We are back from our much anticipated & long awaited safari to visit the southern circuit with EASTCO ( http://www.eastafricansafari.info/index.htm ). EASTCO is run by Simon King. This is our second safari with EASTCO, the first being the northern circuit in February 2013. Here is a link to that trip report and photos (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293747-i9226-k6232131-EASTCO_our_trip_of_a_lifetime-Tanzania.html ).
When we got back from our first safari we were so thrilled with the country, safari & experience that we decided to really splurge & do another safari, this time to the southern parks of Ruaha, Udzungwa and Selous. Our thought process was- do it now again while we could. The future is so uncertain and so what if we have to live in a tent and eat cat food when we retire. We were going to Africa AGAIN!
We knew immediately that we would use EASTCO again and didn’t bother to get any other quotes on this trip. Simon did a great job last time and we had faith that he would do so again for this trip.
This trip didn’t require as much planning upfront as the last trip did. We didn’t have to research safari companies, we had a tiny bit of experience now and didn’t need to research little things like currency, time of year to go, general safari things such as meals, vehicles, tipping, insurance, etc. I did however; research the heck out of the southern circuit! And, high on my list was seeing the Wild Dogs! Oh, this was going to be so exciting! We only had 15 months to wait on this trip.
During those 15 months I peppered Simon about the Southern Circuit, we discussed routing, and lodgings, guides, and the many other questions I always seemed to have. Simon always answered my questions and he and I would banter about other things. As usual, I needed hand holding again for this trip and Simon’s was the hand that I held. I think he had learned from our previous trip that I ask a lot of questions, need lots of reassurance and just like to talk. Also, as par for the course, I was super excited and my beloved husband was there to keep me in check. He was excited too but, I was just over the top again.
Our trip this time was to fly into Dar, catch a small plane from Dar to Ruaha, meet James, our guide at Ruaha, and drive back to Dar over 2 weeks’ time for our flight home. So, fly out and drive back private safari with just my husband and me, our guide and cook.
Our itinerary was:
July 18-August 4, 2014
We flew Turkish Air from IND-ORD-IST-DAR
Overnight Dar-- Peacock Hotel
5 nights Ruaha NP—3 nights tent camping & 2 nights bandas)
2 nights Iringa-- Neema Guest House
2 nights Udzungwa Mountains NP-- Udz. Forest Camp (Hondo Hondo)
1 night Selous GR-- Sable Mountain Lodge
2 nights Selous GR—tent camping Hippo Camp
1 night Selous GR—Hippo Camp Tented Hut
Dayroom use Peacock Hotel
We flew Turkish Air home—DAR-IST-ORD-IND
I was a bit nervous about flying Turkish Air as the arrival and departure times were in the middle of the night to/from DAR. Not ideal but, the price was too good to pass up. We were actually pleasantly surprised with the airline. All Turkish Air flights were on-time, the food was good, the service reasonable and all in all a good choice for us. My husband thought the two aircraft were not quite as comfy as our last trip on KLM but, I didn’t notice that. The flight legs were 1 hour IND-ORD, 11 hours to/from ORD-IST and 7 hours to/from IST-DAR. We actually enjoyed stopping in Istanbul’s airport for 2 hours. No problems with passport control, getting to our next gate or anything else. We even had time to shop at the “Grand Bazaar” and bought a couple of trinkets. The people watching was quite good and the Turkish Delight candies were yummy. There were lots of free samples and we took advantage of that!
Sunday, July 20--
Arriving into DAR at 2:35 am, we got in “line” for our visas. I’m not really sure it was a proper line but, we eventually got our visas and then went through passport control, got fingerprinted and out the front door where our driver from the Peacock Hotel was waiting for us with a name sign. I was sure relieved to see him as it was a fear of mine that we would be stranded at DAR in the middle of the night.
Another positive to the Turkish Air arrival/departure times was the lack of traffic in Dar. It only took 20 minutes to get to the Peacock Hotel, not the 2 hours it can take during the day!
Checking in at the Peacock was nice and easy. The bellman took our carry-on bags and we took our backpacks up to our room. The bellman opened the door to our room and oops, it was occupied! We all put it in reverse and the bellman sheepishly went back down to the front desk to get another room for us. Glad it didn’t happen to us in our room, I would have had a heart attack if I was sleeping and someone just popped into my room in the middle of the night. I don’t think our person woke up; at least there were no sounds that came from the room.
OK, now we were taken to an empty room on the 7th floor. It was nice & clean, the A/C worked well and the bed was comfortable. We slept until around 9 am the next morning and then went down to breakfast. It was a simple buffet—eggs cooked to order, some breads, some juice, some fruits and LIVER (which we passed on). Back up to our room to sleep a little more. Up at 2 pm and went to the ATM. Dar was a little intimidating to us. We didn’t mess around going the couple of blocks to the ATM and back to the hotel. We looked around off the hotel balcony and saw an interesting market down below selling live chickens and other things. We had dinner at the hotel that evening and went out onto the hotel balcony again to see the city lit up at night. We heard lots of traffic noises, the Muslim “call to prayer”, and chickens from the market down below.
Off to bed as we had an early start the next morning with our flight to Ruaha.
Monday, July 21--
We asked for a wake-up call at 5:15 am as well as setting our own alarm. The front desk mistakenly called at 4:15 am, so we had an extra early start to the day! I had asked for a box breakfast for our trip to the airport this morning. We picked it up on our way out, 15 minutes to the airport and our Coastal flight was to leave at 8:30 am for Ruaha NP. The flight was an hour late leaving DAR but, a half hour early getting in at Msembe as it was direct instead of all the stopovers it was scheduled to have. The plane was a little 8 passenger turbo prop. It was quite comfortable with leather seats facing each other. There were only 7 people plus the pilot. The pilot said we were going to fly at 26,000 feet. It was a very smooth flight with not much to see until we got close to Ruaha. It was really pretty flying over the park and seeing the Ruaha River meandering through it. At the beginning of our dirt landing strip there were some Ellies hanging around. They didn’t seem to mind us buzzing over them to land.
Our guide this trip was to be, James. James was right there to meet us at the airstrip. He gave us a nice big hug and we all introduced ourselves.
James was a wonderful guide! Simon had told me that James was a talker. A little bit after we started our drive with James, he asked if we knew what a “chin wagger” was. We both said “no”. He told us it was someone who talked a lot. I immediately thought James and I were going to get along as I’m a “chin wagger” too, my husband not so much! It was the start of a great trip.
Right after James got everything taken care of at the ranger station, we started off to explore Ruaha. I told James I really wanted to see the Wild Dogs, he cautioned me that they could be hard to see but, we would give it our best shot. We did see our first lions of the trip, Ellies, Baboons, Kudu and some nice birds including Fish Eagle, Collard Lovebirds, Little Bee-Eater, White Bellied Bustard and Black Faced Sand Grouse. No Wild dogs today, but maybe tomorrow?
We got to our camp and settled into our tent. It was set on a lovely spot next to the river bank with a lovely view! So peaceful with Ellies and Hippos in the river and nice birds such as Shoe Billed Storks and others. Our cook for the trip was, Michael. He made us a nice dinner, we showered and off to bed at 9:30 pm.
During the night we heard lots of animal sounds, big LOUD hippos fighting, lions in the distance and some other unidentified noises, quite the night time chorus.
Tuesday, July 22--
This morning we got up 6 am and started off on our all day game drive at 6:25 am with a boxed breakfast and lunch. To start the morning off with a rush today, I reached my hand down to get my glasses on my backpack. I felt something hard, picked it up and screamed “scorpion” to my husband and threw it down! My husband got some tissues and picked it up and threw it out the tent door. I went and got James to look at it and I told him the story. He looked down at it and said, “It’s only a cricket like bug!” How could it be a cricket when it was about 2 inches long, light brown and hard and bumpy????? It HAD to be something scary, didn’t it? No, just a cricket like bug he said. Well, we all had a good laugh to start the day at my expense.
As we were driving, James asked us if we heard the hippo that walked right past our tent during the night, “nope” it must have been during the 1 hour that we slept!
James stopped at a beautiful spot near the Ruaha River for breakfast. Just us and lots of birds near a big Baobab tree. We watched a Fish Eagle with 2 chicks in the nest across the river. That was fun.
Ruaha NP is HUGE. We rarely passed another vehicle, which didn’t bother us in the least, quite different than the Northern Circuit was. The scenery was quite nice!
Some of our highlights today were:
big Crocs, a Monitor Lizard, Giraffes drinking at the river, some Ellies running off a pride of 10 lions, a herd of 400+ Buffalo, and a limping Cheetah. Bird highlights were: Sooty Falcon, Buff Crested Bustard, Black Faced Sand Grouse, Fischer’s Sparrow Lark, Gabor Goshawk, Hadada Ibis, and an Open Billed Stork.
Right before bed, we saw something moving beside our tent and looked with a flashlight and it was a Civet. It scurried away down the river bank. Bed at 10 pm.
More to follow.