There is just no way I can express the beauty of this park! I put pictures on my facebook page here. Since internet connectivity is expensive I wonâ€™t repeat them here.
A large number of people live in extremely modest housing, usually just a single small room with no water or electricity. They cook with charcoal and carry water from a common pump in the area. The problem is that well to do people want to build nicer houses so they just bulldoze these and the people have to find another place to live, usually far away from the place where their lives have centered. You can imagine the disruption.
Driving up, I was struck by the public nature of life here. Everything happens in front of the little shops and rooms where folk live. It is hard to get pictures of as we drive along. The bodas (small motorcycles that are a primary form of public transportation) are everywhere, hauling everything. We saw one group of people struggling to fasten a coffin to the back of a boda.
We had our first view of the Nile as we crossed at Karuma Falls. Catharine and Pious (our driver) both warned me not to take pictures. This was one of the hot spots back in the day when Joseph Kony and the Lordâ€™s Resistance Army were active in this area. Soldiers in their barracks made a â€œno photographsâ€ rule and it stands. I complied since didnâ€™t want my camera confiscated. As we crossed the Ayago Bridge, Pious told us that the LRA would hide under the bridge and jump out to ambush passing vehicles, attacking people, stealing everything, and burning the cars. He was caught in an ambush once and escaped only by bending as low as possible with bullets flying everywhere.
The entrance to the park was a chance to stretch our legs and pay a lot of money to visit. While there is some of the â€œsoak the touristsâ€ mentality, and I fully agree with paying for the chance to see such beauty. We laughed and worshipped as we began to see all sorts of animals, but hurried on so we could catch the lunch at the lodge. The Paraa Lodge has the style of British elegance so we were welcomed with hot towels and fresh passion juice.
We went for an afternoon game drive and Pious found Henry, a senior ranger, who guided us. They were amazing. Herds of water buffalo, families of wart hogs, huddles of giraffes, clusters of elephants including babies, four kinds of antelope including Kob the national animal and my favorite, the tiny Oribi, and birds of all kinds including huge eagles and storks, but it all topped off with the lions.
The rules are NO off road driving â€“ strictly enforced!! But Henry told Pious to go there and soon we were watching a lioness in full relax. She rolled over on her back inviting us to come rub her tummy. We resisted the call! We were just 25 feet or so away, so we got a good look at her.
But that was just the beginning. Henry took us back near the airport and again told Pious to go off road. We drove through the savannah nearly a kilometer to find two lions.
The first lion was a tragic story since he had lost one of his back legs, probably to a poacherâ€™s snare. After a bit Henry moved us to another tree with a second lion. We awe struck as we watched them from just a few feet away. He stretched, yawned, looked and then decided the shade was better in front of our Land Rover, so he ambled over and laid down just in front of the bumper and relaxed. Can you spell unbelievable??