A quick stop-over at the Southern Sun in Dar Es Salaam after a late flight arrival from Amsterdam and the next morning I am heading back to the airport for my flight to Ruaha. I am surprised to find Dar gentle and pretty in the early morning light; maybe I am swayed by nostalgia, the smoky incense-infused air amid tropical lush hotel gardens, the twisted art of ancient trunks and the familiar chirping bird calls pulling at my sentimental memory. The streets of downtown Dar have changed, and yet not, over the years. Modern mirrored buildings have sprouted amongst the peeling pink-fronted relics of the past but the bustle of early morning remains constant. In the soft hazed morning light, before the heat sears and steams the air, the people move on-masse towards their day, bicycles pedaled with lazy purpose bump along the packed dirt path that runs behind the roadside jumble of wooden stalls. Be-peacocked women wrapped in fantastic colors unaware of their graceful movement and from whom floats the calm and patience of life here move in procession amongst the hubbub of morning.
The flight in a 12-seater from Dar to Ruaha takes us across the sprawl of Dar and then lifts above the clouds into the clear blue sky above. In my headphones the lyrics aptly play, “planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.” and the peaceful thrill of a homecoming settles in my heart. After a time the banks of clouds thin to sparse cotton-balls and far below the Earth’s skin is like crumpled suede; like the worn and sun-weathered skin of an old man, pinky brown ridges with valleys of fuzzy grey-green. Later still the horizon turns misty and a smoky watercolor of dark shadows show through the purple haze whispering of the peaks and ridges of untrodden mountains.
Descending now the air clears and we cross the obvious boundary of Ruaha as the ground below turns green with trees. A little further and the plane banks steeply before coming in to land on the dirt airstrip and we (myself and two other passengers) step down into the park. My car from Nomad is waiting and after quick paperwork my guide Ellisante and I are driving to camp. The landscape is lumpy and dominated by wonderful, huge baobab trees magically in blossom; the green-leaved branches festooned with lovely white flowers. We see shy and pretty impala that spring away from us with a weightless, bouncing grace, mongoose scamper and birds are everywhere; lilac-breasted rollers, hornbills, ibis, cuckoos, parrots and eagles.
Nomad KIgelia Camp is the perfect blend of natural safari luxury, with six tents lined along the dry river bed, each tent private within the surrounding bushes. A canvas tent under a makuti-roofed banda designed with minimal canvas so that the walls are mostly just mosquito netting allowing the air to move through and giving a very open feel. Weathered dhow-wood furniture, woven grass matting and natural fabrics create a calming and natural simplicity that blends seamlessly with the setting.
After a delicious lunch of chicken chapatis, salad and a large gin and tonic the afternoon heat settles in and a nap is called for…….. I am woken from my heat slumber by a familiar low rumble and I drag myself from the depths of jet-lag and gin coma to find a herd of six elephant browsing and moving through the sandy river bed by my tent; taking my breath away with their gentle rumbles. Always my first love, the elephants’ presence is the most blessed welcome to Ruaha for me.
……. to be continued