Queen Elizabeth National Park

Today is safari day so we’re all up at the ungodly hour of 5:15am to be ready for breakfast at 6am. There are not many smiles at this hour of the day especially as it was very hot in the rooms last night. But we’re optimistic we’ll see animals. Our driver – Patrick – was feeling very poorly when we arrived yesterday so he arranged for a new driver for today’s drive. After a somewhat less than amazing breakfast (nothing wrong with it, just smallish portions and not amazing food) we piled back into the van for a full day of safari adventure. Our van has been transformed for safari with a pop up roof to allow passengers to stand and view the wildlife. It also makes for a nice natural air conditioning system!

We had a couple of quick stops to make before the game drive began in earnest. We’re not sure what they were for… some arcane bureaucratic exercise no doubt. From there we headed out onto the savanna in search of lions and elephants and hippos… it turns out safari game drives are sort of like trolling for salmon… you drive around a 2000 square kilometre park hoping to see creatures that are designed to be hard to see… we saw an elephant off in the distance but were assured we’d see lots so didn’t go closer (we should have) and we saw many types of deer and buffalo and birds… we saw a few of the deer like animals locking horns and learned that the losers have to leave the herd. We also learned that when buffalo get old, they leave the herd and form “loser” herds – sort of like retirement herds… Marie felt sorry for them for the rest of the trip… after a couple of hours of bouncing and bumping around, we saw a cluster of vans and Land Cruisers off in the distance and made our way over… Lions had been spotted… but no one really knew where… we all just kind of stared around in all directions looking for lions until a large female stood up about 30 feet in front of all the vehicles and started to amble away… the crowd erupted in a frenzy of camera clicks and excited whispers… and then a large male stood up and started to follow the female… the lions clearly couldn’t have cared less about the crowd of humans and vehicles metres away from them as they just did their lion thing and completely ignored us… I offered to sacrifice one of the students for a better show but apparently there are rules against feeding the lions…

After the lions we drove around a bit more but it was kind of anticlimactic after seeing lions… eventually we made our way to a salt lake and a series of small craft stalls… we spent some money buying souvenirs and then piled back into the van to make our way to our lunch destination – a fancy resort… a very, very fancy resort… we had planned to swim before or after lunch but what we’d heard would be 10,000 shillings (about 3 dollars) turned out to be 20USD (76,000 shillings) so none of us took advantage of their glistening, inviting pool… but lunch was delicious! And we were definitely impressed with the property and its commanding view of QENP.

After lunch we piled back into the van (a little reluctantly if I’m being honest as the resort was pretty darn comfortable) for the short trip down to the channel for the boat portion of our safari. We piled aboard and promptly took up most of the best seats and waited for the trip to start. We were all pretty excited because we could see a couple of elephants just across the channel and knew we’d be getting a close up view of them… As has been the case for most of Uganda, we did not leave on time (due mostly to a dead battery for the outboards). But eventually we were pulling away from the jetty and heading across the channel. Kazinga Channel is a 40 kilometre stretch of water that connects Edward and George Lakes and is home to hundreds of hippos, thousands of birds and provides an up close look at some of the larger mammals that head for the water each day… Over the course of our 2.5 hour “cruise” we saw African elephants, hippos, buffalo, Nile crocodiles, deer type things (I forget their proper names), fishermen and a bazillion birds… so, so many birds… In all, it was a relaxing and pleasant way to see the animals… and so much cooler (as in temperature) than sweating and bouncing around in the van trying to find a few hundred animals in thousands of square kilometres of bush.

After the boat cruise we headed back to Simba to wash off the road dust, clean up and grab dinner. There may have been a few naps as well. And the drinks were cold this time! Part way through dinner, the power shut off again so we were able to enjoy dinner by candlelight. In all, a long but thoroughly enjoyable day.

Masaka to Queen Elizabeth National Park

We drove… A long way… It was very hot… We saw some stuff… The drinks were not cold when we arrived at Queen… we were not amused…

It was a long drive. Nothing much stands out about the drive until we stopped for lunch at a rest stop just before Mbarara. It was pretty posh (gift shop, small museum, landscaped grounds). The food was decent but took a long time (not unusual for Uganda we’re finding) and was on the pricier side. After lunch we headed for a sandal shop in Mbarara where Marie, Craig and I each purchased a pair of very good quality leather sandals for $7CDN. Apparently sandals are not cool with the young’uns any more…

After Mbarara we made a pitstop along the way to see zebras (which you can’t see in Queen Elizabeth National Park). We saw cows too… with huge horns… which led the kids to christen every single one of them – in fact every single cow-like animal with horns we have seen on this trip – Ferdinand after the animated movie that was showing on the plane trip from Toronto to Addis. It has become less cute as time goes on…

After zebras we drove. And drove. And drove. There were baboons at some point I think… we had to make sure the windows were closed because they are bad baboons and might try to come into the van and take our stuff… but at least they do not call cows Ferdinand….

We made a quick stop at a little viewpoint overlooking the Great Rift Valley (where QENP) is located. It was quite spectacular. From there we entered the park proper and had to make a couple of stops to register for our game drive the next day and take care of various administrative tasks before bumping and bouncing our way to our home for the next two nights – Simba Safari Lodge. It was quite rustic. We had to order our dinner as soon as we arrived – our choices were a bit limited but a rubber tire would have appealed at this point… after ordering and signing for our rooms, we dumped out stuff… into the 9th level of Hades… apparently it has not rained in a QENP for a couple of weeks… I’m not sure they would have noticed because it would have immediately turned to steam in the heat… hot as it was outside, it was substantially hotter inside our room… the wall mounted fan tried valiantly to cool the room but it was fighting a losing battle.

As Marie and I were dropping our bags in our room, we heard a commotion coming from the girls’ room next door… geckos… on the walls… they were not amused. At all. Especially when the porters basically laughed and left them to deal with them… I was pressed into service but there is little you can do about geckos beside scare them into a crevice… which I did with a duo tang… I expect the geckos came back…

Eventually we got everything squared away and headed down for dinner. It was not any cooler in the dining area and as I mentioned, the drinks were not very cold. There may have been tears… from me… but I guess we had to forgive them as they had not had power for most of the day… During dinner we were momentarily distracted by a spider the size of a small kitten (okay it was actually not that big but given the reaction it elicited, I figured it must have been a kitten-sized spider). Noah solved the problem by kicking it out into the night like a soccer ball… After dinner we all headed for our saunas… I mean our rooms… and called it a night. It had been a long day of driving and we had to get up very early the next morning.