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Uganda & Rwanda Challenge: Day 2

Oct 20, 2014

19 October 2014, Sunday | Kibale National Forest to Queen Elizabeth National Park, approx 133 kilometers. Up to 4 hours.

After breakfast, Teams Haraka, Poli Poli 2014, Photon Cultivators, KC Enginerds and Solar Bear who had seen the chimps yesterday headed off to Queen Elizabeth National Park (QUNP). The rest of us, walked down to the visitor center to register and get debriefed on our morning trek. We split up into three small groups of 5 or 6 and headed out. Luckily it was not raining and we encountered a few chimps who were very high up in a massive “fig” tree eating fruit, and dropping the remnants down around us.

This went on for some time before we started to hike through the underbrush in the muddy and hilly terrain. While hiking we could hear the chimps calling loudly to each other high up in the trees. Evidently, once they were done eating, they would come down, run across the ground and run back up. At one point, two females came down within 10 meters of us, screaming at each other and seemingly beating each other, before one ran back up. A few minutes later another chimp camp down, ran straight at me, and swerved at the last minute having come within a few inches of me. It then ran right through Ed, Joseph and Andre. Seeing its huge arms and muscular body as it approached was frightening! Ed, Joseph and Andre had a good laugh at the expression on my face as I turned away from the chimp.

Everyone on the trek have stories of close encounters with the chimp. We quickly forgot the ardous and sweaty hike given the exhilaration we felt.

Only 130 kilometers away, TOTO, Northern Lights and Hakuna Matata were driving in a small convoy through the east side of QENP. While Cesar and Amanda debated rolling up the windows while watching lions they had found only 10 to 20 meters away, Andre offered to take Joseph’s picture…they both got out of the car so that they could get a “better” picture. Cesar, Amanda, Drew and Echo were stunned.

In Terry’s word, who was in a different part of the park with James C, “there is no way you are getting me out of the car.” This was after James K and Sherwin were driving in the lead, and a black mamba raised its head straight up two feet off the ground and flared its head cobra-like. It happened so quickly and was so startling, Rob, Charles, Terry and James figured there is no way to know where a black mamba or any other snake might be.

Meanwhile, Tim and Vivian had found a couple of baby elephants. They were admiring them and taking pictures, when the mamas showed up. As the car was between them and the babies, the elephants were not too pleased. One of the mama elephants stood in front of the car, stomping its foot, flapping its ears and making a low rumbling sound. It was moving its head back and forth, swinging its trunk over the car’s hood, with the end of the trunk just inches from the windshield. In Tim’s words, they were terrified. These large mother elephants, with their tusks gleaming, flapping ears and swaying heads were angry.

After a long while, the elephants finally walked away. At this point, Vivian and Tim are looking all around the car to make sure there are no other baby or mother elephants around. They don’t see any, but they do see a male elephant 100 meters away stomping its foot. As they spot the male, he starts to charge toward the car…Tim hits the accelerator, bumping along the very rough track as fast as he can get the little Rav4 to go for several hundred meters before the chase ends.

Ten minutes later, their hearts are still racing when they recount their story to Shad and George who are also on the same game track. Shad and George drive off to find other elephants at a safe distance as well as some hippos in the river. While stopped, Tim and Vivian did not notice that one of their tires was slowly going flat, probably due to the frantic dash down the very rough roads. Tim is not too pleased about having to get out of the car. He does not even know about the black mambas. Luckily, George and Eric are a ways away, but close enough to see Tim wave them down. The perfect guys to flag down as Eric and George have experience changing the tire on the Rav4s.

Seeing lions, elephants, mambas, hippos and lots of other animals close up and without a guide is exhilarating. In spite of the rough roads and time at the mechanics (oil leaks and blown tires), not knowing what will happen next and how we will react to it is a powerful experience.