Contrasts in the south west

Thursday 13th August

The last few days have contained enormous contrasts for us. I mentioned in the last entry that we were heading for Queen Elizabeth National Park – the journey there was memorable – up and own hills, mostly on earth roads, through small villages, past fields of bananas and then thousands of acres of tea plantations.

We agreed that this lush, fertile, hilly landscape was more like parts of France or Italy (without bananas or tea), rather than the middle of Africa. Ultimately we came to the edge of the western Rift Valley (known as the Albertine rift – after Victoria’s Albert) and the ground just fell away from us for hundreds of metres. We drove to the bottom and found ourselves on a huge hot flat savannah plain with acacia trees.IMGP4695

Then over the bridge at the Kazingey channel – a natural waterway between Lakes Albert and Edward and in to the National Park. We slowed for the usual elephants, buffalo, water buck etc. (it is surprisingly how quickly one can take large animals on the road for granted !) and checked ourselves into our lodge for the night. The afternoon was spent on the most varied wildlife boat trip I have ever experienced – elephant, buffalo, crocodiles, birds etc. just lined up obligingly and watched us go by.

And then came the biggest contrast – we went out for dinner at the Mweya Safari Lodge. Greeted by white coated staff, we were ushered to comfortable chairs on a beautiful veranda overlooking Lake Edward and served beers etc. as the sun went down.

IMGP4717Dinner followed – chairs were gently arranged under us, our serviettes were put on for us and a four course meal flowed effortless across the table. Five of us were eating and the total cost was about one fifth of what we would have paid in the UK.

This is in a land where most people struggle to live off a dollar a day, or less. Most people live in cramped conditions without power or water and their evening meal is goat meat and bananas, if they are lucky. Not for them the comfortable chairs and ironed serviettes (and no one to put them on for them even if they had any). There is a huge disconnect between what we are doing in this country and what we did last night.

We are here to support struggling people and schools; to help educate those children who might not otherwise be helped. And last night’s meal would have provided school fees for four children for a year. Yet do we feel guilty? No we do not! Should we feel guilty? I will let you decide.

It is somehow reassuring that this morning’s breakfast was more at our level – Dunked Weetabix in mugs of milk (because there are no spoons at the Lodge) and bread and jam spread with a multi-tool (because there are no knives). As we drove away we skirted fresh elephant and hippo droppings within 25 feet of our front door (so that is why they advised us not go out at night!)

The QENP (Queen Elizabeth National Park) has its fair share of the famous African feature of corrugated earth roads, which shake both vehicles, people and contents, and after one hour’s driving the Toyota’s alternator decided to let us go on without it. It was hanging on by one lose bolt when we finally got to a mechanic, who re-fixed it within an hour.

We are now back at Banana Village, Entebbe after eleven and a half hours in the minibus today. We have “done” most of south west Uganda in four days. It is most beautiful and varied but in a few days we head back to the arid scrubland of Kumi (which we have started to call “home” and actually have begun to miss it!)

No entries in the funny names competition today. Elephants and buffaloes seem reluctant to take part.

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