As if our group wasn’t crazy enough, we were about to go into the wild. SAFARI TIME.
That morning, I woke up and gathered together the rest of the items that I didn’t need. More that 3/4 of the clothes that I arrived in Africa with, were staying there. But my suitcase was far from empty. The night before, during our party, I supported the Ugandan economy by spending my money on jewelry, quilts, clothes, art and… here’s the big shocker… COFFEE.
The rest of my team had done the same. By that, I mean donated their clothes and shoes. (I’m also pretty sure that I wasn’t the only one who spent a pretty penny on some amazing African keepsakes.) There was a very large pile forming on the bench outside the front office of our hotel. Pretty amazing how big people’s hearts can be.
Breakfast was bananas, french toast and tea.
JUST KIDDING! Coffee. Lots and lots of delicious coffee.
Then we all jumped in the vans and headed to Murchison Falls National Park. We were staying our last night at the Paraa Lodge on the Nile River. The entry into the park was only about 45 minutes from the hotel. But the park itself was HUGE. So we still had a bit of a trip ahead of us. Right as we entered, there was a cute little gift shop that we stopped at. My impulses got away from me, yet again. But the way I looked at it, I was supporting local villagers with amazing talents. Beautiful jewlery, wooden masks, soapstone vases, handbags, you name it… Good thing Hope had us on a schedule, some of us would have been in there for hours.
Moseying on our way further into the park, we had been warned. Tsetse flies. WARNING: Extremely dangerous. Yes, a fly is deemed very dangerous. They are actually carriers of African Sleeping sickness. I’m all set, thanks. Joel was our van driver and promised to warn us when we got to the dicey areas where they had a tendency to fly into the vans through open windows. Until that point, my window was wide open. There were Rafiki’s and Pumbaa’s and… Sorry, Disney talk… Baboons, warthogs and vervet monkey’s running wild. At one point a baboon got a little bit too close to my window and I decided that I should close it some more. A pet baboon was the last thing I wanted to travel home with.
When we descended down to cross a little bridge, Joel yelled to close the windows. We couldn’t do it fast enough. Sure enough, as we crossed the little river, a Tsetse fly rammed itself right into the closed window. Sorry little fella, you were a day late and a dollar short 🙂
As we traveled further into the park, the terrain began to look more like what I had pictured: the African Savanna straight out of The Lion King… minus Simba and the fam. And then, there it was, the Nile River. How cool. It wasn’t very wide where we were and we could see the Lodge on the other side. That wasn’t all we could see, there was a family of hippos across the way too! Hope gave the group a little pow-wow – some of us already knew that this team was special and she confirmed that. After a long, busy, successful week, it was time to let loose and have fun.
The vans were loaded onto the ferry and then we climbed aboard. The trip across the river to the other side only took about 4 minutes. Sitting on the ferry, I closed my eyes and just felt the breeze on my face.
Holy shit. This was the Nile River. I’m still in Africa. We are going to see elephants and giraffes tonight. This is real life.
When we reached the bank of the river, our drivers drove the vans off the ferry and we loaded back up. Only to drive about a minute around the corner to The Paraa Lodge. It’s hard to put the beauty into words. This place was a 5-Star resort. Breathtaking. We all piled our luggage into the main entry way and got our room assignments. Some of the rooms weren’t quite ready yet. Needless to say, that didn’t stop anyone. We went into the bathroom and changed into our bathing suits. What awaited us through the back doors was equivalent to my paradise.
Our team, that had become a family, began to reflect on the week that we’d had while soaking up the African sun and getting some much needed Vitamin-D. (There was no way that I wasn’t going to jump in the pool. Hallelujah!) Some amazing friendships had formed in a very short period of time. Just phenomenal. Also special was the fact that I could share the adventure with Big K.
After lounging for a little while, our room was ready. Good thing I only had to walk across the grass to get to it. Poolside, baby! Seriously, could life get any better right now?!
The answer is yes, yes it could. Lunch was ready. Nothing prepared me for the smorgasbord that was laid out in the dining room. The food was out of this world. Following lunch, most of us returned poolside. Some opted to head to the spa for massages.
Around 4 o’clock we went downstairs and split up into the Safari vehicles and vans for our sunset game drive. I opted to ride on top of one of our vans for the Safari. Go big or go home… I wasn’t ready to go home. Claire, Judith, Bryan, Hannah, Carrie, Ashley, Brian, Tall K, Wes, Brit and myself all rode together; Steven was our driver. Driving into the park, I was beginning to feel like Max from ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, if only I had some white footie pajamas… As soon as we had gotten far enough into the park, Steven gave us the go ahead to get on the roof. I made the quick escape out the window. This was really happening. Some of us freaked out at the sight of another baboon – to which Claire told us to relax, it was about to get a whole lot better.
Right, she was. Let me show you…
When we made it to the hippos, some of us decided that it was time for a bathroom break. I opted to stay on top of the van – knowing my luck, a baby hippo would probably charge at me. Yes, they were that close.
As the sun was setting, we headed back to the lodge. Some of our group climbed back into the van. Judith, Wes, Kristen and I decided to live a little and stay on the roof. Magical. The air (even the bugs) in our face as we drove into the dark back to Paraa. At one point, I was sitting, cross-legged at the front with my eyes closed and arms stretched out; I felt like on top of the world. I was on top of the world. Heart full of love and gratitude, I quietly began to cry out of pure joy. Did I have to leave?
Back at the lodge we all enjoyed a delicious dinner and for some of us, myself included, a much needed shower. As I packed my things up, I really enjoyed listening to people running down the halls from the bats, shrieking. Truly entertaining.
The next morning, we were up bright and early for breakfast at 6am before we loaded into the vans and headed to the Masindi hotel to pick up lunch and some miscellaneous luggage. Probably 8 minutes into the ride I was already covered in a thick layer of the orange dirt. My lovely sunless tan had returned. We only had about 6 hours left to go. No big deal.
When we arrived at the Masindi Hotel for the last time, we gathered the rest of the team’s luggage and our lunch to go. We said our good-byes to the staff and for the final time, got into the vans and departed for the Entebbe airport. The drive remains somewhat of a blur and a mix of emotions.
Somewhere between my equally dirty friends, bleating goats on the back of a pik-pik (motorcycle), a naked little boy standing on the side of the road peeing on his friends and the craziest traffic jam I have ever seen, I realized that I didn’t want to leave. But I also knew that I would go back. You leave Africa but Africa never leaves you.
Paul Simon said it best, “This is the story of how we begin to remember. This is the powerful pulsing of love in [our] veins. After the dream of falling and calling your name out. These are the roots of rhythm and the roots of rhythm remain.”
In case you haven’t seen it yet: Africa