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Published: August 17th 2008
Duncan and I at the equator on the way to Queen Elizabeth National Park
It looks like I bored you all in to submission with a blog about work so no more of that until something very dramatic happens ... like me performing brain surgery or some such.
I’ve travelled many Ugandan miles in the last month, with bruises and a sore cabina to prove it, and have done a lot of touristy things to counterbalance work which is becoming increasingly demanding.
So the first of my trips was west to Fort Portal and Queen Elizabeth National Park ... a trip which Duncan had been thinking about for ages and was intended as my introduction to being on safari in Uganda. We left work early on Friday - always a joy - and headed off for Fort Portal on the Ugandan equivalent of the M4. Once you’re outside the manky outskirts of Kampala and the section of road which is more pothole than road it’s a lovely journey - proper tarmac road and beautiful views of the distant Rwenzori mountains and tea plantations. We arrived at about 7.30, just as it was getting dark and had a lovely welcome from Darlene, Jean and Nynke at their house. We all had an early night
flavia the elephant about to the charge
A lady elephant who was about to charge us.
as we had to leave the house by 6.30 to get to Queen Elizabeth by 9ish. On the way to the park we stopped for the obligatory photo at the Equator - we arrived just before a big bus full of school children and felt slightly conspicuous doing the tourist thing until they all mobbed out to have their pictures taken aswell. We drove through the foothills of the Rwenzoris and then Uganda just opened up into flat savannah - ‘Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa’ to coin a phrase.
Darlene and I got very excited spotting our first kob (a type of antelope) from the main road, and once we were in the first part of the park we went into full safari mode of keeping our eyes peeled for elusive lions. Duncan is an old hand at game driving and followed the guided safari vehicles who were in radio contact with wardens in an effort to find us some lions ... we almost convinced ourselves that a rather long-backed warthog was a lion but common sense kicked in when we realised that a group of water buck weren’t bothered at all by our ‘lion’ being perilously close!
flavia duncan's camera
Cross lady elephant about to charge - leg lifted, ears flapping and tail swishing
We saw lots of kob, including a family group with two very cute babies, glamourous water buck and grumpy looking water buffalo. Also lots of bird action - I’m woefully ignorant about birds but am going to buy a book and possibly become a full on twitcher .
We crossed the main road to enter the part of the park which you have to pay for - thanks to our VSO id cards, Darlene’s charm and ability to do greetings in Rotoro (the local language) we got East African residence rates which saved us a small fortune - and was a good omen for the afternoon. A little way along into the park we were passed by two speeding army tanks, complete with several soldiers with big machine guns who were on their way to patrol the border with DRC - not such a good omen as things turned out. This section of the park was much greener and the home of elephants so we drove along looking for signs of them - we’d seen a few trampled branches and piles of poo and then spotted a big one a way ahead of us. We slowed right down and
sammy and connor
young baby elephants - reminded me of Sammy and Connor
then spotted a big group of them on the left, including several babies - we’d managed to end up in the middle of a big breeding herd which was very exciting but also slightly scary. They were on their way down to the Kazinga channel to drink and bathe, munching on undergrowth as they went. It didn’t take long for Duncan and I to realise that the elephant nearest us was very tense - she was staring at Blue Byron, flapping her ears and lifting her knee in an agitated fashion. We reversed to give her the opportunity to turn and carry on down the hill but unfortunately the hideous beeping noise which the car made made her more angry, so when we crept forward to see if she’d moved she was even crosser - so cross that she lifted her trunk and charged. Fortunately we were already moving and so a bit of heavy acceleration in response to Darlene shrieking ‘Drive, drive’ got us out of harm’s way. My heart was absolutely pounding and poor Duncan was practically shaking - being responsible for escaping an angry elephant wasn’t much fun and he did an amazing job. A little way
elephant crossing behind us
a much calmer elephant crossing behind us
along the road we came across the tail end of the herd - mostly young boy elephants who were a bit more relaxed. I think Duncan was a bit scrambled from rescuing us from being charged and ended up parking across the road - not good if something nasty happened again as you’re supposed to be ready to drive away immediately. I politely pointed out the idiocy of this manoeuvre and we turned to face the elephants ... and the safari vehicle behind us which was parked very close to an adult elephant. A crazy woman kept getting in and out of the van which resulted in a big angry trumpet - so Duncan did the sensible thing of turning us around and fleeing for the security of Mweya lodge, which is a beautiful 5 star lodge and one of ‘the’ places to stay in Uganda. We had an amazing buffet lunch there, with lots of goodies like bacon, asparagus, proper bread rolls, olives, pate etc etc - normally way beyond the budget of impoverished volunteers or just impossible to get. The place was quite busy with lots of 18 year olds who had just finished A levels and a
water buck by the roadside
smattering of ‘missionaries’ who had come to Uganda to do a spot of orphan-hugging and then stay in posh places and ‘do’ Uganda. Oops better pause now to polish my volunteer halo!
After lunch we had a mooch around the lodge, looked at the rooms in preparation for planning trips with visitors and admired the amazing views - with binoculars we could watch the elephants drinking and bathing from a very safe distance. We also took lots of photos of the mother warthog with her triplets who lived in the grounds of the lodge - I think the births had been a bit traumatic as she had a prolapsed lady garden which Duncan pointed out at full volume, along with instructions about what should be done to correct it. I think we were all slightly nervous about setting off back through the park as rather than looking hopefully for signs of elephants we were quite anxious about another encounter. It reminded me of Jurassic Park when everything has gone wrong and people in the safari truck are driving along in the dark with T Rex’s on the loose. There was a hilarious moment when a warthog which was having
family of cob
Family of cob in Queen Elizabeth - type of antelope
a mud bath at the side of the road leapt out - Duncan and I both screamed at the tops of our voices. Inevitably we came across more elephants - first sighting was heralded by Duncan yelling ‘F**k’ very loudly and I went immediately into harbinger of doom mode. Although the elephant was very relaxed and munching on a tree I was convinced that we were about to be charged and tipped over - people do get seriously injured or killed occasionally so I was only being slightly paranoid and mad. So while Duncan, Darlene and Jean were trying to enjoy a peaceful encounter with a docile elephant I was barking orders to everyone to keep looking left, right and behind in case Flavia (my nickname for the cross lady who we’d upset earlier - named after a particularly feisty Ugandan colleague) came back to finish us off. Apparently I kept telling everyone that there was an elephant behind the tree and it was about to come out and maul us ... I’ve definitely inherited the harbinger genes!
We took lots of pictures of docile elephants and then headed back to the park gates pausing for a quick photo
water buffalo in QE
and loo break. It was very fortunate that we did as we spotted Darlene's passport on the ground near where we's parked - she'd dropped it there about 5 hours earlier! The drive back to Fort Portal was a bit busier than the early morning journey there and there were lots of Saturday afternoon drunks weaving around in the road. We got back before dark - always a good thing in Uganda as the roads are terrifying enough in daylight, bought a mountain of rolexes for supper and all watched 'The Order of the Phoenix' on DVD before an early night. In case I've not talked about rolexes before they are a chapati/veggie omelette combo which you eat rolled up. Sounds like nothing special but they are amazing and the ebst hangover cure ever.
Sunday in Fort Portal was very chilled - we went to a guesthouse which is run by and English/Dutch couple to have coffee and buy woven baskets - a local speciality. I went a bit bonkers and bought the biggest basket in the place as a housewarming oresent for my new home, as well as various other things for jewellery, pens etc. Jo bought lots
male warthog - strangest looking animal in the world
of lovely things to take home and Duncan had a giddy old time buying a full set of matching desk tidy paraphenalia for his ENORMOUS new desk in his vast new office.
The other big trip which I had this month was a work visit to the Lira clinic, which is one of the main towns in Northern Uganda. Until very recently VSO didn't allow volunteers to go north, as the anti-government Lords Resistance Army were active and the risk of being caught up in fighting/abduction/burning down villages was too high. The LRA have been out of Uganda for ages and so things are safe and calm - VSO are planning on sending volunteers north which is very necessary as the relief agencies are pulling out leaving people dependent on inadequate government infrastructure and services. The journey up was fine - 4 of us plus an IHK driver in a big pick-up. We were supposed to leave at 8.30 but by the time the truck had been loaded with the equipment which we were taking up and everyone had taken tea it was 10am - not too bad by Ugandan standards! Lovely Irish Irene talked for most of the
mummy warthog with triplets - a tame family who live in the grounds of mwya lodge.
journey, Jemimah dozed and Stephen the new pharmacist tried to chat to our driver who was absolutely miserable and even refused chocolate!!! We arrived at the clinic at about 4pm and had the most amazing welcome - big hugs from everybody and lots of excitement about seeing us. Two of the staff there - Tonny and Anna Grace - had spent some time at the guest house while having their orientation training at the hospital and it was lovely to see them again. The cook had prepared us lunch and rice, beans and cabbage have never tasted better! We had a quick tour of the clinic and then set to doing the work stuff which I won't bore you with! By 7.30 we were done and headed over the road to our hotel, only to find we were double-booked with an NGO workshop so no room at the inn. After a bit of waiting while the manager went off to buy air-time to contact the alternative place and check that the rooms were ok we were driven to our home for the night. A slightly scary place in the middle of nowhere and very echoey corridors but hurrah hot shower
three little pigs
and music TV so I watched the new Madonna/Justin Timberlake video!! After a quick change we headed back to the first hotel for dinner which Irene had cunningly ordered before we left - we three ladies had ginormous whole tilapia fish while the men all had scrawny chicken legs! Jemimah is a true Kenyan and picked every last bit of flesh off her fish with her hands while Irene and I poked around ineffectively with a knife and fork. After a strange night's sleep in Scary Towers Jemimah and I headed back to Kampala on a 'death bus' while the rest of the gang headed on to Gulu. The bus came complete with live chickens, which you can buy on route from the side of the road, a vomiting child, and Celine Dion on a loop. Fortunately we were sitting too far back to be able to see the terrifying view through the front windscreen, but there was one very hairy moment when we had to swerve right to the edge of the road to avoid a speeding oncoming truck. I thought we were going to tip over, which happens scarily frequently, but we got back safely to Kampala and
view from mweya lodge
view of Queen Elizabeth National Park from Mweya Lodge
after a not too traumatic transfer at the taxi-park were back in leafy Muyenga.
I had a cheeky weekend jaunt to Jinja last weekend - a sort of reunion with VSO volunteers who arrived in February with the aim of going white water rafting on the Nile. This is one of the big things to do in Uganda and attracts lots of tourists, including people on big overland trips, backpackers and hordes of 19 year old Americans! Pamela and I saw sense rapidly on arrival at the starting point and opted for a little trip on the safety boat - we would technically have rafted on the Nile and have the afternoon free for beer, reading and general shonking. The others set off towards grade 5 rapids after an hour and a half of practising falling in and being rescued - they all arrived back safely and with all limbs still attached, albeit with lots of bruises and looking absolutely knackered. We ate bbq goat and lots of forms of carbohydrate in true Ugandan style, and drank beer until the showing of the DVD of the days activity. This was narrated by a truly incomprehensible Scottish (???) man who had been n a kayak filming the rafts - the only words I could identify were 'Ok Guys' and 'rapids'. I think the daily dose of adrenaline had done something odd to his brain - even Fiona who is a Glaswegian speech therapist had no clue what he was saying. After a night sleeping in a garden shed (a step up from a communal dorm) we had rolexes for breakfast and went for a wander down to Bujagali falls which was the first of the rapids. The falls are beautiful but the idea of going down them in a glorified rubber ring terrified me. Bizzarrely there were some local guys who went down them on a jerry can if any of the gawping tourists paid them 10,000 shillings. The drive back to Kampala from Jinja was probably the scariest thing I did that weekend - due to hanging around waiting for people the bus didn't leave until about 6.30 so a lot of the journey was in the dark. Things were made worse by the competative traveller twittering of the other people in the bus - not even a pause for breath from one man!
So lots of traveller tales. I'll be staying put in Kampala for the next few weekends as I'm moving out of the skanky guest-house into a beautiful new home complete with an ensuite bathroom!! The downside of this is that the house is available because amazing Rose is off to Yale to do a PhD so I'm having rather mixed feelings about it all.
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