Feb-March 2010

Day 1 of Diary

Day 7 - Mdonya Old River camp, Ruaha National Park

All too soon it was time to leave Lake Manze Camp. I drove with Lorna and Richard, a super couple who live in Cornwall UK, to Siwandu Airstrip. We were all going on to Ruaha for 3 days. The Coastal plane was waiting for us, with an exceptionally pleasant and friendly lady pilot from Canada, she was named Andrea.

Lake Manze Camp aerial
The Lake Manze camp sits on a peninsual - almost hidden from view as it merges into its surroundings

We took off, heading over the string of lakes which make this area of Selous so rich in wildlife. We passed directly over Lake Manze Camp and I said a silent farewell to our lion family.

We headed West and slightly North, with the beautiful Uluguru moutains on our right and the Ruaha River leading out of the Selous towards the Ruaha National Park. The flight took one hour and twenty minutes, passing over Iringa town on its high mount.

Andrea signs off  Departure Lounge at Jongomero
Andrea signs off - the Departure Lounge at Jongomero Airstrip

We stopped at Jongomero airstrip first, where we dropped off two French passengers. We then took off again and took a short hop to Msembe airstrip, where the main headquarters of the Ruaha National Park authorities lies.

Our plane at Msembe  Naiti carries in the luggage
Landing at Msembe, Ruaha - Naiti carries our luggage to the waiting car

We were met by an Adventure Camps vehicle from Mdonya Old River camp. As usual, there was both a driver, Roland, and a guide, Zaccariah. They took us on a pleasant game drive towards the camp - about two hours - through lush green country quite different from the Selous. The Ruaha has many different ecosystems, so one moves from one landscape to another seamlessly, always with a background of the clear blue hills that surround the Park. The rivers were all full, even the sand rivers that are usually dry.

Zacchariah  Mdonya in flood
Zacchariah points out how confident the animals are - the Mdonya in flood

In National Parks in Tanzania off-road driving is not allowed. The result is a very different experience - the animals are less shy than in Selous, as they feel safer in their environment. Of course if you spot a lion 100 yds from the road, you can't drive close to it as in Selous, but it is fine to look with binoculars after all.

Confused Impala
New signs in Ruaha National Park confuse the Impala

Mdonya Camp
Mdonya Camp with grazing Impala

We arrived at the camp in time for lunch. We were met by Micol, the Italian Camp Manager, and were offered the usual cold fresh juice on arrival - a welcome given at each of the four Adventure Camps properties.

Mdonya Old Sand River
To the left is the Old Mdonya River, which is used by game as a corridor

We walked along sandy paths through green grassy swathes dotted with tall shade trees whose roots are fed by the water always underground beneath the old Mdonya sand river, which is now used by game as a corridor, as its always full of lush grass they can graze on. The tents are dotted along its banks, and are very spread out in a calm and peaceful way.

Mdonya tent exterior

Mdonya Tent Veranda  Tent 5

I settled into Tent 5, not too far from the dining and sitting tents. The interior was similar to that of Lake Manze camp, set on a polished red cement base with canvas floor.

Mdonya tent interior  Writing Desk

Wardrobe Lockup chest

There was a double bed, a lockup chest, a writing desk, shelves and wardrobe. The veranda had a table and two deck chairs, perfect for sitting and watching the game that wanders by throughout the day in this natural camp. The animals seem unaware of the tents - we saw Impala and giraffe grazing peacefully.

Mdonya Dressing Room  Mdonya Skylight Shower

Behind the main bedroom was the usual dressing room, with hot and cold water in the shower – though it took 15 minutes for the hot water to arrive from the solar panel heater 100 m away. Ruaha is much cooler than Selous, a good 5-10 degrees, and is much dryer. So one does need the warm bath water, especially in July and August when it does get pretty cold there.
The beds had cotton duvets and spare blankets were available.

Lunch was in a shady dining tent – there are no permanent structures at Mdonya. As we ate our delicious lunch of interesting salads and fresh fruit (most of the produce is brought from Iringa, famous for its farms) a buffalo came browsing by, a Masaai keeping a wary eye on it. The water (boiled and filtered) on the table was, like that in the thermos in the tents, just like spring water, which indeed it is, being pumped up from the sand river – sand acts as a natural filter.

The old fig tree with nesting birds
Old Fig tree, with birds nesting in it

Vervet monkeys swung and cavorted in a nearby tree. By the Sundowner campfire area was a skeleton of a very old fig tree that had slowly died over the last two years. It was propped up by large wooden poles. Micol explained that there were several birds nesting in the tree, so when it started to lean, rather than removing it she had moved the lounge tent away, for safety, in order to allow the birds to finish raising their families.

She told us that in January, before the rain came, they had had an extraordinary number of cheetah sightings by guests. There had also been a family of leopards that produced and raised cubs nearby. These were caught in the “night cameras” that are left in the camp at night and record when something moves. Micol showed me the records, there is an extraorinary amount of game moving through the camp in the night including a large pride of lions which frequent the area, leopards, bats, owls, genets, jackals, hyenas, elephant, kudus and warthogs.
These cats are all less visible now the rain has come, though they are still in the area.

Wild dogs in Ruaha
Wild Dogs in the Mwagusi sand river

The day before we arrived African Wild Dogs had been seen in the Mdonya area – moving through rapidly as they hunted impala. I had seen dogs a couple of years before, but in the dry hot season, when it is often possible to view them resting in a cool spot during the heat of the day.

That evening we exchanged stories round the camp fire, and enjoyed dinner in the dining tent before going back to our tents to sleep.

.....forward to Day 8

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