Kenya Airways arriving much later in the evening than desired. Flights were uneventful although Beth slept very little. If we are fortunate to take future trips I would give serious thought to staying over at least one nite in Amsterdam as we did in 2002 to rest up before heading to East Africa.

We obtained Malarone anti-malaria medication from our local pharmacy. The recommended “take” was a daily tablet two days prior to the trip, during the trip and for 5 or so days afterwards. As in the past, we took it with meals and had no negative side effects.

We opted to obtain visas when we landed in Tanzania based on previous experience. In that way we did not have to risk mailing passports to the embassy or an issuing firm, pay for specialized mailings, nor get photographs. We downloaded and completed the forms ahead of time but as it turned out those were not needed.

We used “soft” luggage to facilitate storage in the small aircraft and to reduce weight. A 15 kg (33 pound) limit applied to all luggage including camera bags, purses, etc. With free laundry services at Foxes camps this really made it easy to stay under the max. We took less clothing than in previous trips. I took three changes and one heavier shirt and a wide brimmed hat. I think the girls took a bit more. I wore a photographer/angler vest for carrying the digital camera, film, batteries, extra lens, notebook, etc

We took the Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Stevenson and Fanshawe, an Olympus 740 digital camera (3 mp and a 10x zoom) and three memory cards two of the 256 and one of the 512 megabytes ( I returned with over 700 images all on the 512 card), a Minolta 35mm SLR with a 28-80mm zoom lens and a 200 mm telephoto lens and Beth’s 35mm Pentax ZX-M with a 75-300mm zoom lens. We had two flashlights (or torches), small note books, pens, an assortment of medication, an ample supply of antiseptic wipes, reading material, 4 sets of rechargeable AA batteries, 35 rolls of 400 asa Kodak and Fujicolor film (we used 21 rolls), and a battery charger with adaptors for East Africa. The flashlights came in extra handy when electricity was not available for walks between the tent/cabin(banda) and the dining facility and the occasional checks for wildlife immediately outside the tent.

We took cash (a lot of $1 bills, a few 5s, 10s and several 20s, three nice 50s for the visas and a couple 100s) as we knew lodges did not accept credit cards. We were not planning to do much shopping nor send post cards but I wanted to be prepared. I carried health cards and most of the cash in a travelers pouch worn under my shirt. After the “incident” with the airline tickets during the 2004 trip my wife carried those and passports. I am no longer entrusted with carrying airline tickets! As it turned out, US dollars worked fine and we got an exchange rate of 1:1,000 Tanzanian shillings or better. I am sure I could have done better converting a few large bills for local currency but the inconvenience was not worth it and the value we got for goods and services was very good regardless. On the otherhand, I should have converted to eruos for use at the Amsterdam airport! The rate at the McDonalds was terrible plus prices seemed high!

We landed at Dar es Salaam around 11:15 pm local time Saturday nite. We proceeded to the visa window. Unlike the 2004 trip where the official simply took the $50 cash per person, stamped a visa on each passport, and then waved us thru immigration, the process took a bit longer. We did not need the applications. Rather, officials filled out a small form and affixed one to each passport. No customs inspection. We exited the room to see smiling Lyidia holding a sign “Snyder”! After quick introductions she got us into a small bus and we were off to the Holiday Inn for the nite. Some traffic was obvious but nothing like we encountered a few days later. I recall seeing numerous buildings for light industry, retail and residential. After a short discussion between Lyidia and the hotel staff we settled into our rooms (Lyidia had arranged a separate room for Beth!). They were quiet, clean and comfy although smelling a bit musty. We slept well!

The next morning we began seeing the first wildlife of the trip during breakfast. House crows and house sparrows were observed outside the dining room. Also, we saw pied crows and herons flying around. I understand introduced house crows are out competing the native pied crows. Seeing small birds across the street from the hotel and desiring a picture of the hotel I ventured across the side street knowing we had plenty of time before departing. I am sure I caused some confusion as a taxi driver quickly approach me, hotel security appeared startled, and our bus driver arrived out of no where. I got one quick photo and then we boarded the bus. We drove to probably what is the old terminal at the DAR airport but now used by charter lines and Foxes. Lyidia met us there and introduced us to Tim Harrison, pilot for Fox Air Division of Foxes of Africa. We were supposed to fly first to Selous to drop off two other travelers but they did not arrive incountry so we headed directly to the airstrip at Mikumi. While we were waiting we got to know Tim a bit. Seems he had considerable time flying commercial jets around Europe and north Africa before moving to small prop-driven aircraft. Hails from one of the channel islands off the coast of England. His British accent and white puffy clouds enroute reminded me of the book on the Battle of Britian I finished reading just before the trip. I shared that recollection with him. He indicated his stepdad and several gents he knew from the Channel Islands served in the RAF during that battle and had spoken of loss of friends and probably sanity during that terrible time in the war. Tim was very appreciative of our heeding the 15 kg weight limit and using soft sided luggage. So, off we headed for what was the first small plane ride for Darla and Beth. Beth sat in front passenger seat while Darla and I enjoyed next row seats. Tim alerted us the trip would be noisy and it was. We flew at a maximum of 6,500 feet and the view was terrific. As we began to descend I could make out game trails and then the small grassy airstrip in Mikumi National Park. As we landed we saw a small herd of elephants along the edge of the strip. Foxes Safari Camp manager Tim Cozens was there to greet us. After a bit of information as to the elephant group we were off to camp. Enroute we passed close to park headquarters and noted an antelope rib cage under a tree not far from the complex. We later learned a leopard killed an impala and feasted in the tree. A park employee driving by noted two hyena sitting under the tree staring upwards. Then she saw the cat. So much for looking in the bush for elusive wildlife when they seemed comfy close to humans!

Right away Tim began pointing out wildlife particularly birds as he is an avid birder. Elephant, hippo, warthog, blacksided jackal, monitor lizard, impala, giraffe, eland, zebra, baboon, skink, brown snake-eagle, hooded and white-headed vulture, white-browed coucal, black-faced owl, hornbills, helmeted guineafowl, lilac breasted roller, brown headed parrot, hamerkop, and many more were seen on the way to camp. He also pointed out Mikumi elephants are noticeably smaller than what one might see in other parks. He felt it was due to genetics with many of the larger ones killed off years ago for the larger tusks. In any case, it was still thrilling to see elephants. It was obvious Tim has a passion for his job and has the right personality for dealing with a variety of people. Seems he and I both have some common background. He studied and worked in aquaculture while I have been managing freshwater fisheries in Pa for over 30 years.

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    Part II of June, 2005 tript to southern Tanzania.

    At camp, we checked into our tents. Foxes Safari Camp is built on and around a small hill. The lounge/dining room and new pool are located near the top with 8 tents on platforms on the sides facing open plains. Although spartan compared to some we have stayed in elsewhere, the tents were clean, comfy, had electricity (for part of the day) and running hot/coldwater. The view was great with acres and acres of grassy shrubland with a small lake in the far distance. In his easy going way Tim suggested we stay on the stony paths as we moved about the camp. And, he made particular reference to staying clear of one individual bull elephant which he referred to as a “thug”. From animal dung in the area, noticeable game trails, etc it was quite obvious we were in the bush. During time in camp we watched antelope, mostly impala, warthog, baboon, and various birds. Meals were great and the dining room had an intimate feeling with only a few other guests about. I was pleased to see Safari and Kilamanjaro beer in bottles rather than cans and the gals enjoyed bottled Sprite and Fanta. For lunch/dinner we began with soup and then served ourselves the main course and dessert from a buffet style table. Two local employees took us out for the late afternoon game drive and we added to the list of wildlife seen. After the evening meal at 8 pm we were escorted back to our tents by an employee in colorful Masai attire. A personal flashlight still came in handy. Each tent had a small lit kerosene lantern (referred to as a hurricane lamp) on the porch as a night light. Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs w/sausage, juice, fruit, pastry and hot tea/coffee.

    At some point Darla or Beth mentioned seeing safari ants crossing one of the paths. They chuckled in telling me in remembering my one experience with ants while I was sneaking up on a bird at the tented lodge at Masi Mara last year.

    Our second day was an all day drive with Tim being the guide/driver. He personally handles drives when things are functioning smoothly at camp and also to keep up on happenings in “his” park. We noted the tsetse flies were quite pesky particularly in shrubby areas where vegetation was more abundant. They bit even thru heavy socks. We really appreciated Tim’s birding expertise. On more than one occasion he stopped to comment on the vocalization of a particular bird barely noticeable above the normal sound of the vehicle’s motor. We added dozens of birds to our lists. Tim pointed out the small lake was a great place to observe game particularly as the dry season progresses ands water become more scarce. In fact, he said one could have a great time simply parking a short distance from the lake and having game come by. Shrubby thickets near the lake made for great ambush sites particularly for lions. But, some clients feel they are missing the experience so driving around is preferred even though the same game is seen either way. We noted fires in the distance and were told it was to regenerate new grass. In areas burned a few days ago we noted new shoots of tender green grass. In one area in particular we had fires burning on both sides of the road as we drove thru the smoke and swirling ashes. We saw great numbers of large grasshoppers (locusts) attempting to escape the fire being consumed by birds of various species including maribou stork. We had a picnic style lunch near another small lake, There we saw hippo, a couple of crocs and various birds including African jacana, egrets, hamerkop, hottentout teal, Egyptian geese and others. We saw a van with “Amsterdam” lettering on the side drive to the lake. One individual exited, took a quick photo or two, perhaps of the hippo and then left. But, he missed the array of bird life and the rather large croc that soon crawled onto the bank and was immediately surround by egrets. We eyed shady areas for sleeping lions and trees for leopard but did not see a cat. Tim, went to great length to find game for us and we traveled quite a few miles that day. He pointed out the other Fox camp, Vuma Hills Lodge in the distance. I could not help but detect a bit of humor in his commentary that “his” camp was the better. That evening we had another great meal. From the veranda we could see the grass fire off in the distance and even flames now and then. A bit of rain fell during the nite. Sometime during the wee hours of the morning I thought I could hear something moving either under the tent or nearby. When we arose I noted an elephant feeding less than 100 yards of the tent. Maybe it was the ‘thug”. It got even closer as we headed to breakfast. There we saw two others on the other side of the hill near the maintenance building.

    After breakfast, we settled our bar bill (soda was something like 60 cents per bottle and bottled beer (500 ml) was around $1.60) and loaded up for the drive to the airstrip. We traveled in the larger 4x4 vehicle as one British couple and the wife of an employee were catching the bus at the entrance to the park and an employee was meeting another vehicle for camp business. We came off the gravel road onto a paved two lane public highway traveled by buses, trucks and other vehicles. Tim indicated a lot of game is killed on the road due to excessive speeds. A passing shower soon ended otherwise Tim would have lowered the canvas sides to the vehicle. Coming into the formal area of the park via the main gate we saw numerous impala, giraffe and several elephants. The area was more grassland than bush and seemed to be the place to be early in the morning. Pilot Tim was there but with the larger plane of the Fox fleet. Again, we were the only passengers. We flew at a higher altitude (8,500 feet) due to mountains we needed to cross to get to Ruaha NP. The trip was uneventful with only a bit of turbulance. The green of the mountains was noticeably different than the brown of Mikumi and certainly the more arid countryside as we approached Ruaha. Of course areas along waterways particularly permanent ones were green and appealing. Looking ahead I noted what turned out to be Ruaha park headquarters and landing strip. I remembered seeing a larger bull elephant almost on the runway being surprised with the sudden appearance of the plane. He appeared indignant with our landing. We taxied off the strip and literally right up to the edge of the headquarters complex. After a bit of paperwork was completed by Tim we headed to Foxes Ruaha River Lodge. I sat next to guide Francis who answered my questions about the area. When we crossed a dry stream bed I noted signs on both sides alerting drivers to check water depth before attempting to cross. Francis indicated flows are quite high after heavy rains and in fact we would have been under water. Hard to image that much water in such an arid looking landscape. When we crested a small rise I saw the Ruaha River for the first time and indeed it looked like what I expected from reading the Fox brochure. And, then a small band of kudu lead by a magnificient bull crossed the road in front of us! Wow! This was one of the mammals that we came to see! Any time we could see the river or the flood plain enroute to the camp we saw game including hippo, elephant, giraffe, kudu, crocodile, waterbuck, hornbill, weavers, etc. We pulled into camp and met Jennifer, the manager. She was attired in t-shirt, shorts and shower sandals and had a motorbike to move about the camp area. Kinda gave me the impression of a frontier woman used to hard work. She later shared she has lived in the bush practically all her life south of Tanzania. Studied to be a hairdresser but somehow ended up a camp manager. Quite the lady to deal with a variety of guests and staff members.

    A bit about Ruaha River Lodge and our accommodations. We checked into river banda (hut made of local stone with a thatched roof) #15, the one closest to the dining area/lounge area and within a stone’s throw of the river. The porch (veranda) provided a convenient view across the river. Inside were three beds, a desk, shelving, a plug for charging batteries and numerous screened windows with shades. The bathroom was quite spacious with towel rack, sink, commode and a large shower area. We understood electricity was available from 6:30 pm ‘til 10:30 pm. Hot water was made possible via solar units. Each evening a hurricane lantern was placed on the porch. At 10:30 with “lights out” human activity ceased and only the sounds of bush life were heard. Our banda had small bushes on all sides created a setting for observing birds up close.

    The lodge has several bandas. The river bandas obviously are along the river. Others are located on and around the large rocky mounds further from the river and the rest are back from the river in groves of trees. Presently efforts are underway to redo the river bandas to accommodate larger groups/families and remove the hill ones given the theme of the lodge is the Ruaha River itself. There is another dining area and a separate lounge on top of the high rocky mound. We visited the other lounge to take advantage of the excellent view of the river valley. It was not being used as a lounge yet but the office attendant brought us cold drinks as we enjoyed the view. Numerous rock hyrax reside around the area and droppings were quite abundant. While there we saw one of the Fox aircraft make a pass up the river. Turns out it was piloted by Peter Fox who was giving a special ride to a father and young son from Denmark. As I understood things, the young lad has a short life expectancy and wanted to see Africa. So, he and dad were on safari.

    The dining room/lounge was the hub of activity for those of us staying in the river bandas. The structure was more like a thatched roof pavilion open on three sides with a lounge area on one half and tables on the other side. The back side had doorways for staff to enter the bar and buffet table. The long open side faced the river. It was simply fantastic to sit, watch and listen to game. Framed pictures/paintings, reference books, skulls, horns, seeds of local trees, etc added to the setting. The small bar was topped with a line of bottles of various drinks and provided a nice foreground for picture taking later. Between the pavilion and the river was a rectangular area raked clear for chairs and the nighly campfire. Behind the pavilion was another thatched roof building I understood was the kitchen and stores area.

    We appreciated the laundry service. Our stuff came back clean, ironed, folded, and with shirt buttons buttoned. I was delighted our room had an electrical outlet for charging batteries. But, it didn’t work all the time. It was not until later that I discovered there was a problem with my adaptor. It would seem it did not fit properly into the socket unless it was at an angle. But, the staff in the lounge permitted me to plug my charger directly into a unit and I was all set.

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    Part III of June 2005 trip.
    Our first meal was lunch. We could order drinks (beer, wine, spirits, soda, water). Usually we had soup followed by a couple of entres, side dishes, and salad from the serving table. Then, staff brought dessert and hot drinks. We thought the food was excellent. One meal I particularly liked was bar-be-que soup, bar-be-que pork chop, hamburger patties, baked potatoes, stuffed tomatoes, French fried pepper rings, and vegetables followed by a cinnamon torte and coffee/tea. Another one involved soup (pumpkin I recall), beef stroganoff, spaghetti carbonara, rice, a style of mashed potatoes cooked in kind of a bread crumb batter, and fruit flan cake. Breakfast was juice, fruit (usually two kinds), a tasty sweet roll (still warm from the oven!), eggs (as you liked them), bacon/ham/sausage, sometimes baked beans and tomatoes, toast and tea/coffee. Three or four jams and honey were available. All the while we were eating we could observe wildlife in, on and along the river. We were appreciative of the intimate atmosphere of the dinning room at meal time. In the evening there may have been four or five tables occupied and that is counting the one of the Fox family, staff and special guests (Jan a previous manager and her husband Roger who I understood did quite a bit of research on wild dogs). Manager Jennifer was always quite pleasant and accommodating. Beth enjoyed seeing the occasional bug frequenting the area and of course the small predators such as frogs, geckos, skinks, etc.

    A typical routine would be breakfast and then departure for a morning or all-day game drive with in-camp lunch between 1 and 2. Afternoon drives left camp at 4:30 pm and returned around 6:30. The all-day drive ended about 4:30. Guests could freshen up a bit, sit on the porch or venture over to the lounge to read, enjoy cold drinks and simply enjoy the setting. Later, staff would get a campfire going on the beach. Then dinner at 8pm, a bit late for us but we always managed.. Usually we finished eating around nine for plenty of time to chat, sit on the porch and get washed up before “lights out” at 10:30. Usually there was a nice breeze during the evening and early nite but not enough to muffle the night sounds. In our bathroom we had the occasional gecko which in our opinion were welcomed house guests as they consumed bugs and never got in the way. I don’t recall seeing many insects in the banda although Beth had me remove an extremely large silverfish-type critter off the shower curtain. Such provided for some humor as it was a bit elusive and I, the veteran biologist of some 30+ years, did not exactly shine in my moves. Blankets felt good. We usually arose at 6:30 for breakfast which began at 7 am. Some mornings the one hippo frequenting the river just upstream of our banda was still out grazing. As the sun rose across the river it was great to listen to the valley come to life in regards to daytime critters. Several species of small birds frequented the bushes near the porch and provided lots of opportunity for photos.

    Might as well comment on wildlife frequenting the camp. Remember there are no fences here. Based on animal droppings it was quite obvious game and large animals at that had easy access to the camp. Darla heard a lion roar one night and before starting on the morning game drive our guide Josephat walked me over to see its footprints in the dusty road well less than 100 yards from our banda. Upon returning from an afternoon drive we found a bull elephant near the lounge pavilion. Eventually, it fed along the river bank in front of our banda and the next one further upstream. We sat on our porch while it fed close to the neighboring banda. It used its trunk to pull down leafy material from the tree in front of that banta. As light faded it worked its way around the mound of leafy plants between the two bantas. When along side ours we sat inside and watched it just a couple of feet away. In fact, it was so close we could have reached thru the window and touched it save for the screening. With ease we could hear the vegetation being pulled from the ground or bush and the chewing!

    In returning from a morning drive we saw another elephant (Billy, with two tears or notches on the lower edge of the left ear flap) between our banda and the pavilion. When it was in the rear of the pavilion we moved into the dinning area and took numerous photos as it worked around the building. Jennifer indicated it has been a frequent visitor in the past. She said it would kind of charge the servers as they carried trays of food to the dining area. When an employee would drop a tray it would then eat select items. Also, it picked up the lids for trash bins and throw them onto vehicles. Seemed to pay no attention to us as we moved about. At more than one time it could have easily reached across the low stonewall across the front of the pavilion and taken utensils from the dinning room tables.

    One night I awoke to see an elephant feeding along side our banta. I could just make out the silloutte as it pulled limbs from the tree. That and the sound of the hippo in the river made for a special last nite at Ruaha.

    As I watched the river I noticed fish were taking insect life off the surface. Josephat told me the river had catfish, tiger fish and I think he said tilapia. Angling had been permitted up until just recently but is now prohibited. I asked about flows during the dry season. He indicated one could easily walk across the river in places with only deeper holes having water. Termites had a brownish cement-like covered path up one of the beams supporting the front porch of our banda. I broke the “tube” open to see termites moving along. I noticed trunk and lower limbs of small trees and shrubs along the road covered with a similar coating which provides protection for the termites as they feed and move about inside.

    Although we attempted to maintain a list of all the wildlife we saw on each game drive I will refrain from listing such in this report nor will I give an accounting of each drive. Vehicles were open four- wheel drive units with a canvas or otherwise covered roof with either two or three benches of seats. The guide and driver sat upfront, Darla and Beth sat in the first row of passenger seats and I occupied the rear one. The one day we shared a vehicle we had the 3 row unit w/Irena and Herman from the Netherlands in the back. Regardless we had plenty of room and I am not sure there was much difference being in the higher rear seat or lower. Sometimes the difference in height and being able to see maybe greater distances was off set when something was in a tree immediately adjacent to the road to the side of the vehicle. Then, I had to squirm a bit to see. A couple of times the 4 wheel drive feature came in handy particularly in areas of deep sand when crossing dry river beds but for the most part paths and roads were quite passable as the dry season was upon us.

    Our guide was Josephat and the driver was Epheso who is a cousin but who does not speak much English. Josephat is the same guide referenced with high regard by a contributory to Fodor’s chat room. He emailed me a picture asking me to carry it to Josephat. Josephat seemed delighted some one remembered him and was taken back when I gave him the picture of that traveler. He recalled him and even recollected the number of days he was at Ruaha and what he saw. On our first game drive (afternoon) we stayed basically in the river valley. It was quite obvious Josephat knew his stuff! And, when he learned of our interest in birds he would always show us the picture in his book a great help in also learning the name. Turned out we used the same book. He was always aware of our interest never moving on until we were ready. I soon came to appreciate the idea of having a guide and driver. In the northern parks the same person does both duties and is really handicapped to do well to both chores. Josephat was always scanning the countryside for game and the road for tracks while the driver tended to his job. And, the two of them functioned quite well for smooth riding. If they saw us using binocs they would stop. Or, knowing Beth enjoyed photographing sunsets, they made a special effort to get her in good spots. I think one key to having enjoyable drives is to share one’s interests and expectations with the guide. And arrange for signals so the driver will know when to move on. Saves a lot of grief. I also appreciated efforts to position the vehicle when possible for good views for us. On that first drive we saw bush hyrax, dwarf mongoose, dik dik, sand grouse, impala, ground squirrel, banded mongoose, helmeted guineafowl, hippo, Egyptian geese, yellow baboon, crocodile, waterbuck, elephant, superb starling, goshawk, go-away-bird, red-necked spur fowl, buff-brested bustard, white-headed buffalo-weaver, red-bellied buffalo-weaver, magpie shrike, hornbills, emerald-spotted dove, green wood-hoopoe, ringneck dove, black-shouldered kite, martial eagle, giraffe, giant kingfisher, pied kingfisher, kudo, fish eagle, zebra and many more. We tried to keep notes particularly to related to pictures being taken. I often took photographs of birds at greater distances than appropriate.

    Another great feature of having the same guide and driver for several drives was opportunity to interact with them. We exchanged info as to game in Ruaha and back in Pa as well as marriage, families, schooling and even religion. In asking what they did in their off time in camp we learned Josephat enjoyed reading and specifically the Bible. Exploring farther we learned he is Catholic and we had conversation about being Christian but as Methodists. While we didn’t dwell on theology much it was nice to know we worshipped the same God and his son Jesus. Josephat definitely was not forward but did ask us for study literature. Maybe such was due to my mentioning I taught Sunday school. We plan on mailing him a few items including a photo of him with us.

    As we looked back on the game drives we saw Josephat had a definite plan to show us as much of the park as possible and the diverse wildlife there. One has to understand that a major portion of Ruaha has no roads and thus is not available to tourists. And, even where roads exist, there is a lot of countryside that can not be observed or only from the higher elevations. We did have to travel some reaches several times simply to get to new areas but even then sightings changed from day to day and of course during the day. Definitely when we took the river drive we saw more game than in other areas of the park. Sometimes he made it clear we were going to place “X” where he felt viewing would be more productive but to get there we would be driving through areas less likely to have much game. Even then he was able to point out birds and interesting plant life including seed pods and seeds of the mahogany tree favored by wildlife such as hornbill, the baobab trees, palm trees, etc. That first morning out of camp we must have seen a dozen new bird species before we moved half a mile. We heard a major commotion in the bush only to see a martial eagle on the ground attempting to catch a mongoose. The rest of the mongoose band were attacking the eagle. Eventually it flew away w/o breakfast. It seemed we had the entire park to ourselves. During the first all-day drive (8 to 4:30 or so) I counted a total of 6 vehicles and that included those on the main road from camp to the airstrip/park hq. At least one was a government vehicle. Two might have been persons from another lodge. The other three were from our lodge. One was Peter Fox taking the father/son from Denmark to the airstrip for that special flight along the river. The other two were also Fox family or employees on a mission elsewhere.

    The drive along the Ruaha River downstream of the airstrip was a special one. Much of the time we traveled thru forested areas immediately adjacent to the river and on the flood plain. We were under forested canopy and the road or I should say lane meandered around patches of trees. We would see one group of wildlife and just as they disappeared from view something else came in sight. Most seemed used to vehicles. We had seen lion tracks earlier in the morning and Josephat indicated lions like shade and proximity to water during the day so he was extra vigilant. Sure enough we came upon a bunch of some 15 or so including small cubs. Further down the river we found a maned male.

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    Part IV of June 2005 Southern Tanzania Trip.
    Lunch was under a small thatched pavilion along the dry river bed of a tributary to the Ruaha. As we pulled up to the site which had a small block building as a toilet, we saw sign that a variety of wildlife frequented the area. Josephat indicated he now checks the pavilion and toilet area before settling in for lunch. Seems he had a group there and after lunch was over he discovered a male lion just over the bank adjacent to the site! The picnic lunch included bottled water/soda, beef/cheese sandwich, carrots, hard boiled egg, tomato, banana, cookie crackers and a pastry filled with cooked veggies.

    We opted to forgo a game walk. Jennifer checked with the park administration and walks were possible and ascari (armed guards) were available and she could accommodate our desires. However, upon further discussion we opted to forgo the walk. While we knew we would enjoy kicking around the countryside we felt the opportunity to see more game and to get much closer would be via vehicle. So, in all we had an afternoon game drive, one day of a morning and afternoon drive and then three full day drives. And, we have no regrets.

    During drives Josephat used circling vultures to locate a maned lion over part of a carcass within 50 yards of road. The start of that adventure began on the other side of the dry river bed near a public camp ground and small pond. Josephat had reason to believe lions were in the vicinity and thru the vegetation we spied at least 2 with a very small cub. We then proceeded downriver a distance, crossed, and returned upstream via another road. We stopped at the swinging bridge used to cross the river in times of high flows and ventured part way across. Sure enough there were the lions just where he thought they took refuge. Then we returned to the main road turning off when he spied vultures in the distance. The maned male seemed to have an injured hind leg but still was able to bring down what appeared to be a young giraffe.

    The next day along a different stretch of the same dry river he got us very close to two lionesses. Again, the presence of several vultures in nearby trees may have been the clue. The lions didn’t seem to mind the noise made when the vehicle drove over numerous palm tree branches on the ground. One lioness seemed agitated and got into a “pounce” position. As we began to drive away I noticed another lion in the river bed and as it turned out it was feeding on an adult cape buffalo probably killed the previous nite. Except for eating flesh and skin off the mouth area, and around tail they had worked on internal organs.

    The high boulder covered hill several miles from the lodge made for interesting observation. We drove around the base of it on more than one drive and I know Josephat was optimistic we would spot a leopard. We did see tracks the one day. He indicated the rocky nature of the hill make for great denning spots for the wild dogs and leopard. Also, hyrax a favorite food for leopard were in great abundance there. We did see kipspringer antelope on a large boulder at the hill and also near the small water hole. Just about every time we drove by that small pool we saw different game.

    On our last all day game drive Josephat indicated he wanted to take us further down the Ruaha River to look for sable antelope. He thought we might intercept them coming down from the arid higher elevations for a drink. I was really looking forward to traveling along the river given the variety and numbers of wildlife we saw previously. We stopped several times to glass over areas. During one such stop he spotted a solitary lioness along the bank some distance downstream. On we went seeing a variety of game. Then, we stopped and there were 2 or 3 female kudu . As they moved from one clump of shrubs to another we could see they had more stripes than the greater kudu we had seen. Then it was obvious these were the shier and less abundant lesser kudu. A bit further on we saw a bull. While the setting for getting photographs was not good we were delighted to see a new species. We then headed up into the hills to look for sable antelope. We drove higher and higher into some fairly bleak and very dry areas. We didn’t see much sign of game at all. Fresh grass was appearing in areas burned just recently but no sable. So, we headed back down to the river. Shortly after driving on the flood plain, Josephat pointed out a small herd of sable across the river. My wife was quick to see them but alas Beth and I thought he was pointing to our side of river and we could not image any animal of size let alone 3-5 standing in the cover we were viewing. Once they got me, again the sage hunter and biologist oriented, I saw the male and the two or three horned females! As we got nearer to camp, Josephat spotted several guineafowl in the top of a tall tree. He said that was rather unusual for that time of the afternoon so a predator must be in the vicinity. We all glassed the area over but saw nothing. We learned later a leopard crossed the road in front of the other vehicle coming into camp. Also, Herman and Irena mentioned the lioness we saw along the river began hunting and crossed the road right in front the their vehicle. But, what a great drive to see both lesser kudu and sable.

    We wondered why we had not seen young baobab trees during our travels as large and old ones were quite plentiful. Josephat indicted baobab growth (maybe 0.4 inch of circumference per year) is quite slow and they are pruned by various herbivores to the point that generation of new trees is almost impossible. Before hunting was prohibited game density was lower and maybe that resulted in a proliferation of baobab trees. Now game is very plentiful and over-browsing might be at play. He showed us a knee high treeling as we drove past the lodge office. Darla and I walked over there after the drive for closer inspection. In doing so we encounterd a lone red-necked spur fowl. I wanted a good frontal shot of one to match the one I had of the yellow-necked spur fowl. However, this particular bird was a bit fidgety. It ran behind a clump of bushes. So Darla circled around and the bird eventually gave me the pose I wanted.

    If one took time to really study the abundant and varied animal, bird, and reptile tracks along and across the dusty road one would be truly amazed at the richness of the area. Added to that would be the frequent piles of dung and the occasional feather. My family thinks I have a fascination for animal droppings! Then, add the vocalizations of both birds and animals. I recall coming into the banda after sitting on the porch for awhile and then commenting to the gals, “it sound like a jungle out there”! Yes indeed, whether it was the hippo, a far off elephant, a flock of white-headed buffalo-weavers, or a noisy hamerkop the camp area was certainly alive with the sounds of Ruaha.

    Then on our last morning after paying the very reasonable bar bill and slipping a nice tip into the camp box, it was time to leave Ruaha. We did not see roan antelope nor wild dogs (someone said a pack was in the immediate area though) but we had a great time there.

    On the subject of tipping, we chatted with both Tim at Mikumi and Jennifer at Ruaha as to their thoughts. Tim seemed to hit it best. He felt if a guide/driver provided what the client felt was outstanding service then by all means feel free to tip them. But, he also suggested if we were inclined to tip we consider the entire staff as a whole as workers “behind the scene” also contribute to what is hoped will be a great experience. I think he was also saying guides/drivers would also get a share of the camp tip. So, we opted to provide a camp tip and one to select guides/drivers.

    We were fortunate that Josephat and Epheso were assigned to drive us and pilot Tim to the airstrip. Again, we saw quite a mix of wildlife on the way. At the airstrip Tim and the guys siphoned extra fuel from the plane for use later and then we headed to Selous. We flew at a max of 9,500 feet given the higher hills we crossed. I noted how much greener those areas looked. Soon I saw major waterways in what I thought was Selous. Sure enough, as we descended I saw a cape buffalo in the grass and several elephants along a stream. Exiting the plane we climbed into another 4x4 vehicle for a short ride to Rufiji River Camp. On the way we had to stop to let several elephants cross the road. The well-used trail suggested the need for an “elephant crossing” sign!

    In just a few minutes we pulled into the reception area where we met Luigi and assistant manager Kardi. We checked into our tents with Beth in river banda #1 closest to the pool and dining/lounge area while Darla and I had #2 about 25 feet away. Rufiji River Camp, not of the Fox family establishments is on a high bank overlooking the river. The open lounge/dining area offer a great view of the river and various inhabitants including numerous hippos. On both sides of the lounge/dining area on permanent stone/concrete pads are tents opening towards the river. Ours had two large and comfy beds under mosquito netting, a rack for luggage and a desk/chair with two chairs and a small log table on the porch. Electricity was available 24-7. The bathroom was quite larger and well lit. The room did not have an electrical outlet but ones were available for charging batteries in the lounge area. The area was inhabited by numerous vervet monekys, skinks, geckos, various birds and ,as we learned later, several species of snakes. One employee told me a cobra and black mamba had been killed there in the past couple of weeks. I have no doubt such species live in the area. An attractive pool, deck furniture, changing room and toilets were next to the dining area. It was rather comical to see three monkeys sharing the same chaise lounge. Sometimes camp staff would use a sling shot to encourage the monkeys to vacate the dining area. I am not sure if hot water was available. We never had any let alone water in the what I thought was the hot water spigot. Nor did we think to ask and we were there for three nites. We just roughed it. It was not what you would call cold water but it wasn’t warm either. Since air temperatures were noticeable warmer here than at the other two camps, it was a nice way to cool off. Blankets were not needed.

    Meals were varied, filling and certainly interesting. We all agreed the tomato soup with croutons was undoubtedly the best we ever tasted. Besides the soup, for our first lunch we had chicken curry, rice, a veggie dish, and a thin bread of a potatoe pancake. Compared to other camps, we were not charged for water at meals. Soda and beer were about the same prices as at Foxes. Laundry was an extra charge but quite reasonable and same day service. Again, clothing was folded neatly with buttons buttoned. Tents and other facilities were clean. Each morning staff would rake the sandy/gravely paths to remove debris and monkey dung. If one got up early enough one could study foot prints and other sign to see what wildlife used the path during nite.

    Much like at the other lodges, after a drive/ boat ride or walk one could freshened up and then hit the comfy chairs in the lounge area to enjoy the scenery including great sunsets, visit, read, enjoy a cold drink and simply relax. A nightly camp fire was nearby for those who enjoy that aspect of being outdoors. Each group had its own table but there was also opportunity to converse with fellow travelers. Herman and Irena showed up a day or so after us as did another couple we met at Ruaha. Unlike the procedure at Foxes, we maintained our drink tab via the honor system on a sheet at the bar. The menu was varied and all was served by staff. We had prawn (shrimp) one meal and the gals passed on it. So much for paying attention when the manager asked if we had any dislikes or special dietary special needs when we first arrived.

    At our first lunch we met Pat, Meg, Shane and Kate from Binghamton, NY. Enjoyed sharing experiences with them. Once Shane and Kate were finished with lunch they headed back to the pool. In the process they were the first to see a striped bark snake chasing a skink. The snake was practically throwing itself at the skink. Both climbed a small shrub near the dining room. The snake held still long enough for photos and then disappeared in the shrub. In checking out the identification of this snake in a camp reference book we noted it have been signed and donated by Jeff Corwin, host of a popular wildlife show on the Animal Channel.

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    Part V
    We were on for a boat ride from 3:30 to 6:30 that afternoon. We headed out in an 18 foot flatbottom or jon boat propelled by a sizeable outboard motor. A canopy provided shade and we three were quite comfortable. I felt at home on the river as we use the same type of watercraft in sampling fish populations in Pa rivers. The guide/operator soon had us close to hippos and numerous other inhabitants along the river. We saw water stilts, crocs, turtles, Bateleur eagles, pied kingfisher, white-fronted bee eaters, golden palm weavers, monitor lizards, malachite kingfisher, white-headed lapwing, blacksmith plover, Egyptian geese, cape buffalo, little bee eater, waterbuck, water thick-knee, namaqua dove, yellow-billed stork, cattle egret, grey-headed kingfisher, grey heron, broad-billed roller, a kite, fish eagle, hadada ibis, African open billed stork, goliath heron, hamerkop, wire-tailed swallow, African spoonbill, bushbuck and African skimmer. I was surprised how close the birds would let us get. I know I was less than 4 feet from the one little kingfisher. We saw dozens of the white-fronted bee-eaters near their nests in steep river bank areas. We explored side channels and wide bays of the river. Hamis, our guide, seemed to know his stuff and certainly attempted to accommodate our picture taking. Even then, the gentle rocking motion of the boat particularly in river current often resulted in blurry photos.

    With such a number of hippos in the area, we could hear them during the night as well as the monkeys. And, bush babies added their sounds to the night. On the boat ride we saw hippo trails leaving the river to areas adjacent to camp. Thus, we knew they might wander in at any time. Also, the presence of elephant dung suggested the likelihood of other visitors. (again, the scatologist in me).

    Our first game drive in Selous was an all-day one from 8 am to 5:30 pm and with guide/driver Sigmun. It was just the three of us so we had plenty of room in the vehicle. I tried to remind myself this was different country than Ruaha and things might be different. In any case, sightings were few and far between for quite a while and I was beginning to feel restless (and doubtful of our guide) as we cruised thru areas with little game not even birds. Plus, a couple other vehicles passed us on the road as if they knew where they were going. But, it soon became apparent Sigmun knew his stuff at least based on identifying birds some of which we already knew from the Ruaha experience. We got charged by a lone bull cape buffalo and it happened so fast in such thick brush I didn’t realize what happened until the fellow fled. He didn’t hit the vehicle but it was close. Beth spied a slender green snake climbing a short acacia shrub. Sigmun stopped and backed up. We could not locate the snake again and Sigmun even got out and walked around the tree. Our list of sightings began to grow and we added several new birds particularly when we got near water. Our guide also briefed us on unique life history facts of various critters and relationship between certain ones such as the ants and acacia trees. We saw elephant, cape buffalo, giraffe, wildebeast, zebra, eland, greater kudu, hippos, crocs, impala, emerald spotted wood dove, white browed sparrow weaver, mongoose, cattle egret, bee-eaters, warthog, gunea fowl, ground squirrel, grey hornbill, southern ground hornbill, white faced whistling ducks, pelicans, African hoopoe, baboons, sacred ibis, spotted lapwing, eastern paradise whydah, water buck, various vultures, redbilled hornbill, black tipped squirrel, barbet, and several other birds. In some areas grass and other vegetation were rather high so we knew Sigmun would be disadvantaged seeing game as he had to drive as well. Maybe that is why I spied the two spotted hyena in the shade of a clump of trees. One just happened to raise up while I was looking there. Only ones we saw on the entire trip. Some species such as eland and kudu were skiddish as expected as we approached but I though many of the mammals were nervous in our presence. Maybe such has to do with the rather limited exposure to vehicles. I don’t think the game density was as great as in Ruaha but several factors may have been at play here. Selous is huge and water is relatively more plentiful. Thus, animals have more choices. And, in some areas the vegetation precluded seeing critters. Based on tracks and droppings it seemed animals do move around a bit. I had to remind myself not to compare the two areas as they are so different. In any case, we enjoyed the drive. We saw more bones in Selous than in any other area. Meant to ask Sigmun about that but didn’t. Had our picnic lunch in an open grassy area under a large tree. Just before we departed we noticed honey bees had a hive inside the tree and were accessing it via a knot hole on the side away from the vehicle. On the drive back to the lodge we observed quite a number of vultures of two or three species and maribou stock congregating in a few trees. Sigmun really checked the area over for cats but to no avail.

    That evening we talked to Luigi as to plans for the following day. We decided on a morning boat ride and an afternoon game drive. At breakfast we had passion fruit juice, banana bread, eggs (I had an omlette) bacon and toast plus tea/coffee. Then the three of us headed out on the river with two guides Pauli and Sirus. Both seemed to know quite a bit about the river and wildlife there. First we motored downstream a bit to see a number of hippos in relatively quiet water. One of the guys when asked said hippo tastes like pork. We saw many, many species of birds and got quite close to many. Both spoke about life history of several birds and mammals we saw. We continued to add to our bird list and also saw numerous elephant on the far side of the river. I vividly recall one large bull at waters edge with numerous white egrets around him. To me that symbolized the African scene. After a short stop at a small island for a soda break and examination of palm tree fruits we headed over to a rookery where several species of wading birds had nests. Some were still feeding young. We ventured farther up the river than we did on the first ride. On the way back to camp we spied a snake swimming across the river but before the guides got a look at it the snake dived and was gone. I recall the ride was something like 4 hours long and in my opinion was well worth the time.

    In the afternoon we took a game drive again with Sigmun. We traveled some of the very turf we did on the all day drive. Right outside the camp at a small wet area we came across a nice size bull elephant who allowed us to stay near him for awhile. Impala, numerous cape buffalo, giraffe, water buck, ground squirrel, Hildebrand starling, lilac-breasted roller, ring neck dove, a sparrow weaver, hornbills, hamerkop, white-browed caucal, white-headed vulture, hooded vulture, white-backed vulture, zebra, wildebeast, southern ground hornbill and red- necked spur fowl were some of the wildlife we saw. I developed a real appreciation of acacia tree thorns when I was attempting to photograph the small yellow blossoms for Darla!

    The evening meal that night was a bit extra. When I wandered over to the lounge to sit with Darla and Beth they said to avoid my usual chair as a green snake was in it. The light was a bit dim there but I thought I could see a slender snake. According to them, Luigi said it might be a green mamba! I was a bit puzzled as to why he would tolerate a poisonous snake being in the lounge. I asked Luigi, who was seated at the bar, if I could take a flash photo but at a distance. He nodded. It was difficult to see the snake thru the camera view. As it turned out I got a great shot of the lower half of the chair but not the area occupied by the snake. I think Luigi was having a bit of sport with the guests and the critter was one of the harmless green snakes of the area. Who knows? The last nite in camp was a noisy one for some reason. Besides the hippos, the monkeys were very active and bush babies added to the commotion. Our tent’s gecko was busy catching bugs.
    After breakfast we had a bit of time to sit around camp until departure time for the airstrip. There Tim loaded us into the plane for the hour ride to DAR. There, Lyidia met us. Unfortunately, something got lost in the process of planning our last hours in Tanzania. It turned out we had over ten hours to wait before the flight to Amsterdam. Rather than head to a day room we opted to check out the Slipway Shopping and Recreation area on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. It had eateries, access to beach areas, artists, and even local venders selling art work and other items. One could even go on a boat ride on a dowl. We had seven plus hours before she would pick us up for the trip to the airport. The boutiques were westernized with some clothing of brands (Gap) we recognized. The sporting goods store was quite interesting as I could compare prices on items also found in our local stores. We ate both lunch and the evening meal at the outdoor portion of an eatery in the center of the place. A nice size steak sandwich with fries and slaw was $6. A bottle of soda was around 50 cents. For supper half of a roast chicken in orange/lime sauce on rice with veggies was $6. We checked out the teeny, tiny shops of local venders where the gals bought one or two items. There bartering was the norm and the salespeople were very pleasant and more like the Tanzanians I have come to know and enjoy more so than those in the westernized shops. Along the waterfront I observed a local fisherman mending his nets and watched others use a long seine to catch fish for the market. They seemed surprised that I an American 1) actually worked and 2) was involved in fishing. We had an interesting conversation on the kinds of fish in America. One fellow let me photo his catch. First, I asked him if it would be okay to take his picture and then if I could tip him. He didn’t understand English but a fellow repairing a adjacent sailboat translated for us. After dinner as we watched the tide come in we were privledged to see a beautiful sunset with boats moored in the bay and others sailing across. Eventually, Lyidia arrived and took us to DAR international airport. There, we processed thru passport control etc with no problems. However, the general waiting area was stifling hot. We were glad to finally move into the boarding area as that was air-conditioned. Then, we began the first of the three flights to finally get back to State College after midnite the following day.
    For the serious birder, one needs to visit earlier in the year particularly during the nesting season when many of the migrating birds from Eurasia are there. By June most had left the region. We are hardly what one would call avid birders but we did enjoy the avian aspect of the African scene. At the time of this writing we are still viewing pictures and comparing notes but it would seem we saw a minimum of 140 species of birds compared to about 75 in the 2004 trip to northern Tanzania. For sure having guides interested in birds accounted for part of the difference. A few other species include blue-naped mousebird, red-faced crombec, woody-necked stork, spotted thick-knee, yellow-collared lovebird, irania, fork-tailed drongo, knob-billed duck, and African darter. When we saw the spotted thick-knee, usually a nocturnal bird, and talked about it with Josephat, Darla and I looked at each other in realization it was a species we briefly saw on a nite drive outside the Masai Mara in 2004 but could not understand the name, dickle bird, according to the guide. Turns out it is also called the Dikkop!
    There is no question about it. We had a great time! Any regrets—none other than wish it could have been longer. Would we do the three areas again? Maybe, but would consider going a few weeks later for better viewing particularly in Mikumi as game will be even more concentrated. One needs to keep in mind the focus in Ruaha is the river being a major drawing card for wildlife during the dry season. While Selous has lots of game, it is the actual river and the closely associated aquatic habitat that is the draw. Thus, the boat “safari” makes a big difference. We three agreed that Ruaha was our favorite. And, it would be a toss-up between there and the Serengeti given the sheer numbers of animals to be seen.
    And, besides perhaps staying over in Amsterdam or London on the front end of the trip to catch up on rest, we would consider departing from another international airport simply to avoid Detroit and the commuter flight back to State College. I think I would prefer a drive from say Philly or even Washington DC compared to the 6 hour or so layover in Detroit before the flight to Pa.
    I trust I have not bored readers to death. Obviously, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and in preparing these notes relived the trip.

    Dick, Darla and Beth Snyder July 12, 2005

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    Oh Dick, what a wonderful trip report. I loved all the detail on the camps and all the animals and birds you saw.

    This brought back such happy memories of our holiday in Mikumi & Ruaha a couple of years ago. I'm pleased that both Tim at Mikumi and Jennifer at Ruaha are still there - they looked after us very well while we were there and really made us feel like we were staying with friends.

    The only trouble is that your report has confirmed for me that I MUST return there soon - especially the Ruaha which ,in my view, some of the most beautiful landscape in Africa.

    Thanks for taking the time to post this - will there be photos?

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    RuthieC, Jules, Tuskerdave,
    Thanks for the nice words and encouragement. Looking forward to reading Sandi's report as well. Yes, there will be photos posted in a few days. Trying to sort thru them is interesting to say the least as everynow and then I solicit commentary from wife and/or daughter as to their recollection, etc.
    Dick

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    Thanks for the detailed trip report. We won't make it to Selous this trip, but southern Tanzania is on our list for next time.

    I gather that they haven't been able to get the regulatory approval for the train to run? That's too bad. Sounds like a great idea if they can get it operating.

    What were the day/night temps in these parks? Do you feel that there's enough of a contrast between Ruaha and Selous that one should definitely visit both?

    Would love to see some of your photos too!

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    Thanks for this report! Like Patty, the Southern circuit is on my shortlist. And it sounds like the Foxes run a great operation. Was the single supplement for your daughter significant, if you recall?

    I'm going to re-read this more carefully when I get home from work tonight. Thanks again, and I'm looking forward to the photos.

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    hi dick, i think i mentioned. i was supposed to take that train back in sept. wasn't working for a long time back then. but, it would have taken 7 or 8 hrs to get to mikumi. it goes the long way. it was fine taking the 3hr drive by car. had a nice driver, saw some nice mzuri-sana's too ;) i would do the drive again.
    cheers, david

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    Leely, the single supplement was around $300 or a bit less. Main reason for it was stay at Selous as lodge there didn't or wouldn't put three to a tent. We were to have three person to tent at Mikumi but manager gave Beth her own as such as available. And, at Ruaha River lodge three to banda was quite okay.
    Patty, wish I had paid more attention to air temperature at three lodges/camps. Most of the time I wore short sleeve shirt or long sleeve one with sleeves rolled up. The one morning at Mikumi when we drove from camp to airstrip on the regular highway it was beginning to get a bit chilly particularly when the rain showers hit. Most of time I was quite comfy with just shirt and photo vest. Gals and guides/drivers often began day with light jacket or sweat shirt. Soon shed those. Nights at Mikumi and Ruaha cooled off to point that blanket felt good. Needed only sheet at Selous. Even though under canvas or other type of top with vehicle strongly recommend sunscreen. Definitely while on boat ride.
    As to Ruaha/Selous, it would be Ruaha with no question. Although I have worked on and along waterways for some 30 years as a fisheries biologist and certainly enjoyed the boat trips at Selous I think the overall experience at Ruaha was such I would favor a return there sooner than Selous. And, I probably would go a few weeks later simply as the river and select other watering sites would be even better for watches. Give me choice even with same week in June next year and I think it still would be combination of Mikumi and Ruaha with majority of time at Ruaha. Still working on pictures.
    Dick

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    Great trip report! :) I look forward to seeing the photos when I return from my trip, unfortunately Chicago not Africa -- though I've thoroughly enjoyed this trip to southern Tanzania. ;)

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    rsnyder -

    Great report, even if you did beat me by a few hours. I still have more to post, and will get to as soon as. But I did beat you on the photos - hey, whatever comes first, comes first!

    Loved the description of the camps, the food (I only remembered the tomatoes), the animal encounters and how everyone enjoyed their experiences.

    Thanks so much.

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    Dick thanks for such a detailed report. Lots of great information. We have been in touch with Jane at Foxes re a trip in Sept 06 so your info was invaluable. I will be looking forward to your photos. I know this is a tough question but how would you compare the north to the south? I know the obvious is less people which is great but what about the "quality" of the game viewing and the general overall experience of the trip. You definately seem to have Ruaha as your favorite. What about the differences between Mikumi & Selous? We are hoping to have about 12 nights to spend in the parks & are still tossing around how to split them up. Thanks again. J

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    Wow, this is a fantastic and wonderfully detailed report. We will be doing the northern circuit this year and hope to do the southern next year or the year after, so really appreciated reading your observations.

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    Jules, while taking a break this afternoon I spent time (maybe too much) pondering your question. Forgive me if my response goes a bit overboard. Maybe the excitement of being in Africa still has be "wound up".
    Comparing northern and southern Tanzania has to be viewed with types of situation experienced there. When in the north (mid-June both years) we stayed for the most part in larger lodges (Sopa chain) while in the south this year we stayed in smaller, more intimate camps. The camp at Mikumi had I believe 8 units. I forget the actual number of bandas at the Ruaha River lodge but scattering them along the river and back into the bush made for more intimacy. While we could see the one some 50 feet or more away we really were not aware of guests there. On the other hand, tents at Rifiji Tented Camp in Selous were too close (less than 20 feet apart) and I sometimes could hear even snoring the one nite. That still did not dampen my experience there. The northern lodges were more like hotels/motels and while we thoroughly enjoyed stays there the number of guests was quite a bit higher. Certainly noticed at evening meal with dozens and dozens of guests. The buffets were excellent however. During our stay this June we may have seen 6 or 7 tables of guests during a “peak” nite with three or so of single couples. For what staff mentioned July would see an big increase in guests at Ruaha. I would speculate that had we stayed at smaller camps in the north we would have experienced much as we did in the south in regards to intimacy.

    Please consider our means of travel in comparing north and south. In the south we flew between camps and to/fro DAR. In the north we did all travel by road. And, speaking for the family, I think we enjoyed the road trips --bumpy conditions and all. Once in the parks, I would say road conditions were about the same.

    For sure one will encounter more vehicles in the northern areas we visited than in southern ones. But, there were times in the north we went without seeing vehicles for quite a bit of the time and such included while we were observing kills and high-profile game including cheetah and leopard. Bear in mind our trips have all been in the second half of June. Ruaha and Selous are huge!

    There is no question (in our opinion) as to game being more abundant and more varied in the north particularly in the Serengeti and the Crater. In June 2002 we saw the wildebeast migration in full swing. Two years later practically to the same week we saw some groups of resident wildebeast but missed the really, really big numbers. Yet, we saw more elephant and giraffe and about the same number of lions in 2004. Had the same guide (talk about coincidence), basically covered same areas and stayed at Sopas again. In 2002 we took in Lake Manyara NP and switched that for Tarangire in 2004. While Tarangire was not at its best (maybe too early) for better game viewing we loved it due to numbers of elephant and the baobab trees and birds. Speaking of birds, we seemed to do better in the south with practically double the number of species than during a longer safari in the north (if you include Kenya) but then again, we had two avid birders as guides in the south and also spent time along major waterways in Selous. Also, at least in our case, need to keep in mind the focus of a first time visitor might be different than that of subsequent visits. First timers –wow! This is Africa and there is an elephant. Later, we began to focus on more details of the setting, small birds, etc.

    One could probably skip Mikumi and get the same variety of wildlife at Ruaha but for those new to an African safari Mikumi might be just the apetizer needed. In mid-June it was still not crowded—we didn’t seem many vehicles nor did we see the game the camp manager said was around but less visible due to high grass and somewhat wetter conditions in mid June.

    At the dinner table last night the three of us chatted about where we would head if given the option to return to places we have seen in East Africa. While we didn’t discount going to other countries one thought was (ignoring budgetary ramifications) a combination of Ruaha and Serengeti. I didn’t bother to push my two fellow travelers into a corner as to “well, which place is it”.
    Also. I understand Katavi is a really great place in southern Tanzania with little if any infrastructure (roads) etc. Need a much larger budget for there.
    Don't know if I exactly answered your question. You might enjoy the boat rides as Selous and that in itself might warrant a nite or two there. For a return visit we probably would pass on that area in favor of others.
    Dick

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    Dick Thank you so much for putting so much thought into your reply I really appreciate it. It is hard when you ask someone to compare something because I guess what I wanted was not which is better but how did they differ (or something like that!) Your answer was great! We were in Northern Tanz and Kenya earlier this year and we started thinking about Southern Tanz because of the remoteness and lower number of people. The wildlife is of course a big thing if you are going to an area where viewing wildlife is a big part of the experience. We do not expect to get the concentration of animals that there is in Ngororgoro but still hope to see a fair bit of course(never guaranteeded though as we all know!) Although when my hubby & I were talking about it we both agreed that we just loved being 'out there' driving around soaking the whole thing in even when we weren't seeing too much. Yes Katavi sounds interesting but a biggger budget. We will keep contemplating and watching this site for any further gems of knowledge.
    Thanks again
    J

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    Dick-
    Just incredible report! I thoroughly enjoyed it and just relished the long read of it. I agree 100% about staying over a night in Amsterdam enroute. We did that when we used KLM/Northwest, and it really made the trip better.
    For some reason in reading about Ruaha, I got so touched by the reality and beauty of it that I thought.......could I?......maybe just once...........then reality hit and I thought I would save it for my next life? I hope there is such a thing. It sounded logical at the time. Better than having to admit I'll never see it. Thank you and Beth and Darla for keeping such good notes and for sharing them here with everyone. Really a special report.

    If I had to make a choice between there and the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, I don't know which I'd choose. I think when you said the ideal trip would be to Ruaha and the Serengeti you got it. Liz

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    Liz, thank you for the kind words. And, if and when we can go on another trip we will have to make the decision, north, south (of Tanzania) or maybe another country. Working on photos for posting.
    Dick

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    Dick'
    Foxes sent me an email with their 2006 prices and on of the things noted on there was an optional supplement for a "guaranteed window seat" I had kind of thought that a window seat would be guarnteed with this kind of operation. I think it would not be good to stuck in the middle with someone I don't know on the window or having someone who hasn't paid the supplement int he middle between my hubby & I because I would find it hard not to give them my window. Don't know if I am making too much of this?? Thaks

    J

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    Jules,
    I noted that option on the "details of the booking" form I received. Did not pay much attention to it as with three of us I figured we could switch if necessary. As it turned out for all the drives at Mukumi and all but one at Ruaha we had exclusive use of vehicle. Probably depends more on time of year and number of guests in camp. Unless the "middle" seat person was taking photos, might not be much of a problem. Sorry if I can not be of more help. I would be curious as to what that supplement costs as well as the one for exclusive use of the vehicle.
    Dick

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    Dick,
    Sorry, I probably just didn't read your report carefully enough, but would you mind going over the type of vehicle and seating configuration at each of the camps again? Thanks!

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    jules,
    No plans in the works or time frame in mind yet. I was originally going to link a short stay in Selous to my Kenya trip in November, but the flight connections didn't seem ideal and I thought it was best left to a future trip devoted entirely to southern Tanzania. I'm always looking at possibilities. I'd love to try to include Mahale and Katavi if I can somehow manage to do it affordably.

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    Message: Patty and Jules

    Patty, vehicles at all three camps were basically the same—Landrover or similar makes with some type of covered roof. Some had canvas and others had a coarser weaved material. At Mikumi and Ruaha we traveled in both two and three row vehicles. Each row had basically room for three people. When there were just the three of us we had a two row vehicle. Wife and Daughter sat on front one and I the rear. The one all-day game drive at Ruaha another couple sat in the rear row in the three row unit. Had plenty of leg room as well as space for travel/camera bag. Bear in mind, occupancy at both camps was on the light side, according to staff, or some guests had own transportation (and guides). I have not posted my pictures as have a few to sort yet but you can see at least the ones used by Foxes of Africa if you check their web site. I saw photos under activities for one or more of their camps.

    Jules, the vehicles at Selous Rufiji River camp were similar to ones at Ruaha and Mikumi. At Rufiji we had only a driver/guide not a driver and guide. Speaking of vehicles I enjoyed the fact that one had steering wheel on left side while the others being of British origin had unit on the right side! I teased the driver about having an “Americanized” vehicle and he chuckled saying that one came in from South Africa!
    As to the watercraft I noted they had one and two bench flatbottom boats under canopy for guests. We three had a one bench(with 3 seat cushions) boat for both our trips. Plenty of room. We three Darla and Beth had plenty of room. They also had a comfy cushion for the bow deck if someone wanted to sit there. I did on occasion simply to take photos of the gals but it was out in the sun and unless one twisted or sat “Indian style” it was more relaxing to sit on a bench seat. Should have a picture of these boats on posting when done. On afternoon/evening drive we had guide/operator while on the morning one we had an operator and guide and both commented on sightings and questions from us.
    Dick

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    rsnyder,

    Great report! Being charged by the lone buffalo must have been a bit scary. Thanks also for your additional insights on 7-13. Just the stuff I wanted to know.

    You've done a great job of selling Southern Tanzania! I had not even heard of Mikumi before.

    I also enjoyed your photos. Was that a cactus growing in a baobab tree? The unusual shots such as the paw print and elephant feet were very artistic. I'm sure you've given many of us some ideas.
    Also loved the 3 giraffe heads.

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    How odd, I could have sworn I posted on this after reading the first few posts but I can't see anything from me at all...

    Just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to share your trip with us!

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    bg, while your question is an excellent one it is a toughie as well. We were there 5 nites in 2005 and wished we could have stayed more! I would think your being there in September should find even better game viewing than we did in June as drier conditions should concentrate game more. Much depends on your interest, budget and even time elsewhere. I would say three nights as a minimum. We have plans to return in 2007 with a mix of northern and southern areas. Initially had 4 in mind but had to cut one given window of opportunity for international flights using ffm. Best of wishes in laying out your trip. Dick

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    Dick,
    I am taking my father in law for his 70th bday, we are going in sept '07 with the following intinerary:

    4-5 nights in the Masai Mara, Kenya, Rekero tented camp
    4 nights in Katavi(1 night at a lodge, 3 nights fly camping)
    3-4 nights in Mahale
    4 nights in Ruaha(1 or 2 nights in the lodge, and the rest flycamping)
    Originally I wanted to use the Mwagusi camp in Ruaha(also run by a member of the Fox family) because of it's incredible writeups every single place that I looked, as well as it's very small size. Because of the flights I will be needing, it looks like I might have to switch Mwagusi to Ruaha River so the Foxes can help provide some flights. I am actually getting very excited about using the Foxes because of what I have read about the location of their Ruaha camp, what I have read about the family themselves, and because, up until last year, at least, they offered the flycamping option, which I am very excited about and which Mwagusi does not offer. I am a bit concerned about how big the camp is...we really wanted to design our safari around staying away from the crowds, staying very rustic and authentic....thus the southern/western circuit, but if we can flycamp, that will give a personal touch for many of the nights we are there. So I am thinking of adding 1 night to either Katavi or Ruaha, and feeling it would be best spent in Ruaha, bringing us up to 5 nights there.
    Seems like you agree!!

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    You are most welcome. Sounds like you have a great trip ahead of you. Welcome the chance to read your trip report and see photos! You have a most fortunate father-in-law.
    Dick

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