A holiday in the land of exile

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Giraffe line up at Selous game reserve in Tanzania. Pictures: Paballo Thekiso

Dar es Salaam - First, an apology: the experience I had in Tanzania cannot be fully measured in words, so whatever ones I do use will not do it justice.

I’ve always wanted to visit Tanzania, for two reasons.

First, it is because one of my uncles spent almost two decades in exile in Tanzania and I have always wondered what the country looked like.

I also thought that maybe if I touched the same ground he touched, perhaps I would find closure or at least see life from the perspective he saw during his time there.

As a family, though the signs of the horrors he endured in exile are still visible, we are fortunate that he came back alive. Many didn’t make it back.

Second, it is because when I started working, my mom made me buy my first dinner set from a home-choice catalogue from Zanzibar.

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One of the luxury rooms at the Serena Selous Mivumo River lodge game reserve in Tanzania.

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Leaving Joburg in winter, we arrived at about 4.30am at the Julius Nyerere International airport in Dar es Salaam… and we were told it was winter as well.

Tanzanian winter is not like ours, though. It was warm at the airport and the coldest winter’s day we experienced on the trip was 27°C.

Many locals say that June and July are the best months to visit because it is not as hot as in summer, when temperatures soar to 38°C and beyond.

We flew to Tanzania on one of the first Fastjet flights. I had never heard of the low-cost airline before so I was slightly nervous.

But despite the drunk guy who set next to me and never stopped talking, the three-and-a-half hour trip was surprisingly pleasant.

For R3 000 return, the trip can be cheaper than going to Cape Town with some of our local airlines.

Tanzania boasts a population close to that of South Africa with about 50 million people and about 121 tribes, the majority of whom speak Swahili.

Our week’s stay was filled with lots of travelling, including visiting the famous Stone Town in Zanzibar, a town built with coral from the sea. Personally, I was a bit disappointed with Zanzibar and the poverty surrounding all the beautiful resorts and beautiful beaches.

I guess my disappointment is based on the fact that it is presented, in most promotional pictures, as the land of milk and honey, but the reality on the ground is the opposite. We experienced Dar es Salaam’s traffic jams and taxi drivers who are worse than ours.

One driver was hooting and fighting with a woman to move for him while she was rightfully walking on the pedestrian pavement.

But there is a place that stole my heart, a place where everything is perfect, peaceful and quiet.

Situated in the South of Tanzania, the 55 000km2 Selous game reserve is perfect for romantic and honeymoon getaways.

Because the game reserve does not have a tar runway, we flew in aboard a Cessna light aircraft – a short 45-minute hop from Dar es Salaam.

To get us familiar with the bush, we were treated to an afternoon game drive, stopping in the middle of the bush, enjoying some sundowners.

We spent our first night at the Serena Selous luxury tented private camp surrounded by animals and the sound of water flowing from the nearby river.

The property is renowned for its populations of elephant, black rhino, cheetah, giraffe, hippo and crocodile, among many other species.

With such variety, we needed a half-day game drive to cruise around what the UN cultural body Unesco named the largest protected game reserve in the world.

In the park we also saw baobab trees more than 200 years old.

The funny story is that people in Tanzania do not like this tree because if one walks past it at night, it’s considered bad luck.

But they use the fruit from the tree for juice and the leaves are cooked and served as you would spinach.

How is this bad luck?

To avoid bad luck falling upon us, we drove away from the tree while the sun was up and found refuge under a different tree to enjoy a fine Tanzanian coffee in the midst of impalas, baboons, warthogs and a group of wildebeest.

Before we had our stop, we saw about five elephants quenching their thirst at a nearby dam but as soon as they saw us, they quickly disappeared into the bushes.

This behaviour, we are told, is caused by rampant poaching that has led to a dramatic decline in the general wildlife populations, especially elephant and rhino, whose numbers have dropped by almost 90 percent in the recent past.

For this reason, the same Unesco that declared Selous a heritage site in 1982 found itself, two weeks ago, including Selous in the list of endangered world heritage sites due to widespread poaching.

But our game drive was made complete by witnessing the kings of the jungle lazing in the shade after leaving only a hyena’s head for vultures to feast on.

My luck was indeed good in Tanzania because, on the many occasions I have visited the Kruger National Park, I have never seen a lion or any traces of a kill.

Unlike in many crowded game parks, Selous offers a peaceful and almost private experience. No traffic at all.

If, like me, you don’t enjoy crowded game parks, Selous is calling you.

We arrived at the Serena Luxury Mivumo River lodge as a happy and satisfied bunch. The 12 chalets built on timbered decks above the banks of the mighty Rufiji River with a private jacuzzi made me miss my wife. This is simply a distinctive place you have to share with someone special.

Unfortunately, sitting in the jacuzzi by myself was not going to help so since each chalet stands on its own river-view deck with its own outside private rain shower, I jumped in.

Though I live in the surburbs now, I grew up in the township and have only seen rain showers on TV in movies so experiencing it while looking down at Hippos lazing in the river was priceless for me.

I must admit that though the rain shower is private, before I let loose, I looked around first to see if there was any chance of anyone spotting my naked self.

But with the perfect scenery I was surrounded by, I didn’t care much if anyone saw me.

Nothing was going to stand in my way for that experience.

Just before the sunset, we all hopped into the custom-built riverboats for some closer look at crocodiles and hippos, both in and out of the water.

If you are lucky, you might spot a lion drinking down by the river.

I hope you now realise why I missed my wife.

Saturday Star

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