Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Africa Part 3: Safari & Getting Home


Clinic week actually flew by, it seemed like in no time, we were packing our stuff back up! We woke up Saturday morning with anticipation about what the day/ evening held. After breakfast we were to drive 3 hours to the edge of the Nile River. The Nile! That alone was enough to get me pumped up. Along the long dirt road that dead ended at the river we had to close the windows when we drove through the valleys, so we would not get bitten by a huge horse fly looking insect. I am not entirely sure what would happen if one of these little guys got us, but it was insane how once we dipped down to the lower parts of the road, they would just be swarming! After several hours we reach the river and instantly we saw Elephants, Hippos and Baboons around us. We waited for about 30 min for the ferry aka barge to come back across the river to get us. Most were completely fine with this lull because it granted the perfect photo opp.  

The first thing we saw when we hopped off the barge on the other side of the river are Warthogs, like  The Lion King's Pumbaa





locals singing when we got off the barge ferry.
Once we are done ooohing and ahhhing at all the Pumbaas and Baboons, we hop back in the vans and drive about 10 min before arriving at the Paraa Safari Lodge. The Lodge sits on the Murchison Falls National Park. We all had the same roomie, which made things much easier. Katie and I quickly get to our room and literally sequel and fall on our big fluffy beds. These rooms are so wonderful. Balcony with table and chair, lots of sun light, heavy fabric lined mosquito nets, dark wooden furniture, and AC. Granted we paid $27 USD for that AC, but that is a minor detail. We took a little cat nap and then headed down to see what this place was all about... great little gift shop, lots of cozy nooks, outdoor seating, lush green life everywhere, views of the Nile and a pool with swim up bar. 
Private porch / balcony




Olive Baboon and her babe


We had a huge spread for lunch. While at lunch, we met a Dr and his wife along with their three children (one was adopted from Asia). They were from Pittsburgh and were in Uganda picking up their two adopted children. Uganda recently passed a law that if you want to adopt a child from their country, you must live there as a resident for three years. Knowing this we asked them how it was they were getting not one but two children while still living in the states. They graciously shared with us that they started the adoption process before the law passed and their attorney found a loop hole in the law. While they had plans of adopting these two children, at first they were going to foster them for three years, in the US, then apply / and be granted legal guardianship of them. They had been in the county 1 month and were wrapping up in the next 10 or so days. With satisfied bellies Katie and I went back to the room to rest, shower and get ready for the Sunset Safari. Katie and I had become buds with John and David and wanted to ride along side them in Safari, so I told John I'll help camera assist, switching out lenses, passing him gear, etc. 











Since we had the camera crew with us, we were alone (just our truck) a lot of the time, b/c they would need to stop more often, take more pics, etc... It was almost like we were on our own safari at times! First thing we see are some baby Antelope then we come upon a nice family of Elephants! 











We let everyone pass us so the boys can continue to shoot. It's so surreal to see these animals in their natural habitat. Just eating, playing and cleaning one another like no one is watching. The elephants would perk up their ears when they heard something and the babies would just trot back and forth between the adults. As we continued to drive, we got to see the colossal landscape. It was all you could see every way your turned your head! 








As we drove toward the next hill, our guide started to point out the Giraffes (yes plural) we were approaching. Giraffes have 7 vertebrae in their neck, just like humans... its just each one of their's can be about 10 inches long. The silly looking creatures are like something you just want to put in your back pocket and take home with you. They are spotted, have purple tongues, long eyelashes, sway their necks and just kind of make you laugh when you seem them. A group of Giraffes is called a 'journey'. 








We continued to drive seeing more elephants, deer, warthogs, and water buffalo. 


















Of course the entire time we are asking our guide if we would get to see a Lion because well, its not a legit safari unless you see a lion right?! He kept saying "we hope so, we hope so" .. knowing he had no control over where said lions were going to be hanging out that Saturday late afternoon. Then over the radio he gets a call and two lions have been spotted lounging under a tree not far from where we were. Once we arrive, the crew is already there... one van at time got to go off road to take a look for literally like 15 seconds. Our guy drove the Land Cruiser over the ditch and there they were. One Lion laying under the tree, semi perched up and the other laying in front of him in the grass. It was intense and thrilling! We were completely silent and almost frozen like. There were after all, 2 lions less than 50 feet from us. The one under the tree let out a yawn and sort of acted like he was going to get up and everyone in our truck got super wide eyes and looked at one another.. turns out that lion was just being nosy and laid back down!







After this natural high we were all "satisfied". From here we went down to the river to check out the Hippos. Once we got to the water, there were couple dozen basking in the water.. This is only chance to get out and walk around during the safari. The sun was setting and the sky was on fire, The DRC was across the river, Hippos ears, eyes and noses were peeping out of the water, men on fishing boats- boats made by hand and all of us on the other side of the river, just taking it all in while hundreds of dragon flies surrounded us. It was a pretty spectacular moment



Those dots everywhere are dragonflies






John & David











The last 1/2 hour of the drive back were in the dark, the only light was that come from our head lights. Dinner was ready shortly after we returned and we all feasted. After dinner we all gathered in a living room area and gave shout outs, named our favorite moments from the week and talked about how to transition back into the real world, we were all getting ready to get thrown back into. 

I'd imagine it was a little easier for the medical volunteers, but us non-medical.. we were totally out of our eliminate. Take me for instance, I work for an amazing family owned company who builds high end custom homes, where a windows, doors, appliances are usually more than the average person's annual salary. Katie insures high end cars, homes, jewels, art work, etc.. It was hard not to think, "what am I doing", "why am I doing this job", etc.. It all kind of seemed silly, coming from a place where people live on $1-2 a day. But we were told, yet again, not to feel bad for our good fortunes, but to use them to better others. To talk about our experiences to help get others involved (locally and internationally) on any level that they can. 

We were also told to be prepared to be bombarded at first, when people ask "how was Africa?!". While this seems like an easy question, it's proven to actually be a hard question. How do we begin to describe this journey, the things we saw, the people we met, the memories we created... how do you put that into words for someone who wasn't there. And well, "How was Africa?!" is a rather open ended question. For me it helped to pull several stories from the week to share. So when I had these conversations with friends and family, I could keep their attention and really try to reveal how impactful this trip was for me. People love details. People loves stories, so give it to them. 

After a 8-9 hour van ride, a flight from Uganda to Ethiopia, a flight from Ethiopia to Rome (had to refuel), a flight from Rome to DC and finally a flight from DC to RDU, I was home. Almost 2 full days of travel (think we had 38-40 hours under our belt)leaves one in a state of pure exhaustion. At that point I wanted to avoid everyone. I hailed a taxi home and slept from about 3 pm until 10 pm, ate some grub then back to bed until next day when time to get up for work... and back to reality. 



Fun facts about Uganda:

-Winston Churchill loved Uganda. He gave Uganda the name "Pearl of Africa" b/c of its magnificence 
-If you are given a fried grasshopper, it means you are a special guest.
-10 million (1/3 of the country) has a cell phone of some sort
-Women are civil engineers and contractors b/c the women are the ones that do most of the work on the houses and buildings, while men are in charge of the roofs. 
-Literacy rate is 70%
-1 doctor for every 26,000 people
-Homosexuality is illegal and forbidden and is a punishable crime
-Ugandans are known for hospitality
-They are tree lovers. For every 1 tree that is cut, 3 are planted. 
-Best banana, pineapple and avocado producing countries. 
-Home to the Mountain Gorilla. Only 750 left in the world. All are them are in Africa and most in Uganda.
-Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world. 1/2 countries survives on less than $2 a day. 
-They love bikes
-HUGE drinkers. They are repeatedly ranked highest consuming nations in the world, despite being poor.
-Youngest country in the world, 50% of population is under the age of 14
-Average church service is 4-6 hours
-Soccer: ranked 24th in Africa, 93rd in world
-Surrounded by three great lakes: Albert, Edward, Victoria. 
-It's against the law to have electricity 7 days in a row.