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Monday, July 9, 2012

Water for Elephants

Never in my life did I ever expect to be able to say “I survived an elephant almost charging my taxi”…but I’m getting ahead of myself…

I decided to celebrate 4th of July early and late…I guess I’m really getting used to this whole leisurely lifestyle Ugandans live. The day before 4th of July, I hung out with a couple volunteers in my town and their friends who had come from the U.S. to visit. It was nice having a quiet barbeque where I probably ate more different vegetables at one time than I had eaten at any point in Uganda thus far. This was definitely a good way to stay the 4th of July celebrations, which continued the following weekend on the 7th of July.

I decided to spend the weekend after the 4th of July in Fort Portal, a relatively big town on the western side of Uganda. It was my first time heading over there so I wasn’t sure what to expect (I probably should have expected a 9 hour journey though).  There are two routes to get to Fort Portal from my town, I can either go through Kampala which would decrease the travel time by an hour or two, or I can travel through Mbarara. While Mbarara is the longer route, the upside is you go through Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is the main park to do safaris in Uganda (the other is Murchison Falls, where they have giraffes).

Given this information, I decided to go through Mbarara because a) I would be able to go through Queen Elizabeth National Park, which I have not seen yet and b) I would not have to go through Kampala, which I generally try to avoid. So, Saturday morning, bright and early, I began my journey to Fort Portal. The beginning of the trip was uneventful. Usually I get to see zebras along the way, between Masaka and Mbarara but that didn’t happen this time around. I stopped in Mbarara for a quick lunch of delicious palak paneer at City Top, a great Indian restaurant. I was hoping to pick up a sandwich to-go at the sandwich shop next door, but it appears they have closed down permanently. I was a little let down by this and the lack of Oreos in Mbarara, but on my way from Mbarara to Fort Portal I saw an elephant. Not only did I see an elephant, my taxi almost ran into one. We had entered Queen Elizabeth National Park and were minding our own business, looking for animals along the side of the road. When we turned a corner, the taxi suddenly game to a screeching halt (seriously, imagine the cartoon sound of a car screeching to a halt, that’s what happened) and right in front of us was a very large, very angry looking male elephant with tusks that could pierce me without even trying. The taxi driver immediately began to go in reverse, speeding away from the elephant. The elephant took a couple steps in the direction of the taxi, but stopped and continued to cross the road. As scary as this probably sounds, the entire time I was thinking, why are we going away from the elephant? We should be going towards it so I can get a better picture! As we were passing where the elephant had crossed I literally climbed over my neighbor’s lap and hung out the window to get a picture of said elephant. It seemed this wasn’t common occurrence since everyone in the car seemed amazed and there were even a few other people taking pictures.

The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful after that (honestly, after surviving an elephant almost charging your vehicle, anything should be considered uneventful). I got to see heaps of volunteers I hadn’t seen in a while, which was really nice. I got to have some good food in Fort Portal (they have a pizza place, a hand-made ice cream place, an Asian Market, and all kinds of other things which caused me to ask, repeatedly, where the heck am I?). A few of us tried to go on a hike, which turned into a 10k adventure to try and find a view on top of a hill (we never found it). After the hike, we spent a few hours at a nearby pool which was absolutely beautiful and dubbed “mzungu central” because all the foreign volunteers in the area seemed to hang out there. The weekend ended with a really nice BBQ (a big shout out to all the people who helped prepare and cook the food) and me spending another 9 hours getting back to site (there were some Irish volunteers in attendance and the whole weekend I tried to explain the phrase “hot mess” to them, and one of the best examples I could come up with was traveling from Fort Portal to Rakai in one day…that was a hot mess).

All in all I'd say it was a good weekend...

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