Some of the people I have had the pleasure of meeting in Uganda were on a youth mission trip from a church in Ardmore, Oklahoma. They came to love on, play with, and minister to the kids in the Watoto villages. I got to spend some time with them last week, and they invited me to tag along on their trip to Murchison Falls to go on safari. They were leaving early Thursday morning, so on Wednesday night they made room for me at their guest house and I got up and stumbled to the vans with everyone else at 4:30 the following morning. We drove past road construction, on both good roads and bad roads, entered Murchison Falls National Park, stopped and walked to the top of the falls, drove some more, got out of the vans and rode beside them on a ferry across the Nile River, then got back in the vans and drove to the lodge where we had reservations. Our first wildlife sighting in the park was a group of baboons. At first, we were excited, because you don’t often see baboons on the side of the road in Texas or Oklahoma. Later, we were not so excited about the baboons. The spunky youngest girl in our group got a little too close to one and she got chased away. At least she is a fast runner. ; ) We learned that one of the main reasons we needed to keep our doors locked at the lodge was to keep the baboons from coming in to steal our stuff. Also, they had to build a fence around the swimming pool to keep the hippos from slipping in for a midnight dip. Anyway, the lodge was beautiful. We walked into the reception area tired and rumpled, and staff members were ready with cold washcloths and passion fruit juice. We checked into our rooms and ate from the lunch buffet set out.
Keep in mind – this was a team of USA youth (ages 13-18) and some parent chaperones, a youth minister, plus some people about my age. References to The Lion King abounded. Attempts from white American kids to sing that one song in Swahili while in the van probably had our patient Ugandan drivers wishing they had ear plugs. Every wart hog was named Pumba. Every sighting of Pumba meant that Timon must be nearby. (For my grandmothers reading this – if you haven’t seen this movie and don’t know what I’m talking about, just ignore this part. I got to see cool animals.)
That afternoon, we went on our first 3-hour game drive, with a park ranger named Sarah for a guide. (It got really confusing for me – people from the back of the van kept shouting out questions like “Sarah – what is the gestation period of an elephant?” and I would think, I’m not sure – I guess I skipped that day in Introduction to Animal Science.) Anyway, after a while I was able to ignore people shouting my name and asking questions I never thought I would need to answer.
- On the first game drive, we saw lots of antelope like the Kob and the Oribi. The Kob is one of the national symbols of Uganda. We saw Cape Buffalo and giraffes (lots of them). Cape Buffalo always look grumpy and giraffes are terrible at Hide and Seek.
We saw elephants from a distance, and learned that elephants only charge at humans because the older ones hold grudges against poachers. The group in the van I rode in for the game drives got to see 4 lions (3 adult females and 1 male) over 2 days. Sarah (the guide) spotted the lions with her eagle-eyes. The rest of us had to squint to see them through the grass with our regular eyes. Speaking of eagles, we saw several African Fish Eagles, which look a lot like Bald Eagles.
Friday we went on another game drive and a 3-hour tour on the Nile. The name of the boat was the African Queen. I wasn’t sure if a reference to Humphrey Bogart or Gilligan’s Island was more appropriate for this part of the trip, but it was fun no matter what. I learned that hippos can’t swim, but they can hold their breath for about 5 minutes and if they want to cross the river, they walk across on the bottom.
Friday evening, the team gathered after dinner and met with the Team Host, Melvin, who had been with them every step of the way during their stay in the Pearl of Africa. Melvin asked them to share their highlights and lowlights – what did they like about their experience with Watoto and what would they like to see changed? I sat in on their meeting and it was obvious that everyone had loved their time working with the Watoto kids. Saturday morning we packed up, had one last delicious meal from the lodge, and headed back to Kampala. The drive was much longer because we stopped more, but it was an enjoyable day with great people. I’m so glad the team adopted me and let me go with them!