Kwihala on the Mwagusi

Trip Start Oct 18, 2012
Trip End Nov 02, 2012

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday (10/21/12) - Breakfast begins at the Southern Sun at 4 AM. We arrive at 5. The spread is huge. They even have chilled coconut milk inside real coconuts. The omelets are great. Breakfast is included in the room cost. Actually, Beth and I ate two dinners and a lunch at the hotel for a most reasonable $115. The only thing better than the food are the kind and efficient hotel employees.
Anderson arrives at precisely 6:45 AM to take us to the airport. We take a little side trip through the port and see the ferries departing for Zanzibar. The road to the airport is lined with businesses / warehouses and hundreds of people walking to church or shopping.

At the airport, we bid Anderson goodbye and board a Coastal Airline's 12 passenger Cessna Caravan 208B for the flight to Ruaha. There are two intermediate stops. The first is in Selous National Park only 35 minutes away. In Selous, the local TANAPA (Tanzanian National Park) Ranger must chase an elephant off the runway.
We are back in the air quickly and on the way to Jangomero (Ruaha) airstrip an hour and thirty minutes away. The pilot circles the airstrip before landing to check the wind direction. Even so, we must abort the landing because Cape buffalo wander onto the runway. We land on the second try.

Our destination is the second stop in Ruaha. The airstrip is called Msembe. There are only five permanent camps in all of Ruaha. Spread out as the camps are, it is rare to encounter another safari vehicle on game drives. We will stay four nights at the Kwihala Camp which has the finest reputation of all the Ruaha camps for their game drives and professional guides. Kwihala is the only camp in Ruaha National Park which offers a night drive. And, of course, the night game drive is among our bucket list priorities.

We are met at Msembe by Johannes and another Kwihala employee. Unfortunately, our backpacks did not arrive with us. The pilot believes they were put on another plane. He says chances are we will have them tomorrow…or not! Welcome to Africa.

Johannes is a young Tanzanian who speaks English like an American. His commitment to his studies to become a guide is instantly obvious. He also has the eyesight of an eagle from 5,000 feet. He will continually amaze us with his ability to spot game where ours eyes see nothing. On our way to Kwihala camp, Johannes takes us on a game drive where we see lion, elephant, zebra, giraffe, impala, red hornbill and, of great interest to me, several beautiful kudu. 

There are just six guest tents at Kwihala. Ours is # 5. Each tent has an in suite bathroom equipped with a flush toilet and bucket shower. The camp is located near the Mwagusi Sand River which draws large numbers of animals, especially in October’s late dry season.

There is no question this is the late dry season. River beds are bone dry. Dust covers everything. Shrubs are desiccated and yellowed. The tsetse flies are pervasive and aggressive. But, the rains are definitely coming. The clouds we saw on the flight from Dar es Salaam are of the type that brings monsoon rains off the Indian Ocean. Terry, our pilot, said the cloud formations grow larger and stronger each day.

We arrive at Kwihala and meet Sarah, the camp director. Amazingly, Sarah has already located our backpacks. They were mistakenly placed on the wrong Coastal plane and delivered to another camp some 33 kilometers away. Sarah and Johannes leave to recover our belongings. We are assigned to guide Marc Weiner. Marc is on a five week Ruaha assignment from his home base (Kruger National Park) in Limpopo, South Africa.

At 4 PM, Beth and I load into Marc’s Land Rover for the evening game drive. The highlights of the drive include a pride of nine lions (2 males; 3 females; 4 cubs) and a breeding herd of elephants. Despite the dry conditions, all the lions look healthy and vigorous. On one of the dry tributaries of the Mwagusi River, we find elephant. They are using their trunks, tusks and feet to prospect for water in the dry river bed….and they are succeeding.

Water is only a few feet down. The elephants suck the cloudy water into their trunks and let the sand settle to the tip of their trunk. Then, they spit the sand out. What remains is crystal clean water that Marc says is fit for humans to drink. Over the next few days, we marvel at how many other animals survive the dry season by using the water holes the elephant dig.

We drive along the river as dusk is falling. We pass a family of Egyptian geese. The adult geese are trying to herd their six goslings to the safety of the long grass. Suddenly, a black backed jackal appears out of the dusk and charges at the geese. Within seconds, the jackal has taken at least three of the goslings. The adult geese try valiantly to defend their babies to no avail.

We return to camp around 7 PM. Sarah has recovered our backpacks and we are able to retire to our tent for our first bucket shower and a change of clothes. One would think half a bucket of water each would not suffice for a shower but we managed nicely.

Wild animals in Kwihala Camp are normal. Our tent # 5 is quite a walk downhill from the main camp. During the day, we are permitted to walk to and from our tent alone. At night and in the early morning, we must be escorted. We return from dinner this first evening and find fresh giraffe droppings near the front of our tent.

And then…there is "Grumpy". Grumpy is the local lion pride’s alpha male. He and his brother (no name except Grumpy’s brother) are fully mature males. We will see his pride regularly in the days to come. Tonight, it was Grumpy who made the big impression from 3 to 5 AM as he patrolled his territory around Kwihala camp. Every few minutes, Grumpy cut loose with a sound that is somewhere between a roar and a hoarse grunt. Afterwards, he follows with a series of deep grunts that vibrate our entire tent. The sound is so primal the hair on my neck stands on end.

I tell myself this sound must be recorded for posterity. I fumble with my new digital recorder but it is dark as a tomb in the tent. For two hours, I religiously hit the record button every time Grumpy starts his call. Next morning, I try to play back Grumpy’s serenade for Beth…and nothing! Yes, I hit the “record” button as required but somehow I forgot to turn the recorder “ON”.

Oh, the humiliation!
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ceil Holley on

Not sure whch one of you is taking the pictures but some of these are wonderful. I am trying to figure when Leo had time to sleep since it seems
he should or was taking notes all the time. For this I thank you

Lynn Harris on

Those are pretty awesome tents!!!! The photos are amazing!!

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