My notes from today read: "Got up at 5:30 for the Safari. Lost a tire on the way, finally got there and saw lions and a leopard. Came home, visited the very high end Mweya Resort across the street from our hostel and then went on a boat ride up the Kazinga Channel in Lake Richard. Home for dinner and early bed for kids. Adults stayed up late drinking wine, eating chocolate and talking."
Ahem. Allow me to elaborate/ correct myself on a few things. (For starters, the lake was Lake Edward. Not Richard. There was also a Lake George in the park. I think the whole british king theme threw me off. Anyway...)
We got up at 5:30 (waking the kids was a blast...) and met our driver and guide by our safari-van. They were having trouble getting one of the sliding doors to close properly, which (of course) our giddy group of tired adults turned into a joke: "Great timing! On a safari with lions all around and the door won't close! No big deal..." We started driving the bumpy roads to where we were going to see the animals. At least once or twice we had to stop because the door would jar open and the guys would jump out and try to smoothly take care of it... as if it was really no big deal... doors pop open all the time, right? We continued on...
And THEN... we pulled a u-turn, and started driving back. We asked what was going on and apparently... our spare tire had fallen off! After driving awhile (we are all tired and it is dusky and cool out... I lose track of time...) we turn around again; I guess no luck finding the tire. When we are almost back to our original location, the guys spot the tire in the roadside weeds. They retrieve it, and no joke, it has a huge, gaping, shredded hole in the rubber. "This is the tire we turned back for?!" Shami (jokingly but not really) shrieks (at us) and we all laugh. Apparently it was the rim they wanted to go back for anyway.
For your reference, I found this little gem:
You can see Queen Elizabeth N.P. in the lower left corner. You can also see Mbarara (home of the amazing Nakumatt/ samosa experience and if you follow the "red line" down to the bottom of the map, you can see Kabale (this is important on Day 6, when we drive back to Kigali) and the border crossing into Rwanda.
So we finally get over to the park, where we are all dying hoping we will see some animals. The kids start to get excited and we snap a zillion pictures of the first herd of gazelles we see. (Later we realize they are literally everywhere... like prairie dogs in the west... or something.) But it's exciting, and we are all having a blast.
Suddenly we slow down and .... yes... there are LIONS. Bonafide, in the wild, real (dangerous if your door falls off) lions.
Shami and Kathy have come prepared (as one might expect when going on a safari in Africa) with sweet big DSLR cameras/ lenses and you can hear their shutter snaps flying. Alezah and I whip out our snazzy iPhones and try to look cool while snapping away... but fail. (Big black cameras for the win.)
After the lion pride lazily saunters off across the savannah, we head onward to look for more wildlife. We stop at some local villages' craft/souvenir huts, and Shami gets one of them to sell him some chapati (flatbread), hot off her oven behind the huts. After the kids maul him (ok, so we all did) he went back and got more. Food>souvenirs. Obvi.
We leave, and although we have seen 7 lions, our spirits start to droop a bit. We are tired, the bumpy roads are well, bumpy, and the kids start crabbing a bit... our American-ness begins to shine through... Suddenly the driver stops by a tree, and what do we see curled up and sleeping like a baby in the tree? A leopard. Kathy (resident big cat expert) explains to us all the difference between a leopard and a jaguar... we are all enthralled and a bit in awe. The driver tells us the month before, he had a honeymooning couple give him $500 to show them a leopard, but they never saw one the whole week. He was convinced one of us had to have been born on Christmas, because we had seen so many lions and a leopard in one morning!
Happily we headed back to the hostel. We ate and walked around the very VERY nice safari lodge across the street, the Mweya Safari Lodge. Located on a peninsula in the middle of the lake, the views were truly outstanding and the Lodge was unbelievably nice. That afternoon we went on a boat ride up the Kazinga Channel in the lake and saw 2 elephants, lots and lots of hippos, Cape buffalo, birds and crocodiles.
It was truly an unparalleled experience! And the kids did so well (overall) coping with being tired and out of a familiar environment for so many days.
And as I said earlier, since we were all tired, we ate an early dinner and I put the kids to bed early (super easy-- thanks early nightfall!) Afterward, we 5 shared a bottle of red wine Shami had brought with us, and some Cadbury chocolate the girls had fortuitously thought to buy at the Nakumatt in Mbarara. We talked late into the night about gender roles and societies and customs and raising kids and cultures and... it was a fantastic evening. After awhile Shami went to bed, but we 4 girls stayed up, talking weddings and boyfriends and engagements and how you KNOW when you know he's the one...
We finally returned to our own rooms and crawled under our mosquito nets in the early hours of the morning. It had been a wonderful day.