May 21, 2010- Queen Elizabeth National Park. My driver and I are in the park well before sunrise, while the animals are still waking up. What an amazing sight, to see the sun come up over the African plain with herds of kob, waterbuck, and buffalo slowly grazing for their breakfast. Absolutely unforgettable. A hyena and some warthogs dart out of the bushes and run in front of our car, too. And after two hours of searching, the icing on the cake: one massive tusked elephant glides between the Acacia trees.
I snap a few pictures of him and then put down my camera and just stare at him until he disappears off into the horizon.
My driver circles the park over and over again, occasionally stopping to talk into a radio with other safari drivers. No one can find the lions that are usually present in this part of the park. He knows I desperately want to see them, so we keep driving. The sun is high in the sky; it’s almost noon and most of the animals are taking shelter from the midday heat. We meet up with several other safari vehicles near one popular watering hole and all of the drivers get out to form a huddle. The other vehicles are full of other tourists who look as bedraggled as I feel. I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t handle the equatorial heat.
The huddle of drivers breaks up and mine returns- do I want to keep searching for the lions? No one has seen them. He looks desperate. No, I tell him. I know as well as he does that they won’t be hanging out in the middle of the day, in this heat. I’m ready to head back into the shade myself and nap until the sun begins to relent. He looks relieved.
As we leave the southern sector of the park, a fat little savannah monitor waddles his way down to road and I squeal at my driver to stop. He stops, and so does the lizard, long enough for me to take his photo before he scampers off into the brush. He looks just like Monte, the pet savannah I had in high school, who loved to perch on my shoulder and listen to Elvis Presley.
By 5 p.m. there is a wicked storm blowing up over the Great Rift Valley, driving away most of the flies and oppressive heat. I venture outside my banda after a much-needed nap and find that the safari camp is still empty. I eat dinner in the large open-air restaurant alone again. This place is starting to feel kind of creepy in a Shining sort of way.
I walk around to stretch my legs before the sun goes down. A signpost at the base of the safari camp hill indicates that the Congolese border is only 23 miles away. My driver had mentioned earlier in the day that the border was currently open, for the first time in years, and if I wanted to hop over and get my passport stamped, he could arrange it. I could visit the weekly market and check another country off my list, but in the end I chicken out. I haven’t done enough research on the Congo to make it an impromptu travel destination. (Note: I will always regret this!)
There is zero nightlife when you’re the sole occupant of a safari camp in the middle of Uganda, so I don’t feel bad about going to bed early. My driver will be arriving at the crack of dawn yet again, this time to take me the 5+ hours to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to some of the world’s only surviving mountain gorillas.