27th – 28th August
Iringa was built by the Germans in the late 1800’s as a Fortress town (elevation 1800m). It’s very characterful and has the most colourful traditional African market, where we stocked up. The produce is fresh and plentiful and there’s everything from fruit and veg to mountains of dried fish (if that’s your thing!). The people are welcoming and we haven’t been hassled once, they just get on with their business and leave the Muzungu’s alone.
An interesting perception about Tanzania is that they appear to have embraced technology and the “digital divide”. For instance there is a Wi-Fi across the whole of Iringa with decent speeds at very low cost and cell signal is everywhere, even in the remotest parts of the country.
We spent a bit of time at Warthog Safari centre where you get delicious food and pastries and fab coffee. It’s a Muzungu hang out.
The next morning we visited a really interesting geological site called Isimili. It’s sandstone has been eroded over the millennia to form a series of strange looking red valleys with cathedral looking formations and finger like shapes. See the photos, hard to describe.
29 – 30 August
What a difference a two hour journey in Africa can make. We left Iringa to head for Ruaha National Park. It wasn’t long before we were back in the old Africa of dirt roads and traditional villages. The majority of the villages en route were all made from mud and we came across Masai tribesman in traditional dress, accessorised with spears! We stopped once or twice to say Hi to some of the animated children but they just ran away; must have thought we were Madonna!
Ruaha National Park
Ah, back in the bush. We stayed the first two nights at Chogela, just outside the park; a lovely shady place with good facilities. Chogela is the guy who owns and runs and the place and a really friendly and welcoming chap. The road to Chogela was fine but from Chogela to the park (20kms) it’s very rutted and uncomfortable.
Ruaha is the largest National Park in Tanzania. 45,000 sq kms (including adjoining parks) of wild Africa. Apparently it’s the area where Southern African geology i.e. Miombo / Combretum meets East Africa Savannah; a cross over zone. The park is made up of undulating hills of yellow grasses, dotted with Baobabs (never seen so many Baobabs). The key feature is the Great Ruaha River that runs through the southern end of the park. The river has beautiful green flood plains and the banks are lined with enormous Acacia trees. The Acacia’s are probably the reason for the huge concentration of Giraffe. Elephant are also plentiful and we’ve seen Zebra, Kudu, Impala, Dfassa Waterbuck and all sorts of birds we can’t identify (no East Africa bird book).
We have seen Lion on every drive so far. the first morning there was a very blond male and three Lioness just lying by the river bank. That afternoon, we stopped for a drink and a rest. While standing there Elephants on the opposite bank started trumpeting. We watched as they charged a pride of Lions that were resting on the river bank. The Lions didn’t stick around and made a humbling retreat from out of all the dust. Scaredy Cats? Can’t say I blame them.
On the road back to Chogela we were stupid enough to have windows down in a forested area – enter Tse Tse flies. I was driving so had to rely on Emma to deal with them. At first it was “Shoo-Shoo”………….”No love, nail the bleep bleep buggers!” I think it was after her fifth bite that she became a fully fledged Tse Tse assassin. We arrived back with plenty of welts but final result was C&E 12 Tse Tse 7. Even after getting rid of them, they just swarm the vehicle and stick to the windows, looking for a way in. Something else.
30th August – 3rd Sept
We are now staying inside the Park. To make the most of the early morning and late afternoons it’s essential to be inside the park as the drive from the lodges outside is too long. We’re staying at very rustic but comfortable Bandas near the Park’s HQ.
The afternoon drive today (30th Aug) produced lots of Lions very close to where we are staying, along the Ruaha River. There were 3 large males and I lost count of the females. We followed one Lioness that Emma spotted, as according to Emma “She’s got huge teats and lots of milk – there must be cubs”. Sure enough, we found her lying by the side of the river with five 3 month old cubs lolling all over her. It was a lovely sighting.
Tonight (Friday), we’ve been kept awake with the thumping beat of Africa music coming from the HQ village………..ah well we’ve banked lots of sleep so it’s not a biggie.
The following day, plenty more Lions! This time we witnessed two Lioness make a botch job of hunting Zebras. It was a bit of High Noon, both aware of each other’s presence but nobody prepared to play their hand. Eventually a bored lioness made a dash for it but was way out of range.
The night was very noisy – this time not African beat Rhythms but Hyaenas and Lions. It sounded like the Hyaenas had made a kill with their characteristic cackling sounds when they get over excited.
We looked long and hard the following morning and Emma spotted a pride of Lion in the far distance on the river bank. Later on we found four of the Lioness on the hunt by the river.
More vehicle problems!! Can’t believe it, the same problem has returned and the Landy is cutting out every 5 to 10 minutes. I took it to the TANAPA workshop in Ruaha to see if they could help. Talk about being helpful, these guys bent over backwards. Juma and David spent 3 days sorting out the problem and really went the extra mile to get to the bottom of it. After trying numerous things, David cleaned all the sensors related to fuel injection and returned the Landy to me. Hey Presto! Abracadabra! It worked and still works (as I write on 3rd Sept.). I had visions of having to ship the car back from Dar es Salaam to SA to get it fixed. We are both so relived, it was really starting to wear us down and spoil our trip.
Emma wanted to see the natural Springs in Ruaha, it turned out to be quite a long drive through Tse Tse infested forest. Yep, they nailed us again! This time Emma ended up with a huge bite on her cheek that swelled up like a balloon. She put on a brave face (pardon the pun) and said to me “well it’s got rid of my wrinkles (what wrinkles?), is this what I’d look like with Botox?” Hey, who needs Botox when you’ve got Tse Tse. Just to rub salt in the wound, we missed Cheetahs chasing Grants Gazelle right next to our lodge whilst we were on the drive.
Time to leave Ruaha. We’ve had a really special time in a really special part of Wild Africa. It may not have the game densities of the Serengeti but makes up for it in so many other ways. It’s a truly magical place that offers so many surprises and freedoms lost in the likes of Kruger. The staff were so obliging and helpful and made us feel so welcome, especially Eva, Head of Tourism.
We’re now back in Iringa for a night before moving on to Mikumi National Park in the morning.
We now have a new Phone number (as the Zambian SIM won’t top up here) It is +255 785 766 477.