The main highway from the Tanzanian coast at Dar es Salaam cross country to Zambia passes through the 3230sq km of the Mikumi National Park  

 and speed limits and bumps and expensive fines for road kill try to limit wildlife casualties among the many animal jaywalkers.  

We had ticked off a good few sightings before we had even got to the entrance gates 15km from our lodgings in the nearest village.  But once inside and cruising the “drives” with our guide Samuel we were amazed at the richness and quantity of life in the wilds. My phone camera with no real zoom was not the best for intimate animal portraits and we were often too enraptured to put anything between ourselves and the scenes before us but I offer a few pictures as a flavour of the experience.  

 The park is home to four of the “big five”, elephants,Buffaloes, lions and leopards, leaving only the endangered rhino. The phrase refers to the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot and after I had been reading lately of the devastation caused by poaching I was really heartened by the seemingly healthy populations.  



 We slowly moved around from one area to another following large herds and family groups. Giraffe, buffalo, Impala, and also zebra and elephant.  


 At one point we were passing some bushes and saw a young male lion resting in it’s shade. He didn’t bother moving when we parked alongside and we watched him gently slumbering for 15 mins before he rolled over and padded off into deeper shade.  


 An hour or so later I spotted a flock of vultures circling and we headed over to where we could see something on the ground. We discovered another lion, this time female, with a freshish wildebeest kill, which she left as we approached and sauntered nonchalantly passed our land rover within arms distance. Up close and personal.  


 Far less threatening and comically endearing were the warthogs. Normally Mum, Dad and a few kids they were quite wary and shot off if we got too near, tails held high and erect like antenna.  

 There were many beautiful old Baobabs offering shade from the baking sun, one of which we could clamber up into.  



After a day off nursing Tanzania Tummy we were back in the park for another drive before flying off to Mafia from the tiny Park airstrip. We continued to cross off the species, studying the antics of hippo, crocodile,baboon,bushbuck and dik dik. There were also all manner of exotic birds which aroused interest in our feathered friends for the first time.  

 After a long circuit through a much drier and emptier area in the north of the Park it was time to board our little prop plane with no time to visit the facilities offered in the “airstrip lounge” and soon we were enjoying a birds eye view of the park entrance and then the seemingly endless jungle to the east.  



 Our flight path took us over the Selous game reserve we would be visiting after Christmas and we followed the Rufiji river all the way down to the maze of serpentine branches opening to the Indian Ocean through the mangrove swamps of the delta.  

 Minutes later we reached the sandy shores of the undeveloped, coconut covered green wedge of land where more family awaited our arrival.  


 There was one tarmac road on the island and it took us from the only town,Kilindoni, on the west coast to the village of Utende, 15km away by the island dotted Chole bay on the east coast. 

Mafia remains well off the map and has suffered none of the mass tourism that has overwhelmed Zanzibar further north. The rich turquoise waters surrounding it have been known for a while to game fishermen and divers. There is a vast variety of underwater life and a Marine Park, covering most of the south and east coasts, has been established to protect it. Of Mafia ‘s 45000 population 15,000 live within the park boundaries and are reliant on its natural resources for their livelihoods so the park authorities, NGO’s and volunteers help the communities todevelop  sustainable practices. To help fund this and all the other work and research there is a $20 per day charge for everyone staying in the park which we payed before getting to our little bandas in the sand.  

 Didimiza bungalows was the only local owned and run simple resort on the island. There were other boho chic barefoot luxury lodges on better beaches but they cost a fortune and we like to support the little guy not some multinational brand. Besides we had 3 of the 4 bandas and we could use any beach we liked as no one could own them. An exploration the next morning revealed the rustic charms of our immediate surroundings.  





  And so began a week of family games, swimming with whale sharks, watching the fruit bats,snorkelling trips,walking the beaches, decorating for Christmas and feasting on the sand under the full moon with a meteor flashing through the heavens and fireflies flitting about. 







 It would have been easy to stay put and just chill on the beach but we explored the island (by jeep) and the ocean ( by boat). One day we were taken 2 hours out into the Indian Ocean to a tiny little sand spit where a shelter was erected and fresh fish was grilled over a coconut husk fire while we chased ghost crabs and snorkelled on the coral reef.  Very special. 


  It was a great place to escape the rampant consumerism of Christmas and reflect on the simplicity of life led by millions in the world.  

 The smiling friendly people around us were some of the poorest in Tanzania, one of the poorest counties in Africa, the poorest continent on the planet. We felt very privileged to have been amongst them and sad to wave goodbye.  


We had to wave goodbye to half the family as well while the rest of us travelled to our final destination, a tented camp on Lake Manze, way out in the wilds of the 48,000sq km Selous Game Reserve. That’s an area the size of Switzerland free of the detritus of mankind, where other species are free to roam unimpeeded.  

 Our tent was one of 12 set up on the shores of the lake with a big communal lodge to eat and drink and watch the passing elephants from a short distance away.   




 It was thrilling to be deeply immersed in the natural habitat of so many truly wild animals particularly in the company of our 10 yr old grandson who was rapidly and excitedly ticking of the spotted species in his East Africa wildlife book. Thrilling but also potentialy deadly dangerous and we had to keep our eyes and ears open during the day when moving between tent and lodge and at night be accompanied by a Maasai , always cool and serene and able to deter savage beasts with tapping sticks apparently. Early on our first morning we went for a walking safari with our very knowledgeable guide, another Samuel, and again with the added security of an armed ranger who relied upon an AK47 rather than tapping sticks. We examined a wide selection of poo and from them built up an impressive understanding of the ecosystems at work around us. That set us up for a big breakfast before Samuel and champion driver Kamkumba took us off in the jeep to check off more enthralling creatures.  

 On the way in from the cleared patch that was the airstrip we had spotted 2 rarely seen animals, wild dogs and hyena , both resting up after a feed, and now we drove to the lakeside and watched young male elephants push each other around, testing their risking skills, and then a pride of lions. 


 Unlike Mikumi where we stuck to the sandy tracks, in the vastness of the Selous we seemed to be able to go anywhere to find the “game” and our man Kamkumba was certainly skilled at taking a Landrover to the limits of it’s capabilities whilst still providing a comfy ride. He couldn’t prevent a puncture though which gave us another chance to wander about under the Arcacia’s.  



 Later we headed out onto the lake on a boat safari. It was a brilliant way to get close to the shy and retiring hippos and crocodiles and there was a lot of startlingly coloured bird life including kingfishers and fish eagles and the weaver birds with their charmingly constructed nests overhanging the water.  


 It was a stunningly beautiful landscape with the hills in the distance and tall palms rising from the waters. Slowly cruising across the surface was very peaceful and calming in contrast to the life and death struggle that went on all around us., as crocodiles slid into the muddy depths and giant monitor lizards silently stole up on their prey.  

 At one point we approached a large male hippo as he clambered ashore which he was not happy about, spinning round roaring and crashing through the bushes towards us sending us cowering into the boat as we quickly reversed. 

The following day we had a long drive to the hills, known as the Beho Beho, and the hot springs there. As we were leaving some elephants came through the camp 

 and by the time we had got to Lake Tagalala some hours later we had seen all we could have hoped for including, briefly, a leopard. We passed the grave of the Great White(British) Hunter/ Explorer whom the reserve is named after, Frederick Courteney Selous. Killed here by a German sniper in WWI on a strange and mostly forgotten front line. It’s perhaps also strange to name a reserve after someone renown for shooting countless hundreds of animals although hunting is still allowed over the bulk of the reserve if you pay enough. 

We crossed a lot of rugged country and dry river beds, as the promised rains had yet to materialise,and picnicked on the shores of the lake where crocs had just vacated leaving only their footprints ( and a couple of teeth I now treasure).  


 It was madness to immerse ourselves in the roasting hot water of the lava surrounded springs in the heat of an African afternoon, but you don’t often get the opportunity so….. 

 We had our first hot shower in weeks under the sulfurous waterfall spilling into the ponds, raising our core temperature to heights that only a cold beer from the jeep could reduce. On the long drive back to camp we parked up in a shady dry stream bed next to a big pride of lions  

 and we’re lucky enough to come across a large family group of the rarely seen African wild dog and watch the hungry youngsters hassle the adults into attempting to catch a Impala for dinner. Luckily, (for the impala) some spooked warthogs alerted the herd to danger and they scattered out of reach. Live drama.  

 Plenty to talk about over our dinner under the stars that night after negotiating the hippos stomping through the camp. The day before we had to leave was spent on Lake Manze where between bird and beast spotting I caught a couple of the catfish that get big on the hippo poo.  

 We had them for lunch(delicious ), and retired to our tent for the afternoon for what Samuel described as a verandah safari, soaking up the sights and sounds around us and basking in the heat, conscious that it was all coming to an end very soon.   

 And so it did. The next morning Samuel and Kamkumba took us in the jeep for our last trip through the bush back to the little sandy airstrip and stood waving and jumping as we taxied past and slid into the sky above them and an hour later left the wilderness and flew into suburbia Dar es Salaam style.  


Many many hours and later we landed through the thick cloud into a damp and cold Dublin and drove west into a flooded Ireland. 

My year of wanderings , started on the 3rd of January in the Canaries and finishing in Tanzania on 31st December was over and adjustments had to be made. It had been a brilliant time, with many journeys of adventure, mostly on foot. 

I hadn’t managed to cure my wanderlust however so have luckily been able to arrange work commitments around weeks off frequently enough for the pedestrian explorations to continue. 

Watch this space.  


TANZANIAN TREKING: The Uluguru Mountains and Udzungwa National Park 10th/16th December

The last trip of my year’s sabbatical was the most distant and the most exotic. 

To celebrate Sally’s 60th we were returning to East Africa after 25 years, this time with grown children, their partners and 10 yr old grandson joining us at various stages. 

Although not strictly a rambling trip, we did start with a week or so exploring mountain ranges inland before retiring to Mafia island for Christmas so I have posted a blog as my finale of the years wanderings.  

 Rising 2700m from the fertile plains south of Morogoro the lush slopes of the Uluguru mountains were our first destination in Tanzania. They are part of the Eastern Arc chain and contain some of the oldest original forest in Africa on their higher ground with a wealth of endemic species of birds plants and insects.  

 After 4 hours on the hard seats of a bus from Dar de Salaam we were grateful to be picked up by our Maasai AirB+B host Ibram. After a stop at his nearby home shared with French wife Fanny and baby William we headed into Morogoro, a town of 250,000, to visit the Chilunga Culural Tourism office where we organised a guided hike up to an old German Mission station for the following day. 

Starting at 8am with our guide, Noel, and another trainee we headed up the wide  avenue shaded by “Christmas trees”, so called because of their fiery red flowers at this time of year.   


  We were truly grateful for all the shade we could get as the temperature quickly rose to the high thirtys and the humidity reached saturation point. It wasn’t long before we had run out of tarmac and were climbing up the red dirt tracks passed simple homesteads and into a conservation zone.  


 There were terraces of onion, garlic,beans, corn and a whole load of other unidentifiable crops. The soil looked deep and fertile and there was an abundance of water running in ditches beside the track. Our guides pointed out various flora and told us their uses such as the kapok tree with its seed pods full of cotton like fluff.  


We passed through the tiny village of Ruvuma with its mud and corrugated huts and gangs of kids playing while the adults worked the steep terraced fields scratched into the surrounding hillsides.  




The track narrowed to a path and then became steeper and we stopped when crossing the streams to splash water on our faces and dowse our heads to cool off. The whitish buildings of Morningside became visible on the distant mountainside and half an hour later we were grateful to collapse in the shade after our 900m climb. 



The history of the place was a little confusing but it seems to have been built around 1910 by German  missionaries using slave labour!

But it is also described as being a villa, a hotel and a mountain hut. Whatever it was its now pretty dilapidated but still being used as a home by some locals and I believe hikers can stay there for a euro or so. All around us were the productive self composting ladder terraces of the Luguru people of whom 100,000 live in these mountains growing a wide variety of grains, veg, fruits and coffee with the help of all the clean clear water. 

  The tribe are unusually and strongly matrilineal with the land being the property of women and passing from mother to daughter. This gives the women great independence and divorce is common, the man being sent away with nothing more than the clothes on his back. 

The feminine touch is also apparent in the traditional ugongo (joking) relationships between villages where conflict is avoided through a system of friendship, neighbourliness and good humour with an expectation of sharing food in hard times.  


After a restful picnic lunch the hike back down was easy enough but we still felt the need to stop off at the bottom for a cold beer at the cool and shady “Rock Garden”, a natural and man made forest garden set among the river cascades.  

 Set up by benevolent Japanese some 40 years ago it’s a great spot to chill, eat, drink, swim, play and camp with giant bamboo and assorted exotica.  


The next day we headed north on the Dodoma road for an hour or so with Ibra who wanted to take us to the Maasai market where his fellow tribesmen and women came to deal in cattle, goat and other necessities of village and nomadic life. We were very privileged to have a host that could open doors to us that outsiders wouldn’t normally have access to. 

The sprawl of tin roofed suburban homes gradually gave way to a smattering of mud walled and palm frond thatched huts and then nothing but dry savannah for miles and miles. Eventually we lurched off road and into a scene that looked unchanged for centuries.  


The men can spend a week walking their cattle, which are a Maasai ‘s wealth, to the market and a fierce amount of trading takes place to ensure they don’t have to walk them home again.  

 A lot of the beasts don’t walk anywhere after the market as many are slaughtered, butchered and cooked (and eaten) on the spot in a very efficient, if not in our eyes particularly hygienic, fashion.  

     The Maasai don’t do vegetarianism and can survive purely on their cattle meat, blood and milk for long periods. They have a very proud warrior status, a reputation that they are not to be messed with and always carry their knives ,sticks and clubs. 

Ibra, whose father had 5 wives, has 40 siblings and an interesting history and future having moved away from traditional life and married a French women. He has concerns about the sustainability of the tribal lifestyle with problems of overgrazing and the spread of aids and has put together a record and music video to promote his ideas among the Maasai. 

He used a trip to take us to our next destination as an opportunity to visit his village and the next day we piled into his jeep for the 4 1/2hr drive southwest to the Udzungwa mountains.  

 The last couple of hours were on very rough and rutted sandy tracks and at one point we feared for the car as we were nearly swallowed by a massive mud pool and it was with relief that we turned into the entrance to our camp ,Hondo Hondo,and made ourselves at home in our mud and thatch ” banda’s”.  

 It was a very beautiful and tranquil spot with the 1900sq km Udzungwa Mountains National Park starting a step behind us, and we had it to ourselves. The last peaks in the Eastern African Arc that start in Kenya ,their great age and isolation has enabled many endemic species to evolve and the forests have remained pristine thanks to the unusually steep terrain precluding cultivation. Taboos have also helped their conservation as the forest was left untouched as the abode of ancestor spirits, often the way in places with large primate populations. And there were plenty of primates about. Baboons ran all around us and more tree loving species called from the forest.  


We went for an exploratory stroll into the forest and soon came upon a fence of sorts designed to keep elephants out. The huge beasts don’t like bees so hives are strung on fence wire and if shaken or knocked…….! 

   After the power cuts and mains water problems of Morogoro town it was nice to have solar powered lights and mountain stream fed showers and over a lovely dinner serenaded by birdsong and entertained by mongoose we organised the next two days hikes into the hills starting with a 5 hour trip to a series of waterfalls the following morning. 

We had to start by getting a ride with Francis in a battered old Landcruiser to the Park HQ where we payed our $30 each conservation fee and had a talk from our obligatory guide, Gordy. He then joined us in the jeep for the ride back to the nearest village, sanje, and the start of the circular trail which led up and down on earthen paths hacked out of the jungle floor. There was a thick mass of vegetation and Gordy told us their names and uses including the “Psycho” plant whose smoked leaves will get the party going.  


We looked at Teak leaves which give off a deep red dye used for lipstick when squished  and I overdid it on the wild asparagus leaf good for high blood pressure. There were custard apple trees and cider trees that got the monkeys slaughtered and the elephants tipsy. We saw wild mangoes with lovely scented flowers, wild breadfruit,fig and a feast of others. There was a herbalists catalogue of cures in every direction and all this wealth of food and medicine was another reason why the forest is preserved by the local people.  

   The jungle/ forest rose above us in a series of layers from the pungent floor of leaf litter being digested by beatles and millipedes  

 to the top canopy where monkeys swung and eagles swooped.  

 We climbed in dappled shade up to and over the river which fed the falls.  

 Shortly arriving at the first, 30m cascade ,that we weren’t allowed to swim in , we carried on to the next 70m one that we could.  

   After a very refreshing swim and “power shower” under the torrent we moved on to reach the top rocks of the 170m Sanje waterfall where we had our picnic lunch overlooking the sugarcane fields and rubber plantations stretching away to the east.  

 From up here we could hear the wild beats and banging bass of the post sugar cane harvest party happening in the village below. Fuelled by the cane rum and probably some “psycho” leaf, there was no let up day or night. 

We were nearly back down to the road before a gap in the greenery allowed for a view back to the falls and an appreciation of what had been below us as we dined al fresco.  

 There was a cacophony of bizarre bird calls, mostly from unseen sources deep in the greenery, including our camp’s namesake the Hondo Hondo bird, a kind of Hornbill,whose plaintive cry resembles a mournful baby. We saw some gymnastics performed by black and white Colobus monkeys and startled a shy red Duiker, looking something like a small deer ,but most of the wildlife remained elusive, including the 70 endemic species of spider luckily. 

Soon enough I was drinking cold beer in the deckchairs watching a large gang of mongoose getting seen off by a deadly Gaboon Adder.  


The next day was an early start to the Park HQ to pay our dues and pick up Gordy and an armed ranger to protect us from rampaging buffalo and elephants. We were tackling the 14km /8hr Hidden Valley Trail which promised to be steep and slippery.  

 The Kalashnikov toting ranger kept up a steady pace at the front and we didn’t have the frequent stops to describe and explain things but the going was slow enough on the steep uncleared paths, passed elephant Poo and into the cloud. The cloud was thick and deep so for awhile it was very dark and drippy- proper rainforest hiking through the sodden vegetation.  

  It was a strenuous climb and after 4km we did a short detour down to another waterfall and slabs of very slippery rocks where we filled our water bottles and had some food to give ourselves energy for the big push to the peak.  

 The humidity and the gentle rainfall ensured our clothes were soaked and with the tropical sun lost behind cloud it didn’t take long to start feeling cold when we reached the top after about 4 hours. With no view visible through the thick foliage we carried on crisscrossing the river and across the grassy, more open valley.


 No elephants but more poo and broken strings across the trail set up to establish their routes. We did come across a much smaller species, snails,  but these were the giant land snails. A couple of hermaphrodites were in a lovers embrace.  

 As we descended from the valley the forest changed again with more widely spaced but huge trees with massive spans, giant bamboos and lianas, and some impressive roots and buttresses.  


 There were some spectacular acrobatic aerial displays from troops of red colobus, Sanje crested Mangabey, black and white colobus, blue monkeys and yellow baboons. Unfortunately we had also seen, and felt, Tetsie fly, a tough critter similar to our Horsefly but with a nastier bite. 

We had made good time on the route and it was congratulations all round when we got back down to the road but our time in the jungle was up, the next day we were heading for the Mikumi National Park.