The drive back to Mikumi took only two hours as there was far less traffic than on the outward journey and Elwyin had got used to dodging the potholes. We fed the remaining sandwiches from yesterday’s lunch to the local baboons who were very appreciative. We checked into the Genesis Motel again and after a short rest went out for our first foray into Mikumi National Park. It is a grassland plateau surrounded by mountains and studded with trees. Impala and wildebeest abound and are often in much larger herds than we saw at Ruaha. We also spotted Cape Buffalo, water buck and troops of baboons. Maribou Storks were among the impalas, feeding on grasshoppers disturbed by their grazing in the long grass. There were crocodiles and hippos in the pool and groups of ground hornbills with their curious calls. We had turned round and were heading towards the exit and leave the park when we suddenly spotted a pair of lionesses in a tree close to the park headquarters. They were alert and listening to the staff trying to dissuade an elephant from entering the area. They eventually had to fire a shot in the air. We took some photographs and then headed back to the hotel for dinner, hoping to see more lions the next day.
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.