Today we depart Jongomero. There was an extra ride added for the morning, but it left at 6:30 am and Donna and I were not packed. We passed and used the time to get ourselves organized and take a few photos around the camp. We saw those from our group that took the ride at breakfast and I don’t think we missed anything we hadn’t already seen; it was also very cold. We made the right call.
Frank is driving us to the air strip so we get to see him on this last day. He has been an excellent guide and Donna and I have had the privilege of riding with him during the entirety of our stay. We went to the airstrip early with a send-off from the entire staff. The park rangers are there to insure the safety of the animals. Pilots have to circle until the field is clear. Frank put my bag on first. There are no facilities to weigh them, which is good thing since I have downsized and put all but my photography gear in the duffle bag stored below. We had a nice send off with David in the copilot seat for our flight to Selous.
Our plane with filled with our group and we flew directly to the Game Reserve’s air strip. There are multiple camps in the area, but fortunately ours is closest to the air strip. The jeeps at Selous are older and designed to seat 8 passengers. Jeeps at Jongomero sat 5 passengers. Jongomero sits at a higher elevation and is much cooler; it is also thick brush. Selous, while not the plains of the Serengeti, has more open areas and its bush is less dense. Sitting at a lower elevation, it is much warmer, a warmth we felt immediately upon exiting the plane.
We were driven to the camp by Zachariah, one of the guides. It is obvious that he is quite knowledgeable about the area. Our camp name is Siwandu. It started at its first location 25 years ago and remained there until flooding resulted in a move. It has been at its present location 17 years and predates Jongomero. Both Siwandu and Jongomero are operated by the Selous Safari Company and many of the staff work at both camps. The safari company also operates a third camp which is a beach resort.
Siwandu has a north and south camp and our group will use all six tents on one side. Since the north and south camps each have their own lounge, pool, dining facilities, boat dock, and jeep station, we will our own private group experience. Upon arrival, we are dropped off at the main office (only shared facility) where we meet our room stewards and are shown to our tents. Siwandu offers the option of a pontoon ride on the lake and we will have the chance to experience that today.
We had lunch by the pool and after collecting our camera gear, we went down to the water to catch the pontoon for our first outing at Siwandu. Zach was aboard. Due to the heat, the afternoon safari leaves a little later at Siwandu at 4 pm (rather than 3:30 like at Jongomero).
Immediately upon leaving we saw an elephant walking along the lake’s edge being following by a flock of birds. The elephant steps into the mud bringing small insects to the surface and the birds follow along to enjoy the unearthed food. In the middle of the lake created by the rainy season were several small islands; all had lots of crocodiles along the shore. In the trees were eagles’ nests. We even spotted a pair feeding their young. Their position on the branches was almost stately.
The water was just teaming with hippos, often in very large groups. I was sitting on the very front of the pontoon when one of them surfaced just in front of me. Ok. I admit it. I screamed. I think I scared the hippo though, it went right under. I felt bad that people missed the shot. I was also certain that I was not going to live this down. We saw many more hippos in the water after that, but none got as close to the pontoon. Zach told us that the hippos reported our presence to the other groups.
The pontoon was excellent for shoreline viewing of the animals that had come down to the water. We saw elephants, cape buffalo, and giraffes. We also got some wonderful shots of the waterfowl out collecting food. You could see that they were ever watchful of the crocodiles. There was quite a variety. Many we had seen along the Ruaha River and others that were new to us.
Our last stop in the pontoon was bird island. It had no sandy shoreline and so the crocodiles come not get in there. Hence, the birds had found a safe place to build their nests and there were hundreds of them including the unique spoonbill which I have never seen up that close. Their behavior was fascinating and the air quite pungent.
Sunset meant it was time to return to shore and we went in to get ready for our candlelit dinner in the lounge where they make a fabulous gin and tonic. Like Jongomero, we were escorted back to our tents after the lake safari and to and from dinner. We look forward to our first jeep safari in Selous tomorrow.