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On a fine Saturday morning we woke up and did the pack-up routine; eat breakfast, shower, pack, pay for the room, etc.  Issa, our driver guide, came to get us in the Land Rover.  We went to get the last of what we owed for the safari from the bank and then off we went.  I was so happy with the Land Rover.  It had a small refrigerator.  It had electrical plugs.  It had lots of space.  I can safely say we were all happy.  The ladies chatted away.  We got to the first park, Tarangire National Park, at about 12:30PM.

I wanted to go to Tarangire to see the massive Baobab trees.  They didn’t disappoint. They were truly enormous.  I learned and saw that many of the trees have dramatic scars where elephants have carved big chunks out of the trunks with their tusks.  The elephants do this to get water.  We saw lions, warthogs, birds, waterbucks, zebras, giraffes, baboon, vervet monkeys…

At the end of the day, just about sunset, we went to the Maramboi tented camp.  We had a nice dinner, talked with Issa about the next day, and then the Marias got on the internet.  Yes, there is WiFi available in a tented camp in the middle of Tanzania.  You shouldn’t picture this “tented” camp anything like the little safari tent we had in Bujigali Falls.

A “tent” at this camp was bigger than 90% of the places we’d stayed in on the trip, and luxurious.  The bed was picturesque with its mosquito net hanging from a wrought iron frame.  The whole tent was pitched on a wooden structure; a raised wooden floor with a deck outside and a staircase leading up.

We went to sleep content and were woken up in the middle of the night by what sounded like animals in the room.  I dreaded finding a warthog rooting around in our bags – what am I gonna do about that?  But T- insisted that we should find out what it was.  It turned out to be a herd of zebra who came to use the wooden frame of the “tent” as a scratching post.  T- got excited and took some photos.

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We were getting too comfortable in Fort Portal. The Rwenzori View was a great place to stay. I highly recommend it. We decided to move on to the Queen Elizabeth National Park using Matatus. It is fair to question our sanity after the hell-ride from Kagade to Fort Portal just a few days before. But we were on a budget and there were not that many options. We got in the front seat of a Matatu in Fort Portal and… We had a very responsible driver.

At one point we were waved over to the side for a routine stop by one of the traffic police in white uniform. After a Matatu in front of us pulled away, I saw a Ugandan Shilling note folded up on the ground about 5 meters in front of us. I furiously tried to open my door to go pick it up – free money right? Somehow my door was locked and in my hurry I just couldn’t figure it out. I gave up when I realized everyone in the bus and the police woman were all staring at me wondering why I wanted out. So I ended up pointing out the bill to the driver as we started to roll away. He immediately opened his door and picked the bill up. When I asked how much was it, he made an offended face and told me it was his money. I had to laugh.

We got to Kasese and the conductor tried to railroad us onto another Matatu for the next leg of the journey. We wanted to stop and eat lunch and we also needed to visit the ATM since the Kingfisher Lodge we were headed too was in a small town just on the south side of the National Park with no ATMs for miles around. So we hiked to the first restaurant we saw and ordered lunch. It was hot. Kasese is near to the equator. We ate. Then T- stayed with the bags and I went to an ATM. There was a short line for the ATM and a much longer line inside of the bank. Full equatorial afternoon sun. Then we hiked back to the Matatu stands.

We were unsuccessful at insisting to the “conductor” that we would wait until the Matatu was full before getting in. We were experienced enough to know that the inside of the Matatu would be like an oven and that it could be some time before it was full enough to leave. The “conductor” insisted that we would be the “Flame” which would encourage others to get in and fill up the Matatu – otherwise everyone would play the same game as us. We got in because he was relentless. I got a window seat on the west side in the second row. It seemed like an eternity to me as we waited for enough other people to get in. I think the Malaria prophylaxis, the extreme sun and the ridiculously cramped conditions all combined to make me feel like I would pass out at any moment.

A couple of times the Matatu whipped a u-turn and went past the round about and stopped for a minute. And each time I would say a little hallelujah that I was now on the east side away from the sun. But each time it would last for maybe a minute and we would go back to the old spot so I could roast a little more. I was whining like a baby before we finally left after an hour and a half. It became clear also that the “full” Matatu was really filled with other “passengers” whose sole reason for cramming us into the tiniest possible space was to be… the “flame.” Each time a new sucker came along and decided to get in for real, one of the “passengers” would get up and leave. When we finally did leave I also realized that the jerk “conductor” who tried to roast me like a chicken was not a conductor at all. His sole job was to convince people to get in the Matatu. His job was to brow beat people into filling up the Matatu.

I opened the window completely when we started moving so that I could cool off. We drove straight through the park. We crossed the Equator. When we got to the southern edge of the park just before the road climbs up the escarpment, T- saw an elephant and was excited. I nodded and smiled when she poked me in the ribs to make me notice. No one else seemed impressed. Then we passed more elephants and three Africans tapped her shoulder and poked her ribs to make sure she would see. It was nice. Moments like that make us remember the harrowing travel days in Uganda so fondly. Because, no matter how bad the transportation situation was – Matatu drivers that seem to want to die, Boda drivers that circle like sharks, hellish sun, seats spaced so that no-one can sit comfortably, spine numbing potholes etc. – there seemed to always be someone around who would smile or wave and generally be kind and show a totally unguarded interest in sharing a moment with two Muzungus, just to see us smile or wave or acknowledge them.

We climbed the escarpment and passed some crater lakes. I could tell that we were close to where we needed to get out. The driver did ask me at one point whether we wanted to get out. He even said, “Kichwamba,” the name of the place where we needed to disembark. I didn’t understand the way he said it. We realized the mistake and got out a couple of kilometers down the road. Luckily, a couple Bodas quickly latched onto us and wouldn’t let go. I called the Lodge. They told us to take a Boda.

So we each jumped on the back of a motorcycle and off we went – overcharged of course. Each Boda took turns leading the way. T’s Boda passed me at one point and I swear she looked just like a National Geographic photographer. Kickass. My lady is a Brazilian National Geographic photographer – in my head.

When we got to our room I was astonished. We dropped the bags. We set up chairs on our private balcony. I stood at the edge of the balcony and felt more like a condor facing… west (long story short I felt like a god) than a human being. Then I sat there basking in the glory of the sunset. We took photos and though I often only want to experience the moment and don’t want to be bothered to try to take photos, at this particular moment I kept telling T- to “take a photo of that area over there,” and, “take a photo of that.” Finally, I fell silent and actually cried. Sorry, I know that’s melodramatic. But, this is my blog and I don’t want to forget this day. Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I am. That view on our anniversary was so special. That I should even be married is sort of a miracle. Another long story. So much balled up in this one day.

The sun was setting behind the Rwenzori Mountains. A massive basin spread out below us. We were perched on the edge of the escarpment. Storms passed over the basin while we sat there. You could see as the clouds opened up and how the rain would fall on a diagonal. The lightening would flash and we would hear the thunder very quiet after a long interval or not hear it at all, just the wind. Another ridiculously long post, and maybe nobody will even read it all. Let the photos do the talking…

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