Akagera Safari (Written by Dennis)
01.26.2019 - 01.28.2019 81 °F
Prior to a few months ago, I thought a safari consisted of driving out in a large 4WD open vehicle into the wilderness of Africa and hoping you see some wild animals. Karen broke this fantasy by telling me that the animals are kept in place by a fence and park officials count the animals and track them. What a joke! What a disappointment! It seemed so canned, like a Disney ride or something. So, I was a bit skeptical going into our safari weekend, but of course I still wanted to see some zebras and giraffes and such in the "wild."
To be honest, it did seem kinda canned for the first hour or two. But, I then forgot about all that.
Akagera National Park was created in 1934 by the Belgians, who occupied Rwanda at the time. Originally the park was about 1,000 square miles, but it was cut in half after the genocide to allow for the resettlement of refugees. During the Rwandan Civil War, many of the animals were poached, and all 300 lions were killed. Since that time, life has returned in abundance to the park. Now, the park is home to black rhinos, a million hippos, a million and one zebras, lions, Maasai giraffes, leopards, crocodiles, and many others, as you will see.
The drive from the entrance gate to the Akagera Game Lodge was about half an hour and I was hoping an elephant would pop up on the road or maybe a lion would bite the tire. Neither of those happened, but a large pack of baboons did hang out on and slowly cross the road right before we arrived at the lodge. The lodge was comfortable, with beds made for sumo wrestlers.
We were late to the sunset boat cruise on that first day. We were late not from rough roads or giraffes stealing Karen's hat, but from oversleeping from a nap. Our boat captain expressed his disappointment as he pointed at his watch as we arrived (even though we were only five minutes late), but at least we were still allowed on. While we disappointed the captain, our Fulbright friends Brendan and Rebecca had spoken highly of the sunset cruise and the cruise did not let us down. There must have been over 100 hippos that we could see from the boat and they were not shy about sputtering water in the air and making bubbles like kids in a pool. They have four large peg-like teeth--they are used for combat only.
Several nile crocodiles slid into the water. One was basking in the sun with his mouth wide open. A herd of buffalo rested along the shore and some white birds liked to hang out with them and eat bugs off them, our guide said. There were floating islands made of papyrus. One island--stable I think, not floating--was home to many species of birds, including the African fish eagle, which bears a resemblance to the American Bald Eagle. On the short drive back to the lodge, a zebra did pop up near the road in front of us!
Our safari took off the following morning at 6:45 A.M. We ate breakfast to the tune of one of the most glorious sunrises I had seen in quite some time.
We had the safari jeep and the guide and driver for the next 10-11 hours. The plan was to start in the higher elevations on the south side of the park and make our way down to the most northern part of the park, a distance of roughly 30 miles (but which took 4 hours to drive). It was cold and misty in the highlands that morning. Zebras are glorious creatures, and they are a dime a dozen in the park, and we saw many herds high up there. Buffalo trampled the ground as well. Birds of all sorts darted in front. Antelope scurried around, if they weren't fighting to the death. There was generally a good animal sighting every 5 minutes, and this remained true throughout the day.
The air was brisk that morning, but as we descended the heat made us peel off the sweatshirts. The lower altitudes brought out the Masai giraffes, so graceful on their stick legs. The giraffes eat acacia leaves and twigs--they have special tongues to maneuver around the plant's thorns. They are peaceful and curious creatures.
I was most excited to see an elephant. I had seen videos of how protective and assertive these beasts can be, so I wanted to see their great strength. While I did see a few elephants, it was unfortunately from several hundred feet away, so my assessment of their power will have to wait.
"Simba" is a word in Swahili for "lion" or "king." We were incredibly fortunate to see four kings. It is rare to see them, as there are only about 20 lions in the park (our guide had only seen them four times in two years). It was hot in the mid-day sun and the lions preferred to lie in the shade--yet, romance can overcome the sweltering heat, as we did see a male lion attempt to court his lioness. Lions weigh around 400 pounds and I think these are the only creatures that could take down our dog Gustav.
After the lions, we ate lunch on a lake in the north, with hippos as our lunch buddies. They continued to snort and sputter.
After lunch, we were driving along and made a sharp turn. Out of nowhere, this big fat hippo appeared! I yelled "hippo!!" They are clearly massive when you see more than just their face. These guys weigh around 3,000 pounds on average. With that kind of weight, no wonder he wasn't really afraid of us.
Warthogs are a dime a dozen also. But, that is completely fine with me as they have this springy step and their tails jiggle in the air. They are without a doubt the happiest looking animals in the park.
We tried to find the rare rhinos that inhabit the park (there are fewer than 20), but all I got was a million painful bites from the tsetse fly as we went through their swampy area.
After the safari, we celebrated by the pool. And we watched some of the Miss Rwanda competition. We had heard about the infamous Josiane--many viewers did not find her attractive, perhaps it was for her modern hairstyle and offbeat dress? She won Miss Popularity but lost Miss Rwanda.
What struck me most about the park was how untamed and wild the earth used to be. When the park is contrasted with how humans have shaped it, the world we live in seems too organized and you really only see a few species of animals in our daily lives. it makes me sad that we have scared off many of the animals. Akagera will remind me of the way things used to be.