Beware of the leopard

You will have to read to the end of this post to see the significance of today’s title.

Today we started on what will be a three- day trek, heading north towards Kampala and Entebbe. But for the moment, we are in Queen Elizabeth National Park, enjoying the flora and fauna it has to offer, with a ‘safari’ drive through the first half of the park. It has taken us all day to get to our first stop-over, staying in a ‘cottage’, so-called, overlooking the Kazinga Channel, which is the stretch of water connecting Lake Edward and Lake George.

Thirty-five kilometres out of Kanungu, the scenery and vegetation change significantly. It is flatter – being the Great Rift Valley – and the banana plantations are no more, having been replaced by maize as the main crop. Other vegetation is different too – there are stunning trees with blue and white flowers, and other taller ones with pendulous yellow flowers. The roads are smoother: the rough, rocky roads around Kanungu have been replaced by more clay- like soil which is much lighter in colour. The numerous potholes still make it a bumpy ride. Or as someone has said, ‘An African Massage’.

As it becomes more like the grasslands we were expecting , we see a whole series of  newly- erected buildings in the distance. Jonan says they are UN Settlement  camps for refugees from The Congo. Yet another stark reminder of how unstable Uganda’s nearest neighbour is. At one point today, we were just a few feet away from the border.

Suddenly there was a stretch of hedging , which we have not seen before. The plant used for this resembled the plant that is the scourge of many gardeners – Mare’s Tail. we passed a two-storey building under construction. It was a skeletal wooden structure , and interestingly, they had put the roof on before building any of walls.

Once inside the park, which stretches for hundreds of miles, we were surprised how much water there was. Small ponds were surrounded by reed beds as well as low-lying grasses. These were interspersed with tiny daisy-like flowers and others resembling pale yellow scabious. Amongst these were clouds of tiny pale cream butterflies, their wings tinged with delicate caramel. The track you have to drive along is barely visible in the vast terrain, and it is rough and rutted. From one large puddle that we drove through, a turtle emerged, lucky to escape being crushed, and scuttled hastily into the undergrowth.
F9D486C0-1AC3-4E3B-B0A6-965BD02A66C8We saw a range of animals, but not the elusive tree-climbing lions we had hoped to see. Wart-hogs, monkeys, all kinds of antelopes, hippos bellowing in the muddy waters of a swiftly-flowing 68A28538-0987-43A4-922D-CECC56F94B49river bordering The Congo, birds with impossibly thin and long stilt-like legs, birds the size of blackbirds with purple-tinged bodies and iridescent blue wings,
tiny black and white birds with long flowing tails.

Going further north, the terrain changed to jungle- like vegetation,with baboons seemingly holding unruly meetings in the middle of the road.
Kazinga channel leads into lake George to the south, from Lake Edward to the north. Our ‘cottage’ was on a spit of land overlooking the channel.

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Female Water Bucks

There were warthogs outside our back window and Water Bucks grazing to the front. We were told by the staff when we checked in, to ‘beware the leopard that comes at night’.
Much later in the evening, we heard four hippos grazing by our cottage in the dark.We crept outside. We stood with our backs to the wall, with Waterbucks standing motionless to our right, four hippos almost within touching distance to our left, and a canopy of African stars above. We held hands and held our breath, not entirely sure whether we wanted the leopard to emerge at this moment or not. It was a magical moment.

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