Friday, March 27, 2015

2014 EAWE: Queen Elizabeth National Park Days 2-4

We had three nights in QENP to enjoy the lovely Mweya hospitality and find some awesome animals. I was hoping for a predator bonanza, but the lions and leopards had other ideas. We did see a few lions, but it was the other animals who made it a fun experience.

Saturday morning we woke up for an early morning game drive, excited to see all kinds of awesome things. It wasn't a very fruitful morning, sadly. I only took about six photos all morning, which is an indicator. The salt lakes were pretty; we saw some nice birds and antelope; but everybody else was sleeping. We headed back to the lodge for breakfast and a nap before the afternoon's boat ride.

The boat launch is quite close to Mweya, and we were able to get there early enough to snag good seats, which ired a group of Italian tourists to no end. They demanded we get up and let them sit where we had chosen. Seriously. Luckily some Brits came along and made up for their attitudes. We set off on a slow cruise along the Kazinga channel. Lots of birds, lots of hippos. A few interesting encounters. My favorite was the buffalo and hippo snuggle fest as seen in photos before. I mean, how incredibly cute was that?

We were also charged by a hippo who thundered through the water and then surfaced at our boat and made some movements to keep going but finally turned around. It happened very quickly, and I only got a photo at the tail end when he was out of the water a bit. A bit scary for a moment.

There's a fishing village in the park where the community interacts responsibly with the wildlife (and vice versa), and so they have not been evicted. It was lovely to watch the men preparing to head out for an evening of fishing as elephants grazed the hillside and meandered to the channel below. We turned and motored back to the launch and reached the lodge just as the sun was beginning to set. It was gorgeous. Or it would have been had the Italian tourists from earlier not driven up and started yelling insults at us as we took photographs. Seriously. Again. Time for dinner and bed.

Another early morning drive on Sunday with very few sightings, though we did see our first lion of the trip. A lovely male reclining a decent distance from the road, presumably watching over his pride we believed to be on the other side of the ridge. We drove to the other side to look but found nothing. There were lots and lots and lots of nervous antelope about, not to mention bones, but no other predators in sight. We stopped at a souvenir market and found a few cute things before heading back to the lodge. I took a much-needed nap while Mom and D read or sat outside.

After lunch and before the afternoon game drive, Mom and I were sitting outside the bar area reading and checking email when we saw a mongoose run across the terrace. Mom and D had seen a few mongooses running through the lobby earlier, but this was my first sighting. And then more came. Moms and babies, lone mongooses, mongooses with radio collars, and more. Some were digging, some were foraging, some were almost running over our feet. I was in heaven. It was amazing. So, of course, I did the natural thing and followed them. I followed them to a gathering point on the side of the lodge and just watched them for about thirty minutes. There were dozens of them, of all sizes. There were a few tiny tiny babies and some adolescents and several with radio collars. I took photos and videos and listened to them squeak and just watched them. Absolutely fascinating. Absolutely a highlight of QENP.

Our afternoon game drive was a search for leopards that was futile. We saw a couple of ellies and a few antelope, but it was mostly a slow day for animals. So a final dinner for Mweya and a good night's sleep.

We left a little later that morning and planned to drive straight through to Kampala and arrive early afternoon and have time to do laundry and rest before heading to Tanzania the next day. But things didn't go as planned. First, Abdul got a tip about a lion in a tree. We headed off in hot pursuit. Sure enough, Luna the lion was up in a euphorbia tree. She did not look comfortable. First of all, she was very pregnant, which made lying down in a tree difficult. Second, the tree was not the most suitable for climbing - no flat branches. Third, there were lots of people watching her. We watched her for a bit and then headed off, enjoying herds of waterbuck and troops of baboons as we exited the park.

We were making great time and were about 50km out of Mbarara, the approximate halfway point to Kampala when all of a sudden, as we were going up a hill and around a corner, I see the rear passenger tire go flying off the truck and behind us. Abdul did a masterful job controlling the car and stopping safely on the side of the road. We got out to assess the damage. The tire was completely intact, no tears or punctures, but the rim was a bit bent. I stayed with the car while the others went in search of the lug nuts. This was farming country, and a few of the locals came down to offer help. A couple young women found a few lug nuts, and before long we had the complete set. Abdul said he had checked the tire before setting off in the am and thought somebody might have tampered with it when we stopped for a bathroom break. From the way the lug nuts had flown - not sheared - off, they had clearly been loosened.

Just then a car full of good samaritans stopped and offered assistance. It took about an hour and lots of effort, but they were able to help Abdul get the tire back on and tightened. The truck was okay for getting back to Kampala, but the whole tire and axle would need a lot of work later on. I was very pleasantly surprised by the gentlemen who gave an hour of their time - and sweat - to help us. They tried to decline the money we offered them but finally took it with a thanks and a smile. We did get a few others stopping and asking us for money who hadn't helped, but they were easily brushed off.

We got back on the road - a bit slower and still in a bit of shock - and limped back to Kampala. We made decent time, considering, but we still arrived several hours after we had expected. That meant a furious bout of laundry (using several of my neighbors' machines that they kindly let us use), a quick dinner, repacking, and then sleep for our VERY early wakeup call the next morning. If 1:30 is really the next morning.

Stay tuned for our horrendous travel day story to follow, but with redeeming animal encounters and photos and stories after that.

Buffalo/hippo snuggles!


Can I help you?

The tail end (pun intended) of the hippo charge

Elephants near the fishing village

Ready for a night of fishing

Right before the nasty Italians showed up to insult us

Pretty Mr. Lion.

Sleepy Mr. Lion


Running across the terrace

Note the radio collar on the one at the top right and the squee baby trying to nurse in the middle

Some of the many, many mongooses in this band

Pretty elly

A very pregnant and uncomfortable Luna the lion in a euphorbia tree

She just couldn't get comfortable

Gorgeous waterbuck

Riding with mama

A main road running through the park


Nomads By Nature said...

I thought you were joking with the comment on buffalo and hippo snuggling - but those photos are too stinkin' cute! Who knew?!!

Heather said...

LOVE these photos! They are amazing!!! Wonderful memories, incredible trip to treasure for a lifetime. :)