Friday morning we packed overnight cases and headed down the road to Ruaha. Ruaha is the second largest National Park in Africa. It has a wide variety of animals that live there as well as some beautiful scenery. We decided that we better go Friday afternoon and Saturday morning – or we wouldn’t make it at all. After all, we are leaving for Dar Es Salaam and home on Wednesday morning – so there is not much time left!
We headed out of town on the “Ruaha Road.” We have been down this road twice before on this trip – both times to visit a parish that is starting a SACCOS. This time however we will go the full 130 kilometers to the park!
There are two branches to the Ruaha Road – the Tungamalenga turn-off and the “never ending road.” We decided that we would take the Tunagmalinga branch on the way out and the never ending road on the way back.
Heading down the Tungamalinga branch things seemed familiar – as well they should. We have been this way twice on this trip – and we have been over this road in other years as well. The road itself is like most of the roads we have traveled – a washboard here, potholes there, a disappearing bridge or two, and lots of natives carrying wood, baskets, and misc. here and there. With the roughness of the road it took us about 3 hours to get to the park.
Arriving at the Ruaha gateway, we stopped to talk to the Rangers. This is the slow time of the year here – it is often raining, the vegetation is lush making the animals hard to spot, and vacation time is over for most. According to the Rangers, there is only one other guest in the whole park today!
Entering the park we stopped at the bridge over the Ruaha River. Often you can see hippos and crocs from the bridge. We were not disappointed today as we spied five hippos feeding and playing around in the water. Driving on we stopped for giraffes, antelope, zebras, and baboons. We got to the River Lodge (it is the only one that’s open now – normally there are 3 others) and checked in to find that we are the only two guests expected today!
Ruaha is much lower than Iringa. While Iringa is about 1 mile above sea level, Ruaha is only about 1,000 feet. This means that it is much hotter here than back at the house. As a result nothing much moves (including the guides and the tourists) between the hours of noon and 4:30. Since we got in about 1:30 or so we had lunch and then went for a rest in our “primitive banyan.”
Emerging about 4 we had tea and then were off to see some animals. First we ran into a small herd of elephants playing along the river. After watching them for awhile we took off for the far side of the park where our guides had heard a lion pride had been spotted. Along the way we passed giraffes, zebras, jackals, bat-eared fox, antelope, baboons, kudus, and lots of different types of birds – some of which are found only in this park.
Finally we arrived at the lion pride we were looking for. This pride consists of ten animals. They had apparently eaten not too long ago since they were just lazing around. Two of them kept watch on the river bank, looking over a herd of elephants and antelope on the other bank. We watched them for awhile (you can drive quite close – we were no more than ten feet away at one point) – they largely ignored us – except for one female who kept eyeing Tom, we decided he must look juicer than the rest of us.
On the way back we stopped to look at the vista. Ruaha is really beautiful this time of the year. It is full of wild flowers, flowering vines, and lush vegetation. Arriving back about 7 we were escorted to our banda – you can’t walk around unescorted after dusk here – there are too many hippos, elephants, and giraffes wandering around the camp.
A Masai warrior came and got us for supper. Our camp host was a refugee from Zimbabwe. Since we were the only people in the dining room, we invited him to join us for supper. His family had lived there for several generations before being evicted by the current government. We had a good dinner, a pleasant conversation, and then were escorted back to our banda to fall asleep to the grunts of the hippos in the river.
Saturday started early – up and out at 6:30 for an early morning drive. We were all surprised that there was not much moving this morning. Still, after driving around awhile, we started to see some of the morning wanderers. Finally we stopped for lunch at a spot overlooking the river and the mountains. A beautiful place for a morning breakfast.
As we drove towards the back side of the park we came across a cheetah and her three cubs. An adult cheetah is not too common to see, and finding one with three cubs is extremely rare. They walked across the road just 10-15 meters in front of us. Mom and cubs seemed to be interested in us as well, but they kept watch from the shade of a large shrub, where they would be extremely difficult for the next group of tourists to see.
After watching the cheetahs, it was time to head back to camp to check out. Our entrance fee was good for only 24 hours, after which we would need to pay another $50. We packed, paid our bill, and headed for home.
We are greeted as we enter the park
Sandy smiled back
We were greeted again outside our banda
The sign next to our cabin
Elephants cooling off in the Ruaha River at dusk
This little lady crossed the road in front of us. Our guide identified her gender as female.
A jackal looked our way