We’re in Jinja, Uganda now, passed through Kenya, from corrugated iron sheds, to mud huts with thatch roofs. 3 ½ hours to cross the border, but even within a few short kilometres, Uganda feels different, poorer.
The poverty is even more apparent, white guilt like a massive weight on my shoulder passing schools with little more than walls, a roof and windows. But the children laugh and wave as we pass, shouts of “Hello” and “How are you” using the chance as we pass by to practice their English.
Grass is cut by machete, goods carried by hand cart, even taxis are on the back of a motorbike, or even a bicycle, and most travel by foot. The children genuinely walk miles to school with no shoes.
Locals stare out from shops and homes, beauty parlors, workshops, basic hotels, local goods, phone shops. The markets are my favourite, women selling veges fruit on the side of the road, piles of clothes, shoes, life here is basic.
We have had our first Safari drive, through Nakuru National Park. I still can’t quite comprehend what we saw. The animals are surreal, alien, somehow different from their zoo counterparts, close enough to nearly touch at times.
Like everything in Africa they seem oversized. A tank-like rhino with a beautifully polished horn, lumbering along, marking his way, oblivious to us looking on slightly shocked we’ve seen one of the most endangered animals on earth. An absurdly large giraffe, and suddenly a group of them – young teenage ones with their necks intertwined, moving as one being – multiple heads like a hydra. Their nobbly knees and heads look comic, right next to our landrover they seem like dinosaurs. I feel like I’m travelling through Jurassic Park.
Zebra, several. Appearing as horses, running about with their funny stripes, beautiful and foreign, you wonder how they would ever be camouflaged with their blacks and dull whites.
Water buffalo soaking in mud, looking blissful as if myself in a hot bath, and waterbuck near the lakes edge. Only a few flamingo left, the water was flooded, so there’s little algae for them to eat. We can see them in the distance, spindly legs & pinkish blobs above the waters edge.
Ungulates, such an ugly sounding name for the gentle little deer-like creatures, Imapala, Thompsons Gazelle, Antelope. Skittish, but in such numbers. The males with horns, aggressive in some places, butting heads, glowering at each other. The females jumping at some points, it makes me excited to see springboks later in our trip. We followed them, on our safari road to a sudden stop – a sleek cat in the undergrowth.
I still can’t quite believe I saw a leopard. Their ears sticking out and round like teddy bear ears, tufts of fluff on the top. His (or her) body was low, creeping slowly, slinky malinky. Targets in sight.
The impala knew it was there. Ears alert, ever more skittish, following each other down a well-trodden track. The leopard stops, crouches. Looking for the elderly ones, the sick ones, the small ones.
But not today. We drove off after losing sight of the cat, his coat merging with the undergrowth, which seemed surprising after his coat seemed so bright, spots so stark closer to us.
We have a bit of a rest day today, in Jinga, on the banks of the Nile. After 5am starts it’s nice to have a break, find some time to write, do some washing, bask in the glorious warm African sunshine, and again be in awe of another incredible (and short!) rainstorm.
I can’t believe it’s only 5 days on tour, 7 in Africa. London feels a lifetime away, even my hayfever has gone.