By the Rufiji river we set up camp

Saturday January 11 2020

Nje ya Selous camp.

Nje ya Selous camp. PHOTO | COURTESY 

RUPI MANGAT
By RUPI MANGAT
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On the banks of the great Rufiji river, the brown waters flow past small isles and sand banks on their way to the Indian Ocean. It’s overcast in December, with a light rain, but there are still great views from our secluded camp by the river.

Leina Lemomo shows off the grand space at Nje ya Selous camp. “I’m the first African woman to start a mobile camp in Selous.”

Born in Kenya, the travel bug hit Lemomo as a nine-year-old Brownie Scout on her first camping trip in a forested glade in Nairobi.
“I stayed awake looking at the stars,” she said.

Leina Lemomo of Nje ya Selous camp by the banks
Leina Lemomo of Nje ya Selous camp by the banks of Rufiji River. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT | NMG

Camping became her escape from the brick jungle, criss-crossing Africa to to see the Great Mosque of Djenne in Mali, and living in Malawi for seven years.

Some 20 years ago, while on a two-year stint in Tanzania, Lemomo discovered the secluded Selous and southern Tanzania.

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“It’s unique,” she states standing under the canopy that serves as the lounge cum dining area overlooking the river.

“I wanted to start in a place that was not crowded with mass tourism. And southern Tanzania is like that. The northern circuit, with Manyara, Ngorongoro and Serengeti, is where everyone goes.”

Lemomo started luxury camping long before glamping came into fashion. She has organised safaris into northern Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia because of the easy connectivity. One of her favourite tours is the Tazara train journey from Dar es Salaam to Zambia covering 1,860 kilometres.

“It’s amazing landscapes you pass through,” she says, including chugging past Selous and getting to see it’s wildlife for free. “I’ve actually watched a lion hunt from the train.”

‘Selous has everything’

We’re the only family in the exclusive, one group at a time camp.

In the forested grove, butterflies that I’ve never seen flit on the indigenous plants, and scores of golden weavers rent the air. The serenity is suddenly broken when a crocodile leaps out of the opaque water to grab a bird in its jaws.

“Selous has everything,” says Lemomo amid the honking of the hippos. When I first came to Selous, there were elephants everywhere.”

Then came poachers. From the largest herds on the African continent numbering 150,000 there are an estimated 30,000 now. The good news is that populations are increasing with more security in place. In the secluded camp, the five tented rooms with transparent screens are spacious and cool, and especially designed to show off the Rufiji river.

“You may be the first Kenyans into the newly created Nyerere National Park,” says Lemomo while we enjoy a leisurely lunch of peanut soup followed by roasted meat and salad with Lemomo’s signature ginger and lime dressing.

I get to see the Africa’s most endangered canine for the first time in the wild—the African wild dog. The park boasts baobabs with hollow chambers, a lioness on a tree, elephants in the doum palm forest and the many beautiful lakes that were once part of the Rufiji.

An African wild dog in Nyerere National Park.
An African wild dog in Nyerere National Park. PHOTO | COURTESY

Our 10 day road trip to Nyerere National Park was via Dar es Salaam entering Mtemere gate and returning via Morogoro after driving through the park to exit at Matembwe.

Selous Game Reserve was established in 1922. Measuring 50,000 square kilometres it is the largest wilderness area in Africa with the greatest concentration of elephants, rhinos and lions.

Nyerere National Park is about 30,000 square kilometres carved out of the reserve, with the rest for the Nyerere Hydro Power project.

There are environmental concerns about the massive project to boost Tanzania’s electric power for industrialisation. It will be Africa’s largest dam scheduled to be completed by 2022.