At 4 in the morning the 6 of us emerged from Julius Nyere Airport in Dar-es-Salaam into the heat of the African night. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a man holding a sign with the name “Chabo Africa” written on it. This was Modest, whom I had been in contact with on and off for the past month setting up this trip and bothering with endless questions and requests. We now shook hands and he led us to a Land Rover with the company logo on it; we loaded the luggage and drove off, first through seemingly endless silent markets and low slung buildings and then out into the dark countryside. We talked little, shyly feeling our way on this our first actual meeting. The others, after a long flight from cold and wet Belgium, via the east-meets-west madcap bazaar atmosphere of Istanbul’s Ataturk airport ( 1 hour stopover) seemed too tired or confused to say anything. We drove on and after about 2 hours, and as the light began to grow we stopped for coffee, omelets, fried bread and bananas at a roadside café. We were soon joined by a busload of Maasai in purple and red shawls who ordered bowls of steaming goat meat for their breakfast. I relaxed – I was back in Africa.
It was time to move on as we still had some way to go to reach our destination: Mikumi National Park. I was a bit worried about our little group; I had counted on everyone getting a good sleep during our night flight from Istanbul to Dar, but the Turkish Airlines crew (who provided an otherwise outstanding service) had different ideas and woke everyone up at the halfway point to serve a delicious but badly timed dinner. So we are all a bit groggy as we drive on through miles and miles of empty lowland bush. So far, except for some sparrows and crows (no offense) I haven’t seen a bird worth lifting my binoculars for and I am worrying, perhaps this was all a big mistake? At a brief comfort stop by a little creek off the road we spot a Zanzibar Red Bishop – a spectacular bright red little bird; some weavers are busy building nests nearby and above us a Wahlberg’s Eagle is soaring on the first warm updrafts of the day. Villagers are arriving to tend their fields, Africa is beginning to work its charm.
We drive on. When we arrive at the park gate the sight of Zebras, Impalas and a couple of Giraffes just the other side of the barrier has everyone immediately awake. Inge is especially delighted as Giraffes are, she says, her favorite animal.
We drive in and immediately run into some Elephants. One of them seems to doing a little dance, showing off right in front of us. It is a lovely welcome and as Modest drives us slowly on into the park there is something to see every few meters.These are all the more “common” species but they are on their best behaviour and showing beautifully and my friends, most of whom are meeting these guys for the first time are amazed at the abundance and beauty surrounding them.
We stop by a pool with Hippos (Jeanne especially liked those) and lots of water birds but not for long as Modest hurries us over to a nearby thicket where a Lioness is lying up. It’s almost too good to be true.
Adrenalin is keeping us going but its time for a break. Its been 30 hours since we got into the shared taxi to Brussels airport and here we are looking at a Lioness in the hot middle of the day in the African savanna. Modest drives us to a small restaurant in the park for some lunch and a bit of a rest.
Later we drive around some more, we see a male Lion, many more birds, Elephants, Impalas, Buffaloes, Wildebeest …. but exhaustion is setting in and though there is still so much to see we head out of the park and down the road to an early dinner and a welcome bed at the Swiss-Tan Hotel.
It has been a very long day, too long really, and I already know how to do it better next time. Live and learn. But we did really well, the weather is amazing, considering it has rained here almost every day for the last month, and every body was blown away by the abundance of wildlife in the park. I am happy with Modest our guide/tour operator and the group seem all in a good mood. So far so good.