03 December 2018

Tony And Terry M’s Nomad Safari

Tony and Terry M travelled with Yellow Zebra to Tanzania on a Nomad safari in November 2018. Among the favourite properties they visited were Ruaha’s Kigelia Camp and Selous’ Sand River:

How does one begin to describe the most perfect trip in which everything happened as it was supposed to, all arrangements were flawless, the service, the camps, the people were wonderful and graceful, the vistas were jaw dropping, the guides outstanding, and the animals and birds simply stunning?

This was my wife Terry’s first trip to Africa, whereas I had lived in Botswana for 3 years in the 1970s and I’d travelled widely.

What is it that so fascinates and draws us to Africa? At first glance it is so alien to us, but Terry soon recognized it and I remember it from before. There is a sense of familiarity to it that goes way back into our early history, a pricking that tells us this is where we first began, and all but the most jaded feel a sense of what a precarious existence and adventure it was for those first hominids. We recognize it still in the prey animals whose life is basically feed all day, survive the night, do it again tomorrow, and breed before you die. It’s not so different for the predators.

PART 1 – RUAHA NATIONAL PARK

So there we are met by our wonderful guide Joe Welwel at Ruaha National Park and off we go to Kigelia Camp. Joe is really engaging, and incredibly well informed (we ended up calling him “Professor Joe”). And here come the birds, Ruaha red-billed hornbills, Von der Decken’s hornbills, black-bellied bustards, spurfowls and guineas and francolins under every bush, bare-faced go-away birds and a host of others, and we’re 3 miles and 10 minutes in. And so it goes on, boundless baobab trees and impalas, lesser and greater kudus, warthogs, giraffes by the score, tiny fragile dik-diks, and this is how it stays for the whole five days, with bushbucks barking, leopards coughing, and hyenas warbling in the night.

Kigelia is a dream – modest, unobtrusive, quiet, and, during this season, largely empty. So many little personal touches, bird baths outside each tent, two mirrors hung in the bathroom (one for short people and one for tall), umbrellas (unused) hanging outside the tent, and dear Joseph to walk you back and forward to your tent all orchestrated under the unobtrusive, gentle but firm eye of Ken – what a team builder and leader he is.

Ruaha is a gem. Joe took us to the rivers (mostly dry) and the hills, and the Little Serengeti, lots of very varied habitats and places seldom visited by others, days we never saw another vehicle. His love and care for us and for Ruaha and the bush were genuine and heartwarming – we felt like we made a real friend and had met a kindred spirit.

First morning and I am overcome, there are the elephants, big healthy tuskers, lots of babies, moving serenely through the bush, so close, I am relieved to know they are still with us. We see many during the week. Giraffes abound often in “towers” of 20–30, yet always seeming to be alone, and simply together by accident. Then on to the first sighting in months of wild dogs. Joe is really excited. We track them to an impala kill and watch for about an hour from mere yards away, amazed at how perfectly their at-first-glance bizarre coloring makes them disappear and reappear as if by magic, in the shade of the brush.

The night drive was a real high point, presaged as it was by our sighting of a lion pride. (Terry had been alarmed to say the least when her first lion, a large male, walked to within about 10 feet and sat down to use the corner of the vehicle as cover from which to watch a herd of zebra.) We returned and followed them for a while in the evening, with the kittens staying home and safe. We spotted several genets, a civet, and most specially an aardwolf, a seldom-seen member of the hyena family, and in the spotlight a good shot of the night-time hyena who serenaded us at camp.

All day long the birds, parrots, little flying darts rocketing across the sky, the cartoonish but much-loved ground hornbills, weavers, barbets, the ever-present sound of the coucals, weaving a magical private dome over us. We were in heaven and heartbroken to leave. A tearful farewell to Joe – we miss you already.

But on we must go to Selous and Sand Rivers Lodge.

PART 2 – SELOUS GAME RESERVE

Met by our guide for the week, Ernest, who was indeed earnest and whom we came to appreciate more every day for his expertise and traditional life bush experience and knowledge, which added another dimension to our experience. We raced across the airstrip and saw a herd of eland, more numerous here than in Ruaha, and on to the torturous roads of the Selous to Sand Rivers – and a monkey smashing crockery in the lounge! Overwhelmed at first by the opulence of Sand Rivers, so much more than we needed, we came to appreciate its beauty. As at Kigelia everything was first class and we fell in love with the waterfall showers and the openness of the rooms, visited as we were by galagos at night, a horde of ever-present geckos, and the constant serenade of hippopotamus.

Out we go for an evening cruise on the Rufiji and Terry’s first experience of crocodiles and hippos, at every turn. Here come four species of kingfisher, Terry’s first fish eagle, and a spectacular sunset on the sandbank.

The miombo bush is different here and at first glance seems more empty, but as one’s eyes adjust, the game appears. Ernest is a birding nut, absolutely encyclopedic, every 10 yards we see something new, small and large, blue-browed and speckled mousebirds, sunbirds, crested barbets, trumpeter and crowned hornbills, brown-headed parrots, a carmine bee-eater, and on and on.

We literally bump into a large pack of wild dogs and watch for an hour as they play and move around 10 yards away completely untroubled by our presence. On we go and stop for breakfast in a clearing, a lone hyena lopes through and a large herd of buffalo appear 60 yards away and politely wait for half an hour while we dine. Later that day we go to the first of the apparently empty wet areas and Terry is astonished to see that this apparently empty field is full of submerged and invisible hippos. On we go to Lake Tagalala and see herons perched on hippos’ backs and bee-eaters galore. Ernest tells us that in recent years a study was done and the population of crocs in this modest-sized lake was judged to be about 10,000 – who would want to be a fish in such waters?!

We spy alert impala and go to investigate and inadvertently disturb a different larger pack of dogs on the hunt. They seem untroubled and watch us with interest. We are also under the watchful eye of two large bull elephants, peacefully ripping young palm trees and bushes to shreds.

The high point of the week was our longer walking trip. It was good to feel Africa under my feet again after all these years. We spotted fresh blood under a tree and hair and fresh leopard scat and prints, we smelled leopard, but we never saw it. We walked about 5 miles through the hills, Terry saw her first wildebeest, and when we paused the animals came to us. One of those magical moments when one sees zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, baboon, buffalo, and elephant all at the same time as they mosey down for a morning drink.

Ernest told us that this morning breakfast would be native food that we would have to collect, we were quite excited by the prospect and munched baobab fruit on the way – but imagine our surprise to finally turn a corner by a pond to find a magnificent and beautiful table and breakfast awaiting us and a group of staff to wait on us. It was a truly magical 2 hours. Birds, animals, great company, and breakfast – what could be better? We also saw very large water monitor lizards, that was quite a plus. On the way home we passed a sleepy hyena who was bored by our presence and returned to his nap. And so the days passed.

The next day included a precious hour at a well-hidden hot springs – this was a real interlude of stillness and a total surprise.

Our final day was a river trip to Stiegler’s Gorge. I’m not keen on water and small boats, but the prospect of black-and-white colobus monkeys and blue monkeys drew me in. We saw two groups of lions on the banks as we traveled as well as the glorious pygmy kingfisher, a minute speck of sapphire and gold, as well as other kingfishers. Hippos watch and serenade us all the way and crocs slither in at our approach.

There are the blue monkeys, and yes, there are the colobus, what a sight – in the treetops with their extravagant hair-dos and dress and absurdly long tails hanging like so many bell-pulls, mom is clutching an all-white baby in her arms. What a glorious gift!

Another breakfast and great sadness as we contemplate that this gorge will soon be flooded by the construction of a dam – that seems a travesty, ill advised and unnecessary. Habitat loss the world over seems to be the greatest threat to wildlife. A final drift downstream, a final night and dinner, and home we must go.

I defy anybody to feel unchanged after a trip to Africa, and we know we will be processing this for months and years to come and will never forget these memories. We highly recommend this early November time, as both lodges were nearly empty and we basically had a private, all-inclusive luxury safari for 10 magical days.

All credit to Nomad Tanzania for their ethos and style, their heart is so obvious in all they do, the staff, the camps, the guides, the settings, the care are of a standard seldom seen in the world anymore. What a company!

Yellow Zebra are clearly the go-to company for arrangements – absolutely faultless service and attention to detail. A word to travelers – do as they say and pack light, as the laundry service is impeccable at the lodges, carry your bags on the plane, then have no worries about lost luggage. At this time of year we had no trouble with bugs, we only saw 3 tsetse flies and mosquitos only in Dar es Salaam.

If you'd like to experience a safari like Tony and Terry's then why not contact us on +44 (0)20 8547 2305 or email us at [email protected] Alternatively, take a look at the below destination pages for more inspiration: