Friday, 20 February 2015

Uganda: Day 5 - Beware! Zebra crossings!

February 19th, 2015

Hello everyone!

There are plenty of different animals to see in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). However, some of the more exciting game to witness live in other areas of the country. Mountain gorillas, for example, reside in the north of the country. As they were out of our range, both in terms of distance and price, we headed south to look for something black-and-white.

We were told that many dazzles of zebras (incredibly, that is what a group of them can be called, as well as ‘zeal’) congregate in the national park surrounding Lake Mburo in the south of Uganda. We estimated it would be a five-hour drive from QENP, so set off soon after the sun had risen spectacularly over Lake George.

This is very much the road less travelled. As you can gather from the video below, avoiding the pot holes meant that I was resorting to rally-car driving. On our map this was designated as a ‘tarmac’ road; I guess it was entirely tarmacked once upon a time…

We made a stop along the way (well, a slight detour) in the village of Kitagata to visit its hot spring. It took a while to find and an argument with a ‘guide’ to allow us to use it (reducing the price from 20,000 to 2,000 schillings).

We attracted a lot of attention, being the only muzungus around. As I entered the dark, mysterious water, I was shouted over by a group of young men. I spent a while chatting to them about the pool and learnt that not many white folk ever come to this small, sulphurous place. I also learnt that the water, at 35’C, apparently cures malaria. Apparently. With many people in the spring being topless, taking photos was strictly prohibited. The photos of the spring are from the internet.

Back on the road, we drove through a dusty town called Mbarara before closing in on Lake Mburo national park. The town, one of the most rapidly growing in Uganda, was heavily affected by traffic and noise. I can only imagine what the centre of Kampala, the capital, is like.

We arrived in the park’s outer grounds in the late afternoon. No sooner had we turned off the road, we discovered a group a black-and-white striped animals mere metres from our Pumbaa.

Zebras apparently each have a unique pattern, similar to a human fingerprint. How one keeps track of that is beyond me; nevertheless I could have spent hours gazing at their adorable striped bodies. They were smaller than I expected and bear a resemblance to a Shetland pony.

Staying in these areas can hit your wallet fairly hard. We had to negotiate with a luxurious lodge to be allowed to stay in a tent. We offered to use our own tent but were told that we could use their purpose-built monster tents for $10 each, the same price as pitching your own. As you can see, the view from it was fairly spectacular, as is usual with these rather elaborate and expensive Ugandan lodges.

In the meantime, there were plenty of animals to observe. Warthogs rolling around in the filthy mud. Zebra bounding across the dirt track. Impala tending to their families.

Lake Mburo is named after an unfortunate character from a Ugandan legend. The story goes that two brothers lived in the area eons ago: Kigarama and Mburo. A great flood was forecast. Kigarama fled and strongly urged his brother to follow suit: refusal followed. From up in the hills, Kigarama watched his brother perish. The body of flood water was named after Mburo, with the nearby hill being named after Kigarama.

Not that the current animals care for these tales, of course. They care for water to drink, which is provided by the shimmering lake. On our return from the lake we drove off the beaten path, trying to be mindful and respectful of the animals in the process. Windows up near the baboons, for example. Let the impala wander off the track of their own accord. It is their home, after all.

So another day, another national park. Another set of wild, wonderful animals crossing our paths. Another unforgettable chapter in an incredible week.

Love you all


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