As someone who grew up on Saturday morning educational television and PBS afternoon programming, I’ve always wanted to go on a safari. Not the kind where you ride around in a car at a local nature preserve and see a few captive animals, but the kind where you immerse yourself in the natural home of some of Africa’s most famous residents. After my team’s time in Fort Portal, we had an opportunity to do just that. As much as this trip was about missions and service, we made sure to bake in some down time as well.
Following the student retreat, I headed out to Queen Elizabeth National park near the Congolese border to the west. The park spans roughly 750 square miles of untamed African savannah and is home to lions, elephants, leopards, hippos, and much more. It lies on top of what once was a very geologically active land mass and is still marked by many volcanic features including lakes left in the cones of ancient volcanos. As we entered the park, we crossed paths almost immediately with two male lions, who were laying out rather leisurely in the grass. These incredibly lazy cats, I’m told, are a very rare site in the park. Personally, any time I’ve been on a wildlife sightseeing adventure where I’m told that some of the local animals are very rare, I always see the rare ones. Not sure if it’s luck or the guides are lying, but at any rate, it’s very cool to see.
As we made our way through the park we saw Cape buffalo, kob, warthogs, hippos, crocodiles, water bucks and more. It was truly fascinating for me to see all of these creatures, but what stood out to me the most were the elephants that spotted along the drive as well. I think sometimes those of us who don’t see elephants every day take for granted how big these living and highly mobile creatures really are. I was thoroughly impressed with their sheer size this time around too. When you really think about it. It’s pretty amazing that something that weighs as much as 100 grown adults is alive and breathing and can run over 20 miles per hour.
As we made our way through the park, we stopped at a resort called Myewa Safari Lodge situated in the heart of the park right on Lake Edward. The resort had a wonderful restaurant and some truly breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. It was very cool to look out over the land and see nothing but lakes and rolling savannah. You couldn’t see any buildings or man-made objects anywhere. It was perfect.
Eventually we wrapped up our time in the park and headed back to where we were staying in Fort Portal. On our way back our team stopped in a small village because our “guide” for the week, knew of startup school that would really be blessed by a visit from a group of Americans. It’s very difficult for me to describe what took place in that village, but the best I can do is say that half of me felt like I was on the NBA dream team and we stepped out of the bus in the middle of a large crowd. The other half of me was simply overwhelmed with the incredible poverty.
This village was literally the poorest place on earth I had ever visited. Much poorer than anything I had seen in Uganda so far, and much, much poorer than anything I’ve seen in Haiti. The team and I spent some time singing and playing with the kids and I’m sure it had an impact, but the whole experience was hard for me to process. Nothing about that exchange felt right. Here I was, a privileged globe-trotter being received by a group of people with literally nothing but a few clothes on their backs (some didn’t even have that) like I was a king. It just wasn’t a sensation or situation I had ever experienced. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I ever want to experience that again, but that’s what extreme poverty does. It confronts our status as the elite in global society and causes us to question what we’ve done to receive it. Sure, we’re born into what we’re born into, but it’s something worth dwelling on. At any rate, the stop was done as quickly as it began and we headed back to Fort Portal to rest and prepare for our cross-country drive the next day.
Up until this trip, I can’t say that I’ve ever driven across the country before. I’ve been to more than my fair share of places, but it hasn’t involved crossing in one fell swoop. After this trip, I can finally say that I’ve done a cross-country drive. Sure, it was across Uganda and not the United States, but who’s counting? The drive from Fort Portal to Jinja was long and pretty boring. I can’t say that I enjoyed it that much, but I did get a chance to take in some of the Ugandan jungle, which I hadn’t seen yet. I wish there was more I could say about the drive, but there really isn’t. I will say that we made it to Jinja without incident and quickly settled into our hotel rooms at the Kingfisher Resort along Lake Victoria. The trip was only half way finished and I was excited to keep it going. Having crossed two things off my “life to-do list” (safari and cross-country drive), I was ready to experience Jinja, the source of the Nile River. To be continued…