Jabali Ridge

Ruaha National Park, Tanzania, Sept 2023

Southern Tanzania Part 1

We have been fortunate to visit Serengeti National Park in Tanzania numerous times. East Africa is the birthplace of the quintessential African safari, and not only have we always been drawn to the incredible wildlife and the unparalleled photographic opportunities, but the wonderfully warm and genuine people too.

Our guides and our good friend, Brandon Kemp, had often spoken to us about Ruaha National Park in Southern Tanzania. For many of them, it was a favorite place.

A truly wild wilderness we were told.

That was all we needed to hear and the bait was well and truly set. It was thus amongst whispers of Ruaha that we prepared to spend 3 weeks experiencing the ‘southern circuit’ in Tanzania in late September/early October.

We flew into Msembe airstrip in Ruaha National Park and were met by Samwell who would be our guide for the next week at Jabali Ridge.

Jabali Ridge is an exquisite property built into a cluster of granite kopjes, with its view overlooking an expanse of Baobab trees down below. We were welcomed with the genuine warmth that we always feel from the people of Tanzania. Even the tree hyrax were out in force to welcome us!

The geographical landscape of Ruaha is dominated by the confluence of two large rivers, the Ruaha and the MwaGusi. You would be forgiven for thinking you were in Hollywood, California due to the numerous palm trees that dot the river banks, and the dry rolling hills in the distance that complete the scene.

Both are seasonal rivers, with life sustaining shallow pools of water. A high water table means that elephants are able to dig shallow holes through which clean water filters through the river sand and bubbles up in large quantities.

The higher ground consists of thickly bushed combretum and mystical baobab forests.

The daily movement of the game is a general traverse from the foraging areas in higher ground to the riverbeds in the mid to late morning. The trek begins back up towards higher ground in the late afternoon.

Our photographic goal of the trip was to capture the essence of the core area of Ruaha National Park. The thickly forested Baobab trees are an aspect of Ruaha that make this wild area so very unique. These trees can live for up to 2000 years. Each tree is an individual with varying shapes, sizes and characteristics.

On our very first morning we left Jabali in the pre dawn, the first few baobabs silhouetted against the soft pink sky, and the earthy smell of the bush heavy in the air. This is my absolute favorite time of the day as we revel in the crispness of the morning, and excitement for the day lies ahead.

We wanted to explore as much of the habitat that we could, and as we moved from the higher ground, we descended down a valley of giants and emerged into a forest of ancients. The awe of the scene, and the feeling of being in the presence of these remarkable baobab trees, instantly connected us to Ruaha.

To capture this feeling and uniqueness, we knew we had to marry the charismatic wildlife with the strong architectural features of the baobab trees. Also luring us in where the magnificent fig and sausage trees that were present along the river beds, and thus our challenge began.

Elephants are an iconic species, and creatively we felt these would make for the best subjects. We spent a huge amount of time following herds of elephants, waiting for them to either rest under the perfect tree, or walk through an area that gave one the exact feeling of being in the middle of Ruaha. It was a privilege to be in the presence of both of these gentle giants, the elephants, and ancient sentient arboreal beings, the baobabs.

Predator sightings were also numerous and their presence was strongly felt. A mating lion pair, not far from camp, were seen daily, and on our first afternoon we basked in the sighting of a magnificent male leopard as he scavenged off a buffalo carcass. We also had a great behavioral sighting of two male lions that had quite coincidentally chosen to rest under the shade of an acacia tree that also happened to house a resting leopard. It was a stressful two hour period for the leopard who felt his two new companions were not the ideal house mates. The male lions eventually stalked off and the leopard made a quick dash away into the bush.

It wasn’t just the cats, we also had a great wild dog sighting, a pack of 6 as they rested mid morning in the shade of a baobab tree.

A safari in East Africa is not only about being immersed in nature and its wildlife, it is also about experiencing the culture of the people. Tanzanian’s are very proud of their heritage and they are very real about making one feel completely at home in their home.

Starlit dinners at Jabali take place beneath a giant baobab tree with river sand soft underfoot. There is normally something to celebrate, so make sure you have your dancing shoes on as you may be treated to an authentic experience of the entire camp family celebrating in the only way they know … joyfully and completely uninhibited with vocal harmonizing, rhythmic dancing, drum beats, clapping and foot stamping. The Ve-gela-gela, a high pitched keening sound, is a unique talent some of the women have that is reserved for special occasions. This is quite something to experience.

Dancing is definitely not my forte, but we couldn’t help but be swept up the jubilation as we were made to feel such a part of everything, despite our rather dubious dance moves!

There was one more unexpected surprise at Jabali. The heat of the day lead us to the rim flow swimming pool in an attempt to cool off. Drinking in a corner was a collection of gorgeous thornveld birds. Pytillia’s, cordon bleu’s, silverbills and firefinches flitted in and out. The assembly of colours were such that it looked like someone had been given free reign over a box of children’s crayon’s. Blues, reds, oranges and yellow, all mixed in together.

Being back in camp now no longer meant just enjoying delicious meals, there was also a rather addictive photographic past time to be had.

Nights also had their own special allure. With our bedroom being open on three sides, but protected from bugs by mesh netting, it meant a gentle breeze kept a cooling presence as we fell asleep to the haunting, echoing call of a hyena, and the persistent song of the square-tailed night jar. Deep into the night, I was faintly aware of the far-off contact call between members of a lion pride … there’s nothing like the full sensory experience of the African bush.

All too soon we snaked our way along the Ruaha River, climbed up and over the rolling hills, leaving the baobab forests behind us and headed into the impenetrable Miombo Woodland. A new destination, and a completely new awe-inspiring experience awaited us … the Usangu Wetlands.

Southern Tanzania Part 2 – The Usangu Wetlands

Southern Tanzania Part 3 – Kilombero Expedition Camp

Copyrighted by Chris Fallows @2020