Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Selous - Day 2 PM

After we left the lions, we drove a few kilometers and parked under a big, beautiful tree.  Our guide stood up, did a comprehensive 360 degree scan of the area, and proclaimed it safe for dining.  He proceeded to set up our bush lunch, which is a bit of a misnomer for the lovely experience that followed.  We dined on gourmet beef and chicken wraps, cashews, orange cake, veggie sandwiches, and oranges.  We dined in wooden camp chairs with a checkered tablecloth-covered camp table.  It doesn't get much nicer than that!  Our safari vehicle had a cooler built into the console in between two of the seats, so we were never without cold drinks (and, it turned out, cold chocolate bars!).

After a relaxing and delicious lunch in a beautiful setting we took off once again.  Less than a kilometer from our lunch spot we spotted a lone hyena sleeping under a tree.  As was par for the course, he loped away from us as we approached.  Still, he left slowly, giving us great opportunities to marvel at his curious beauty.

A few kilometers later we encountered a small herd of kudu - abundant in Selous but rarely seen.  There were two males and several females and young.  They moved away slowly enough for us to get some great photographs of them and observe their gorgeous stripes and unique antlers.

We spotted a few more gaggles of giraffes and impala herds and finally a large buffalo herd.  The buffalo turned and looked at us, and we in turn stared at them.  They're such funny animals in herds, really.  Solitary males - often referred to as retired generals - are insecure and extremely dangerous, but herds have security in numbers and are generally pretty docile.  And, apparently, skittish.  It was silent, and all was calm, when all of a sudden D sneezed.  Loudly.  As one, the herd turned tail and thundered away from us.  I believe this moment was one of my trip highlights - it was so improbable to see such a large group of huge mammals frightened by a sneeze.

We slowly made our way back to the lodge, having driven about 55 km away during the course of the day.  We passed the gravesite of Frederick Selous, the namesake of the park, and enjoyed a short, light rainstorm.  As we approached the dead giraffe from the morning we noticed a few vultures roosting in the tree and then spotted another hyena, lying serenely in the bush.  This one had a friend, who was busily chomping down on giraffe remains as we drove by.

As we headed back up the mountain we drove over a small stream.  This really was a very small body of water.  As we passed, movement caught our eye, and we were astonished to see a large croc surface and then slowly immerse itself once again.  It didn't seem there was enough water to even cover it, but it managed to hide quite well.

We continued on past the cicada forest and were in a wooded valley when we once again all smelled death.  Our guide said, casually, that we smelled a lion who had died a week prior on the road and had been dragged into the woods by several guides. 

The rest of our drive was fairly uneventful, though at one point I looked to my left, caught a blur of black and white, and calmly mentioned that I spotted zebras.  We had not seen any of these elusive ungulates yet, and these were grazing on a wooded hillside with giraffes for company/protection.  We didn't have good visibility, but it was a still a fun sighting. 

After arriving back at the lodge, we went to our respective cabins to relax.  I sat by the A/C and finished the new Bridget Jones book (a fun vacation read) before heading back to the main dining area for sundowners and dinner.

Dinner was similarly spectacular to the previous evenings, and we retired to bed not too long afterward.  I took another nighttime outdoor shower, though this one had a scary moment when a lizard and I caught each other's eyes and scared each other with our presence.  I did sleep quite well, though, despite the fright.

Bush lunch

Lunch with a view



Running baby kudu

One of my favorite photos of the trip

Well hello there

Running giraffe, and wildebeest. I forgot to mention we saw wildebeest!

This is the herd who ran at the sound of a sneeze

Selous' gravesite

Sleepy hyena

Eating giraffe

Running away with its prize

Crocodile in a small stream


An unlikely pair

And there they go...

Monday, December 30, 2013

Selous - Day 2 AM

Day two in Selous was a long, beautiful day in the bush.  We had an early breakfast watching the hippos and crocs and then set out for a ten hour safari that would take us to some areas with higher game densities.

It took almost an hour to get out of the super mountainous/scrub terrain and into more savanna-like areas, though there were few really open areas.  We didn't see a lot of animals during that hour, save the occasional herd of impala or quick little squirrel.  We did pass through about 1/4 km area that was literally buzzing with cicadas.  It was only in that one area - I'm not sure what it was about that spot, but they were everywhere!  You could barely hear the engine over them.  Fascinating.

Our first exciting sighting of the day was a gaggle of giraffes.  Over the course of the next few days we'd see many similar groups - several adult females and males and a whole host of babies and adolescents.  I mentioned before how the crocs were skittish.  Well, it wasn't just them.  Every animal was super skittish.  We surmised that the hunting concessions in the south of the park and the animals' migratory patterns to and from those areas made for extremely frightened animals.  It was a shame, really.  I love turning the car off and just watching animals go about their business, but, with few exceptions, we often got only fleeting glimpses.  We did, though, get to see a lot of giraffes running away from us with their funny, awkward gaits.

This particular gaggle had two males who engaged in some neck fighting.  I'd never seen it before, and it was as odd and captivating as it had seemed on you tube.  There was a definite whoosh of wind as they wound up, and yet it was as graceful and choreographed as a ballet.  Fascinating.

We moved on from the giraffes, encountering olive baboons and more herds of impala as we descended down toward one of Selous' many lakes.  We were looking at what seemed to be a beautiful green field when all of a sudden a hippo rose out of the 'field' covered in lily pads.  It was actually a marshy area completely covered with lily pads!  He and his companion egret walked off toward a cooler spot without a glance back at us. 

After that we hit Lake Tagalala, a shallow lake with an abundance of birdlife.  Our guide also told us that it has the highest density of crocs per cubic volume of water, and we saw plenty of evidence of that!  Birds included great heron, lots of egrets/ibis/sandpipers/etc., marabou and yellow-billed storks, African spoonbill, pelicans, fish eagles, and many more, often all at once.  It was a feast for birders; while none of us really are, we were impressed by the sights nonetheless.

As we traversed the lake's edge, we were met by the unmistakable scent of death.  While in most aspects of life one would be repelled by this scent, on safari it often means predator sightings are in store.  We didn't find any predators at the remains of a giraffe, but it was still pretty fascinating to see.  Our guide said it was lions who had killed it, a few days prior.

We continued on, and the mud started getting a bit thicker and harder to traverse.  Our guide/driver - a very practical man - checked out a shortcut to another area he wanted to visit and saw that the muddy ravine was too difficult for us to cross.  He headed out on the long way around, and we bumped into two vehicles from our lodge - the only two vehicles we saw all day!  Those drivers wanted to go via the ravine and figured if three cars tried it they could use winches to help.  Our vehicle - consisting of three women - sighed and shook our heads.  So we turned around and headed back to the ravine.  We were the second car in the line, and, sure enough, the first one got quite stuck.  I'll spare you the gory details, but 45 minutes later we were all on the other side.  In between there was a lot of eye rolling on our part, excited cheers from the male tourists in the other vehicles, and at least two winch applications.  One of the men in another vehicle caught D, T, and me rolling our eyes and told us, "this is the essence of safari!"  We looked at him, rolled our eyes, and muttered under our breath that watching animals was, in fact, the essence of safari, and that this little escapade had robbed us of 45 minutes of prime viewing time.

Once on the other side we separated again and looked for animals - the essence of safari.  We had just found our first herd of elephants for the day, some munching on branches behind some trees, some heading into the lake for a bath, when our guide took a call over the radio.  He asked us, ever so politely, if we'd mind leaving the elephants.  Another guide had found lions.  We laughed, agreed, and set off.  After about ten minutes of excited driving across fields and through scrublands we spotted the other two vehicles.  And then we spotted the lions.

There were seven of them lazing in a slightly muddy depression underneath several trees.  It was midday, hot and humid, and they were all panting fiercely.  There were two mamas and five babies and adolescents.  A few of the little ones still had their leopard spotting.  Our guide knew this pride, and they were the among the few animals not to run from us on the whole trip.  I guess when you're at the top of the food chain you have some leeway on deciding whether to run from the vehicles. 

The mamas got comfortable, rolling from their fronts to their backs, all four paws in the air.  One of the youngest babes left his nook in the trunk of a tree to come over and smell the tires before retreating behind a bush to relieve himself.  One of his brothers got up to smell him when he returned. 

Despite the oppressive heat, several of the lions were all cuddled up and made an effort to cuddle up more when one of the mamas repositioned.  We stayed there with the engine off for probably thirty minutes just watching and marveling.  Lions never cease to amaze me.  I could watch them all day, even if they don't do anything like this group.

I'll leave you with some photos from the morning as I take time to write the next installment.

Hello, there.

Running away, as always

Olive baboon

baby giraffes - so many of them!

See how tiny?

Surprise hippo

A hippo and his egret. And his lily pad hat.

I love that he kept the lily pad adornments on the entire time!

African spoonbill

Yellow-billed stork


The site of, apparently, the largest number of crocs per cubic volume of water. We did see a lot.

Marabou stork; these guys are like pigeons in Kampala

Remains of a giraffe

Cue eye-rolling


Baby elephant running from us

Heading for a bath

Beautiful fish eagle in the water

Baby lions!

Cuddling with the siblings

Pile o' lions

Leopard spots!

Smelling brother after he returns from the bush

Comfy mama

Repositioning for better cuddles

relaxed mama

So incredible sweet!