Thursday, December 16, 2010

Murchison Falls Part 2

The night before, everyone seemed keen on the idea of waking up at sunrise to watch the sun come up on the Nile delta, listen to the calling of the hippos in the river nearby, and watching the morning birds and fishermen alike working for their daily bread. We had driven to the delta in the dark of the African night, the stars by the thousands in the sky above. We stopped once to collect firewood, making sure our guard Julius and his big gun weren't far away. We set up camp in the dark and managed to make spaghetti and sauce over a campfire. After dessert and stories, staring up at the night's sky, I retired to my tent. It was a fitful night - happens often when I am camping. My alarm had been set for 6:30 so I could watch the sunrise, but I woke long before light, and snuck out of the tent to the bush, making sure not to wander far. In my mind, it was the perfect time for a lion to find an unexpected breakfast.

When the alarm finally went off, no one moved. I tried to wake my friend G, who just rolled over and fell back asleep. Quietly I left the tent and walked along a dirt path, parallel to the water as I watched the early morning fishermen far out in the water on their boats. The night before, we had seen lights in the distance. Assuming it was from a small settlement, we were surprised when Julius told us they were the men on boats who lit small floating fires to attract bugs, and with bugs come fish. In the early morning light, everything was pink and the thousands of stars from the night before had been replaced with dragonflies, dancing around me as I walked along.

We had scheduled an early morning departure for the Game Drive, but as most big group do, it took some time to wake up, pack up and move along. After a quick photo shoot with Julius's gun, we were loaded in the car and driving along the delta by 10, eyes peeled for lions, elephants and giraffes. The first to come along was a huge old elephant, not even 100 meters from our camp! We saw a wide array of birds, game and the occasional leopard or lion track, but no sign of the king of the jungle. Sitting on the roof of the car, the wind and sun felt amazing, the vast African bush surrounding me in all directions, lazy warthogs cooling off in the mud, scared dik diks dashing into the tall grass. It was still too early and the grass too tall to find lions, but the other animals were fantastic.
We had to meet the noon deadline to leave the park or else we would have to pay for another day, so we dropped Julius off at his house, thanked him gratefully for his protection and the bag of limes he gave us as a gift, and headed towards the park entrance. We stopped a few times to get some last photographs of animals, the beautiful scenery, and to take in the incredible landscape. As I drove along chatting, singing Christmas carols, and having not a care in the world. Suddenly, I yelled, “ELEPHANT!” slammed the breaks, and looked back. My friends were all a bit surprised, until they saw the amazing animal not even 50 meters from the car, munching on grass without a care in the world. Leaving the car in drive (elephants can be dangerous if they get mad!) we stayed there about 30 minutes, awe-struck by the enormous beast, watching him lazily chew, the deep folds and wrinkles on his rough skin moving in unison with his jaw. “Don’t put it in park!” yelled G, after he was the one who kept urging us to get closer, get closer. “But I want a picture!” I replied, laughing. We said goodbye to the elephant’s old wisdom, and bid farewell to the colors and sounds of the amazing park.

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