Thursday, October 21, 2010

Out of the bush

Two weeks ago, after more than two months, it was finally time.  I got to take a break and go on vacation.  Enough of the ants, the bush babies, the elephants, enough the bush.  What, I am sure you are wondering, would I do with my vacation time?  Easy.  Get out of camp as quickly as possible so that I could go straight on a safari.

I followed my American nose out west and chased the sun along Nomad's beast retreat.  First stop was Chada in Katavi National Park, and then I continued to Greystoke Mahale in Mahale Mountains National Park. 

Mahale was great.  I reunited with Claus and Jill (former Sand Rivers managers) and met a wonderful group of people including quite a few Tanzanian residents.  The chimps were a blast and the weather was, er, adventurous.  There is definitely something to be said for jungle hikes in torrential rain.  I also have to say that as much as I love my spot on the rufiji, I think Mahale ranks as the most beautiful all around camp in the Nomad portfolio.

But it is Chada that I will return to the first chance I get.  Managers Kristen and Mark were wonderful and the wildlife is equal to the Serengeti without any of the tourist masses; on every game drive save one over four days, I saw at least two different prides of lions.  I'm thrilled that it has flown under the radar for so long but I fear that it is a secret that can't be kept for much longer.  The park is an ideal blend of miombo and open plains and wetlands, a spectacular setting for safaris. 

I really have to tip my hat to Mark, Kristen, and all of the Chada staff because while I complain about elephants, theirs put mine to shame.  To truly understand it, check out Mark and Kristen's latest diary entry.  I had my own encounters with Katavi elephants, one of which resulted in a layer of dust over every inch of my tent after a couple of calves and their mothers played in the sand outside.  You can't get less than a meter away from elephant calves without it being a memorable occasion.

I hope to get back out there when it turns green, and maybe persuade Mark to organize an expedition into the deep south of the park, but for now I'm thrilled to be back in the Selous.  Mark likes to tease the Selous team about us not having any animals, but after one of the best weeks of wildlife viewing since I arrived in the selous, I would like to know how many leopards, wild dogs, and buffalo-lion battles his guests have seen in the last seven days.

Oh, and by the way, when I came back from my vacation the ants were still in by shower and bats had taken up residence under my bed.  Feels good to be home.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The elephants are at it again

After a few quiet weeks with just the errant elephant or two passing through camp, the big boys are back in force.  The last couple of days at least 10 separate family groups have passed through, and the poor vegetation clearly documents their passing.  With few leaves to chew on, the elephants are absolutely tearing apart the trees and making a mess of camp.

Despite the 3 AM wake-up as an elephant started nosing through the thatch on my house, I did enjoy my 6:30 wake-up that gave me a chance to step outside and watch an adolescent from 7 or 8 yards away.  Then I took a step too far and big mama matriarch got angry and started tossing her head and flapping her ears, so I had to hurry back inside. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On ants, take 2

I stand by my earlier comments about ants being fascinating...but they've got to go.  The big thing at the moment is their endless search for water.  Any hint of moisture and they rally the troops and invade.  And we're talking efficient, all-out invasions, none of this minimum troop requirements nonsense. 

They go after the faucets in the kitchens, the drainage pipes, puddles, cracks, whatever they can get to.  One day soldier ants even created an elaborate ladder with their bodies for the worker ants to climb down to the main swimming pool to fetch water.  They stayed far about 36 hours, and then moved on.  The biggest problem is when they go after the pool filters and clog them.  Or when they decide to terraform our pipes and fill them with dirt.  Sometimes, I think just for kicks, they send expeditionary forces into our electrical outlets for bit of pillaging and maurading, wreaking havoc on the wires.  But worst of all, from my perspective, are the ants that coming raining out of my shower head to latch onto my shoulders, my ears, whatever part of me they happen to land on.  I mean, it's funny at first taking a proper bush shower with siafu (swahili for army ants), but it wears on you.  And I think the ants are responsible for a blockage that prevents me from getting hot water. 

The plumbing concerns are bad enough, but the siafu go out of their way to tease me.  Half a dozen times guests have come to me to say that the ants are moving into their rooms.  By the time I or the staff get to the room, the ants have disappeared.  But they always make sure to present themselves as soon as the guests return. 

Therefore, while the ants' success and prevalence used to be part of their charm, it is now my biggest source of frustration.