It is the height of safari season and with great relief I notice that Tanzania is once again bustling with safari-goers ready to explore and yearning for new adventures. Although most of the flights I have been on the past few days have been filled to the brim, surprisingly our little 12-seater charter plane by Auric is empty this morning.
My colleague and I feel like VIP guests getting whizzed out of Dar es Salaam all the way to our secluded airstrip at Jongomero located in the Ruaha National Park in the South of Tanzania. I squeeze in right behind our pilots to get the best bird’s eye view from the plane. The airplane propeller tries to gently lull me to sleep, but I resist the urge to dose off for the two and half hour flight because I have serious FOMO and definitely don’t want to miss anything. I get rewarded with breathtaking views of Tanzania’s Southern landscape, but once our aircraft approaches the Ruaha National Park I am properly awake to take it all in. I watch the Great Ruaha River gently snaking through the landscape and then I notice the majestic Baobab trees. Even from up here I can see that they are massive.
As we touch down we get an immediate hospitable welcome by Jongomero guide JC. But before our pilots depart to pick up their next guests along the route, they eagerly agree to pose for a quick photo with friendly smiles. Then of course I get allowed to quickly hop into the cockpit of the aircraft. I now get why someone would want to become a pilot. I highly commend the Auric pilots for their professionalism and happy disposition and for getting us there safely. They make landing on gravel airstrips in the middle of nowhere in a tiny aircraft seem really normal.
Jongomero camp is a simple ten minute drive away from the airstrip, but instead of heading back to camp we are in for a real treat. As soon as we set off I am in awe of the landscape and scenic beauty. It is a wild and wondrous place and you get a sense that everything here has been around forever. After a short drive, we pull up next to a lush green area next to the river and then I smell it. Delicious aromas of our freshly prepared bush breakfasts permeate the air. We enjoy a freshly brewed coffee as we watch the beautiful setting unfold before us.
Bellyful and happy we arrive at Jongomero Camp. On the harmonious notes of the honorable Jongomero welcome song we really feel like we have indeed arrived ‘home’. Jongomero is an intimate and secluded camp. Even though it is relaxed and laid-back, the interiors have been elegantly decorated by the owners, adding a bit of je ne sais quoi that pairs beautifully with the top-notch service and high attention to detail by the Jongo team.
My tented suite is spacious and airy and I have a gorgeous view over the seasonal Jongomero river, now a dry riverbed. Our visit here is only for two nights so I immediately get to work. There are so many lovely things to take photos of. Jongomero has recently undergone a soft refurbishment. The owners have personally, lovingly redecorated Jongomero and their handson elegant flair is evidenced everywhere. From brand new towels and crisp white linen to beautiful new crockery from France and crystal glasses, Jongomero has a bespoke new elevated safari elegance.
On top of that, the wildlife experience in the Ruaha National Park is exceptional. This is why many guests return here time and again. But, you do need time and patience and I am amazed at the skill of our guides who track and find exciting wildlife sightings in the vast terrain. During my game drive I marvel at gigantic Baobab trees that you can find all around, watch the antics of a group of baboons (which really reminds me of my child’s last birthday party), and spend time in the presence of herds of zebras, a journey of giraffe and herds of impala. The highlight is watching a large herd of buffalo back-lit by the sunset. Giant Baobab silhouettes are etched on the horizon, as the red glazing sun sets in the distance. It is a sight I will never forget.
Back in camp there is a cozy bonfire in the middle of the dry riverbed in front of the central alfresco lounge and dining area. The atmosphere is joyous as groups of guests huddle together to enjoy a pre-dinner drink around the campfire. Tables have been moved down and right onto the riverbed and lanterns are flickering all around. The dining experience at Jongomero is a definite highlight. When you realize just how remote and secluded this camp is, you get a new appreciation for the incredibly fresh and flavorsome meals that the chefs produce here. We are proud to say that we consistently receive great feedback for the food service and now, I truly understand why.
When I get back to my tent that evening, the turned down suite is inviting and a beautiful welcome note with a twig from the Masai’s magical tree on the pillow. The sounds of nature lull me to sleep and I get lost in the soft fluffy duvets and gigantic bed.
After a good night’s rest I am up before sunrise to take advantage of the early morning light. Once all our guests have left on game drives or game walks, the camp quietens down and I can explore the nooks and crannies of this lovely camp. Jongomero is smaller in comparison to sister camp, Siwandu and the eight tented suites are well spaced for privacy along the meandering dry Jongomero river bed. I spend the day with our team, snapping photos and capturing stories. As our guests return from their morning game drive activities, I hear about exciting lion and cheetah sightings and they all are having the time of their lives. I am also happy to see some of our more fitness oriented guests have discovered the new gym. It is a welcome new addition at Jongomero.
The sunset that evening is utterly spectacular, again. I take the opportunity to capture our dinner set up in the glowing afternoon sun. I also photograph the revamped swimming pool area as the sun sets between the trees. I can just imagine what it would feel like floating in the crystal clear water, drink in hand, while watching an ellie casually strolling by in the dry riverbed below. Sadly the elephants did not get the memo, but I am left with watching a lovely herd of impala, instead.
The next morning I get the chance to go on a quick game drive with JC again. We do not have much time to find animals but instead I am getting a sense of the Ruaha landscape and how it feels to be here. The Ruaha has a striking presence that is hard to express. I think guests that come here are instantly drawn to this feeling and is part of the reason they prefer this lesser well-known part of south Tanzania, to its more familiar cousin, the Serengeti in the North. Time stands still and interesting wildlife sightings are a reward kept for those that take the time and care to fully immerse themselves.
I silently watch a pair of jackals feasting on a small carcass, knowing that we are the only ones fortunate enough to sit here today and experience this exact moment in time. Perhaps it is just that, being able to truly feel that we are part of this incredible landscape, no rush and the feeling that this sighting is ours and ours alone today. If it was not for my flight to Siwandu later that morning I would have explored this park for days.
On the way back to camp there is fresh lion poop in the road, but alas the time has come for me to move on.