Tales & images from life as me…

Photography

My first eclipse


In the early hours of Monday morning, in the pitch black English autumn cold, I hauled myself out of bed, and snuck out of my parents’ house (it’s been a while since I did that!)… to witness my first eclipse.

It was ‘only’ a lunar eclipse. Solar eclipse fans will tell me this is a meager event by comparison, but it was pretty spectacular to me and it got me thinking…

Now I am no astronomer, but I have been learning the basics thanks to the astronomy tours client I’ve been working with (The Independent Traveller – shameless plug!). And I’m no astrophotographer, but again I’ve been learning the basics due to my recent writing work with Phil Hart (author of ‘Shooting Stars’) so I persuaded my brother-in-law (a brilliant photographer but also a doctor who was on call the following night – sorry Pete!) to join me and we headed out with our tripods into the night.

I’ll admit to struggling in the darkness to change lenses and get the settings right. Messing about with infinity focus, live view and bulb mode did cause some anxiety in the still, calm of the small hours! But I thoroughly enjoyed the learning and was so focused on taking shots that I failed to notice two things – first, how very cold my hands and feet had become and second what a profound effect the whole thing was having on me. It was only in hindsight that I could really appreciate the whole experience (one of the key reasons why I so love writing and photography – for their ability to freeze time and record a moment I may otherwise struggle to review in years to come. They allow us to be about as close to immortal as we can get, but let’s get back to the eclipse…)

It was so clear, and bright we could hardly believe our luck as the penumbral shadow turned the silvery moon an autumnal red. Silhouetted trees and a zillion stars set the backdrop. An owl hooted from the darkness of the earth as we turned our faces and our lenses to the sky. It was a gentle process; the passing of ships in the night – only this was planets. Huge chunks of universe aligning in such a way that we could actually see the effect. We could see the movement, the rotation. It is enough to make anyone feel small and humble.

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It is almost overwhelming. And when you learn some of the statistics it seems so incredible as to be beyond belief. (One of my favourites, recently learned as I write about the solar eclipse coming up over Tanzania next year, is that the Moon is around 400 times smaller than the Sun, but also roughly 400 times closer to Earth, making it possible for the two to align and for the Sun to be completely concealed during a solar eclipse. I’m sure there are equally stunning lunar eclipse facts.) But the common feeling is that we are small and insignificant, the moments are fleeting and that very little matters in this ‘grand scheme.’

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The following morning I woke to another day… and Facebook! Now I’ve written about Facebook before and my concerns with it. But today it reminded me of our connections. Far from feeling small and insignificant, I realised our power and unity. Millions of people had watched the eclipse. Thousands had taken incredible photographs of it. We are all trying to play out our roles as best we can in this giant, daunting universe and so many of us all over the world united in this one eerie moment. Imagine what it must have looked like from space to see all those humans scattered around the world peering up at the sky, all focused on the moon. What a powerful energy we directed out there in the middle of the night. How lucky we are to be able to witness such incredible beauty.

These eclipses happen regularly. A stupid statement perhaps, but I find it rather incredible that it has taken me more than thirty years to take the time to see one, and also that our planets align in various formations on a timetable. Eclipses can be predicted for millennium to come! It is reassuring in some way, and also somewhat metaphorical. I have often felt that shift in life when things seem to adjust – for good or bad – and it seems to me it can only be positive when there are occasions, however brief, where everything lines up. Perhaps for others it is more about the light returning after the darkness (certainly ancient cultures saw it that way), but for me it was about being able to physically see the alignment that was so stunning and comforting. An experience I highly recommend. Positive in every respect.

Now how do I get myself to Tanzania to watch the solar eclipse next Sept?!

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photo upgrade


I’ve just looked at my blog and realised how awful the title images are at the moment – since I claim to have some photographic skills it seems wrong to allow this to be the case so I’m posting a few images in an attempt to improve matters! First up – my brother’s wedding, just for fun 🙂 

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Finding Nemo (the turtle)


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An adult Green Turtle just so you have something to compare the little ones to!

There’s something inherently cute about the word ‘hatchling’, and what’s not to like about a miniature sea turtle? For months I’ve been trying to time my trips to Dar for baby scans to coincide with a turtle nest hatching, but I just couldn’t seem to pull it off… until now!

Authentic Tanzania runs a brilliantly organized trip in partnership with Sea Sense (the turtle champions) and almost half the profits go to Sea Sense for the continued protection of the turtles, their habitats and their nests. (to join the mailing list for notification of hatchings email info@authentictanzania.com).

So I was up at 5am, on a plane from Mwanza by 8, in Dar by 11 and squeezing through the city traffic to meet the Authentic bus by 12.30. I made it by the skin of my teeth and hopped on board with a friendly looking group just as they were heading out towards the ferry that takes us to South Beach.

It was a long and bumpy ride for a pregnant chick who likes the option to pee every hour or so, but I was kept well entertained by plenty of banter from the girls sitting near me in the bus and we were rewarded with arrival at Skippers Haven – a stunning little eco-lodge with fantastic raised sea views… and toilets! We ate our picnic (I hadn’t been that organized and was generously adopted by the rest of the group and fed like a queen) as wales flicked their tales in the distance.

We were so relaxed by this point that we had almost forgotten the purpose of our quest, but luckily our guides were on the clock and knew precisely when the time was right to take a short ride down to the beach where they had been keeping a special eye on the nest that was due to pop today.

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A ten minute walk along a curving bay backed by baobab trees and a small fishing village ended in an abrupt halt – one of the girls almost stepped right on the nest, there was no way to know it was there! But by the magic of Sea Sense one of the conservation officers began to dig.

It all happened so quickly after that, as though tiny sleeping dragons had been wakened. First one, then two, then five, then fifty, one hundred… little sand dusted shells erupted out of the ground and, in an awe-inspiring Darwinian rush of instinct, made for the sea as fast as their tiny new flippers could carry them – which is incredibly fast!


little turtles emerging from the packed sand

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The Sea Sense staff pour dry sand over them to stimulate them and help them get moving.


Climbing over the sands undulations is no mean feat when you’re that tiny!

I snapped as fast as I could, but with a short focal range for beautiful close-ups they just kept moving out of range and the challenge was on. It was like some insane video game trying to catch a sharp shot as the little ninjas made their escapes!

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As I backed up and backed up again, I found myself suddenly at the water’s edge, and so did they. It was such a magical moment to see the salty, frothing waves touch them for the first time and watch them take their first strokes in the environment where they would now spend almost the entirety of the rest of their lives (except for the females who will return to this very beach in adulthood in order to lay their own eggs).

There was something very touching about seeing each little turtle make it to their destined starting point and disappear into the waves. But the very last little one to emerge that day, had us all feeling emotional. Several minutes after all his siblings had run their gauntlet, one final hatchling popped his head above the sand. But it was quickly clear that something wasn’t quite right… only one flipper was working properly. He was a real life Nemo and he had all the charm and personality of the fabulous little clown fish, too. He was determined to make it to the sea, in spite of his disability, and dragged himself over the peaks and troughs of the sand with inspiring tenacity. We were unable to help him for fear of causing further damage and could only cheer him on as he made his slow and painful marathon. But he make it he did, and the ocean rushed suddenly to meet him. Somehow his weak right flipper didn’t seem so damaged under water and we trudged back to the bus with a sense of hope, honoured that we had witnessed such a special moment.

I’m not sure why I glanced up before jumping on the bus, but I did. In doing so I witnessed a large bird of prey, wings spread in silhouette against the bright evening sky… with a hatchling gripped tightly in its beak, little flippers flapping in distress. It was a poignant reminder of the tough odds these little sea turtles face. It is estimated that only 1 in 1,000 will survive to adulthood and with marine debris, climate change and fishing they are in serious danger of extinction. That’s why they need the help of NGOs like Sea Sense and of individuals like you to support the actions being taken to save these beautiful creatures. Visit Sea Sense online or email info@seasense.org for more details of how you can help.

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Some amazing sea turtle facts:
• The tiny hatchlings will never meet their parents and spend the first 10-30 years of their life alone at sea.

• Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings are thought to survive to adulthood, against all the odds, and find their way back to the same beach on which they hatched so many years earlier to start the cycle all over again.

• In Tanzania in 2012 the Sea Sense nest monitoring and protection programme ensured that 305 sea turtle nests hatched successfully and that 29, 757 sea turtle hatchlings emerged from their nests and safely reached the sea, which represents a hatching success rate of 77%! Considering the 1 in 1,000 survival rate, it is possible that only 30 of the thousands of sea turtles born in Tanzania last year will reach adulthood.

• Sea turtles spend almost their entire lives at sea, only the females ever come ashore, and that’s just a few times every 2 to 5 years to lay their eggs. This presents a huge challenge to sea turtle researchers – without knowledge of movement patterns and the location of important feeding grounds, it’s difficult to protect sea turtles.

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More than half of all green turtle nests laid in Tanzania are laid on Juani Island, Mafia District – and it’s only 9km long!


Barefoot & Pregnant in the Serengeti


OK so I wasn’t quite barefoot, but we did opt to camp so we were sort of roughing it (with a cook and a driver – so… not that rough!). I figured this would probably be my last safari for quite a while as I am now growing daily, so when the opportunity came up for me and two girlfriends to spend a couple of nights in the bush, I was in, with both feet – bare or otherwise.

We were lucky enough to see plenty of big cat activity,

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though often from quite long distances. Only the lions ventured close (really close it turned out, but I’ll tell you about that in a minute!). I’ll let the pictures do the talking for the most part – just click on any image you’d like to see bigger.

It seemed everyone was having babies. The lions, the elephants…

everyone…

There were plenty of crocs and hippos gathered in tight clusters as the rivers and various pools were almost dried out



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Several were clearly dead, a common scene at this time of year.

And all sorts of other wildlife:


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We stopped at a rickety old Indian Jones bridge and stretched our legs:

Found plenty of buffalo, though very few wildebeest as most have migrated North for the dry season.

And we found a very cool camp site right at the centre of everything. In fact, there was almost a little too much action. Check out the elephant joining us for breakfast!

But to be honest, the main action was actually not visual, it was all communicated in sound… As it grew dark, the camp site came alive.

On our first evening, just as we had finished dinner there was a very calm but sudden gathering of people. It seems to lionesses had chased and killed an impala amongst our tents! On looking up and realising where they’d ended up they scarpered, leaving the kill! The guides were quick to respond, not wanting to risk a midnight return so they took the carcass out to the carpark and calm returned. Until I awoke for my standard 1am pee (it’s 11, 1, 3 and 6 these days!)… at my 10 o’clock were hyenas whooping. They sounded close but not too close. It wasn’t until the rolling throaty roars of the lions went up in response that I realised this was not a great time for a toilet stop. The pride had clearly gathered and they were only a few metres out of the camp site! I ran… tripped on a guy rope, managed to stay upright and giggled as I heard the inhabitants of the unfortunate tent awake to lion roars – “shit, did you hear that!” Oops!

The second night was no better. Again as we were finishing dinner we were told – walk in groups, use your torches, there is a herd of elephants approaching camp! Hmmm. No problem until we were returning from the bathroom block. I stood in the centre of the camp waiting for the other two to catch up and suddenly the trumpeting sound of a very large elephant pierced the night and shook the ground. I’m glad it was dark my face must have been a picture!

That same night, again around 1pm I wake to a full bladder and consider heading out into the cold, but I can hear grass being torn and this time it is right outside our tent! My first thought is elephant. It would make sense and it’s definitely something big. But it could also be buffalo. I weighed my options, popped my head out, straining to see in the darkness, but even though the sound was very close I couldn’t see a thing. Again, I ran!

The following morning, clear hoof prints provide the evidence – a buffalo. A lone one. Never a good thing. Phew.

Another fantastic adventure. Thanks to Sue and Tara my fellow last-minute planners! And thanks to Masumin tours for making it happen at two days’ notice!


And then Paul said “let there be colour”… and there was colour!


OK Paul, wipe the smug smile off your face, I’m not quite comparing you to an all-creative deity! But between us all on our learning safari there is no question there were some moments of impressive genius! And, yes, Paul did have a lot to teach us.

So, last week you saw the Black and White previews, this week you’ve got the rest of my shots in all their Canon technicolour splendour! But first let me tell just a little about what we got up to…

Our esteemed teacher and guide on this trip was Paul Joynson-Hicks, a well known photographer in Tanzania (his large red coffee table book is one of the first things you’ll see when you arrive in Tanzania – it’s innovatively titled ‘Tanzania’!) and I had done a course with him previously down in Ruaha (please check out the details here) where I had learned a great deal, so I was very excited about what would follow.

But this trip would be different again. Partly because I had some new equipment to play with – an infrared camera and my fabulous 100-400mm lens – and partly because of where and when we were going.

This Capture Safaris tour would take us into sections of the Ngorongoro and Serengeti National Parks that I had never seen before, and all at the precise moment that over a million wildebeest gather on the plains and give birth to over half a million calves in preparation for the Great Migration (A journey of 500 miles that takes them all the way to Kenya in the longest and largest terrestrial migratory journey on earth).

The safari split essentially into three sections: Leaving Arusha took us through Manyara, and then up to the Ngorongoro Crater rim and finally allowed us a day’s shoot inside the Crater; we then settled for three nights in the Nomad Tanzania-owned Serengeti Safari Camp and enjoyed luxury service and accommodation whilst still reaping the benefits of camping amongst the wildlife (this was where the majority of the calving, and thus the predator, action was); and then we moved to the outskirts of the park and the enchanting yurts of Nomad’s Ndaura Loliondo Camp, enabling us to do some walking safari, macro photography and spend some very special time with Maasai tribe.

It certainly satisfied the traveller in me… but it also pleased the geek in me! I was travelling with five other photography obsessed individuals, three of us amateurs and two pros, and I was fully licensed to ask questions and talk photography all day long! And the days were long.

We were generally up by 5.30am (after being woken by tea being delivered to my tent!) and in the car ready to take advantage of the morning light. The sun comes up pretty fast as we are so close to the equator and you had to be thinking in order to make the most of it. I know not everyone who reads this blog is into photography so I won’t share all the hints and tips we gathered, but suffice to say I experimented with all sorts of new ideas and the results… well that’s for you to judge.

The Green Season is a great time to travel, it’s off-peak so there are less other tourist vehicles around to spoil your shot and the soft greens and dappled light make for spectacular backgrounds. Plus, I’ve never seen so many predators on any one trip and this time we also got to witness a kill, as well as several very dramatic attempted kills. The entire place was bursting with life… and death, and we were absolutely hooked from beginning to end.

Here are just a few of the shots I took during the trip. You’ve already seen the Black & Whites from last week. This is a selection of the colour images. Again, if you can let me know which pictures in particular catch your eye it would really help me out in deciding which ones might be used if I’m asked to write any articles about the trip.

Our first stop was Lake Manyara where this little chap was happy to show off for us

Our first stop was Lake Manyara where this little chap was happy to show off for us

But he did get a little shy for his close up!

But he did get a little shy for his close up!

We were up at 5am ready to explore the Crater!

We were up at 5am ready to explore the Crater!

And it didn’t disappoint, though most of my shots from that morning are in black and white or infrared so you’ve already seen them.

Next stop was the main calving area and I was expecting lots of sweet little baby shots – not so much! Firstly, they have been taught by years of evolution to run as soon as anything that’s not the same species as them comes close – the new babies can run just minutes after being born and they use this skill pretty effectively. And secondly, it wasn’t really the babies we were interested in at all – it was the predators eating the babies!

So Ndutu, and Serengeti Safari Camp, were all about the big cats. I have honestly never seen so many cheetahs and lions in one spot; or so many near misses and chases and kills. It was thrilling stuff.

The lions were certainly on form:

And the cheetahs were posing all over the place too!

But they aren’t always that safe to be around…

Of course there was plenty to see aside from the big cats…

And finally it was time to move on, across the Southern Serengeti Plains, to Loliondo. It rained part of the time as we drove, but that only added to the drama of the scenes we were seeing.

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When we arrived in Loliondo we loved the little yurts for the dining room and bar, where we had a workshop review session and enjoyed a three course dinner in comfort.

The following day we went walking and learned a little macro photography:

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And were also able to spend some time in a Maasai village taking portraits.

What we hadn’t anticipated was the evening’s entertainment…

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and so did they…In fact they enjoyed themselves so much, that they stayed!

This really was an incredible trip – one I’d highly recommend. Huge thank yous to Paul, Tim, Andrew, Mike and our fantastic driver Phillip who all shared the trip with me and made it so much fun!


Africa in Black & White


Having returned yesterday from an incredible photographic workshop safari with Capture Safaris and Paul Joynson-Hicks, I thought (for once) I wouldn’t write too much, instead I’ll let the pictures do the talking. The trip was so packed with amazing sights and great learning opportunities that it’s going to have to come in two parts. So… part one is in black and white as well as some infrared, part two will be in colour and by that stage I should have sorted out how on earth I am going to put into words just exactly how fantastic it all was!

Let’s start with the animal portraits (just click on any picture to make it full size):

And some funky techniques I picked up from Paul (note: this is a slideshow so pause here!):

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And then the beautiful Maasai we hung out with on our final day:

I had a great time messing about with the new infrared camera (note: this is a slideshow so pause here!):

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And we all absolutely loved learning and hanging out with other photographers!

Any comments about which ones you like best would really help me make selections to present to publications for articles I’m writing so please do say what you think! Full colour next week and a few stories to help you share the adventure… watch this space!


TIA Tales – Authentic Selous


So the adventures began back in May this year with a safari into Selous – the world’s largest game reserve – more than three times the size of the Serengeti, and larger than Switzerland! The text below is from one of the articles I wrote about the trip (it’s already been published in Travel News so I’m allowed to put it on here – keep an eye out for other articles in Destination, Salt and Pepper and Bird Watching over the next month or two!). You guys get the added bonus of loads and loads of photos! I’ve added Authentic Tanzania’s contact info – the company that I went with, in case any of you are interested in doing something similar.

The Experience

The day the message arrived I had no idea what sort of a journey was to come. I had been invited to experience a ‘nomadic’ or wilderness camp – one that moves to follow game movements – with Authentic Tanzania, a specialist company which has exclusive rights to use sites outside of the standard public camping spots. ‘Sure’ I’d said, just excited to have the opportunity to visit Selous, but with no concept of all the adventures that awaited me.Image

I was to ‘shadow’ (anyone who knows me knows that a ridiculous term for me – shadows are quiet!) two clients who were visiting Tanzania for the first time from the USA. Jude had done a safari in the Mara before, whilst Debs had never been in the bush at all. They were both seasoned travelers but neither knew quite what to expect. So, three of us and the Authentic Tanzania team all met up at the gates of Selous where their plane landed (I had driven in from Dar es Salaam earlier that day with Sven Liebchen, the company’s owner and our guide for the trip).

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Entering the Selous

Going through the gates felt somehow more significant than in any other park I’ve been to. Perhaps it is the weight of history present in this reserve, or the knowledge of how wild, isolated and huge it is. Perhaps it was the closeness of the vivid green wet season undergrowth or the treacherous sections of black cotton soil on the roads – either way, we were all pretty excited.

It was already mid-afternoon so we began to make our way to camp, but we were already getting a feel for this very unique landscape. It changes constantly; opening out into scrubland, then marshland and lake, hilly backdrops, Acacia forests, crazy cacti and dried river beds. Sven, our driver and animal expert, explained that you can cross a road or river section and then return just a few hours later to find it has completely changed due to rain. This is a place where you need a sense of direction – I’m glad I had Sven!

We quickly spotted Impala and giraffe; lots of giraffe – little lollipop lines of babies all apparently born in the off season. (The Selous is closed during the worst weather of the year since the terrain just becomes too extreme). The Selous is known for its giraffe.

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It was perfect, just to watch the world go by. We had almost reached camp and were beginning to relax into the safari experience when our first outstanding safari moment occurred. Sven spotted a Cobra and then quickly realized it was under attack. A Slender Mongoose, a diminutive little thing with pretty fur… and razor sharp teeth was attacking with all its guile, whilst the snake did it’s best to fend him off. Sven launched into a Steve-Irwin-style-Attenborough-content excited commentary of exactly what was going on. ‘Even though he had done this thousands of time, he was as excited as we were for each new animal encounter,’ commented one of the girls. It was riveting and we all leaned forwards, straining to see the events unfold through the long grass. Quite a scene!

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With our Cobra mortally wounded and the mongoose settling back to wait it out, we then moved towards camp… And there another spectacular scene awaited us.

The camp

The sun was setting behind us and the colours on the Nzerakera lake, where Sven had elected to set up camp for our trip, provided a mesmerizing backdrop to what amounted to a tiny village of tents.Image

Gin and tonics were instantly produced and before we knew it we were settled in and enjoying a fire under the star studded sky before dinner.

These private camps really are a totally new way to do safari and experience the bush. The American term is ‘glamping’ (glamourous camping) and it certainly applies here. This is seriously comfortable camping. Authentic Tanzania sends its team out at least a day in advance of the wageni (visitors) and sets up tents with toilets, showers, proper beds and all sorts of little personal touches too. There’s also a camp sitting room, library, mess or dining tent and staff quarters – they’re doing nothing by halves! Solar power means little lanterns light your way at night, and that you can charge essential electrical items like camera batteries, in spite of being – quite literally – in the middle of nowhere.

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And the food… was… fantastic. Everything is made at camp – even fresh bread. A full English breakfast greets you at sunrise and a three course dinner follows sunset. Bush lunches and snacks are provided whether you return to camp to get out of the midday heat or continue on a full day game drive.

Right, so I was all set. The accommodation was certainly a pleasant surprise (I had texted to check if I needed a sleeping bag just prior to leaving – clearly not!). Fireflies danced for us and the tunes of cicadas, crickets, hippo and hyena sang us to sleep.

Safari – day 1

We had the next two full days to explore before a river cruise would take us out of the park along the beautiful Rufiji River.

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I’d been warned the roads may be bad and the game may be sparse since this is such a vast and wild environment, but with our guide’s keen eyes and incredible level of knowledge about the animals and their environment we were quickly finding all sorts. giraffe, wildebeest, Yellow Baboons (quite different to the Olive Baboons you’d commonly find in the Mara or Serengeti) and hippos are in abundance, but Sven was always keen to do better. His knowledge of their preferred territories and ability to anticipate their behaviour led to some incredible finds.

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For a start, he noticed vultures circling. Everyone knows that means there’s been a kill, but recognizing the type of vulture and thus predicting what state the carcass is likely to be in and tracking the landing patterns to find the exact spot where the dead animal is – now that’s good guiding! Of course it helps that there are multiple routes to take in the Selous so you can access the more remote corners. The little tracks caused by animals and vehicles apparently alter all the time as nature requires, but they are plentiful. This is great as it means there’s usually a way to reach the point where the animals are, and not so great as it would be really easy to get lost!

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A further example was when Sven suddenly pulled up and there, right beside us, was a pride of 11 sleeping lions. As though Sven had briefed him, a young male stretched and stood, preparing to exhibit some behaviour a little more interesting than the usual day time sleep we tend to see. We watched, enthralled, as the huge cat launched himself into the nearest tree and then climbed and settled himself – albeit somewhat uncomfortably initially – into the branches, on the look out for something to eat. Magnificent. We stayed alongside the pride for the rest of the afternoon.

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That’s another thing about taking a private camp safari – the guarantee of no other tourists in your vehicle means you can choose to stay as long as you like at each point, without needing to accommodate anyone else’s interests.

I got lucky, Jude and Debs were into every aspect of safari. Yes, of course we wanted to see the big cats, but learning that the Lilac-Breasted Roller has seven shades of blue in its feathers; that the Southern Ground-Hornbill is a pack bird with an alpha male and female; or that the Oxpecker not only cleans but also serves to keep wounds open sometimes, was all absolutely fascinating as well. There was no question we could find that Sven could not answer.

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Having discovered Eland, elephants, crocodiles, waterbuck, zebra, hyena and literally hundreds of different birds, we ventured into a clearing beside a dry river bed where Sven said there had been some cat activity last season. Sure enough we quickly sniffed out a fresh kill, but its perpetrator was nowhere to be found. The sun was sinking and Sven advised we return to catch the culprit at first light. The hunt was on.

Safari – Day 2

The following morning we threw coffee down our necks and leapt excitedly into the vehicle again, whilst trying to control our anticipation, knowing we may well see nothing. But Sven was absolutely right and as soon as we pulled up the intimidating yellow eyes of a large male leopard locked onto mine.

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He promptly secured his powerful jaws around what now remained of the wildebeest carcass we had found the night before and dragged the deadweight a little further back into the grass, but quickly realized he was safe – we didn’t want his breakfast, the maggots and smell were enough to secure that! – so he didn’t go too far. Once comfortable he continued his meal, crunching bones and chewing noisily, pausing to lick his Imagepaws and face at regular intervals whilst we were just a few feet away.

Because we had been positioned right near where Authentic Tanzania felt the predominance of game would be for that time in the season we had been just moments away and were able to make the most of every minute. And we were the only vehicle there to see it. In fact, we hardly saw another vehicle the entire trip (another great thing about Selous). As the sun rose, this beautiful creature took its time, only leaving when it had reduced the wildebeest to skin and bone – literally. What a privilege to witness.

Next it was our turn for breakfast as the Authentic team produced a table, tablecloth, fresh fruit, bacon sandwiches and hot coffee in the middle of clearing just far enough away from the leopard’s territory!

And then we were off again. The girls learned about Yellow Baboons’ red bottoms, Vervet Monkey’s blue balls and the terrifying barbs a male lion features on his unmentionables! We laughed and laughed at the ‘safari smut’, reduced to little children by the shear joy and exhilaration of being so totally consumed by the wilds of Africa.

Our day was positively packed with sightings, learning new facts and understanding the environment a little better. We returned to our camp weary and joyful, enjoying the scene as little Quelea birds moved like shoals of fish against the sunset; twisting and turning in giant formations through the air.

River Cruise

The following morning we had time for one last drive and then we had arranged to meet Selous Great Water Lodge’s boat. The Lodge is located outside the park, right on the river and far enough away from the numerous other camps to maintain the feeling of being entirely in the wild (which it is, in spite of being outside the actual map lines of the park – the animals are not big on maps!).

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From water level we were able to enjoy a whole new perspective of the Rufiji – which up until now had presented itself more as a series of beautiful lakes than as one continuous flow of water.

We watched elephant probe the palm fruits, crocodiles launching themselves into the water, hundreds of White-Fronted Bee-Eaters chasing butterflies and insects and great globular pods of hippos.

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I was sad to say goodbye to the park as we passed the spot that marks the transition into village life and began to enjoy scenes of people washing and drawing water (using plastic pots tied onto long sticks to avoid the threat of crocodiles) and hopping out of mokoro-style water taxis.  But, the adventure was not over quite yet. As the sun set behind us we were welcomed into Selous Great Water Camp, accompanied by the odd little sound of bush babies in the trees.

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Our last night

This small camp is simple, rustic even, but very comfortable. It is set in the perfect spot, right on a bend in the river and offers a range of activities to its guests as a result of its location – such as the river trip we did downstream from within the park as well as sunset river cruises, cultural tours to nearby villages, walking safaris through the local forest, and of course game drives in the reserve. Their resident guide is excellent on both fauna and flora. They are also happy to organize other activities on request – a fishing trip and a cycle tour through nearby villages are recent examples. With four banda/lodge rooms and one huge luxury tent, the lodge retains a boutique feel and very personal service, and we were extremely well fed and looked after.

John, the owner, described the previous morning to us where he had arisen to witness a full moon, a golden river and a lion roaring on the opposite side of the bank. Pure magic I thought to myself.

I had to smile when the following morning I awoke to the rolling resonations of a lion just across the water myself.

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Getting network in Selous is not that easy! Hence the delay in posting this (well, that’s part of the excuse anyway!).

INFORMATION

 

Authentic Tanzania – bespoke wilderness experiences

Tel: +255 (0) 786 019 965

E-mail: info@authentictanzania.com

Website: http://www.authentictanzania.com

Selous Great Water Lodge

Tel: +255 784 361 951

E-mail: info@selouslodge.co.tz

Website: http://www.selouslodge.co.tz

Chartered Flights – Coastal

Tel: +255 222 602 430/431

Website: http://www.coastal.cc

We chose a wild dog as our logo as we champion truly wild places which are the last territories of this endangered animal – only 3000-5,500 dogs remain in the wild worldwide, 20% of which are in the Selous! With no permanent base, except when the pups are very young, they are nomads who roam over a home range of 500-1,000 square miles not too dissimilar to us at Authentic Tanzania really!” Sven Liebchen, Company Director, June 2012.