Well, here I am! It’s so hard to believe that I’m leaving Uganda tomorrow afternoon! It’s been an incredible journey, a wonderful learning experience, and yes, I’d even venture to say life-changing. Of course, I won’t know just how much until I return. I’m definitely anticipating some reverse-culture-shock, but I have no idea at this point what it will be! I guess I’ll find out soon enough, and I’ll make sure to write at least one more entry after I’ve returned to the U.S. It might not be right away, though, as I’ve gotten kind of burned out, and I think my writing has been suffering, too!
But ok, you want to hear about my safari, I’m sure. Well, we woke up bright and early, just as I told you we would, and lugged all of our bags up to the lobby, where we waited for our guides. The three girls from UNC who were staying in Kampala until the following day were so sweet and woke up early to say goodbye to us! Actually, they ended up waiting in the lobby before we were even there! Apparently, there was another group piling into a van at 6:15, so they rushed out of bed and ran up to the van thinking we were leaving early, only to realize that they had no idea who any of those people were! Of course, none of us left without hugging them goodbye. In typical Ugandan fashion, the bus was a bit late, but it didn’t bother us because we were barely awake anyway. We loaded up one big van with all of our major luggage. The other one was for our guide, named Twaha and us. He informed me that I had to pronounce it “TWAAAAAAAAH.” It’s important to elongate the jaw. Twaha drove us up to Murchison Falls, which was not a short drive by any means. To pass the time, I talked to him and the others, read a bit, and took some much-needed naps, since I’d been up so early. I’m not sure Twaha quite knew what to make of us. I’m pretty sure he thought we were all really strange (which, I mean, we are, to be fair…). I think he still liked us, though. He made an effort to learn all of our names and we invited him to sit and talk with us during our meals, which I guess is something he usually doesn’t get to do. Twaha told me that most of the groups he’s guided on safaris have been families—almost none are students. We’re also the only ones who have lived with host families and really made an effort to integrate into the Ugandan communaity, which he seemed to appreciate, so that was nice to hear.
As we drove through the woods, we encountered a bunch of baboons! Naturally, I had to take some pictures.
The first part of the Murchison Falls safari was visiting the falls themselves. At this point, I’ve seen my fair share of Ugandan waterfalls, but I still appreciated the beauty of this one. We got to walk all the way to the top, and got sprayed, too, which was fun and a nice way to cool off.
We didn’t stay cool for long, though. This is because during a long stretch of the drive from Murchison Falls to the hostel (another Red Chilli branch) where we had lunch, there were abundant amounts of Tsetse Flies. Tsetse Flies bite, which can be very painful. Not only that, but sometimes they’re carriers for a disease called African Sleeping Sickness, which can be deadly if it’s not treated quickly. To avoid Tsetse Flies, we had to drive with the windows up. In a crowded, un-air-conditioned van. On a very sunny day. In Africa. This, as you might imagine, was not a very pleasant experience. I felt like we were in one of those Native American sweat lodges. Seriously, I kept waiting for someone to have a life-changing hallucination and discover their spirit animal or something. I sweat A LOT. I sweat from places I didn’t even know I could sweat from. I sweat more than I ever have before in my life. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you collected all of the sweat that has ever come off of my body before that car ride, it still would not equal the level of sweat secreted from my glands during that window of time. I’ve never experienced a breeze that felt quite as good as the one blowing in from the windows when we were finally allowed to open them. It was disgusting, but quite the memorable experience.
Lunch was actually really nice. Almost everyone ordered a burger, and they were really good! They put all kinds of vegetables and spices in the patties. We were, worried, though that the food would take too long and we would be late for our boat tour. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and while we were waiting, we got to watch some warthogs hanging out by a tree near our table.
The boat tour was incredible! We rode on a ferry with two levels, and were free to travel up and down as we pleased. There were also free water bottles, which is something I always appreciate, especially here. Of course, as always, the Nile River was beautiful, so I appreciated the chance to gaze at it once more. Even better, though, was the fact that we got to see ALL OF THE ANIMALS that the tour guide told us we might get a chance to see—even the ones that are rarer.
We saw LOTS of hippos,
some beautiful birds,
and even some elephants that had made their way down to the riverbank to drink!
During some less-eventful parts of the tour, we took a few photos of ourselves, too!
The tour ended just as the sun was setting, which was really lovely to watch from the boat. After that, we had dinner at the hostel with Twaha. We all shared a bit more about our lives, and taught him a bit more about the United States—like that thousands of our citizens are obese and that everything we eat contains corn. Luckily, we also worked out some issues with our sleeping situation for the night—we’d be sleeping in tents, but originally the company didn’t give us enough mattresses, and, for some reason, assumed that we’d brought our own sheets and weren’t going to supply us with any. We mostly got it worked out, though we were still short a few sheets in the end. Luckily, we worked it out, and no one was sheet-less. However, there was still cause for concern at the campsite. During dinner, Twaha casually and cheerfully mentioned that sometimes warthogs, baboons, and even the occasional hippo would wander into the site and sometimes liked to try and get into the tents. Of course, we made sure that there was no food around, but most of us were still a little nervous about it, myself included. My poor tent mates were probably the worst—they were afraid to make any noise, and we were startled by even the slightest sound from outside. Luckily, we survived the night with no attempted break-ins, but we definitely did hear baboons, and there was something walking very close to our tent, that we’re fairly certain was a warthog, so our fears were not completely unjustified. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well. But it was ok, because we had to be up early, and we had a long drive to Entebbe after the safari, so I got to sleep in the car again.
We were up again at 6:30am, to catch the ferry that shuttled us—and the car to the grounds where we went exploring. It was still pretty dark when we first headed out, so we got to see the sun rise on the savannah. It glowed bright red—it was absolutely incredible. And yes, it did compel some of the others in the van to start singing “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. I didn’t join in, but I’ll admit that I had the same thought. The van had one of those pop up roofs so we could stand up and look out from the top. The safari was so much fun! It was amazing to be able to see animals in their natural habitats, and many times we actually got really close to them. It was truly overwhelming (in a good way, of course). It was difficult to take many pictures, because the van was moving most of the time (as were the animals), but here are a few of my best ones.
Fun fact: Cranes are Uganda’s national bird, and the mascot for their soccer team. There are also cranes on the Ugandan flag.
The one type of animal that we had really been looking forward to seeing that was eluding us was the lion. We searched for hours, driving through fields and bushes, to no avail. Twaha was even calling other guides to see if they had encountered any and could give us a location. We had all but given up, when suddenly, Twaha received a call from another guide, with a safari group who had just seen a lion—right in the area in which we’d spent so much time driving around! We sped over to the spot, and he and the other guide, Sam pointed out where three were sleeping in the bushes. We actually drove up REALLY close to them, considering that they were lions, and they even went so far as to make a noise to wake them up so that we could get a better look. I was lucky enough to get a pretty good photo of one of the lionesses.
Pretty cool, huh? And as if that all wasn’t exciting enough—I got to have one more incredible experience that morning. Not only did the roof open up, but there was actually space on the roof of the car for people to sit, so we all took turns riding on top of the car during the safari. Basically, it was a rack of metal bars, which was pretty uncomfortable at first, but after a few minutes I got used to it. It was so much fun that I didn’t even mind that the top of the pop-out roof jabbed me in the shoulder blades for most of the ride. I didn’t get to see any really cool animals while I was up there, like some of the others who saw elephants and giraffes, which I’ll admit I was bummed about, but it was still really cool to be up there with the wind whipping through my hair and the road stretching out in front of me. It was such a liberating and exhilarating experience, (albeit slightly terrifying at times when the car was moving particularly fast)! Still incredibly worth it, though.
After about 4 or 5 hours in the car, we arrived in Entebbe. The hostel we’re staying at is pretty nice, though the wifi is terrible. At first, we thought there was a swimming pool outside, and later when we saw a copy of the hostel’s brochure, we realized that they’d cleverly manipulated the photograph of the grounds so that what, in reality, is a small, shallow fountain that the staff uses for laundry purposes looks like a deep, luxurious swimming pool. I don’t think any of us were really feeling up to swimming anyway, though. Actually, the main thought on my mind when we arrived was: WHERE IS THE SHOWER AND WHEN DO I GET TO USE IT?!?! I did, of course, as soon as we were settled into our dorm room for the night. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Allison had called the hotel to double check the booking multiple times, they messed up and only booked a room for us for the first night. Tonight, we’ll be sleeping in tents. Thankfully, these ones at least have sheets. I’m not too concerned, and I won’t even mind if I don’t get to sleep all that well, because I’ll have plenty of time to sleep on the plane!
Our first night in Entebbe wasn’t all that eventful. We just sort of hung out in the lobby, ate dinner, tried to use the internet, and read instead when that failed. I finished The Magician’s Guild, by the way, and have been making my way through The End of the World Book, which my wonderful friend Mike so kindly loaned to me. I also started Fight Club, so hopefully if I finish one, I’ll still have the other left for the plane (or maybe both! The End of the World Book reads like a dictionary, so it’s easy to read in pieces). Today was a bit more eventful, because we walked around the town a bit. We found an Italian restaurant that was actually really good! It was run by a real, live Italian man, who I’m pretty sure imported a LOT of his materials, which is probably why. Other than that, we’ve still just been hanging out, and watching some really terrible (American) movies on the TV in the reception area. Oh yeah, and playing Family Feud on Maria’s computer! My team won 3/5 times, by the way!
I also made a new friend named Katie, here, who was in Uganda visiting her parents. They retired and have recently joined the Peace Corps. She stopped by to visit before flying to Rwanda, where she’s going to be starting a new job! We had fun sharing our experiences, and she gave us some really great advice. Apparently, Katie was staying at the hostel because she missed her flight earlier in the day, due to the extremely long amount of time it took her to get to and make it through check in and customs at the airport. We’ll make sure to leave really early, so that we’ve got plenty of time (11am for our 3pm flight). She left today, as did Greg, and both seem to have made it, since they didn’t end up back here! It was so sad to say goodbye to Greg this morning! It’s always hard to see our tightly-knit group breaking apart, with individuals leaving one by one. We’ll part ways with Effie at the Dubai airport (she’s going to meet her family in Greece), and of course, once we get to JFK, everyone will be going separate ways. As sad as it is, though, I really am so excited to be flying home. I feel that it’s time for me to leave Uganda, I’ve learned all I can here for now, and I’m ready to come home and face the new adventures life has in store for me. Plus, of course, I’ve been missing all of my family and friends! That means you! (Probably, anyway, because I’m pretty sure at this point that I’ve been getting random visitors from other countries. Maybe some from the U.S., too. And some probably found it by accident…I’m not quite sure why my blog came up in a search for “most beautiful Pakistani girl.” But hey, if you’re a random person who is actually reading, thanks for the support! I hope you’re not creepy!).
This will probably be my last blog entry from Uganda. I might be able to write one from the airport or from Dubai, but I can’t make any promises. If you want to make sure I’m alive and made my flights and everything, best to check facebook (Mom and Dad—I’ll e-mail you!), because I’ll probably post a status update. In any case, I’ll definitely write something when I’m back in New York…possibly in the middle of the night when I’m jetlagged and can’t sleep (gotta love that 7 hour time difference)!