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Written by DanielaZavala. Posted in Blog

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Published on October 10, 2010 with No Comments

On a game drive, feeling like the Buganda Queen!

On a game drive, feeling like the Buganda Queen!

“We shall leave now. We have a long drive, but it is a beautiful one,” said Ronnie.

Ronnie took my backpack from the floor. I stood just outside the tent, staring at the depths of Bwindi. The Mubares were somewhere in those mountains covered with thick vegetation… my heart shrank thinking again of Muyambi’s gentle eyes and the tiny baby gorilla.

We jumped in the jeep and hit the rough Ugandan roads. Up and down. Up and down. Side to side. I wondered how my Scottish boys and Eddy were doing. They were just behind us, but they drove a low van. I was afraid that at any moment they would get stuck in one of the cavernous pot holes.

We were all heading to Ishasha, the southern section of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

It was indeed a beautiful drive, passing through green hills and tea fields. Smiling Ugandans, especially the young, waved and shouted “Mzungu” (white person) as we drove.

“Please do not feel offended by being called Mzungu. It is a innocent comment,” Ronnie said.

I was by no means offended. Totally the opposite. Their welcoming smiles made my heart rejoiced. I may look different from them, yet wherever I went, I felt embraced by locals.

I was enchanted by the beautiful landscapes and the peace I felt. For the first time in a while I could just sit and relax, closing my eyes and breathing slowly. I was so happy to be away from my hectic life back home… to finally take a break and let myself being taken care of.

“Daniela, can I ask you a personal question? I am just curious,” asked Ronnie.

I opened my eyes and looked at him.

“Sure.” I am used to be asked personal questions by locals. After being asked by my Iranian’s driver, Hossein, if I had sex with my boyfriend, I thought I would be able to handle any personal questions.

“How do you do with men?” he asked. “I mean, you are a beautiful woman, how do you manage?”

“If they mess with me, I kick them hard!” I laughed.

Ronnie and I had talked before about our past relationships. He told me about being left by his wife and his efforts to be the best father he could be. I told him about the difficulties of settling down when you got a nomad spirit like mine, and about getting my heart broken by a guy I dated casually but with who I ended up falling in love. Being so caring and protective, I imagined Ronnie wondered how I could travel solo without someone taking care of me, so I elaborated a bit more my answer.

“Well Ronnie, I am not always as relax as I am right now. Sometimes I need to play tough with not only guys, but people in general. I am alone and I am the only one looking after me. I know when I must keep distance or a barrier with certain people while traveling to make sure I protect myself and I am not being taken advantage of. I have enough experience to know who I can trust and who I cannot,” I told him.

“You know that in Uganda, I got your back,” he smiled.

“I know Ronnie. It feels good to have someone looking after me,” I responded.

Ronnie was my guide, but in the few days we had traveled together, I felt him as a friend. He wasn’t just an average guide taking me around. We talked about nature, about our lives and even about politics. He was well-read and educated. Just as it happened to me in Bhutan, I soon felt that I was not traveling with a guide or in a tour. I was traveling with a friend who was showing me the best of his culture and his country. And as an independent traveler who hates tours, this feeling is a real blessing!

“Welcome to Queen Elizabeth Park” read a sign

Queen Elizabeth Park

Queen Elizabeth Park

Ronnie and Eddy went to show the permits to the rangers, while Dave, Kevin and I checked the place out.

“Be aware of dangerous animals. Respect all animals. Stay in your cars” read another sign.

We were certainly breaking the last rule!

We went back to our cars. The game was on!

“OK, now pay attention. This is the game drive and we are a team. We both shall look for animals!” indicated Ronnie.

I was so relax and so content with what I had seen already in the past 24 hours that I didn’t feel like “hunting” for animals.

The only animal I wanted to see were the lions, but it was unlikely to see them. Queen Elizabeth Park has a size of 1,978 sq km, and animals are free and constantly moving, so chances of seeing the famous lions were not high.

Before coming to Uganda, I knew that much of its wildlife was poached out during the political unrest so it didn’t have the amounts of animals than countries like Tanzania and Kenya have, but I hadn’t come to Uganda for the safaris. This was just a part of the tour package I had paid. I had come here to see the gorillas and my experience was beyond what I expected.

Queen Elizabeth Park may not have the “game” but has a scenery, with endless grassy plains, lakes and forests that is worth visiting.

“Look here! Over there, you see it?” said Ronnie with excitement.

We saw tons of Uganda kobs, deers, topi, olive babooms, waterbucks, white tailed monkeys, warthogs, herds buffalos, giant forest hog, and elephants.

Dave and Kevin on a game drive

Dave and Kevin on a game drive

Ronnie and Eddy were constantly talking on the phone, exchanging information of what they had seen so we all saw as much as we could.

“The boys found the lions!” Ronnie rushed back to where Eddy and the boys were. “Over there. Can you see? Next to the second tree on the left!”

I went to the sun roof of the jeep. I had no clue what Ronnie was talking about.

“The orange thing. Can you see it now?”

Thanks to my video camera, I was able to zoom in and see the lions. There were two, but they’re were far. Ronnie was so excited about me seeing the lions. He knew felines were my favorite animals, so he knew how much it meant to me.

Then, another jeep with two tourists stopped next to ours.

“Look at what we just saw. Go!” said a guide, friend’s of Ronnie. He showed us a picture of several lions resting in a picnic area.

“Let’s go!” said Ronnie.

We were speeding in the dirt roads in the middle of the wilderness. Eddy was closely behind us. We needed to get there before the lions moved.

Lions take over camping site

Lions take over camping site

And we made it! When we got there, there were five lionesses and a cub, all resting under the shade of a camping site that was not mean for them. Showing they were the owners of this territory, the lionesses peed all over it and kept on resting. Although we were hardly a few meters away from them, they seemed completely undisturbed by us. They seemed so exhausted that their afternoon nap was probably more important than five people staring at them from two noisy cars.

The tiny cub looked at us all puzzled and went back to sleep. It looked just a like little kitten and I left like hugging him, probably not the wisest of the ideas, considering he had the four lionesses as custodians.

“The lion may come anytime,” said Ronnie.

Seeing the big cats in the wild was another dream of mine. Watching it this close was just mind blowing.

I looked around and I was just thrilled to be there. The beauty about Uganda has also to do with the fact that you feel that you have the entire place for yourself. There are not the herds of tourists or tours around.

In there it was only me and my lovely boys. Although in different cars and with different guides, we were just one group and I was pleased to share this special moment with Ronnie, Eddy, Kevin and Dave. I was lucky to have such awesome companions.

“Look,” Ronnie showed me the time in his watch.

cubWe had been with the lions for an hour and a half. Time had flown by.

Another jeep was arriving. We decided to continue our game drive.

As we left the lions, I stayed up in the roof looking at the scenery and feeling like the Queen of Buganda. Africa was showing me its best through extraordinary and exceptional experiences with nature (first the gorillas and then the lions), proving me that she indeed deserved to be explored. I have traveled so extensively around the world that I felt bad to have neglected Africa for so long. I looked around and made a promise to her… I would return again to experience her magic.

“I am officially the Queen of Buganda!” I said to Ronnie.

“You are indeed. You are very very lucky. Nature, Uganda loves you!” he responded.

We drove to our budget hotel for some rest. Ronnie and Eddy were staying somewhere else. I wished we all stayed together, I was sure Dave and Kevin felt the same way. At that point Eddy and Ronnie were part of our group.

“We will be here tomorrow morning,” said Ronnie. “Did you order your food?” he asked me before leaving.

The guy from the kitchen came to take our orders for dinner and there was no vegetarian option.

“Bring her a veggie soup,” he ordered.

“No Ronnie. I told him I could have vegetables with rice,” I said to him, laughing at his caring efforts.

“Soup is good for you,” he responded.

“The thing is that I don’t like soup that much, unless the weather is cool,” I laughed.

Dave and Kevin laughed as well. Ronnie treated me as if I was his little girl.

“Don’t worry Ronnie. We will make sure Daniela eats well and drinks enough water,” Kevin joked.

We exchanged hugs with Eddy and Ronnie, ate dinner and crashed in bed for some rest.

Next morning was another game drive. We had to be ready at 6 a.m. to go to the park.

Sunrise in Queen Elizabeth

Sunrise in Queen Elizabeth

Eddy and Ronnie were punctual at the hotel.

“Ronnie, Daniela ate well and drank water,” Kevin teased Ronnie.

“Very well Buganda Queen!” Ronnie approved.

We jumped in our cars and drove back to the park. On the way, we were astonished by a spectacular red sunrise and stopped to see it come fully. It was as if the sun was on fire!

Animals were hidden or far away. We didn’t see many animals in the entire morning, but again the landscapes were breathtaking.

“It is not about seeing animals, it is about seeing more, appreciating nature,” said Ronnie.

“Ronnie, don’t worry. I am truly enjoying this. I had seen already what I came to see here. Whatever else I do or see here is just an extra,” I didn’t want him to think that I was the kind of traveler that would be disappointed because of not seeing animals. I was aware I was just a visitor here to them, and just knowing that they were free in that wilderness that surrounded me made me happy.

Besides, some people may find the game drives or safaris very exciting, I have to admit that watching animals and nature from the top of a car and with binocular is not my thing. I need to feel direct contact with nature… walk, hike, climb, get dirty, sweaty, be bitten… seeing nature comfortably from the seat of a jeep and racing to see animals are not so appealing to me.

“There are some walk safaris in Uganda. I will take you,” Ronnie said when I told him about my feelings about safaris.

“That’s what I am talking about. The Buganda Queen needs some action!!!” I smiled.

We drove then to the Mweya Peninsula from where we would take a boat in the Kasinga Channel, which joins Lakes Edward and George.

Another beautiful ride through the wild. Moneys and olive babooms crossed the road we drove.

With so many long hours in the car, Ronnie and I turned the jeep into a Karaoke and sang Ugandan songs all the way.

Poor Ronnie had to put up with my dreadful singing. I had a particular obsession with one song that I repeated over and over again. He let me be. He knew I was very happy, and that was important to him.

I felt so free. I couldn’t care less about the world at that moment. I was enjoying every second of my journey, singing, dancing from my seat, breathing fresh air, feeling the African sun toasting my pale skin, looking at the lakes, the green forests and the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains.

Eddy and Ronnie dropped Dave, Kevin and I at the deck to catch the boat.

Hippo yawing

Hippo yawing

A few minutes after departure we already started seeing elephants freshening up in the shore, herds of buffalos, all sort of birds and crocodiles. But what was most impressive was the amount of hippos, tons of them. It is said that the Kasinga Channel alone contains the world’s largest concentration of hippos. We were surprised to see a few dead hippos, killed violently. Although they look cute, they are actually very aggressive.

After two hours crossing the waters that unites the lakes, we returned to the port, where Ronnie and Eddy waited for us.

“How was it?” Ronnie asked.

“It was beautiful Ronnie! I saw tons of hippos.”

“I missed my Buganda Queen,” he said.

“No worries. The Scottish boys were taking good care of me,” I smiled.

We jumped back in the jeep.

Instead of doing another game drive, Ronnie decided to take us on a scenic drive.

“I completely trust you Ronnie. Take me to where you think it is best. Show me the best of Uganda,” I responded.

Eddy followed Ronnie as he wasn’t very familiar with the crater’s area, where Ronnie was taking me.

“I have to say that I have never wanted to spend as much time with a client, but with you is different. It was only two hours and I was truly missing the queen!” said Ronnie with his formal English.

I was moved by Ronnie.

“Ronnie, I am not your client anymore. I am your friend. I knew the first hours we spent together, actually the moment you told me you loved Uganda, that we were going to be a good team” I said. “For me, you are not my guide, you are my Ugandan host!”

He smiled.

Sunset in the wild

Sunset in the wild

It was indeed a spectacular setting for an African sunset. Vast grass lands and green hills spotted with craters. It was a vast area free of tourists, or civilization.

“This is my favorite part of Queen Elizabeth!” said Ronnie. “I am happy you like it.”

It was getting dark and we had to rush to get out of the park before getting a fine.

“Oh, we have to stop here, quickly,” Ronnie stopped the car near the border of a huge crater. The disappearing sun reflected in the water deposit in the middle.

“This is the glass crater. I dream of camping just here. This is the highlight of my day,” he added

It was perhaps the highlight of my day too…

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