Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Murchison Falls - Day 2: Game Drive

We woke before sunrise, slightly hungover. I peed in the dark for fear of the bugs the flashlight might expose. The kitchen messed up our packed breakfast and put only one sandwich in our bag instead of two. My stomach still ached from my Cape Town adventures. No coffee! Thus a miserable morning began, leading me to say horrible things to my husband such as “I hate your camera and I always have.” (J was kind enough to ignore me until the fresh air revived me.)

We crossed the Nile on a ferry and then it was back in the van, made slightly better by the fact that we forced the British dudes to take the back this time and J and I snagged the front seat, which had at least a little more leg room.

We picked up a Uganda Wildlife Authority guide and headed into the park. Almost immediately we saw a family of elephants and almost immediately felt cheered. I became convinced that if nothing else, we were meant to have a charmed game drive and see lots of animals. My stomach deserved it.

As we were still near the entrance and surrounded by vans similar to ours, we hurried on to a deserted road. We cruised through hilly delta marked often by herds of impala—either the larger waterbuck, which reminded me of reindeer, or the smaller ones, whose name we didn’t catch:

We passed huge herds of water buffalo both close to the road and gathered on a distant hill. We passed Lake Albert and part of the Nile called the Albert Nile, where there were crested cranes and kingfisher and other birds I would have asked our guide to clarify if I hadn’t found him quite so terrifying. I felt he only addressed his comments to me, each time he turned in his seat to explain something, looking expectantly at me for some sort of response when all I could ever muster was a small smile of gratitude and the occasional, “Wow.” Because I was the only girl in the van, maybe he was talking to me specifically, and I feared any further comment on my part would encourage him. He had a broad face and a large mouth and because of the brown uniform and the rifle at his side, I kept thinking of him as a soldier, someone who had maybe killed a person or two in his career, though his knowledge of the wildlife and his enthusiasm for each creature we saw gave me no reason to suspect this was the case.

Eventually we got to a rode that intercepted a huge group of giraffe.

Giraffe, J pointed out and I have to agree, are a great payoff. They’re easy to find and easy to sit and watch, plus they’re big, so you feel like you’re seeing something really worthwhile. Water buffaloes, on the other hand, I have little interest in, but they’re considered one of the “big five” in game viewing. The other big five are elephants, rhinos, lions, and leopards. I guess apart from the buffalo I would be impressed with any of the other four, but I still feel badly for the giraffes for being left off. They are too placid, I suppose.

So we sat there checking out the giraffes. We came across another van of tourists. Our drivers and guides conversed through the open windows and we followed the other van for a ways. All of a sudden Fred turned off the path and went off-roading. Whispers of lions made their way through the van. The guide directed Fred across the field. Fred swerved left and right to avoid rocks hidden in the tall grass. And then there they were. Three lionesses.

Fred drove right up to them and blocked their path into the underbrush. Admittedly I was a little freaked out at getting so close. They had to cross right in front of the van. The van we had been following now came up behind us. The lioness closest to us let out a low growl and I was reminded of our kittens when we feed them pieces of roasted chicken.

The lions disappeared into the brush and we continued on our way. We still hadn’t seen any more elephants since we’d first arrived in the park and since it was approaching 11:00 AM we were on our way back to the ferry. Except we kept seeing more animals—another herd of giraffes, baby waterbuck chilling in the middle of the road, a pack of baboons—and soon we were all looking at our watches wondering if we were going to make it back in time. And then, of course, is when we saw more elephants. Luckily there would be more to come…

No comments: