It wasn't an auspicious start to my 44th birthday. We had been forced to camp in a gravel pit just off a dirt road that had taken us through some beautiful miombo forest, south of Kigoma in Western Tanzania but with no accessible camping spots off it, we had little choice but to take the first place that offered any space to set up camp. So on the 10th May we woke up in damp,smelly tents, amidst a swarm of bees that had been disturbed by our presence. For about a month since leaving Nairobi we had been subject to frequent downpours and our kit hadn't really had a chance to dry properly. The stink was compounded by the fact that the beautiful troupe of Colobus monkeys we saw near Fort Portal in Uganda (see Youtube clip), had peed liberally all over our flysheets. Its actually surprising the bees wanted to come anywhere near us. My lovely sons presented me, somewhat hurriedly, with beautiful handdrawn cards before dashing off to escape the stings and to pack up. Other celebrations were deferred in the interests of getting away with minimal damage.
So things could only get better. And indeed they did - hugely better. We spent the rest of the beautifully sunny day and the rather rainier night in Katavi National Park. This park is a well-kept secret, highly rated by afficionados of Tanzania who know this gem but which is usually overlooked by visitors in their headlong rush to see the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro crater in northern Tanzania. Rather than staying in the public campsite (empty) we opted to pay quite a lot for a 'special campsite' which basically meant we could camp anywhere in the park. We were only the fourth set of private vehicles to enter Katavi in 2009. En route to a suitable spot we saw lots of plains game and birds on the stunning open vlei area and then pitched our tents near the river - though not too near. See pics for why.
We also came across this dead elephant who had attracted the attentions of dozens of white-backed vultures - he had been detusked and had probably died of natural causes since he was very close to the ranger post.
In the late afternoon Robert and I enjoyed sundowners and a spot of birdwatching and then the balloons and an al fresco shower courtesy of the Le Bretons. More beautiful handdrawn cards from their boys and some lovely presents organised by Mands who puts my own family to shame.... I'm looking forward to reminding Robert of that when we get to South Africa. The moon was almost full and bathed the campsite in light, until the rain started and R and I hastily got up and put the flysheet on our tent.
And the final prize arrived the next morning as we set off up river to a lake in the eastern section of the park when I spotted a lioness sitting regally on the opposite riverbank. And if I say so myself it was a pretty remarkable sighting at quite a distance (hence the lack of photos). With binoculars we realised there was another lion lounging lazily on the branch above her, and then two more in a tree to the left. We had missed the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha in south-west Uganda: this pride more than made up for it.
And a heads up for all those godparents and doting relatives reading this blog entry. The next birthday celebrations on our expedition will take place in Cape Town on the 13th June: Max's 16th birthday coincides with our arrival party planned for that day (all welcome!), and we'll also be congratulating Max Le B who is turning 7 on June 11th.