We could not pick up our guide at the Park HQ until 8am and there was then a 10 kilometre drive to the trailhead for the Sanje Falls. So it was around 9am when we started to walk and getting pretty hot and humid. The trail was steep uphill in zigzags and before I had gone too far, felt quite light-headed. This was a bit surprising, as I have done plenty of trekking in hot and humid conditions. Everyone said I looked quite grey so I plodded slowly to the first picnic table and rested while the others went on to the pool at the foot and right up to the top of the falls. Although swimming is allowed, they decided the water was too cold. I sat and had a great view of the falls and two Egyptian Vultures who flew past me. The others came back down for lunch with me and we then descended and drove back to the hotel for a siesta. It soon became apparent that I had a viral infection so other than packing for the next days journey, I rested.
On Saturday I awoke in the banda before the alarm. I had heard hippo noises and hyenas laughing in the night. Wandering over to the river, I could see five hippos including two youngsters on the island and the male circling around the island to protect them from crocodiles. After breakfast we said goodbye to the local staff and after dropping the empty beer bottles at the shop for reuse, headed off back towards Iringa. At one ford we saw the local ambulance being washed and many local people were selling firewood by the road. The Greek Orthodox Church seems to be quite a presence in this area with several churches as we neared Iringa. We just made it before the bank closed as Elwyin had to change some dollars. So far, the only felines seen have been two domestic cats. One was hunting over the road from the café and having failed to catch her prey, wandered over to scrounge from us. Fortified with samosas and a quick trip to the market for essentials, we set off for Mikumi, described in the guidebook as having ‘the air of a truck stop’. The road descended through a gorge and into a valley where many crops are grown and the roadside stalls are piled high with onions, tomatoes and charcoal. Wood left over from the forestry industry is being made into boxes to transport the produce. About 75km from Mikumi, the exhaust developed an alarming rattle. Elwyin checked it (he was a mechanic in a previous life) and said we could proceed and he hoped to get it fixed in Mikumi. On the way out we had thought that some of the stalls were selling salt as they had sacks of a crystalline white substance for sale. These turned out to be quartz, used decoratively in gardens. Closer to Mikumi, the road surface deteriorated with huge ruts made by overweight HGVs. It was being repaired. Our motel was the other side of town and felt a bit like being in a service station close to a busy motorway due to the sound of trucks passing. The courtyards were filled with tropical plants and there was a welcome fan in the room that made up for this. James was happy as there was a TV and some crucial football match was on. Elwyin managed to find someone to weld the split in the exhaust. On Sunday morning we decided to go the 10am service at the local Anglican church. One of the hotel staff took us in his car. The congregation was very friendly but the service was in Swahili so I contented myself with humming along with the hymns. Morning worship took two hours so we were somewhat relieved that it was not communion. A quick change back at the motel and we were on the road south to the Udzungwa Mountains. The first part is paved but the last 23km is a heavily rutted road that took a considerable time to navigate. The area is noted for sugarcane growing and there were stalls selling it and also bananas. At one spot baboons were doing their best to steal the produce but were being dissuaded by small children with sticks. We did buy some corn on the cob (mealies) and enjoyed that. Other children were asking for mia (money) every time we had to slow down to negotiate a pot hole. We arrived at our hotel and asked for a late lunch, which was finally eaten at about 4pm. A short walk to the village we stocked up on provisions for our lunch the next day and then checked at the National Park HQ that a guide would be available for our hike the next day as you cannot go without one. In the grounds we saw a Black and White Colobus, the Iringa Red Colobus only found in these parts and a Sykes monkey.
After the food shopping was completed at the market, a coffee stop and some purchases at Neema Crafts (a workshop, shop and café run by people with disabilities) we were on our way to the Ruaha Game Park. Very soon the tarmac gave out and the red, sandy road stretched ahead for miles. At every hill, there was more road to be seen with blue mountains in the background. We were entering Maasai country and at one point, a herdsman with his cows and goats crossed in front of us. It was clear, that in the rainy season, large amounts of water would come down this road and there were run-offs into the forest. We began to see glimpses of wildlife, including red-billed hornbills, a vervet monkey and copious amounts of elephant dung. Suddenly, there were several giraffes in the road in front of us. Once in the National Park there were impala, giraffe and elephants easily visible from the road.
We settled into our bandas on the banks of the Greater Ruaha River and that same evening the park staff had to frighten away two elephants trying to enter the site. The next two days were spent on driving around the park or sitting in the gazebos outside watching the birds and animals. On the first drive out we saw an elephant family trying to cross the river with the adults holding up the baby when they came to a deeper part. There are innumerable giraffes, zebras, impalas and elephants, plus we have seen baboons and monkeys, jackals, mongooses, Grants gazelles, water buck, kudu, crocodiles, warthogs and the birdlife is amazing. No big cats as yet. So far, we have seen one other group staying at the bandas but otherwise we have the place to our guide and ourselves. Many of the animals are easy to see at close hand so despite discovering on the second day of the trip that my 13 year old telephoto lens is not working, I still have some good shots. Tomorrow we leave for Mikumi via Iringa and then on to the Udzungwa Mountains where the biodiversity is even greater. Settling down to sleep now with the hippos grunting down at the river.
Tuesday saw us up before sunrise to finish packing, have breakfast and get on the road by 7am. This did not entirely go to plan. We did finish breakfast in time, entertained by Indian House Crows stealing sugar packets from the tables. When we went to check out, the reception clerk had difficulty deciding what our bill should be (three dinners and a few drinks, not to complicated we thought). Once that was sorted out, we squeezed our bags into the back of Elwyin’s Toyota Landcruiser on top of all his camping stuff and set off into very heavy traffic. A few miles later I realised I had left my camera at the hotel so we backtracked and there it was to my intense relief. It took until 10am to get out of Dar due to heavy traffic and road works. We took the road to Morogoro that was plagued by dangerous drivers including HGVs, motorcyclists and cars over-taking on blind bends and summits. We saw numerous accidents, fortunately non requiring medical assistance so we remained off duty. At one point Elwyin was pulled over by the police and accused of speeding, which we knew he had not been doing. I suspect this was because he was driving a Malawi registered car. Eventually, after intense negotiation and us wondering whether intervening would help or hinder, he was let off. Continuing, we saw our first Vervet (or Tantalus) Monkey, Pied Crows and White-Rumped Swifts. Then: the flat tyre. Fortunately the spare on the Land Cruiser is under the vehicle, not in the boot so we did not need to unload. Elwyin quickly changed the tyre and as we had stopped opposite a local fruit stall, bought some small Ladies’ Finger bananas and some oranges. In Morogoro we got a new inner tube into the tyre and back on the car. As were behind schedule, we grabbed some supplies from a supermarket and munched as we drove on. The fields alongside the road had corn and sunflowers growing which was a reminder of Route 66 last September when they were our companions for many miles. In Mikumi National Park we saw several troops of baboons hanging around by the road hoping to be fed by passers by, giraffe, zebras, antelope and glimpses of elephants. As we are returning here for a stay on our way back to Dar we continued on into the upland forests and the Baobab Valley, towards Iringa. It was late afternoon by now and the blue of the mountains ahead and baobabs silhouetted against them would have made some great photographs but we did not really have time to stop for long. Nearer to Iringa we passed small communities selling red onions neatly stacked by the road and sacks of rock salt. After easing past slow lorries on the last climb, we neared the town but turned off a few miles before to our campsite. It was now dark and there seemed to be some confusion as to whether we were camping or in a banda. As non-one fancied erecting the tent in the dark, we opted to pay a few dollars more and have a little luxury as we are camping for the next three nights. Breakfast this morning was not at 7pm as advertised but eventually arrived. We were all packed up only to find that the car was difficult to start. We got up the dirt road and found the necessary part at a garage on the way into Iringa. Have picked up food from the market in Iringa and now are en route to Ruaha for three days then the Udzungwa Mountains so will be offline for a while.
We woke to sunshine and some patches of blue sky. The rivers we had crossed on Saturday night had receded considerably and most places were drying out. After recovering from our flight by the ocean we it was time to explore the city centre. We saw very few Europeans and then only in cafes and mostly embassy staff. From the main streets we wandered into the National Museum where there are some early human remains discovered by the Leakeys in Olduvai Gorge, a good anthropological section and some modern African Art. Then on down busy streets towards the fish market which was in full swing: a riot of colour, sounds and smells. Men were emerging carrying red snapper and king fish and all around people were bargaining for fish. Beyond it were boats on the beach and in the distance, a long queue of container ships waiting to enter the port. I walked along the path away from the market aiming to get a photo of activities on the beach but was warned by a man not to take any as this road backed onto the government buildings and the police would not be happy. Back in town we found our taxi and slowly made our way back to the hotel, hawkers passing at every junction where the traffic slowed. Some people did pester us in the streets, to buy things or have them guide us but generally not a huge problem and they seemed more polite and less persistent than those encountered in northern Africa. Back at the beach, the clouds were now higher and a walk along the sand was essential in the very short twilight before nightfall. The pier seem to have a problem with their lighting tonight. As they seemed to have standard electrical sockets exposed to water, this was not surprising. Now its time to pack up for an early start to Iringa tomorrow.
Today was spent recovering from our journey by the beach. As it was over 20 years since my last dip in the Indian Ocean, that was a must after breakfast and a walk alongside the water. The beach was littered with plastic debris which had washed up and it was difficult to know whether this was a regular occurrence or whether the recent torrential rains and floods further south in South Africa and Botswana have disturbed the circulation of water and waste. The sea was warm but very shallow, inside the reef. Men were fishing for sardines from the shore with large nets, others were digging for crabs and cleaning the beach. We saw a heron and are still trying to identify it as we cannot see it in the bird books we have. There are many Indian House Crows and House Sparrows, both of which have been introduced. After a dip in the pool we then met with a friend Barry had not seen for 38 years, his wife and daughter. Kim is a biologist and told us about the recent discoveries of new species (a primate and a bird) in the Udzungwa Mountains where we are headed for in a few days time. After that we had a siesta and in the evening met our guide Elwyin. He had driven up from Malawi and had a twelve hour wait to cross the border due to a dispute between the two countries over who owns certain parts of the lake. We had a run through of our itinerary over a beer: he then left for a much-needed rest and we had dinner followed by a walk along the jetty for a nightcap. The tide had come in and from the jetty we could see dozens of very small crabs scuttling about on the sand. Tomorrow we will explore the city.
Manchester Airport late afternoon and evening was much quieter than our usual early morning departures. Other than an over-zealous member of security staff creating a backlog of women waiting to be screened, we met up with Heather and Barry and completed the journey to Dubai without to many problems. The time it takes to travel on the bus from the plane to the terminal past acres of concrete only serves to emphasise the amount of energy it takes to keep this city going in a desert. Parts are reminiscent of Los Angeles: concrete, palm trees and oleander. The second leg to Dar es Salaam was better as I had a window seat and three crosswords to tackle with varying success (the New York Times International, the FT Weekend and the Times Middle East & Asia). We flew over the southern part of the Arabian peninsula, the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. Once we reached Kenya it was much greener but as we then flew over the sea, we were too far east to catch a glimpse of Kilimanjaro above the clouds. Having landed in Dar, there was a long wait for our bags and a longer drive to the ocean and our hotel. Tomorrow, a lazy day on the beach devouring guide books and plotting the rest of the trip, is planned, lunch with a friend of Barry’s and at some point a visit to the coral reef islands we saw from above.