The students are busy enjoying themselves in the swimming pool, restuarant and making the most of the (fairly weak) wireless so we’ve decided to give them a night off blogging.
Our first full day ‘on safari’ saw the team being split in 2 with half going on a water safari whilst the other half did a game drive. Over the course of the 2 days, all students will get the chance to do 2 game drives and 1 water safari. The game drives are at dawn or dusk as that gives the best chance of spotting animals so some early starts are required.
Following a leisurely breakfast of fresh fruit, cake and cooked English and Ugandan breakfast foods, Team 2 started with a short walk down to the jetty for our water safari. Our open sided vessel was called ‘Hippo,’ aptly as it turned out as we were to see around 40 over the 3 hour trip. One even knocked the boat as he surfaced underneath it. Whilst they may look fairly docile and slovenly as they bask in the shallows, their heads peeking out of the water, we were reminded that they are the second most deadly animal in Uganda, after the malaria mosquito. They graze by night but their skin can’t take the sun, so at dawn they make a hasty retreat to the lakes. The advice is ‘don’t get in the way!’ As well as hippos we saw, crocodiles, water buffalo, eagles, cranes, kingfishers, various reptiles and a young elephant bull who came down to the river to drink. Watching him spray the water into his mouth was a highlight for most of us.
We returned to Mweya for a much needed dip in the swimming pool, followed by a delicious lunch. With a serve yourself buffet of burgers, chips, curry, rice, salads, desserts, fruit etc we are finding it very hard not to over eat!
At 4:30, we set off on our evening game drive.’ Standing in open top, off road vehicles, we had the best view possible of the savannah and then the plains whilst remaining safe. We were rewarded with seeing elephants close up and lions at a distance. We also stopped at some stalls where many of us bought fertility god statues, African shirts, soapstone hippos and other souvenirs. It was essential to haggle to get the best price.
We met up with the other half of the team for dinner, the students dressed up in their finery and looked fabulous. The pasta serving station where you could choose your ingredients and have them cooked with your choice of sauce proved very popular. It was Mr Bond’s birthday and he was presented with a Ugandan football shirt and a card, full of such touching comments, I might have seen a tear…
There are guards all around the complex due to the possibility of hippos paying an unwelcome visit, so the students stayed in the bar, restaurant, lobby, TV room or shop until they retired for bed in by far the most comfortable accommodation we have had all trip.
The next morning we were up for 6 am to go on the dawn game safari. Split between 3 vehicles, I found myself in the small Land Rover with 5 of the lads. Our driver Sam turned out to be an off road expert, combining speed with an amazing ability to avoid pot holes and spot animals at the same time. When he received a phone call to say that a leopard had been spotted he took us on a shortcut that I don’t think any of us will ever forget. The birds flying out of our way were likened to the ‘snitch’ by one student. Wind blasted and exhilarated we arrived to see a leopard sleeping in a tree which was right next to the road. As we watched, it opened its eyes and fixed us with a pale stare. After about 10 minutes, flicking its tail, it decided to relocate to another branch. Leopards are the rarest of the Queen Elizabeth National Park’s animals. The guards do not even know how many live here as they tend to be elusive, so we felt really lucky to have had such a great opportunity. We went on to see Lions at a distance, elephant families and hippos basking in the mud before returning for breakfast and a cool down in the pool. Team 1 went out on the evening game drive and saw 3 female lions at really close quarters and some of our other Team 2 students saw a male lion walking from the road to the bush. Whilst we all may not have seen the same, everyone has a really special animal encounter memory to take home.
As I finish typing the students are enjoying their last night dinner as we depart Mweya at 9 am tomorrow morning. It’s been an experience I know I will never forget.