Friday, August 7, 2009

Safari to Selous game Reserve

Part 3: Jungle Safari

Our alarm rang at 5.15 but neither I nor my brother had stirred in our sleep. Dad woke us up at 6.20. We were late. We were supposed to have breakfast at 6.30 and leave for the safari by 7. We quickly had our baths and went for breakfast at 7. We vacated at 7.30 and off we went into the Selous Game Reserve.

The first animal that greeted us into the Game Reserve was the Giraffe, the National Animal of Tanzania. It ran behind the trees as the vehicle approached and thus I could not a get a clear snap of the giraffe. No regrets though, for we would anyway run into more giraffes later. Moreover, I have understood that the best way to go about photography during a safari is to focus on any given animal on each trip into the jungle, for you need plenty of luck and patience to find the right creature at the right spot in the best pose possible. A good guide might be enough for you to spot the animals but a good snap is a different thing all together. If you focus on one animal per trip you get more time with the creature of your choice, which is once you find it, to test your patience to the limit with incessant clicks of your cam waiting for that elusive avant-garde pose.

But again, we can't do it that way. We have just one 5 hour trip into the jungle. So the only compromise is to try to get snaps of whatever creature we see and deem important enough to capture on a frame. Others we just spot and then ignore like we did with the photo calls of many birds and baboons. One thing about the Selous Game Reserve compared to the more famous National Parks in Tanzania like the Ngorongoro, Mikumi, etc. is that owing to a difficult road access, in spite of it being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 due to its diversity of its wildlife and undisturbed nature, tourists are fewer and thus the animals are less accustomed to the low rumble of jeeps. Unlike in Ngorongoro where the animals practically pose for photographs, here they at the slightest disturbance run off into the bushes. That makes photography even more challenging.

Anyway, into the trip we ran into crocs, gazelles, more giraffes, zebras, antelopes, wild boars, the golden baboons, wildebeest, hippos and water birds, all of which we tried to get at least one snap of. We were unlucky with the African elephants though. We did spot two of them running into the foliage but could not get any snaps of them.

However, it was almost 10 and we still hadn't got a glimpse of the only animal of importance to anyone embarking on a safari in Africa, the elusive lions. It is easy to say "Follow the vultures, you will find the lions", but what if even vultures are hard to come by? I knew that the Canon in my hand had already made this trip more than worth it, but I still desperately wanted to catch the lions.

If I remember right, this was my sixth safari in Tanzania, though the first to Selous. In spite of five safaris I have been lucky to take back moments of awe only in my 1996 Safari to the Ngorongoro Crater. The other trips just don't easily come into my memory, which clearly depicts why luck is such a major factor in determining the long term nostalgic quotient of a safari. Back in 1996, since I was little and had no cam, I could not capture those precious moments as digitized information or even onto a film. But those moments are vividly etched into my mind. The best ones are undoubtedly a lioness licking the hands of a foreign tourist in a vehicle in front of ours and the sighting of a leopard on a branch right above our open top 4 wheeler. The latter was one spooky moment. The leopard could have jumped onto us if it wanted to. We didn't budge nor did the leopard. After a surreal half a minute of frisson the leopard was scampering away scared by an oncoming tractor.

Now, I wanted this trip to beat that in all respects and so in spite of great moments like witnessing the sublime athleticism and crisp muscle movement of the swift gazelles and even the ugly, yet strangely alluring writhing motion of the giraffes' necks while they scamper for cover, I wanted to spot a majestic lion making short work of its prey. But by 11 I had started accepting that "no lion" was not a loss. I had started resigning to the fact that we had already seen the best on offer.

That didn't bog our guide and driver down, did it? He desperately wanted to show us the lions and it was his undying persistence that finally got us to the elusive lion at 11.30, well technically, not exactly. We rather saw three lionesses still panting after making short work of their prey, a wildebeest. But will do. Something is better than nothing. The sighting of a majestic lion feeding on its prey probably will come true in some future safari of mine.

We were back at the Mtemere gate at 12 where we took a few photos and then once out of the reserve boundary we had lunch, courtesy the Mbega Camp where we stayed last night. They had packed for us lunch boxes. Nice chicken and sandwich. At 1 we started our return journey to Dar, where we were back by around 6.30 slowed slightly by the heavy traffic once in Mbagala.

The total cost of trip came to around 350$ per head. Considering that included the 5 hour ride to Selous and back, complimentary breakfast, great food and accommodation in Mbega Camp, a boat ride that gave me some of my best photos and a memorable 5 hour safari through the Game Reserve, I would say, worth it!!!

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