This is just the first of many days I will be getting up early to enjoy Africa. After a hotel breakfast in Dar es Salaam at the Southern Sun, we met our safari group of 11 and our photographer guide, Reed Hoffmann. We were transported to the airport that handles domestic flights-think really small planes. Our checked luggage had to be less than 32 pounds, so we left a few things behind in Dar and shifted some items to our carry ons which are now pretty heavy.
When one of our three vans ran out of gas on the way to the airport, we were worried about a rough start to the trip, but all was well and we made it in plenty of time for our flight. Nine members of our group are riding in one plane and Reed, Donna, and I are on another plane with multiple stops. I got a seat in the first row with plenty of room for my carry on bag and got to see the control panel because of the open cockpit. The plane only sat 10 passengers so when the last couple got on, he sat across from me and she sat in the copilot’s seat. He got sick on the flight, but I loved my spot in the front, especially watching the altitude gauge.
Luckily the Jongomero air strip was the first stop. It was literally just a cleared patch of land. The plane just pulled over to the side to let us out. We were met at the air strip by one of the safari guides and taken the short distance to the camp. This air strip only serves our camp, so flights are all chartered in.
There was an Italian couple on our flight, but other than the two of them our group will be the only ones at the camp. There are only 8 tents plus staff quarters. Reed has a guide tent which is smaller than ours and has no view. We got a warm greeting by the staff upon our arrival and were shown into the lounge for our orientation meeting. The host Emile was so warm and friendly, we immediately felt at home. After a welcome drink and a chance to enjoy the view of the dry river bottom (full during the rainy season) with impalas and monkeys, Emile personally took Donna and I to our tent, stopping along the way to show us the wonderful pool. The temperature at Jongomero is warm during the day and it cools off at night with chilly mornings. Not sure if the weather will fit with pool use. As Tanzania sits below the equator, it is winter here.
Our room is a large tent with a roof structure overhead. There is a bedroom area and bath area with a toilet, shower, double vanity, and open closet. The sleeping area included twin beds, night stands, a desk, and two chairs. There is a porch that faces the river bed with cushioned chairs and a sleeper bed. The bathroom area is not too private so it really isn’t a suitable setup for people who don’t know each other or are modest in front of one another. I was very impressed with the accommodations.
The other plane didn’t arrive for a while and Donna and I had time to unpack and get our camera gear ready for the first safari. We met at the lounge for lunch and had a wonderful meal on the lower patio where we watched the monkeys playing. We took some time to get to know our fellow travelers, mostly an over-50 crowd with the exception of 24-year-old twin girls who were traveling with their parents. At 3:30 our jeeps left on the first safari with Donna and I sharing a jeep with Reed and Ken (An American now living in Warsaw, Poland).
Almost immediately, we saw lots of impala who ran when the jeep approached. We saw many of the baobab tree which looks like its roots are on top. (Disney Animal Kingdom fans will recognize this tree from the safari ride and the Tree of Life.) The birds in Africa are distinctive, most of which I have never seen before. Our excellent guide Frank knew all the varieties and I determined that I wanted to bring my journal along for the next ride so I could take notes and remember all the wonderful information and stories he was sharing.
Our first big find was the elephants who liked to roam through the brush and knock over trees. They were not always cooperative when it came to pictures and often stayed behind the bush. The African elephant has very big ears which it uses to cool itself and stimulate circulation. Because of the demand for their tusks, evolution has resulted in some of the females never developing tusks. It is probably nature’s way of discouraging poaching and the killing of elephants purely for the ivory of their tusks.
Our jeep was really comfortable with four captain style seats on multi levels. There was also a seat next to the driver, but that didn’t offer the best view. Each seat also had a step for resting your feet and a pocket for small items. Our larger bags fit on the jeep floor. One of the coolest things were the fly swatter made out of animal hair. The tsetse flies are really bad in the park, so the driver burns elephant dung on the back of the jeep and the smoke keeps the flies away. It works pretty well and doesn’t have an odor. The flies are annoying, but they do not carry disease. That said, I did have to take malaria medication (before, during, and after the trip) to help if I am bitten by a carrier mosquito.
Our next find was my favorite, the giraffe. Never with the same pattern, the giraffes are plentiful in Tanzania. They are a national symbol and are protected. They move gracefully or lumber as Frank put it. Their movement is different because of their long necks and the balance issue those necks create. You will often find other animals near the giraffes, like the impala and particularly zebras. The giraffes’ height gives them the advantage of seeing predators approaching and the other animals are able to react when the giraffe run away.
I am usually not much of a bird watcher, but Africa has such beautiful unique varieties that I found myself taking note of many of these lovely winged creatures. We saw hornbills of many varieties. (Once again Disney fans will think Zazu from the Lion King.) In the water areas, one of the really fun birds we saw was the kingfisher who did its helicopter move hovering above the water until he spotted an insect or small fish at which point he dove down to capture his meal.
The Jongomero river is dry now, just a month after the end of the rainy season, but the camp is also near the Ruaha River and Frank choose a lovely spot for us to take an afternoon break. In addition to a drink of our choice, the chef had sent along an afternoon snack. Frank pulled a picnic tray down from the front of the grill for a nice set up. While we partook of the treats, we got to enjoy the beautiful view. We even spotted a hippo enjoying the cool water during the heat of the day. Hippos come out of water at night when it is cool to feed. In fact there is a hippo trail just beside our tent in the camp.
On the way back to the camp we spotted a waterbuck along the river and just before entering the camp a dik dik on the road and a jackal in the bush. It was almost dark when we arrived back at camp. After a cordial and a warm towel, we were escorted back to our tents. You are not allowed to walk around the camp at night unescorted. Each tent has a whistle inside if you need to call for help. Our host Emile asked what time we wanted to come down for the 8 pm dinner. (There are drinks and appetizers in the lounge and by the campfire if you want to come down early.) Security provided escort services to and from dinner. We fell asleep to the sounds of the nocturnal animals of Ruaha National Park.