Do you know those days, when you look back at all that happened and wonder how it could've happened in the same day? We had one of those days in March when our visitors from Atmore, Alabama were here to help us renovate the office. It was near the end of their stay, and we wanted to take them to see the animals at a nearby game park before they left.
We got up at 3:30 am so we could leave by 4:00 am so we could be at the park entrance by 6:30 am so we could see the animals in the cool before they sought shelter from the sun. Leaving our home in Timu in the dark was exciting; we had never done that before. We saw owls and rabbits in the headlights. Reaching a certain area where armed bandits are known to cross, I fell silent, concentrating only on driving us quickly out of the riskiness. After getting through that area, I relaxed a bit, knowing the roads were safe all the way to the park.
Crossing a narrow metal bridge near the town of Kathile, I saw a group of people ahead in the road, just where the headlights were carving out the darkness. My brain immediately told me it must be Ugandan soldiers on night patrol. At least they better be, for our sake! No one else—or should I say, no one good—would be out walking that time of night. Just as we crossed the bridge, one of the men held up his hand for us to stop. That was unusual; usually soldiers don't stop random civilian vehicles. That's when I took notice of the group's attire. Camoflauge, yes, as would be expected. But mismatched and disorderly. Not what is expected from soldiers. Then a memory flashed through my mind: warriors from the Jie tribe to the south of us used to dress up in army clothing to confuse their enemies. But still, these had to be government soldiers. The one who waved us to stop sauntered on over to my window. I greeted him in Swahili, knowing that is the language of the military. No response, just a drugged-up stare and a hand motion that says 'you give me…'. My heart rate started to jump then because I knew there wasn't a soldier in the entire army who didn't know Swahili greetings. Trying to feel the guy out a bit more, I was about to greet him in Karimojong when a second soldier appeared and asked me some questions in English. He wanted to know where we were going, and we told him. Then he sent us on our way. Phew!
Another ninety minutes or so and we were through the park gate, just in time to see a spotted hyena headed for its den. Hyenas are strictly nocturnal and are rarely seen in these parts. We hadn't seen a live one in the wild in four years and probably ten trips to the game park. So that was a real treat.
Twenty minutes into our morning game drive, we spotted a pride of lions perched on mounds of dirt, intently watching something we had just passed: a group of six cape buffalos, five adults and one young. Once we realized a hunt was going down, some of our visitors climbed on top of the truck while I threw it in reverse. As I was reversing, we saw two lionesses leading the stalk toward the buffalos. I could hardly believe what we were seeing: a lion stalk and hunt. And we had front-row seats (at least about as close as you'd want to be around hungry lions…). Just moments after we got into position, the lionesses attacked the buffalos. Four adults took off and never looked back, while the mother of the young one turned and tried to defend her calf. One lioness distracted the mother as the second one went for the calf. There was some contact and fighting, and we could hear the buffalos bellowing. As soon as the mother saw the calf go down, she turned tail and ran. A couple lion cubs half-heartedly followed the mother until she crossed the road toward the big heard in the distance. Such raw nature—terror, death, and the circle of life—was gripping to watch and eerie to contemplate.
Much later in the day, after our lunch and siestas, we headed back into the park for an evening game drive. We saw lots of animals: buffalos, giraffes, zebras, hartebeests, oribis, waterbuck, baboons, and many kinds of birds. Elephants too. One particular group of elephants was close to the track, so we tried to get a little better view. Now, knowing how touchy elephants can be and having been charged before, I kept what I thought was a very respectable—almost cowardly—distance from the bull in front. The last thing in the world I wanted was for one of our party to get injured by an animal! God forbid. So I pulled ahead slowly and stopped. Still a long way off, the bull elephant charged! Ears flapping out in aggression, dust billowing up in a cloud behind him. This is when you go into an adrenaline-induced trance. Time warps, and you react without thinking. People on top of the truck are hanging on for dear life. I'm driving in reverse, looking first in the rear-view mirror and then back at the charging elephant. Deep down I knew it had to be a bluff charge. We were simply too far away and hadn't provoked them in any way. And indeed, it was. The charge stopped just about as soon as it started. None of us knew how much ground the elephant covered in those seconds, nor how much longer it would have taken him to reach us. And none of us, I'm confident, thinks much about what could have happened. It just ain't perty.
Now we don't have visitors everyday, and we don't go to the game park everyday. Not every day in Africa is as packed with excitement as this one was. But I will tell you: when Africa is ready to give you an adventure, she sure knows how to deliver.