Costs to Ruaha are calculated by car to go there, do game drives and come back. Accommodation and food is calculated per person. As I am alone, it would be quite expensive. The first price was at USD 350.-. As it was late, after my bus drive that took forever, I had to wait until the following morning to go to check prices at other companies. I first went to Warthog, which Pat & Tom used for their trip to Ruaha. But the price was still really high: USD 250.- for the first day, and then USD 150.- for every successive day. That means if you plan to spend a night, the cost for the car is USD 400.-. That is without food and accommodation so far. I walked into Masai Alley, which is famous for its crafts market in Iringa. There I bought some beautiful paintings and told the guy about my problem finding cheap safari. He said he knew someone who could maybe help me.
The next day still nothing new. Some people have their own car, but is full, other people simply don't go, and most of all, there aren't that many tourists around. I end up helping Titho and Michael setting up a Facebook page for the lodge and for their tour operator company, as well as registering on different hostel and lodge websites.
Felix came around two, and picked me up. He would be my driver. He doesn't speak too much English, and I still didn't learn much more Kiswahili. But communication is possible, if kept simple. He drives fast and quite wildly on the dirt road towards Ruaha. The 130 kms are supposed to be done in two or three hours. I think just narrowly didn't kill a kuku (chicken) on the road. At some point the right brake didn't work as it should, and we spent half an hour trying to fix it. Me watching him trying to fix it, as I'm no good at mechanics. The brake doesn't want to be repaired, so we just leave it off and roll on with only the left brake. When I asked Felix about it, he says “modified”.
At the gate, I used my credit card to pay the car, driver and my entry fees as well as accommodation for me and Felix. The price difference is quite amazing. It costs USD 20 for my entry and another USD 20 for my accommodation, and for Felix it costs less than USD 1 for the entry and about USD 3 for his accommodation.
On the bridge closest to the gate we finally catch up with the other car. It's full of 5 girls and one guy, all volunteers or teachers of some kind. We watch a spotted hyena walk by, and then the sun sets beautifully. Another African Sunset.
At supper, I finally introduce myself to the group, and eat together with them. The menu is quite small: kuku and chips, kuku and rice, or maybe beef could be had as well. I order kuku (chicken) with chips, but it happens to be a small quantity. For the price we pay, it is quite bad. We are supposed to order breakfast for the next morning, but I don't order anything as I plan to eat my own stuff.
The next morning I woke up at 5:30 and got ready. At six my stuff was in the car and I was ready to leave. But nobody else was there yet. Around six the others woke up, and we finally left around 6:15. The sunrise drive was amazingly beautiful. We saw many birds, but not many other animals. But the landscapes are gorgeous.
After sunrise we went to have breakfast at the same place where we had supper last night. I expected to eat my own breakfast, but they made a pancake and spanish omelett with sausage for me anyway. So I ate it. But it cost me another USD 3.-. We then took the lunch boxes and went out again for our morning game drive.
Speaking of lunch, the previous night I had asked for a lot of rice for my lunch box. Guess what, it wasn't enough again, and we barely had beans and vegies inside. And all that for USD 4.-. You can get a full meal for less than USD 1.- around here. And they might even serve you again if you're still hungry. Not so there. Luckily, Tiffany, one of the other car, had some pizza for lunch, which she shared as she wasn't hungry enough to finish.
A while later we reached the gate and I thought I would pass over the driving to Felix. But Felix was quite content and happy to be able to write text messages. So I kept on driving. We had to stop at the first village out of the park to pick up some mzungus. It happened to be Stephanie, a girl I tried to call to know if she could help getting me a safari for a budget. She knows Pat & Tom McCabe, they're all with Peace Corps. We picked her and her friend up because she called Michael, and Michael asked me if it was OK. She looked a bit unsettled when I stopped the car and she saw me driving and Felix sitting next to me. She probably expected a usual safari setting: a mzungu tourist and a local driver and tour guide.
I drove all the way back to Iringa on the dirt road. Just before town, Felix took over and drove into town. Don't tell anyone.