Travel

Tantalizing all my senses in Tanzania with Azura Selous

There are two main reasons I like to travel. The first is my valiant effort to let my battered All Star sneakers see as much of the world as possible before they completely fall apart.  The second is a combination of whatever faux deep quotes about travel opening the mind are doing the rounds this week on Instagram.

Having spent a large part of the past two years in Florida I decided this phase of my life needed to be about exploring the beautiful continent of Africa. It felt like no sooner had I put this intention to the universe than was I jetting off to Tanzania for the first time.  The flight to Joburg was at 6am which turned out to be good preparation for early morning game drives. The 45 minute flight from Dar Es Salaam by charter plane was reassuringly smooth in spite of the humourous sick bag below.

Happily the plane landed on the private airstrip minutes away from the super luxurious Azura Selous Lodge. Being met with homemade hibiscus tea and cold towels was a foretaste of the pampering to come. We received a warm welcome from the manager and an introduction to the staff and some ground rules then we settled in the open plan lounge overlooking the pool and the Great Ruaha river.

After a refreshing drink I went to check out the villa I would be staying in. Like all the others on the property it had a river view. The entrance with the spectacular chandelier and oversize bathroom were brick but the bedroom overlooking the deck was tented. Which was wonderful because that river breeze was very welcome in the humidity. I napped then got ready for dinner which was served on the river banks. Azura Selous makes it a point to serve meals in different places so guests never dine in the same venue twice.

When you are staying in the lap of luxury your wake up call isn’t a phone call but a knock on the door from someone bearing a hot beverage with delicious vanilla cookies. Off we went in search of wildlife. Naturally, we were hoping for a glimpse of the Big 5 but animals work on their own schedule. We saw fresh leopard prints and tried to track it in vain.

What I did see were lots and lots of birds. The reserve is in a UNESCO World Heritage Site making it a bird lovers paradise too. After a few hours of tracking animals we stopped for breakfast. As if by magic delicious food and steaming hot coffee miraculously appeared in the middle of nowhere. We went back into the vehicles to continue our search for animals.

We spotted some giraffe, buffaloes and came upon vultures feasting on the remains of a hyena. As we were watching a few other birds came by to try scavenge from the corpse and some territorial jostling ensued.

Lunch was a local meal exactly the same as would be eaten in the nearby village. After a siesta we were back to the game drive. We spotted some hippo skull bones as well as an almost intact giraffe skeleton. Because I am trying to be a mature person I resisted the temptation to start singing “Circle of Life” and instead took lots of pictures.

Speaking of lions we did spot an old one with lots of scars on its face but it clearly did not like being disturbed and ran off faster than you could say Simba. Sundowners took place on a scenic stretch of the river and were accompanied by tasty snacks.

 

Back at the lodge, after another fantastic supper I retired to my villa and tried not to be terrified about how the hippos sounded dangerously close. I mean I was technically in their territory so I tried to be A Strong Black Woman.

After yet another opulent wake up call with vanilla rooibos it was game drive time again. This time we saw some shy zebra. I also had the good fortune to spot a whole lot of buffalo trotting in a very determined fashion into the forest alongside the road. You know when people describe an experience as priceless? In this instance it was like watching a whole lot of R100 notes contentedly jogging out of your wallet but feeling relaxed knowing they will return in the form of something equally precious like sexy stilettos.

After lunch I went back to my villa, popped open the complimentary bottle of champagne from the owners’ vineyard and took a skinny dip in the private plunge pool. Mostly to tick it off my bucket list but also because I was burdened by the punitive water restrictions back in Cape Town.  The afternoon activity was a cruise down the river in a boat. Great opportunity to see another view of the glorious reserve. Also low key terrifying because of how close we were to the hippos. I really do appreciate wildlife but I watch a lot of nature channels so I’m always aware of the fact that animals in real life are nothing like Disney. Thankfully the hippos decided not to be their normal aggressive selves and we disembarked safely on the riverbank to enjoy yet another wonderful sunset which I took lots of photos of for Instagram. As one does.

Upon reaching land I was expecting us to head back for the lodge to freshen up before supper. Instead we were driven to another part of the reserve I had never seen before. The first clue was when I glimpsed a million twinkling lights between the trees. You know that song Save the best for last? If you don’t I have really given my age away here. Completely okay with it because the sight that greeted us can only be described as an enchanted forest. There were innumerable lanterns hung on the trees. A long table finely set. A roaring fire in the background to complete the mood.

Over a languid dinner featuring more Tanzanian cuisine and freshly roasted meat the rangers regaled us with stories of highlights with animal encounters. Our fantastic head ranger Jonas told us how working at Azura Selous had enabled him to send his eldest daughter to a good high school he would not have normally been able to afford. He said how he liked to tease her to speak English when she came home on holiday so he could see the education was working. A man who believes in promoting women!!! I stan a feminist fave.

Part way through dinner I heard some loud noises. I was told it was lions on each side of our dinner enclosure roaring to communicate with each other. The Masai guide assigned to the lodge had already spotted a fresh lion paw print while escorting one of our party to the villa the night before. Some guides went to try find the lions with no success. At this point it seemed the lions wanted to be less like Mufasa and more like Mariah when she was going through her Elusive Chanteuse phase.

I tucked into the bed later with the now familiar sounds of the hippo. There was an option for a game drive the next morning but my lazy self decided to trade that in for a lie in. Mostly so I could figure out exactly what life choices I needed to make so that back in Cape Town I could also be woken daily with tea and cookies. I’m still working on that plan but I did luxuriate in the outdoor shower for a pleasantly long time.

After a final breakfast we headed down to the landing strip to catch the charter plane back to Dar Es Salaam. As I buckled my seatbelt I realized I had forgotten my coat in the lounge. The pilot looked restless and there were other passengers already boarded so I was prepared to leave it in the interest of not upsetting people or missing two further connecting flights. The next thing that happened exemplifies exactly why Azura Selous deserves all the five stars it gets. As I was busy explaining my dilemma to my fellow travelers and we were making decision trees Jonas quietly jumped into the vehicle, sped back to the lodge and raced back with my Navy trench while we were still annoying the pilot with our delay.

The moral of the story is if you want to experience a safari in the most luxurious, eco friendly and scenic way then Azura Selous should be your only option. Thank me later.

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