Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Selous safari

Having now recovered enough it seems time to post about the last section of my grand adventure: Iringa to Arusha, via the Selous. When I was looking into how to get down to Iringa I'd been wondering about stopping for a night or two in some of the southern parks - one (Mikumi) straddles the main paved road from Iringa to Arusha, so would make a nice stop. And idly surfing the we one evening, I spotted a websitewith photos of birds from the Selous from one of the camps there. As is often the case, several of the photos weren't labelled correctly and instead of just ignoring it like normal, I decided to send an e-mail to the address at the bottom giving a few corrections. And to my surprise I got a response the next day saying thanks very much, and who are you anyway... Which led to me being invited for two nights in both of their two camps in the Selous to do some guide training on my way back. A very good excuse for a visit to an area I'd really been rather keen on seeing one day! The Selous is, if you don't know, Africa's largest protected area. It's also one of the least visited - just 4000 tourists a year. You could drop the Netherlands into it and it would be noticed for several months. Just lots and lots of wilderness. And also lots of beasties, including the largest population of Wild Dogs left in Africa, and lots of nice southern birdies, so lots to explore. It's also not really on the way from Iringa to Arusha, being about 170km down a rather bumpy dirt track from the main road. Still, undeterred I picked up my travelling companionion for the return leg some time before 7, and wizzed up the main road, stopping only at two police checkpoints and only slowing briefly as we headed through Mikumi NP and passed elephants and other beasts by the side of the road. So we got to Morogoro by about 12, and after a brief banana and diesel stop, we hit the dirt road, needing to get to the entrance gate by about 4.30 if we were to be let into the park.  The road did some amazing twists and turns through some beautiful forest
 and over some interesting bridges

but we were wizzing so fast we didn't have time to stop. Next time I think a camp in the forest would be a good break... Still, eventually after virtually becoming airborne several times and a total rearrangement of the luggage we made it to the gate at 5pm and after a little persuasion and promise to not stop on my way to the camp we were let in and on our way again. Happily we guessed the right way and just as it was getting dark we were met by a vehicle from the camp come to search for us, who led us back. After a quick shower I sat down with the camp manager to plan the activities for the next couple of days – in the morning we would have a dawn boat trip with the four boat drivers, a short drive before lunch with any guides free, then I'd give a talk after lunch to all the guides and drivers before heading out with them all piled into two open vehicles at 4 for an evening drive. And we'd then meet again the next morning at dawn for a short walk followed by another drive, taking our leave after lunch to make our way on to the next camp. The location at Lake Manze is beautiful, surrounded by some lovely bush full of game (four mammal species in this shot, and a nice big bird or two as well!)

Our morning walk was enlivened by elephants mock charging, and (on the rare times ) when I was in my tent there were often elephants just yards away – here's a couple tussling just beyond my deck chair...

The boat trips were a great way to see the river and lake systems that provide the life of the Selous...

The bush around, as well as having plenty of birds, was full of game and we came across wild dogs on our first drive – a pack of 10 that are usually in the area.

As well as another new mammal for me – Greater Kudu. Very fancy horns – but surely better in the bush than on the dining room wall?

It's just a shame that that with a couple of exceptions the guides weren't really up to much at this camp. Still, we headed on over to the next camp - Impala Camp. Rather a different place - electricity for one thing, and a beautiful location on the river with tents on stilts, so the hippos can graze under the tent a night and the crocs are basking just metres away. (and, one night, a lioness too - who we tracked in the morning and had walked right through camp, jumping up on the decking by the swimming pool and then trotting past the Maasai ascaris without them noticing... A similar programme was knocked together for the staff here, though we managed two boat trips - one focussed on cooperative breeding and why bee-eaters are so colurful, whilst moored next to a great colony, the other to a nearby  heron and egret colony.
These are open bill storks at the top (adapted to crack snails), with sacred Ibis and assorted egrets below.                                                                     And this a nice African spoonbill

The boats really are an excellent way to get close to the birds - four bird species here too...

and other wildlife too - we saw a few completely submerged eles!
But I think the highlight for R who came with me were the lions - first two males and a female with a fresh wildebeest kill (I was very impressed that although we were in an open vehicle and only a few yards away R wasn't at all worried. Would like to take Grannie to the same place and see the reactions...)

(These are actualy old males, but the Selous lions don't have anywhere near as impressive manes as those of the Serengeti ecosystem) Then a pride of six females with two cubs on the way back to camp.

All in all, Impala guides were much more on the ball and I thoroughly enjoyed being with them. Will have to make another visit at a different time (and next time bring Mama and the littlies too!). Though we'd have to be careful going for morning walks past these lumps... (look carefully in the shadow to the left... It was a big one weighting about 3 tons. Can be slightly distracting when trying to explain the finer points of nest parasitism...)

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