In the weeks leading up to my arrival in Uganda, Marcy had suggested that we should go on a game drive. She had informed me that the trips could be pricey. I figured that since I headed all the way to Africa, the best things to spend money on was the things that where classically Africa! Game drives can’t get much more African.
While we where still in Fort Portal, Marcy was in contact with yet another PVC, Sarah that was placed very close to her own site in Soroti. They had become good friends and she was setting up a game drive for some of the students she taught. She was paying for the hole thing herself, and had all the logistics already worked out. She was offering us a few seats on the bus. The price was half of what we would have payed otherwise, and I figured it would be fun to go with a bunch of kids, plus we could donate a little money to the trip and help out Sarah with the day to day stuff if needed.
The biggest downside to doing the game drive this way was that we needed to decided whether to stay in Fort Portal for 3 more days to meet the bus on the way down to the park, or head back up to Soroti, spend a day, and then take the bus that Sarah had rented, with the kids, all the way back to the park, a estimated 11 hour trip.
Since Marcy hadn’t been back to her site, or house for over 2 weeks, and I was running out of clean clothes we decided to make the trip back up to Soroti. It took 4 hours to get back to Kampala and we stayed there for the night in a motel. The next morning we got onto another bus for the 6 hour trip north back to Soroti.
We went back through Jinga and over the Nile river again, passing where we had just been a few nights before. The further north we went the flatter and more arid the land became, although still lush and green, as the tropics always are.
6 hours into the trip we sputtered into Soroti. I was excited to see Marcy’s site and see first hand all that I had been described and heard about through her. We got off the bus and walked over to a median in the middle of the road, under a large mango tree and greeted several boda drivers. A few knew Marcy and we negotiated for the 3k ride to the outskirts of Soroti Town and Marcy’s site in Madera.
We spent a day at Marcy’s apartment and then at 4am woke up, had two bodas meet us at her compound gate and headed back into Soroti to meet the bus bound for Sarah’s school and the game drive. We where heading to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
We met up with Sarah and all her students at a very Christian secondary school (middle and high school). After the bus was blessed, all the kids, cooked food, fire wood, and other assorted supplies where loaded and we headed off. 16 hours later….on a bus….. we arrived at QENP.
The last 3 hours of the bus ride where serene, driving over a mountain pass, along huge tea plantations and then, the first bit of untouched jungle I have seen on the trip. We where on a ridge on the pass road and got a spectacular view of the rolling hills covered with jungle. Clouds seeped up from the canopy in the valleys from the released water vapor of the trees. Mist hung over the valleys and contrasted the rich green of the foliage. We passed huge craters created by ancient geological activity, and then, as we came over the pass, we got a birds eye view of the great plain that housed the reserve and National Park. I was not able to take pictures as we where hurling down the road and on a rickety bus, but I will never forget the view I saw that day. It was a classic African vista.
We pulled up to the gate of the park right at sunset. Once we went through the rigmarole of payment for access into the park, we started to drive to the lodge and camp ground. It took another 45 minutes to reach the camping complex….this was not expected.
We finally pulled up to the camp site well past dark. There was a bright moon out and it cast a brilliant dark light over the area. When we got out we where greeted by a camp official. They told the children to stay in the camp at night. Mind the warthogs that hung around the camp, and be careful when wandering to the latrines at night.
As we started to walk towards the bungalows we watched the park ranger put out his arms in a stop! pose. And I heard the word hippo!. About 50 feet away, in the dark was a 3 ton hippo and her calf! It was massive. I remember thinking, “how can that body be supported by those legs. It was like a massive barrel, with gray skin and a pink belly. The ranger informed us that they can be quite dangerous when they half a calf with them, so they used a pick-up truck to heard the calf and momma through the campsite and back into the park.
Right at that moment another PCV who works at the park drove up in a truck. Apparently we where staying with her at her house just up the road a few hundred yards. We hopped in the truck, spun around and headed back to the house. All of a sudden the headlights flashed across a massive animal, and I got a full, lit up view of the momma and calf walking gingerly up the road. The driver once again used the truck to heard the hippos off the road and deeper into the park.
We arrived at a house, although it was not the PCV’s house, it was one of her friends, a grad student from Denmark. He is a mongoose researcher and on a 3 month tour around the area studying the mammal. He was a great, friendly guy with crazy eyes and the most vivid memorable laugh ever. He looked like he had been in the bush for his whole life (he had been all day). The house was fine, and had a big kitchen. We had our own room with a bed. There was no shower, just a tub, but with running water. I took my first bucket bath! It works well.
After my shower, I came out to a dinner of pizza from the large, high end safari lodge and the researcher’s homemade tropical rum punch that was icy cold, sweet and fruity. We sat and watched a movie on his computer. Before we turned in for the night, the PCV told us to stay in the house as there was a pride of lions reported to be near the camp that night! Holy S#1*!!!! We are also warned that if we heard rustling in the back garden it was probably just elephants, noting to be too alarmed about. Really!?!
The next morning we woke at 6 am, met the bus, and were off on a game drive. Nothing to say that the pictures can’t say 10x better…………
Along the drive we stopped along the lake in a small fishing village. This place was amazing, and I took some of the most interesting pictures of my life. There where groups of kids running around and fisherman coming in with there morning catch.
Around 1:30 p.m. we came back to camp for lunch. The camp is great and there is various forms of wildlife just hanging out, right there, a few feet away as you chow down.
After Lunch we hopped on a boat for a ride on the channel that connects Lake Edward to Lake George to look at the wildlife along the shores during the hot afternoon sun.
When we got back the bus was headed back out for another few hours of game drivin’ in the late afternoon, but by this point Marcy and I were fed up with buses and decided that a beer at the lodge and some relaxation sounded much better. We drank Tusker and ate popcorn and g-nuts (peanuts) and where attacked by birds. During our drink, right around sunset a massive thunderstorm rolled in, and there was a torrential downpour.
That night we had a PVC and mongoose researcher cooked dinner and crashed out for the night.
Since I was the only one with a camera on the drive, all the school kids, and especially the teachers wanted me to document the trip. This was a group picture I took on the way back to Soroti.
The next morning we were up at 5 a.m. On the bus by 5:45 and headed back to Soroti. 16 hours later, well after dark we returned. This is what one looks like after a trip like that.