Thursday, January 2, 2014

Selous - Day 3

Day three at Selous started out early and slowly.  We went on an early morning game drive, a fabulous three hours out in the bush.  Aside from the cicada forest and a few herds of impala, the only real sighting of the morning was in a beautiful meadow where impalas, zebra, giraffe, and some ground hornbills were grazing.  That's it.  Since we'd had such an awesome day the day before we sort of chalked it up to safari luck and headed back to the lodge for breakfast. 

We were halfway through a leisurely breakfast and musing about morning naps when one of the managers came to our table and told us with a big smile he was putting us back in a vehicle right now.  We laughed, thinking it was a joke about the hard roads, but then he got serious and said, "no, really.  Be at the entrance in ten minutes.  The group going to the airport just spotted wild dogs."

Wild dogs are very rare across Africa, and Selous has a relatively healthy population of them, though they're not often seen.  Our guide said nobody had seen any in more than three weeks, so our hopes had not been high. 

We wolfed down our eggs and climbed the 75 or so steps to the vehicle launch.  The dogs had been spotted not too far from the lodge, but they were on the hunt and moving fast.  Our hopes were up, even if we knew it was a long shot.  The next hour was spent tracing and retracing the steps of the wild dogs, but we didn't find any sign of them.  We decided we'd leave for our afternoon drive a bit early to see if we could find them napping in the heat of the day.

I then took a heat of the day nap before lunch, after which we set back out on a drive. 

This drive was, until the very end, almost exactly like the morning.  We spent almost five hours driving around new areas of the park, starting with the wild dog areas and continuing to many waterholes.  There was nothing at any of them.  Nothing.  Every once in a great while we saw a warthog or a couple of impala, but even those were few and far between.

We began to get desperate for animal life, keenly looking for frogs in puddles and exclaiming over birds we'd seen a million times before, even though none of us are birders.  We were super excited to see a small flock of guinea fowl!  We endured another rainstorm, huddling under rain gear rather than putting down the canvas sides of the vehicle, which can be suffocating.

Finally we hit a spot where there were several giraffe and a few zebra in the distance.  We were deliriously excited.  From there we turned around and started back to the lodge.  We were all pretty silent, staring intently around us in search for a leopard or even a buffalo, anything to break the monotony.

We were about 30 minutes drive from the park when T spotted vultures in a tree.  We slowed down and watched them, as they're so often a good indicator of something good.  As we looked we noticed more and more of them in the trees; this wasn't just a place to perch.  We went offroad into the surrounding bush, eyes peeled for a kill or a predator.  We saw nothing except more vultures until all of a sudden our guide very kindly said "lion" and pointed straight ahead.  None of us saw anything, until all of a sudden a male lion jumped up and ran behind another bush to avoid us.  We watched him for a while and determined he was alone, but we still didn't know why he was there or why the vultures were there.  We drove a little farther from the road, toward the larger cluster of birds, which, we now saw, also included marabou stork. 

Our guide pointed down a ravine to a riverbed where a large adult hippo carcass lay, the body bloated and the head partially eaten away.  Our guide surmised that the hippo must have died of natural causes a day or so ago, and the lion - an older one - had been attracted to a few easy meals.  He thought the lion might be too old to hunt on his own and dependent on scavenging. 

We watched the birds feast for a few more minutes and then headed back to visit the lion.  He was exceedingly skittish, constantly moving and hiding from us, but always with an eye on us to track our movements.  Very different than our female lions yesterday!  At one point he seemed to be threatened enough to pounce, even though we kept a respectable distance from him, so we headed back toward the lodge.

With this one sighting, the rest of the day seemed to wash away in memories, with only the good and exciting to remain.  This is so common on safaris, forgetting the hours without seeing anything as soon as you have five minutes of excitement.

Arriving back at the lodge we excitedly shared our news with the staff and another family, who in turn showed us pictures of crocodiles belly flopping into the water from rocky outcrops.  A good day all around!

The boardwalks of our lodge

My cabin

Sole game sighting of the morning drive.

Our lodge

View from the dining tables

My bed

Cabin interior

Lovely sitting area

The bathroom was absolutely lovely

Oh! I forgot we had this glimpse of an elephant.

The airfield.

Guinea fowl!

Finally some animals!

And there they go...

Lion, our guide said calmly.  It took a couple seconds to be able to see him at first.

Especially when he hid like this

Dead hippo with vultures

Lion ear

Lion tail

He always kept an eye on us

When he made this pose we decided it was time to go.

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...