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My last blog left off with me on the way to the hotel. The hotel was awesome, but I’ll talk about that in my next entry. The first night was uneventful so here is the Safari story.
On Saturday morning, at 6:11 AM we (me and a friend of mine, Luke, from the UK who I met in Uganda) head out to Queen Elizabeth National Park with Stuart as the driver. The vehicle is more like a mix between a minivan and small SUV than an awesome safari vehicle, but that’s ok for what we paid. We actually only paid 77$ for the safari, and that would have been each day if we decided to continue. That doesn’t include our 15$ a night hotel.
I didn’t love the safari. To me, it was a bit like fishing, at least on this day in this park. There was a lot of looking, looking, looking: nothing. We certainly saw some but I wanted to see more monkeys and some big cats.
Animals we saw:
- lots of interesting birds
My favorite was the warthog. They’re just cute the way the bounce along. And sometimes they have these little birds riding on them, and the bird just bounces a long.
We did have some complications with our guide. My analysis would be that he didn’t want to be a guide. Perhaps around noon, we get to an information center, at my request we go into it, because I want some information and my guide is not giving me enough (he only talks when prodded!). At this point, 6 hours into our safari, we have not been told where we are going, what we are trying to see, when the safari will be over, etc. I find a big map on the wall of the information center and I decide it’s time to figure all this out.
Now, Queen Elizabeth is split into two sections, by a river, and often if you want to see the top half, you start in Kasese and if you want to start at the bottom half you start in Ishasha. As you know, we started in Kasese. I still wanted to venture into the southern half of the park, on the map it looked easy. Also, we paid “to enter the park”. Stuart tells me that we didn’t pay enough to go down there. I was thinking he meant with our entry fee, I ask an employee, the employee says that it’s for the entire park, you can go where ever you want. I have to squeeze it out of Stuart that he actually means we didn’t pay him enough. I said “What time are you taking us back to the hotel?” Stuart says “4”. Luke says that his connection to Stuart told him 7 pm. I didn’t love the safari, so 4 was fine by me.
When I asked Stuart to point out where we have been and where we were going to go, it was laughable. I started to fight to go down into the southern part. I was very frustrated with this whole thing. As nice as our guide was, and he spoke English very well, for some reason he didn’t want to communicate with us. We had to ask him everything, “What kind of animal is that?”, etc. As we are having communication issues and disagreements about where we can/can’t go, an important quote that I uttered was “Ok, I think I’m going to just give up in getting my way.” As much as I don’t love the idea of just letting a guide, who I paid, drive me around in a circle, potentially missing very cool areas that I want to see, the fighting and arguing was just taking too much energy and even if I got my way, it would be an uphill battle. After I said this, I just felt the pressure just fall off of me, even if it did mean seeing less animals or cool sites.After some discussion and figuring in that we needed to go to lunch, we agreed that he would take us to an area that he was planning on, a peninsula (he didn’t tell us what to expect there) and after that I said I wanted to go to the explosion crater site.
We drive to the peninsula, I don’t remember what it was called but it was actually a town, which seemed to be surrounded by the park. Locals actually living within the park, with hippos swimming in the waters and presumably any animals could wander in. Stuart drove us up to where a bunch of fishermen were at their boats with nets. He got out and talked to the fishermen. Although it was cool, it seemed like he came here to see his friends and not really to show us anything. We had to be the ones to say “Ok, I think it’s time to go.” Actually, as I type all this out, it’s just putting me in a bad mood, so no more stories about Stuart!!
We did go the crater explosion site. We didn’t see a single animal, but it was beautiful. Apparently, from my understanding, this is an old volcanic activity area. At one particularly beautiful part, in the crater area, we were on the top of a hill and in every single direction you looked, for as far as the eye could see, we were the only humans. No humans, no buildings, just the earth. It was great.
We ended the safari around 3:30 and were back in town at 4 to do our own thing. Prior to today, we were thinking we might do two days of safari. After this less than satisfying safari we decided to just do our own thing on the following day.
During the trip, Luke and I discussed tipping. I have heard mixed thoughts on tipping in Uganda. Culturally, they only do it for really great service, as apparently do the British, as Luke informed me. In America, we “have to” tip for all sorts of services, even when it’s crappy service. Some people say, that in a developing country, if you are a Westerner you have more money than them, so you should tip. But I’m finding I really don’t believe in tipping crappy service.
How is the service in Uganda? In some cases I’ve had the cook/waitress not even make an effort to make eye contact with me. I’ve had bartenders REALLY drag their feet to ask me what I want, to get what I want and to get my change. Sometimes I’ve had great service from happy, friendly people who listened to what I wanted and delivered perfectly. I’ve had some go way above and beyond, like two guys from the local bar who kept the bar open all night for some of us Muzungus to watch the Super Bowl, even letting me come into the kitchen to make my chips, aka french fries, exactly how I wanted them.
At some point during Luke and I’s many discussions about tipping, I said “Well, I believe in rewarding people for doing what I want them to do.” Ah. It sounded funny hearing it out loud but I kept thinking about it and my conclusion every time is that it is legit and true and even a good thing.
Important lessons from this day:
I’d rather be at the beach than on safari.
If trying to control something brings anxiety, just give up control.
Rewarding people for doing what I like is a good thing.
Stay tuned for Part 3 where I enjoy the hotel and Kasese and Kampala. Also in Part 3, I do not enjoy the bus rides, particularly from Kampala to Mbale.