It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We had the most perfect day imaginable followed by one where absolutely everything went wrong.
Friday was spectacular. The day started off with a nature walk through the savannah with a ranger named Benjamin. He knows more about the land and the things that live on it than any other person alive, I’m pretty sure. I followed him in wonder, as I tried to process the surreal experience of actually walking around an African wilderness. It is something I have always dreamed of doing, so once it was happening, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I didn’t want to believe it, in case it wasn’t true.
Well, that feeling didn’t end any time soon!
After our walk, we hung around the Mweya Lodge for a bit, eating great food and gazing out over beautiful expanses of land. I was very tired from the walk, but still enthused about the day. And I had no idea that it would get better.
Next, we had a boat ride along the channel between the two lakes in Queen Elizabeth National Park. As the boat drifted along the channel, I saw buffalo, water bucks, hippos, crocodiles, elephants, and more birds that you could ever count. I had to keep reminding myself that it was real – I was really observing wild African animals in their natural habitat. I must have sounded like a little kid at the zoo – “Look at that! Look at that!”
We headed back to Jacana Lodge and had a gourmet dinner on a boat on the lake. It was dark, so candlelight was the only light on the entire lake. It was, for lack of a better word, a romantic setting. I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed a dinner so much.
I went to sleep that night, listening to frogs and birds and monkeys, thinking that it may have been the highlight of my life so far.
Saturday started off decently. Keith and I went chimp-tracking in the Kyambura Gorge, a mile-deep gouge in the ground made from volcanic eruption. The volcanoes are dormant now, leaving behind a beautiful jungle in the gorge. We didn’t see any chimpanzees in the Gorge, as it is the dry season in Uganda so there isn’t much food in the jungle for the animals. Our guide, Stefani, assumed they had left to seek food.
She explained that “kyambura”, the name of the gorge, means Searching And Praying. It stems from the days when women and children would go down to the river in the gorge to wash clothing and dishes. Sometimes, the river would swell, sweeping away utensils and infants. When this would happen, the men of the village would go scour the area for the lost children. If they found none, they would come back and simply say, Kyambura. “I have searched, and I have prayed, and that is all that I can do.”
Even though we didn’t see chimpanzees, the walk was still beautiful and interesting. I came out covered in dirt. If you think I’m clumsy on the flat surfaces of Parkville, you should see me trying to edge over a river on a log in Uganda, or scale what seems like a vertical wall to escape the gorge. I was exhausted and felt like giving up a few times, but I realized that giving up meant living in the gorge. And as much as walking across a fallen tree over a rushing river was terrifying, living in the gorge would be even worse.
As we left the park to head back to Kampala, a six hour drive, Tabu felt bad for me being covered in mud. He pulled over to let me try to clean myself up with some water. As we sat on the edge of the road, Tabu discovered that we had a leaking tire. Awesome.
We pulled into a service station only to be told that they didn’t have the tools to repair a flat. “Go one more kilometer to the next one,” they said. One kilometer turned into ten before we found another station. Luckily, they had the tools and patched it up. It only took a couple hours of playing with local kids, trying to buy a soda without sharing a language with the shopkeeper (success!), and fending off beggars and potential husbands before we were back on the road.
Only a couple hours delayed, we were – as Steve says – cautiously optimistic. Alas, it was no good, for a few kilometers down the road, the tire was leaking again. Pulling into another service station, we waited around for seemingly forever before realizing that they couldn’t actually help us. We were on the road again, heading to Mbararra (a city instead of a small town) to find yet another service station. Luckily, the tire held out until we got there and the mechanics at that station seemed to be competent.
Then, out of my own sheer stupidity, I got my fingers slammed in the car door. I don’t remember this, but I’m told that I let out a bloodcurdling scream that extended until my fingers were released. Honestly, I can’t recall any part of the time during which I was actually trapped. I remember sitting in the car wishing for a breeze, and the next thing I remember is falling out of the car clutching my hand.
My fingertips were purple and bruised, and one was bleeding, but I knew I was going to be fine in a few days. I was shaking as I went inside the quickie mart to get some ice. The cashier informed me that not only did that gas station have ice, she didn’t know of a place to get ice in that town at all. I nearly cried.
Instead of ice, I went to run my hand under cool water. The pressure of a water trickle has never felt so heavy in my life. I was so shocked at the pain that I actually threw up. I hope no one saw me, as that would be even more embarrassing than writing about it on my blog.
Luckily, my hand felt better with painkillers courtesy of Keith. Within a few hours, I had some minimal use of my fingers again.
When we finally got back on the road, we discovered we had made about one hour’s progress in four hours. Barring another crisis, we still had five hours left on the journey back to Kampala.
Fortunately, we did make it back in five hours. The tires held out and I didn’t attempt to lose or permanently damage any more body parts.
The polar opposites of consecutive days here is unbelievable. I am cautiously optimistic that the rest of my trip will flow well.