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I and my wife came back from a trip to Tanzania three days ago and I am rushing to get started with the trip report. Most of the photos are not edited yet, so there will be a new installment whenever I am ready with the photos and I have free time to write. This was our third safari trip to Africa after Kenya in 2013 (Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Lake Naivasha, Selenkay Conservancy, Amboseli NP, Ol Kinyei and Naibosho conservancies and Masai Mara NR), South Africa (Cape Peninsula, TImbavati and Sabi Sand) and Botswana (Chobe NP, Jao and Khwai concessions, Moremi GR) in May / June 2014. Where does Ruaha NP stand compared to the parks and reserves mentioned above in my personal opinion? The previous two trips involved multiple parks / reserves / concessions, but if I had to choose only one place to visit in Africa, that would be Ruaha National Park. True wilderness (based on my safari experience so far), absolutely stunning and varied scenery, relatively few visitors, lots of wildlife. My obsession with Ruaha started from this forum when I read the report of @ about his first trip to Ruaha during the green season. Then I read the report of @stockeygirl and her posts and statements that Ruaha is her close second favorite park after SLNP and when the report of Paco (@africawild) with his excellent photographs came out, I already had Ruaha on my list. Since there are quite a few places on this list, the priority was the main issue. After having certain parts of Eastern and Southern Africa covered I thought that it would be nice to see the area where these to regions are overlapping which is exactly Ruaha NP. There was a very serious hesitation between Ruaha and South Luangwa NP, at certain point I was thinking to do both parks on the same trip using the new low cost airline FastJet, which offers budget friendly flights between Dar es Salaam and Lusaka. Then it turned out that my wife has only 12 days off work left for this year and she really wanted to see Zanzibar, so we had to do either SLNP + Zanzibar or Ruaha and possibly Selous + Zanzibar. The question about the budget of the trip was also very important. Airfare to Dar es Salaam was slightly cheaper than to Lusaka, but not to the extend to make this factor a decision maker. Both Ruaha and SLNP required domestic flights respectively from Lusaka and Dar, which were similarly priced, so the decision maker in terms of budget had to be to cost of the safari itself and we all know that this always represents the bulk of the budget. We always take safari trips on the budget side, but this time I had to be even more careful after the South Africa / Zambia / Botswana trip just four months ago. If we had chosen SLNP it had to be either Marula Lodge or Croc Valley Lodge, located just outside the gate and we had to share vehicle with other guests. For Ruaha there was an interesting budget option on the table. After reading a lot about the park and possible budget accommodation, I stumbled upon an article about the TANAPA government owned bandas, located in Msembe area, not far from the park HQ. They would cost only 60 dollars per night for two of us, but the problem was that they didn't have en-suite toilet and we (especially my wife) would feel uncomfortable using the ablution block in the middle of the night, should that becomes necessary. Then I discovered that TANAPA have also en-suite cottages up the hill, about one and a half kilometers from the bandas. Would having a toilet inside be an important issue? When we arrived in Ruaha it turned out that it would, not that we ever used the toilet at night, but our guide told us that just two weeks ago there has been a fatal lion attack on one of the Mwagusi Camp guides, the second within a month's time, the first one being on a road maintenance machine operator. Both attacks occurred during the early morning hours - the guide has been checking around camp before the guests wake up and the other guy left his tent to check his machinery. They say that it has been a single sick lion that could not hunt anything else. The lion has been found and shot by the rangers, but our guide and some others thought that different lions have been involved in the incidents. After hearing about this it was a great comfort to know that we had an en-suite toilet. I will show detailed photos about the cottages later on during the report. On the very last game drive, we went to see also the bandas and I took some photos there, as well. After finding the accommodation the next step was to find a vehicle and a guide. I had written to Warthog Adventures in Iringa last year and they gave me very good prices, but we decided to do S. Africa and Botswana instead of Ruaha. Now I wrote them again and they confirmed the prices + they reserved the TANAPA cottage for us. I asked about duration of game drives and unlimited mileage and the guy replied that this is to be negotiated with the driver, which didn't feel quite reassuring. They didn't require any deposit either, so all we had before we left was just an email from a guy in Iringa stating the price and the dates for the safari. I found very few websites on the Internet where the company was mentioned plus one album on flickr.com with photos of their vehicle, but they were good. I had talked to @@PauloT from the forum who is a guide based in Iringa and took his phone number, in case something goes wrong with Warthog Adventures. My biggest concern was the quality of the guide and the condition of the vehicle. Both turned out to be excellent, our guide Alphonce was one of the best we ever had, for six days he actually tracked leopard twice for us, the second time all Kwihala vehicles (including Lorenzo Rossi) plus Mwagusi, Old Mdonya camps and Ruaha River Lodge vehicles gathered the leopard, which Alphonce tracked (we stayed at the side alone for at least half an hour before the other vehicles started arriving). To make the long story short - an excellent safari for me (I would not think that it will fit the discerning safarista's taste, though): 1. No thrills accommodation without the adventurous feeling of a safari camp or the luxury of a lodge, but with all comforts that we needed - a bedroom and a seating room with panoramic windows, large comfortable bed with mosquito net, en-suite toilet and shower, solar electrical system, good enough for recharging multiple camera batteries, a few hours of generator power, good enough to recharge the laptop and a million dollar view from the top of the hill towards the Great Ruaha River, the plains with the acacia trees and the mountains beyond. 2. No stops for coffee, tea, sundowners and other activities of this kind which in my humble opinion just take time from game viewing. The vehicle had a fridge and we were able to bring drinks and snacks with us, which we would consume while driving. Drinks were strictly water only, so we will be always fresh for the early morning game drives. We arranged with Alphonce to leave at 06:30 in the morning, skipping breakfast every day, coming back for lunch about 13:30-14:00. Leaving again for the afternoon drive at 16:00 h and coming back just before dark about 18:30-19:00. 3. Private vehicle, a pop-up roof Land Rover in great technical condition - we had all the comforts we needed for undisturbed 360 degrees viewing and more than enough space for equipment. I made the back seat my office, shoes off, so we can step on the seats at any time. Ability to stop for every single little thing of interest and stay at each sighting for as long as we wished. 4. For food we had a choice of 3-4 dishes (beef with rice, chicken with rice, beef with ugali, beef with spaghetti, chicken with spaghetti and combination of those). Nothing fancy, but good enough for us and for the cost of 7,000 shillings (about 5 dollras) per meal. We ate at a dining hall with the same amazing view located just about 40 meters from our cottage. For lunch the cook would call the guide while we are on a game drive to ask what we would like to have, for dinner, we would tell the cook about our choice during lunch. They also sell water, beer, other drinks and some souvenirs. After dinner we were accompanied to the cottage by a ranger armed with AK-47 (not sure if this is a good weapon against lions, but it will help with automatic bursts and still better than nothing). All these for about 200 dollars per person per night total, including park fees (excluding tips), oh boy, this was heaven on earth. Would do it again withing the snap of a finger! And last, but not least, I would like to thank @@PauloT and @@pault for their replies regarding my questions about the park, as well as to thank @russel, @@madaboutcheetah, @@xelas and especially @@Peter Connan for their input regarding continuous auto focus settings of my camera. The input helped very much, I stayed on tracking AF constantly, just tapping the back button for single AF mode and I hope that I got decent results (you will be the one to judge the photos). Ruaha sunrise with a giraffe, as seen from our cottage: Sunset with a baobab tree: Just couldn't resist posting two teasers. :)
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