Strathspey Wildlife  
Africa 2006
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Wednesday 8th February 2006

An early reveille this morning - up at 6am - Breakfast by 7am - and off by 8. This was to be a long travelling day. Following a request by Helene, we sought out the old German Headquarters in Morogoro. Our drivers found it eventually, but this had cost us 45 minutes - and nearly got Nick in to trouble to boot - getting a telling off when photographing a tree - which, unfortunately was shading a diplomatic vehicle. Honestly - Does Nick look like a spy ?? Having completed our diversion, we were soon back on the road, travelling through some wonderful mountain scenery.  We stopped  for lunch - which - surprisingly, given the high standard of the food at our last stop - The Oasis Hotel - was disgraceful, consisting of two slices of dry (almost toasted) bread - a couple of slivers of cheese, a trace of chicken and a small amount of salad - and not even a drink!! To this point, our packed lunches had been fine, usually consisting of foil-packed sandwiches, hard-boiled or Scotch eggs, banana, fruit drink, biscuits etc, so to say this was a real disappointment is a bit of an understatement.  (Explore - Please Note !!!!)  After an extremely hot journey - with temperatures around the 100 mark again, we arrived at the Rufiji Camp at 3.15 pm. To facilitate the planned activities here, Lucy split the group into two - with half the group going on to the boat trip at 4pm - with us, amongst the remaining half to set off on a foot safari. After a long hot journey, we felt that a departure on a 2 hour foot safari within an hour was too much - so we agreed on a 4.30pm start, and we took off to the bar for some (soft drink) refreshment.


Duly refreshed and a little rested, we set off at 4.30 pm, in the company of our armed guides. We saw lots of the usual beasts, and were shown the remains of a hippo and its baby at a dried-out waterhole. Tanzania was experiencing a long drought, with many dried out river beds at a time when they should be almost full. This was having a drastic effect on hippos in particular, who were having to travel up to 15 kms. from their rivers to seek out the 60kg. of vegetation that they need daily to survive. Sadly, many are being lost. Having seen giraffe, zebra, impala and warthogs at close quarters - and had brief lessons in the art of tracking, and recognising the various tell-tale signs of what had gone before, we  returned at 6.30 pm. We met up with the other half of the group, who had obviously really enjoyed their time on the river, Chrissie in particular, buzzing with excitement of the birds she had seen. A lovely meal that evening with a choice of roast pork dinner or spaghetti bolognese  - and orange cake to follow !!Rufiji offered the opportunity to take in the colour of an African sunset, with wonderful views to the west across the Rufiji River. Time again for bed - for what was to prove a restless, if somewhat exciting night.

The sky was lovely and clear, and this coupled with a bright two-thirds moon gave a clear light around our "walk-in" tents - typical African Lodge type of tents - large
comfortable beds, en-suite facilities, mosquito nets, and solid African bedside furniture that risked you serious injury if you try and move it - No Ikea stores here !! 
 Regular patrols by Masai Warriors gave us a sense of security - and we saw them frequently moving around the tented area. Before too long, we were joined by a grazing
hippo alongside the tent, the wetness on its back glinting in the moonlight. We were just lying on our beds, with the clear mesh windows to the sides and doors offering good
views of any nocturnal activity. With all the usual sounds of the bush, it took time to get to sleep. Our sleep however was suddenly - at 1.45am - broken by the sound of a tremendous crashing noise nearby. We were accustomed to the sound of grazing hippo, but this was something different. As I peered through the mesh window - I thought this
 had to be an elephant - such was the noise - but so close? Surely not. As I tried to accustom my eyes to the dim light, I could see the branches of the trees threshing about just a matter of a few yards from our tent wall. Then I saw the trunk of an elephant rising up against the moonlit sky - I simply could not believe it.  As I began to take in the scene,
I made out the tusks of a huge bull elephant, as he continued to rip the foliage from the tree. Nancy had already joined me by this stage as we watched - simply awestruck by
 this giant just yards - if not feet - away. Having given way briefly to a smaller female elephant that appeared from behind, he started to walk around and past the front door
 of the tent. I rushed from my bed to look out the front window - to see first of all the big bull,  then the female, and finally - as yet unseen - a tiny baby elephant. This was like a scene from The Jungle Book!! They hadn't finished yet though - and they moved next door to Chrissie and Maggie's tent - and quickly got to grips with the tree at the rear corner
 of their tent. We had moved once again to Nancy's side window. Now - whether the female caught sight of our two moonlit faces at the window, I don't know - but she pushed
her ears forward, looking towards us, and started to swing her trunk like a pendulum - a sure sign of agitation. Within a second or two though, the bull had decided it was
time to move on, and they disappeared out of sight. A short time later, one of our Masai Warriors was walking past the tent. I called out to him in a whispered shout - in my
best Swahili - "Jambo" (Hello) and described to him that we had had a visit from the elephants. He replied, indicating, with stepped movements of his hand, the bull, the
female and the youngster, pointed and waved to me, walking off into the direction they had gone. It was difficult getting back to sleep after that - Quite unbelievable - we
could never imagine we could be so close to an elephant - even in a zoo or wildlife park - A truly close encounter.  I commented to Nancy that I never thought I would
 experience anything that came close to that of sitting with the wild mountain gorillas we had experienced in 2005 - an experience that the much-travelled
 David Attenborough described as THE most memorable of his wildlife experiences,  but this came a very close second.  Simply unforgettable.