When you do safari with your Dad, you have a guide, a chef, a 4 by 4 and a general feeling of safety. Those days are gone. This time, when I wanted to see animals, I had to do it a little differently.
Some people do safari with private jets. Most people do it in jeeps. We drove into and through the safari the way we drive everywhere else – on a boda.
A boda-boda is a Ugandan crossbreed between a motorcycle and a piece of crap. The word originted with bicyclers who used to take passengers from “border-to-border”. This morphed, in a typically lazy Ugandan fashion, into “boda-to-boda”, then “boda-boda” and finally “boda”.
So on our little boda we have our little driver, my not so little self, my friend and our definitely not little bags. Somehow we all get on. The real miracle is that somehow, we stay on – most of the time. We leave the town of Sanga and the road soon turns to dust, the potholes get bigger and more frequent, and groups of people are replaced with herds of horny cows. Cows with horns.
We reach Lake Mburo National Park’s gate. There’s a thirty dollar entrance fee and I didn’t even want to go to his place. Haven’t I seen enough animals already? I get off and try to bargain but the closest I get to reducing the cost is an offer to sleep with the park workers. Which I turn down.
It is without a doubt the prettiest boda ride I’ve ever had. Savior (yes, that is our driver’s name) dexterously maneuvers us across rivers, around holes, up hills. We see lots of animals. Motorcycle parts fly off. Passengers almost do.
We reach the campsite and I try to bargain a little more. This is getting out of hand. At least we can dump our heavy bags, and continue the journey feeling balanced and free. Not like we’re three people on one little boda.
Another indefinite lapse of time, and we reach a stunning lodge which is way above of my budget (Dad, I miss you). We go horseback riding and see the whole zebra-gazelle-bushbuck crowd.
Unfortunately, I don’t know how to ride a horse. So instead of telling me what to do, the guide communicates with the horses. He tells his horse to take it easy and sticks my horse right behind his horse’s butt, commanding him to follow.
Unfortunately, his horse has a tendency to stop short and swing in all directions (my horse follows suit, and the last one to fly all over the place is me).
It happens again! I clutch the reins hard and yell. “Whoa!” And then I see that his horse had nearly stepped on a giant cobra, and then I really yell whoa.
From this moment on I’m thrilled I’ve paid the stupid 30 dollar entrance fee to the park. I had wanted to see a snake since arriving in Africa. Now I had almost fallen on one!
After our horseback ride, we get back on our boda, which feels painfully similar to riding a horse. Very soon after setting off on the journey back, day becomes night.
Did you know that buffaloes are one of the most dangerous animals to humans? And did you know they charge at night? And that when their young ones are with them, they are even more protective than irritable than usual?
The driver’s feeble light shines on a pack of buffaloes that are just a few meters ahead.
It is night.
They are with their kids.
And there are about fifty of them crossing the dirt path on which we are driving.
And so, behind two others, I am on a creaky motorcycle at night, in the middle of a safari in the middle of Africa, watching my highly-unqualified-as-a-guide driver toot his little horn at a pack of buffaloes.
I feel somewhat exposed.
But we make it to the Lakeside restaurant, bid Savior good night and arrange for a dining ranger to drive us back to the camp. Driving back (feeling very cozy and safe behind doors) we see a HUGE blob of blubber. Why did the hippo cross the road? Oh my G-d!! A cobra, buffaloes and now a monstrous hippo walking around? I’ve never seen one out of water; this day is insane!
Just as I’m squealing with excitement, two spiky porcupines scuttle past. Now I was really thrilled – talk about a well spent thirty bucks!
We reached the camp and as I stepped out of the shower I noticed some sparkly dots. Then I understood that they were four shining eyes, which must have been attatched to two big animals. So I stood and stared at them staring at me – and before my impatience took over and realized I couldn’t go to sleep or even walk out of the shower – I was all at once in awe, fear and love with nature.