After getting settled in Ronnie’s comfortable van (and almost immediately falling asleep) we set off on the long journey to Queen Elizabeth National Park- fondly known as just ‘Queen’. The crazy roadside life between Entebbe and Kampala flashed passed us in a blur of lights, smells and noise. Mile after mile of food stalls, cooking, meeting places, street vendors, hairdressers, and what must be thousands and thousands of people: people talking; people shopping; people dancing, arguing, eating; people up at 5am looking like they never went to bed! This introduction to Uganda always reminds you that it is a very lively place.
Eventually the lights of the city faded as we joined the road west that would take us via Mubende and Fort Portal. A good deal of this road is still under reconstruction, and as skilled a driver as Ronnie undoubtedly is, he did sometimes misjudge the depth of the potholes leading Mrs Peach and me to become acquainted with alternately the roof, or the floor of the van. Who needed sleep anyway?! Far better to watch the beautiful African sunrise, revealing the vast landscape of rolling hills covered in the familiar red earth and rich green vegetation. There is also a particular hot-house, earthy smell that rose up to meet us as the sun warmed up the day. Uganda is indeed a country of smells!
Hundreds of small villages flashed past the windows of the van, and after 5 hours we reached the busy town of Fort Portal and stopped to change our money and get some breakfast. We took Ronnie to The Garden Restaurant- a place we had been to on the last visit. You might be surprised to learn that it is possible to get a full English breakfast here- which we did have! Onwards for another two hours and a stop in Kasese to buy a local SIM card for my unlocked phone, with airtime for the internet so I could contact people at home. Then, the signs for the national park appeared! This always sparks a certain excitement because you know that at any time after that you might see animals: WILD ANIMALS!
Driving in through the security gates of the park and commencing the drive down the long and winding red earth track that runs alongside the Kazinga Channel leading to the Mweya Peninsula, we could barely contain our excitement! We could see several waterbuck and Uganda Kob grazing nearby, and away in the distance a herd of buffalo near the water’s edge. (No elephants yet.)
Arriving at Hippo House (our new home for the duration) at 1pm local time on Saturday 22nd July -hot, dusty and travel weary – we had been travelling for nearly 30 hours! Neither of us looked quite as beautiful as we did in the picture taken at Heathrow, but we were both mightily relieved to have arrived with the rest of the team.