Sunday, January 26, 2014

Luxury on the African Savannah

Yesterday and today; amazing, fatiguing and overwhelming, all at the same time.

We finished with our last CU on Friday afternoon and travelled the short but brutally rough stretch of road to Arua where we checked into a nice business hotel early so Audrey and I could write our report. And it was maybe at this point where my inner clock or whatever it is that guides our emotions started to tilt just a bit. Whatever it was, it started to bother me that here I was, in a nice hotel with electricity, running water and cold beer delivered on demand, when just beyond the walls of the compound was a teaming city, busy with commerce but filled with people that will never get beyond the gate, so to speak. Even our driver and the field rep from UCA; both educated full-time staff, weren’t able to stay with us and instead stayed in alternative accommodation in town. I know it’s the reality of the world we live in – and I’m eternally grateful to UCA and CCA for finding us the great hotels that they did – but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that on some level I’m not quite in sync today. Or as my brother-in-law would say, I’m just not feeling the love. (Stevie, I miss you!)

Maybe it’s just the heat and all the driving and I’ll be better after a good night’s sleep because what I saw yesterday and today was beyond amazing.

We left Arua at 7:30 and drove approx. 1 ½ hours to hook up with some of the other members of our team where they’re staying in Nebbi. It was great to see familiar faces and compare notes and experiences and it just felt right that we were back together. From there it was another hour to the entrance gate of Murchison Falls National Park and then 25 klm to the Paraa Safari Lodge. OMG! It was like Out of Africa, replete with all the amenities you would expect at a luxury lodge in the middle of the African savannah. At the park gate we were greeted by a small group of Elephants and then on the drive in we saw all kinds of antelope and even some giraffe.

At the lodge itself we were greeted at the door by welcoming courteous staff and handed a moist cool towel and a tall cold drink of juice to help wash down the dust while we checked in. From there it was lunch and libations on the poolside deck, a quick shower to freshen up and then our first adventure; a luxury boat cruise on the Nile. The freak’n Nile! Can you believe it?  We cruised for over three hours from the resort to the base of Murchison Falls and back and we saw some fantastic wildlife; LOTS of Hippo’s, (they’re everywhere!) Elephants, Crocodiles and all kinds of Wart Hogs and Antelope. It was truly amazing and I had to pinch myself more than once.

After the cruise we headed back to the resort for a much deserved swim in the pool and a few more libations at the swim up bar. But it was a little surreal to think that I’d spent over 12 hours in a car over the past four days and not once since leaving Kampala had I seen anyone at all that would have been able to enter the gates let alone afford the prices. For the SACCO members I was dealing with this might as well have been Mars for as close as they will ever get to a swim up bar - and that bothers me. I’m not going to get on a soap box about the disparity of wealth in the world and I’m not convicted enough to forgo these luxuries myself, but it did make me feel a little guilty and it does cause you to pause once in a while to consider it, and it should REALLY make all of us grateful for what we have.

But enough maudlin introspection, the remainder of the stay was just as great as the beginning. We enjoyed a fantastic buffet dinner taken on the verandah and retired early because this morning we all got up early for a 6:00 start to a four-hour game drive through the park. It was amazing; Giraffe, Antelope, Birds, Wart Hogs and Buffalo – but the most amazing siting was a male Lion with a fresh kill! Pinch me, am I really here?!

But all good things must come to an end so we had a quick breakfast after our return and Audrey and I loaded back up with Michael and Adid and made the four-hour journey over rough roads back to Koboko where we’ll meet with the credit union board and staff in the morning.

Last night was drinks at the swim up bar and tonight it’s intermittent power, cold water and a VERY limited menu in the restaurant. And again, over four hours of driving thorough any number of towns and settlements and not one person who could afford the entrance fee to their own national park. But when you’re a six year old girl and you have to walk miles in the heat just to fetch water for your family, is a park entrance really that important?
If me coming over to offer advice and support to a local grass roots credit union helps in some small way so that someday that young girl no longer has to carry water, then it’s all worth it.

 Feeling just a little homesick in Koboko Uganda



Elephants at the park entrance

My new African friends

Just a regular drive to the lodge

The lodge pool area

River Cruise

River Cruise

River Cruise

River Cruise

River Cruise

River Cruise

Lion with fresh kill - unfortunately we could hear the deer still crying  
Murchison Falls
Our safari vehicles

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