Our next adventure involved visiting Uganda’s second largest national park, called Queen Elizabeth National Park. We woke up and said goodbye to the beautiful Isunga Lodge and enjoyed our amazing homemade toast with a generous avocado serving on top, so good! We arrived to the park by 10 AM and started the morning with a scenic drive along the Katwe Explosion Crater road where we drove to the highest part of the park to enjoy the amazing views of the western rift escarpment. We could also see the nearby lakes, Lake George and Lake Edward. The road went along several craters, some even having water accumulating inside which attracts many birds and wildlife. It ended up getting very rainy with tons of biting insects, so we lowered the roof and continued the drive. We came across a herd of elephants and watched them for a bit before heading to our next hotel called Pumba Safari Cottages. This was a very basic accommodation but the views were outstanding. We slept in another private little cottage that looked out to a cliff with a great view of the natural landscape. We could even see several species of birds wandering around in front of the cottage. After lunch, we started our game drive in the savanna area of the park. At this point it was Christmas eve so David and I had a blast just being together on safari.
The highlight of the day was definitely the lions. We lucked out and had them walking on the road write toward our vehicle so I was able to take some amazing photographs of them. There were two cubs, with their mom laying in the grass nearby. After some time, more and more safari cars were accumulating nearby until there were almost 15, which reminded me of the bigger parks like the Serengeti or Masai Mara. After the lions, my camera started to malfunction, which made me frustrated and sad, but I have had it for nearly a decade so maybe it is time I upgrade. But I love the camera a lot so it will be tough for me to move on. We did another game drive on the following morning, but unfortunately my camera was struggling and I was starting to get sick. Nonetheless I put up a positive attitude and we enjoyed our morning game drive. Our highlight was seeing a male lion with an impressive mane. Afterwards we had lunch and I took a small nap before doing another boat safari.
The boat safari was on the little river that runs between Lake George and Lake Edward. We saw animals like buffalos, hippos, crocodiles, and birds. I got some nice pictures of crocodiles who were basking in the sun on the river banks. We also saw our first monitor lizard of the trip, and I was surprised about how big they got. Crocodiles, similarly to sea turtles, have temperature dependent sex determination. While sea turtles have more females at high temperatures, crocodiles are the opposite with high temperatures developing more males. Also, a major difference is that female crocodiles actually protect her eggs while they are being developed. I read once in a Steve Irwin book that the females actually determine if the local ecosystem needs more males or females, and she can adjust the egg temperature accordingly to produce what is needed. Also, large female crocodiles can lay up to 90 eggs, whereas sea turtles can lay over 130 eggs at a time. Climate change will have major implications on both of these reptiles, and one biologist studying crocodiles in Costa Rica, Laura Porras, estimates that given all the human threats on crocs in her study area, they will probably vanish entirely by 2040. That is pretty sad news to read. Costa Rica was actually the first country I had ever seen crocodiles while I was traveling there in high school with Rustic Pathways. After the airport we stopped at the side of the road near a bridge and there were crocodiles in the water below and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Anyways, after the boat cruise I actually was pretty tired with a fever so I took a long nap to rest. I was so paranoid that I had Covid since my temperature was more than 103 degrees F, but I didn’t have any of the typical symptoms. Of course traveling during a pandemic can be super stressful, and I kept on thinking that I would be stuck in Uganda quarantine if I tested positive. But just FYI, I ended up getting two negative PCR and I made it back to Saudi Arabia just fine in the end of the trip.