Whilst the prospect of wild dog was high on our agenda on entering the Selous, there was only one thing on our mind on arrival at Ruaha. Just a few days earlier the guides themselves had been bowled over by the experience of watching some 300, (yes, 300!), elephant cross the Great Ruaha River. Sure enough, in the short 5-minute drive from the air-strip to camp we chanced across no less than 3 different groups of elephant. Our wonderful guide Giovanni explained that this daily migration of elephant, from the east to the west side of the river, was to graze and find new pasture before returning to the hills forcover. What a welcome!
The early, short rains around Jongomero had had a transformational effect on the landscape. Lush, green and verdant, we were witnessing the seasons in transition, and it was stunning to see. Arriving in this area of the Ruaha immediately felt like an honour; almost as if we were discovering a well-kept secret; a connoisseur’s Africa. The knowledge that the nearest camp was over 45kms away supported the incredible feeling of sheer privileged isolation in this wilderness; a veritable Eden, which sprawls an ancient area of the Great Rift valley where both Eastern and Western species of flora and fauna meet, and which thus supports a tremendous diversity of birdlife and wildlife species.
If Siwandu is like a refined and genteel African homestead, Jongomero is altogether more flamboyant and theatrical – an expansive stage where the spectacular landscape is an integral feature, and an inextricable part of the camp’s unique character. One enters the reception, with its lofty thatched A-frame, open at front and back, and the indisputable elegance and charm of its interior. It is, however, the stunning backdrop of the sweeping riverbed which immediately commands full focus.
The hospitality and facilities at Jongomero combine sophistication and luxury with the unadorned spectacle of the landscape. Each of the 8 large tented suites are set along the dramatic meander of the Jongomero river, as impressive when parched and arid in the dry season - as it was when we visited - as it would be in full flow after the rains. Pre-dinner drinks watching the ‘bush TV’ on the dry riverbed; mouth-watering dinner on the natural rock balcony; a refreshing swim in the pool positioned directly overlooking the Jongomero… our time there was fully immersed in its awe-inspiring setting. Furthermore, camp manager Naomi, Brian and the team at Jongomero also get the details so right – the small natural touches reinforcing the ‘big’ nature setting: be it the tiny acacia thorn delicately pinning down the lavatory paper, the soap wrapped in a recently picked leaf, or the fragile twig from the Masai’s magical tree on the pillow to welcome travellers…
And as for the game? Sundowners in the majestic company of nearby elephant, game drives packed as they should be, bush walks replete with fresh tracks and sightings - the game exposure was rich both on foot and by jeep, and, as at Siwandu, the safari experience felt intimate and profound.
We did not see another vehicle at Jongomero and our guides had the deepest knowledge of the game and were acutely alert to the bush. As we came across fresh lion track on our game walk I was once again impressed how our guide, Giovanni, relied on all his five senses to ensure our safe passage through the bush, not least as it had started to thicken with vegetation (- indeed we were fortunate to just get a bush walk in before they stopped for the green season). I realised that a good guide would rarely be taken ‘unawares’ by game, and I was struck by the deep skill and complexity in interpreting the landscape and in accurately reading and predicting the movements of the animals within it.
We visited the fly-camping site one morning where we were able to see the meticulous set-up, as they arranged the site for a couple who were fortunate to be able to take advantage of one of the last opportunities of the season. Again, every detail thought of, and every comfort offered in the heart of the bush, provided with painstaking care and attention by the SSC crew. These guests would appear later that day, after an intense bush walk. They would have the opportunity to freshen up in the ingeniously-rigged bush ‘shower’, before enjoying sundowners and a freshly-made and presented supper under the stars. They would eat and sleep under the illuminated night sky with every need catered for by the attendant SSC team, listening to the wild sounds of the bush. Surely this must be up there as being as far away from the 21stcentury world as it is still possible to reach on this planet! For guests going at the time of year when fly-camping is offered, I can now see first-hand that it would be undeniable highlight and should absolutely prioritised by any fit and adventurous guest. We later heard that the couple who experienced the camp that night spent an evening listening to a bush orchestra which included lion and hyena. I am sure they loved every moment.
We reluctantly left Jongomero for the last destination on our trip, Fanjove Island. Jongomero was one of the most special places I have ever visited, and had the anticipation to see Fanjove not been building for months it would have been hard to tear oneself away. However, there is a fanfare of expectation and excitement which precedes any visit to Fanjove: well-known (- for those in the know- ) as an unmatched, unspoilt tropical island, with only an iconic 19th century lighthouse (and the guest facilities themselves) to interrupt its peerless natural beauty. So, a final stop in Fanjove certainly sweetened the bitter pill of leaving Jongomero.