No two safaris are the same and this unpredictability is the essence of a safari & no less the one I just completed with my brother Soren. On this occasion my brother and I were co-guides and our guests, The Pitt’s family from New York, were on their 5th safari with Soren, their first with me, their second in Tanzania. Their previous safari in Tanzania was in 1975, when things were very different in the “socialist paradise”, with State Travel being the only Tour Operator and the lodges owned and managed by the Government. Standards were very low, guiding was in the hands of poorly trained guides and tourists were treated with suspicion. The experience left a bitter taste.
Nearly 40 years later the contrast came home to them very quickly although a rude, thuggish security guard manning the scanner at the entry to the domestic departure lounge at KIA did his best to whisk us back in time, being gruff and rude and insisting all cameras be emptied from their cases, much to the embarrassment of the staff trying to get us quickly through to our charter flight. Thankfully from that bad moment on & throughout our safari smiles and helpfulness was the order of the day, more akin to our expectations.
Singita & Grumeti Reserves offer a much pampered experience and the style of mobile camping we enjoyed was luxurious, not too over the top, with very good staff and excellent food and wildlife aplenty. The camp was all ours. With Privacy extended to game drives there is much to be said for only allowing a maximum of three cars around predators and we would only ever see one or two other cars in the area in a whole day.
Grumeti was alive with migrating Wildebeest and Zebra, mostly seen to the East in The Ikorongo game Reserve on the annual move north. This was surely the icing on the cake. Thousand of Wildebeest and Zebra on the move, The Wildebeest running helter skelter sometimes this way, sometimes that, as they wanted to cross a water course supporting trees and dense shrubbery that could offer Lion cover to ambush them. Zebra were more nonchalant pushing through tall grass nodding heads held high, moving a little nervously until clear of the crossing & danger and followed by the noisy Wildebeest.
Late rains produced a green flush over the Ikorongo area and it became lusher as we moved east sufficient to support much game and a spectacle of over 150 elephants, feeding peacefully, moving slowly over a broad front. The several clans made up of distinct family groups had attracted small bands of roaming bull elephants, in with a mating chance and saved their more usual dry season wanderings over a larger area, checking out the ladies in fragmented small family groups.
The day was pent without another car in sight…..doesn’t get much better than this. Picnic lunch was taken on the edge of an open plain and surrounded by wildebeest and Zebra taking shade on the woodland margins nearby and keeping a safe distance from our group of “two legs”.
Later we saw small groups of vulture greedily dispatching the remains of wildebeest calves that had fallen by the migration wayside, victims of predators or of sickness or injury.
Elephant sightings were frequent throughout our stay and the families we observed were reasonably relaxed and seem to have escaped the heavy poaching in other Northern areas.
Next we moved to Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, “Maasai Versailles.” The lodge was a hit, with its eclectic architecture and decoration and superb location on the crater rim, in my opinion the best. Tribute to the builder, architect and interior decorator. “They must have been on something” I heard but whatever “that” was , surely it must have been the heady mix of the cold air and the magnificent tapestry of the crater highlands, mountains, the crater with its teaming wildlife and the red robed Maasai and their numerous livestock punctuating the highland landscape.
Thankfully the crater floor was not too busy and we saw Rhino a few times in the middle distance completing the tally of the big five on the trip to date and an unusual sighting of a Greater Bustard with chicks.
Then for something completely different, The Selous and Beho Beho Lodge no less. What better start than seeing Wild dog on arrival, straight off the plane & conveniently close to the airstrip and to the lodge. This event signaled an outstanding stay with sightings of the pack three days in a row. While their behavior was difficult to interpret it was fascinating to watch them and patience paid off and it was remarkable how quickly the dozing dogs could suddenly become active and psyche themselves up for a hunt and one occasion suddenly respond to other pack members that came onto the scene from afar prompting a meeting greeting ceremony and much excitement.
Every time the photo opportunities and light improved, with a hunt in full cry the crowning moment.
Like Grumeti we had the area pretty much to ourselves , the tsetse were not too fierce, the beer was wonderfully cold, red wine slightly chilled an innovation I found to be most agreeable.
The lodge was my favourite of the whole safari. My last visit to Beho Beho was in 1977 and there in hangs a tale, but another time. The lodge guides were excellent and the game drives superb with sightings of Lion up closed on a kill, Angolan Colobus Monkeys and those wonderful painted dogs.
The Game Reserve takes its name from a famous and iconic individual, professional hunter and an early conservationist. Selous would be proud of the low key development in the area that was fought over and where he met his end. He died in this far away theatre of the Great War, victim of a German Schustruppe sniper. German forces were lead by another famous man, the great German commander Von Lettow Vorbeck. We visited the grave of Selous. He lies buried where he fell, near the Beho Beho lodge and where in 1977 I saw a Lioness, seemingly protecting the grave. She quickly moved away from us, looking back a few times and staring, threatening & tense. This part of Selous had only just been created as a Photographic area and Lion were suspicious & hard to see. That has all changed now and we watched a pride on a kill at very close quarters.
While wildlife is not as abundant as in the north the wilderness experience is very special. Elephant in small family groups and a few bulls were seen in the area surrounding the lodge and they clearly enjoy some safety thanks to the Game Scout posts and the tourism presence in the area whereas a greater part of Selous game reserve has seen a devastating decline in Elephant. Birdlife especially on the nearby lake offered us birdwatchers (Soren and I) an entertaining half day on the boat trip and I photographed a rare visitor, the Madagascar Heron on Lake Tagatala