The drive from Arua to Entebbe International Airport crosses the Nile twice and goes through Murchison Falls National Park. So it would have been rude not to make a slight detour to see the wildlife.
We left Arua in the dark. Bye bye little wooden lodge. Spirits lifted when the sun came up, and sank again when the rain started. Not good wildlife viewing weather.
|The Nile on a wet morning|
I'd been thinking a lot recently about the whole issue of providence. So I thought, I might as well. Lord, I think this is a superficial prayer. I'm not sure this interests you, or figures greatly in your redemptive plan. But I'd like to see a lion. I'd really like to see a lion. 'Cos I've never seen one in the wild before.
The rain got worse. It's not looking good, advised our driver Oyobo. The animals hide when it rains like this.
Message received. Adjust expectations. We'll see lots of birds and interesting plants.
The ranger, Saviour, apologized as we met him at the park entrance. You must remember that lions are big cats, he said. Cats hate water.
|Rain eases off as we reach the park|
We drove less than five minutes, and already there were hundreds of antelope everywhere you looked: Uganda cob, Jackson's hartebeest, oribi and water bucks. And buffalo as well. We saw some elderly males, driven out of the herd by younger ones, in threes and fives. Each had an egret perched on top, in an I'll scratch your back if you let me eat your fleas arrangement.
Families of warthogs scuttled merrily in front of the car.
There were Rothschild giraffe, too. Hundreds. Last year in South Africa, we gasped in amazement at the sight of three giraffe. In Murchison Falls, they were everywhere you looked. The older ones are almost black. We saw some younger males duel by basking each other's neck, just like in the BBC's Attenbrough footage recently.
|Poised and ...|
So, the rain had not kept the wildlife in hiding all morning after all. It's so abundant in Uganda. It couldn't possibly all be concealed in the trees and bushes. There wouldn't be space to hide this number of animals!
|... thump. Two young males neck-duelling.|
There must be lions nearby!
We drove up to the carcass, beside a clump of bushes. We drove as slowly as Oyobo could round and round the bushes ... and then we saw it. This was a lions' den. And inside, you could just make out a massive paw. And every few seconds, a big face lowered to lick said paw.
We decided there were in fact two lions in there. Oyobo whooped. In all his years driving Mzungus round on safaris, he'd never seen a lion himself.
Unfortunately, there was no way of getting a photo. It was dark in there. And we definitely weren't going to get out of the car for a better angle!
|Antelope carcass minus innards|
Off we drove. God, you're good. I saw a lion's paw and face! After such a rainy morning, too!
We saw more of everything, plus a mongoose and a few monkeys. Even the birds and trees were more interesting now, because there were lions around!
On the way back, Saviour wondered if the lions had dragged the rest of the carcass into the den, so we swung by. It was gone.
But antelope is salty meat and makes lions thirsty. And there they were! A lioness and her adolescent male, walking to a pool for a drink. Crouching every few metres in case another kill might present itself.
They lapped. And lapped. Thirsty work, this.
They were so close, you could see the expressions of contentment on their faces, the ambivalence about taking down one more antelope if it just walked into the mother's teeth, but hey they'd eaten well so no need to fret if not.
Off they sauntered, as only the queen and prince of the jungle can do. Back to their den.
We'd been so transfixed by the miracle spectacle of these lions drinking right in front of us that we were late now for our ferry crossing over the Nile. So, we had a picnic of boiled eggs, groundnuts, sesame cakes and bananas on the banks of the great river. In the distance were some volcanoes.
As we were enjoying the view, some baboons had been getting closer. Oyobo was sitting outside; we were in the car, terribly overheating but safe from the baboons. We thought.
One jumped onto the roof of the car. My window was open six inches. A dirty hand was thrust into the car. I pressed and pressed but the window wouldn't wind up. Oyobo had the keys.
He thought quick, though. He flung his banana one side of the vehicle, and the big hairy burglar went off in pursuit. Oyobo jumped in and wound up the windows. Who needs sub-35 temperatures when there are baboons about?
He was about to punch you in the face, Oyobo said, grinning in his new status as hero. He was going to punch you to disorient you and enter the car and steal your bags.
I'd take on a lion any day before one of those brutes.
|Our vehicle crosses the Nile|
We had a close encounter with some crocodile. One in particular was barely arm's length from the side of the boat, basking in the hottest part of the day. It slowly opened and closed its mouth. Our guide reassured us he wasn't anticipating a nice meal of Irish visitor, but was regulating his body temperature through his mouth, because the scales keep heat trapped inside.
|Also keeping cool. Phew. I thought he was poised to bite.|
Normally, you'd see giraffe and elephant come down to the water's edge. Not today - the morning's rain kept them away. Still, who cares when you've seen lions up close and personal?
The water got choppier and scummier as we came close to the Falls themselves. The mighty River Nile, having flowed from its source near Jinja, from Lake Victoria to Lake Albert and through this lush, vibrant National park on its way to Sudan, Egypt and the Mediterranean, is squeezed at this point through a six-metre cleft in the rock. That's some power.
That's around when we saw African eagle.
From the south bank, it was a bumpy drive through Rabongo Forest towards Masindi, where we'd spend our last night in Uganda. Our last night for this trip, of course.
|The Mighty Nile is squeezed through a 6m cleft|