Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lion-less Trees

An Irish neonatologist and I, who have been sharing a flat in Mbarara, have cleared our calendars for the weekend and are heading for the southern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park to see the famous Tree-Climbing Lions of Ishasha. We have engaged a 4-wheel drive and driver and arranged a pick up for noon on Friday.

The southern part of the park is remote and isolated, the safari lodges expensive at several hundreds of dollars a night, so I try to book us a spot in one of the park bandas. I try all the phone numbers listed in the tourist magazines and brochures. I try searching blogs of overlanders who have visited the park but none of those numbers work either. Then I try one of the ranger posts in another park which I find to see if they can help.

I find a fellow, who with typical Uganda courtesy, tells me that if I call back in five minutes, he will try to find the number. He has the number when I call back. I thank him profusely and can almost hear his smile across the line.

It isn’t really clear what we will find in the bandas, so we decide to take sheets, mosquito nets, towels, blankets and drinking water. We have lots of space in our rented 4WD.

The bandas are outfitted and even have chairs. The rangers cook a basic dinner for us and our driver and then offer to build a fire outside our banda after dinner. The only item from our stash of camping gear we needed at all is our drinking water for brushing our teeth and for mixing with the pint bottle of waragi (local gin) and orange squash we have brought for our sundowners.

We have reached the seventh empty fig tree, when my colleague sighs, another lion-less tree! I start to keep count. By noon we have covered almost the whole southern park and have reached lionless fig tree number 37. Even the vultures, who are thick in the tree tops in this area of the park, seem to have given up for the day.

We head off at 7:30 am to find the Tree-roosting lions. When you see the huge fig trees, you understand completely why they took to tree climbing in this local. The fig trees provide voluminous shade and have mammoth, smooth limbs but gnarly branches a lion can drape himself over while he waits in comfort for his wife to bring him his daily catch. The limbs extend horizontally for long stretches and provide a great view.

We decide the lions are off in the Congo on a family celebration and tell the driver we should head north to Mweya Lodge, the flag ship tourist hotel in Queen Elizabeth National Park for our planned lunch and swim.

Almost as soon as we seriously abandon hope of seeing the tree-climbing lions, we begin to see other magical sights. First there is an unusual yellow flower in the savannah.

Then we catch the Crested Eagle in silhouette above a brace of Colobus monkeys, distinguishable only by the long white tails hanging in parallel in a group of Euphobia trees.
A flash of brilliant blue brings us to a stop by the side of the road where we spot a pair of rare Giant Blue Turacos.

The following day is Eid on a Sunday so we see both Christians and Muslims making their way to prayer in the morning.

Sure enough we head off shortly after breakfast to follow a group of other vehicles to We cross Kazinga Channel and see a large group of fishing boats out, plying along the reeds in the

Our driver is determined to redeem himself and has been communing with his ranger colleague to find us lions before we leave the park the next morning. Sure enough we locate two male lions, outside the park, so we even save our park fees, devouring a waterbuck their spouses have provided. We think heading home we have got more than we could possibly have hoped for.ir dugout with heart-shaped paddles as one fisher casts the net and the other maneuvers the craft.
Photos: Tree-climbing lions; Great Blue Turaco; yellow savannah flower; Muslims at Eid; Crested Eagle;fishermen at work.



Blogger Green Tamarind said...

Hi BB, looks like you are finding some other exciting things among the orange sweet potatoes. I love the creatures, and I'm very curious about what those people are doing??? Looking forward to hearing some stories.

6:51 PM  

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