Humour me, if you will, and avert your eyes to the top of this page. “Foreign Lands. Fine Food. London Landmarks and Married Life.” When I put these nine words up on the homepage last summer, it was not a mission statement as such. It was just an expression of the four under-currents that were to inspire my little blog.
The salt and pepper pot pairing between my love of travel and my love of Pumpkin has led to many a global adventure but there is an elephant in the room, which has failed to be blogged, one which encapsulates the very essence of this paired concept. It is something that in fact led us to see real elephants and which the French refer to as the Lune de Miel.
A safari honeymoon in Tanzania
Believe it or not, on a blog so heavily predominated by the travels of my married life, I’ve not posted a single post about our Tanzanian honeymoon. As we now approach two years of matrimony, we have parted from last year’s 1st anniversary indulgence in London and opted for dinner at a local pub and a pact of no gifts. (Except chocolate. Chocolate is allowed and hopefully Pumpkin reads this with enough time to facilitate this. Addendum – prior to publication of this post, it seems he read my mind and some Paul A Young treats appeared on the kitchen table!)This year, my reflections of the most wonderful trip of my life will have to serve as an anniversary present for Pumpkin. Any rant that he can read rather than listen to will be gift enough for my man. 😀
Having discussed a safari and beach honeymoon, Pumpkin kindly took the reins from that point onward and I had no doubts that he would do a stellar job of arranging it. I wondered if my ears needed syringing when I heard the words, “backpack and tent” reverberating in the living room a few weeks before the wedding, thrust like a spearhead on my honeymoon pipe dreams. I’ve never been a backpacker. Budget traveller in my younger years, yes – but always with a suitcase. And a tent?? This was something I hadn’t done since my school years and even then, it wasn’t by choice.
Despite being larger than Belgium, Selous, a game reserve in Southern Tanzania, is most certainly off the beaten track with the majority of travellers migrating towards Serengeti. I want to head there myself one day but for the honeymoon, we were after somewhere more remote and when we read about Selous, we fell in love with the vision.After boarding a tiny aircraft from Dar-es-Salaam, we reached Selous and landed in a dusty patch of….well…dust. Surrounded by dry, yellow expanses of nothingness, I had never seen a plane land somewhere with no runways, no other aircraft, no visible machines. Just a field and a makeshift toilet. We were met by the wonderful Ahmed, one of the guides from Selous Serena Camp (which at the time was called the Selous Luxury Camp), who provided us with an ice cold bottle of mineral water – sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that go the furthest.We boarded our safari truck – the vehicle that was to become our legs for the next few days and I learned quickly that wearing black attracts Tsetse flies (the culprits behind sleeping sickness and creatures, who it seems can bite through denim). My exhaustion from the journey just diffused into the African atmosphere. I was mesmerised. We’d only been in the truck about ten minutes when we started seeing impalas, monitor lizards and tropical birds.
We reached the camp, where cold drinks, congratulatory wishes and the warmest-hearted smiles awaited us. And without further ado, they showed us to our “tent.” Tent, my friends, is not even the word for it. The luxury exceeded that of many premium hotels I’ve stayed in. We walked inside to fluffy pillows, regal-coloured cushions, wine, power points, a hair dryer, twin sinks and aromatherapy bath salts. It was everything I had dreamed it would be and nothing like my memories of camping at school! The camp is friendly and intimate with just twelve luxury lodges, wooden walkways and beautiful blue infinity pool to cool off after a day of game drives.
With hot water, gourmet meals and the absence of any power cuts, it was hard to believe we were out in the bush. One evening, a small gecko managed to creep onto the ceiling of the tent – my numerous childhood trips to India have taught me that they are usually harmless so I was hugely embarrassed for shrieking like a princess when I spotted it. My phobic yelps penetrated through the zip-up door because the staff spontaneously called out to offer help. The gecko, clearly mortified by my behaviour, made a dash for it.We went off-peak in early June, when the wet season had just come to an end and one other honeymoon couple were present for the first day of our trip. After they left, we had the entire camp, complete with chefs, waiting staff, cleaning staff and lodge manager all at our beck and call. We felt a little bashful that they should be bending over backwards to look after us but with obvious passion and pride for their work, they weren’t able to help themselves from providing attentive and caring service.
Breakfasts took place outdoors in the sunshine to the sound of birds, insects and the flowing river waters. Meals were a la carte with an ample range of both traditional Tanzanian specialties and European dishes. We were inquisitive about how they cook up such a storm, being hundreds of miles away from civilisation. They told us that fresh ingredients are shipped in by plane on a weekly basis and dry ingredients by truck on a monthly basis. We were stumped at the level of planning and organisation they must put in to get the orders right.We sat in the dimly lit bar in the balmy evenings, where time lingered peacefully, a perfect antidote to the euphoric chaos of a wedding. There were no televisions or radios so the whistles and chirps of nature served as music to our ears. With just the fabric of the tent shielding us from the canopy of stars, we fell into a humid slumber, stirring only once when awoken by the high-pitched, monophonic shrill of a hyena. I have enjoyed most countries I have travelled to but a place must have had a deeper imprint on your heart when you write about it two years later and it still invokes the deepest sentiments of nostalgia, fondness and love.The price was all inclusive so included all safari activities, meals and drinks, including alcoholic beverages. The staff ensured we were bursting to the seams of fullness with their hospitality, reminding me of my mum and making us feel like part of their family.
On our final day, they surprised us not once but twice. We had been on the lookout (unsuccessfully) for lions. I’ll save the animal details for a separate post, as I have too many pictures to squeeze in! We were heading back to the lodge, when Ahmed turned a corner to take us to a spot where lions are often seen. Or so we thought.But then he parked and told us to step out – two members of lodge staff were waiting and a table had been set up with drinks and snacks to the backdrop of the setting sun. This was a surprise, honeymoon, sundown picnic. How special you can be made to feel by a group of strangers. They left us to enjoy this moment, one which belonged to us that we will always cherish and one they made possible with their kindness and their efforts.
And then we really did head back. That evening, after an enormous meal (they were all enormous and so delicious), the entire team at the camp came dancing into the restaurant, singing harmoniously to the melody of a famous Swahili celebration song that became the soundtrack to our honeymoon. We sang it for months after returning home. They brought with them a cake – not a small token cake but an entire cake, large enough to feed at least eight people with a colourful, iced border and our names on top. Our surnames to be precise, which made me giggle, as it highlighted how I hadn’t changed mine!When we departed, we left a little piece of our early married life with them. I asked Pumpkin if we could come back one day and live out these memories once again – or create new ones. That’s the beauty of a safari experience. No two days will ever be quite the same. The desire to return is an emotion I often express when I leave a destination. Except here, it’s been two years and I still yearn for it every bit as longingly.