I can admit to you now what I didn’t reveal in my first safari post: 95% of the mission on the first safari was to get Wendy up close and personal with some elephants. We saw one on Saturday, but it was shy and stayed behind a tree. Wasn’t gonna cut it, lifelong dreamwise.
So we returned to Queen Elizabeth National Park on Sunday.
Just before 6 a.m., the four of us piled into the burgundy ’88 Corolla that KHPS Director Robert had loaned us and rolled off toward the school to meet Deputy Head Teacher Gideon, who had asked if he could join us.
We needed to get gas, but we were otherwise in good shape for getting to the park in time for a guided game drive. That is, we would have been in good shape if the gas stations on the way out of town hadn’t been closed. The guards were there, but they were sleeping. Not like they would have pumped the gas for us anyway.
At the Kazinga Channel, we began to panic ever so slightly because we still hadn’t encountered a gas station awake enough to put petrol in our relatively fuel-efficient vehicle. But we apparently weren’t the first people to be caught in between stations in that precise spot, because we found a man who sold gas by the jerrican at a reasonable markup given his monopoly and transportation costs. We bought 50,000 UGX-worth, or about 10 liters.
From the Kazinga Channel, we headed toward the park and reached the gate by 7 a.m., just as several vans and trucks were leaving to go on game drives. We turned around and followed them. Even before we reached the point at which we were to pick up our guide, we were stopped by a herd of at least twenty elephants. They came up the hill toward the road with the sun rising behind them, crossed in front of us less than thirty feet away, and continued west.
While the rest of us pressed our noses to the windows and made nonverbal noises, Wendy tried not to bounce too uncontrollably with giddiness as she got trigger happy with her camera. Fortunately, she has one of the ones that refuses to take fuzzy photos.
Continuing on, we grabbed a guide from a gated checkpoint. Four Pathfinders plus one Deputy Head Teacher plus one official Queen Elizabeth Ranger equals six people, and the ’88 Corolla isn’t exactly built for a party. Michelle had to sit on Ben’s lap to make room for the guide. In my opinion, the guide wasn’t worth the 52,000 UGX she cost, and I’m guessing Michelle would say she wasn’t worth the space. The guide didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, and every time we asked her to identify an animal for us, she was unable to. But, rules are rules, and you’ve gotta have a guide to do the game drive, so we got cozy.
Shortly after we picked up our guide, we came across the same pride of lions we saw on Saturday. This time, though, they were feeding on a kob. The guide had at least brought binoculars, which we took turns using to see the animals up close as they got down to it.
To our surprise, a herd of kobs grazed on the grass directly across the road from the lions. The driver of the car ahead of us (not our own guide) explained that the kobs like to keep an eye on the lions in their territory. Since the lions were eating, they weren’t currently a threat and most likely wouldn’t be again until the next day. From the haughty perch of his open-roofed, mountain-conquering four-wheel-drive vehicle, the driver cast an insultingly dismissive glance upon our dependable ’88 Corolla. He told us not to call him for help if we got stuck. Then he drove off.
The male kobs nearby began fighting, ramming their horns together repeatedly.
The crashing drew the attention of the senior lioness, who got up from her kob skull and walked across the street toward the fighting kobs.
She strode confidently between the parked cars as we all took as many photographs as we could.
Then some bozo drove up and passed the parked vehicles on the right, drawing the kobs’ attention and sending the lion back toward her fellow hunters.
We stayed to watch the lions a while longer, until all but one of them disappeared into the tall bushes that serve as their shelter from the midday heat. Then we drove until we saw three crested cranes walking along the road, stopping so as to photograph the birds without disturbing them. But, once again, two vehicles passed us and unsettled the creatures.
Aside from waterbocks and warthogs aplenty, we also saw a dozen or so hippos in a group in the shallows along the shore of Lake George. We could see the air bubbles of other hippos submerged, but the residents of the fishing village went about their business in the water as though the dangerous creatures were not there. This despite the fact that one of their number had been killed by a hippo the day before. Just a fact of life for them.
On the way back, we passed the same pride of lions. It was a cool day, so they’d come back out and crossed the street.
We continued on, skirting the dangerous, muddy patches on the road by driving on the grass alongside. The ’88 Corolla was performing beautifully. I smiled to myself. We will finish the drive, proudly, passing the contemptuous driver in his all-terrain vehicle, and I will give him a meaningful look. Then the tires started to spin in wet grass alongside the road. Uh oh. I immediately stopped and got out to push.
Wendy exited at the same time, in haste, asking the guide if it was safe and acceptable for her to disappear behind a bush for a “long call.” The guide said it was no problem, and our most veteran traveler grabbed her handy wipes from the trunk and headed for the nearest coverage, thinking, I’m sure, about how we’d seen the lions disappear into the exact same sort of thicket earlier in the day.
Already positioned behind the car, I asked Gideon if he could drive as I pushed. He declined, followed by Michelle, for lack of experience. Ben hopped in the front seat and I instructed him to give the car only a little gas, so as not to kill the traction. I pushed and he pushed. The engine revved, but nothing happened. We tried again. Still nothing. Then I realized he still had the car in park. “Rookie mistake,” he said. With the car properly in drive, the car pulled easily out of the soft patch.
We finished the tour without further event, dropped the guide back off with her undeserved 52,000 UGX, and exited the park, right behind the driver who’d preemptively declined to be our ghostbuster. Well done, ’88 Corolla, well done.