The start to the day was an early one as we had a long trip ahead of us. I was excited because not only was I doing a familiarization trip up into Northern Uganda but two proper elderly English gentlemen were joining me…both in their eighties and absolutely delightful! I was looking forward to African sunsets, G&T’s and good company!
We set off from Jinja with our safari guide Sunday behind the wheel…I sat in the back with John (82) and Neville (89) sat in the front as was more comfortable for his back. A little way along the road the steering started to vibrate as we hit a certain speed which was a little worrying as we still had a very long way to go. John suggested we go into Kampala (the opposite direction) to have the wheel balancing checked at a reputable dealer…..this was all supposed to have been sorted during the vehicles most recent service. Now travelling through Kampala is like trying to steer a treadmill through a maze at the best of times but eventually we got to the dealer workshop only to find we also had a puncture…anyway we got all fixed, balanced, aligned, had some breakfast and set off merrily…again through Kampala…….
We no sooner got through and about 40 km out the city and the vibration started again…….we simply had no option so turned back but this time headed directly to the only Land Rover dealership in town…treadmill…maze of people, vehicles, motorbikes……..you get the picture don’t you……anyway we vibrated our way to the ‘open air workshop’…up the ramp…exercised a few negotiating skills and got the problem seen to by the capable team on standby, the problem…worn out ‘bushes’ on the steering rack. Anyway another 2 hours before they were happy with all and we finally departed Kampala …smoothly…at 5pm…yes we were really on schedule…Ugandan schedule! It was a long, harrowing drive during the night dodging vehicles and trucks without lights…speeding buses that thought they owned the road however eventually we arrived at Churchill’s Hotel located in a town called Gulu at around midnight. A warm shower, something small to eat and cup of tea saw me straight to bed whilst John and Neville did the same after a beer.
The plan was to depart early so we could make the most of our day but our wheels had other ideas…..a flat tire and this was no.2. Anyway Sunday changed tires and all was well, luckily John is always prepared and had hooked up two spares for this trip. Traveling up North was a new experience for me as it was advised against before due to bad road conditions and tribal unrest in the area…this was also Joseph Cony’s district and belonged to the Acholi tribe. The landscape here differed to the rest of Uganda, it was dry, dusty, had sparse shrub vegetation and the climate very hot. I love driving through new areas as there is so much to see and I did. The layout of the villages differed to down South, here women rode bicycles which I hadn’t seen before and even the hut designs were different and built also for the goats and other animals.
The road was long and population decreased as we continued our journey towards the mountains that formed the border between Uganda and South Sudan. We were now entering the territory or the Karamajong tribe previously known as the ‘cattle raiders’. The landscape transformed from rocky outcrops and acacia trees to hills and huge boulders and just as we reached the bottom of a very muddy steep hill Sunday our driver pulled over…..’we have a problem’ he said….puncture no. 3! Out we got…John opened his toolbox took out the necessary and between him and Sunday they changed the wheel whilst Neville and I did a little sightseeing and took some photos. We hit the road again and now looked forward to a ice cold Club beer…..thirsty work all this tire changing !!
Eventually we arrived at our destination…Kidepo National Park and wow…it just took my breath away…it really was an ‘Out of Africa’ scene and stunningly beautiful…rolling savannah, rocky outcrops and distant mountains outlining the horizon. We checked into our safari tents and I fell in love with the location, the view and my tent. I chose the one furthest from the restaurant and let John and Neville have those closer as it was quite a climb. My bathroom even had a view…actually I could happily of brushed my teeth all day but didn’t quite have enough toothpaste! I unpacked and headed up to the restaurant/lounge area…the gentlemen had beaten me to it and were already sipping on a cold beer! Sunday returned after getting the tires fixed and joined us…the problem being old patches all round that kept on coming off – we really needed to buy new inner tubes but none out here in the bush! We had a lovely evening accompanied by a stunning African sunset after a long day. It was absolute bliss going to bed to the chorus of night sounds of the open bush with the distant calls of lion and hyena, a reminder that there were no fences in these National Parks of Uganda!
Each morning I woke to the early birds calling and in the dark made my way up to the restaurant for a quick breakfast & coffee before setting off on our safari. Each morning we were greeted by the rising sun as we rounded the one corner and each morning was more beautiful than the last…not to mention the ‘pre safari puncture’ The golden whispering savannah grass brushing up against buffalo and antelope silhouettes and as the sun rose higher the grey bulk of the matriarchal female leading her family of elephants in the distance. Driving along the bush roads it’s very easy to miss the smaller or should I say scalier creatures when scanning the distance for the elusive cat family, which unfortunately we did not get to see on this trip. We did however see possibly one of the longest and largest pythons I have ever seen slithering down an old anthill…and then another about 500 meters away…just amazing! We had the privilege of enjoying an amazing 360 degree view from a point in the middle of the park….and there was also a loo….with a view…however always a good idea to make sure it’s ‘unoccupied’!! Of course a safari just wouldn’t be complete without another puncture, this time in the park on the last afternoon…..I definitely was on lion watch whilst the men did what they had been doing best…changing tires of course! That night we were the only three in camp and it was quite dark (lanterns used as whole camp solar powered)…I had my torch as I made my way back to my tent hearing the eerie hyena calls in the valley I was a little nervous…suddenly there was a loud rustle in the tall grass and as I shone my torch in the direction could see two eyes staring at me…well I actually cannot describe how I felt at that particular moment especially on this platform and I’m not sure who got the biggest fright…me or the jackal…I shouted a quick lecture at him before literally leaving skid marks on the gravel path and I think I nearly ripped the zip right off trying to get into my tent !! I did have a good giggle after though between heartbeats and called myself a woos 🙂
We reluctantly set off back to Jinja in the morning and I was in a quiet yet somewhat satisfied state of mind. This trip had been amazing….not only had I been in ‘authentic Africa’ but I had the pleasure of two very pleasant gentlemen. I loved every moment from the sunrise punctures to the G&T marathons at sunset….believe me I was no match against John & Neville’s consumption capacity! I loved listening to their stories of when they were younger and worked in Africa….to their giggles whilst reminiscing the mischief they got up to. To me the moments on this safari…the wide open plains of Africa….the sunsets and sunrises…..the wildlife…the little things…..the two 80 yr old hunks and even the 7 punctures……priceless!
Moral of my story – don’t let life’s punctures get you down 😉