When you have dreamt of a moment for a long time and it finally arrives, there is strange fear that grips you. A fear that leads you into wishing the moment hadn’t come so soon and created a desire in you to pause it in the hopes of creating yet another opportunity to revisit and reimagine the moment. Could it be the mind’s way of cushioning your expectations because sometimes reality might not be as magical as you imagined?
I had this strange fear as I drove up to Kidepo Valley National Park for a day’s excursion. It wasn’t my first drive to the area, but it was going to be my first unrushed tour.
Dubbed the most magnificent national park in Uganda and among the top in Africa, my expectations were sky-high. A true remote untamed savannah wilderness, Kidepo in Kaabong district can be approached via the Northern route from Kitgum district or the Eastern route from Kotido district. I approached it from Kotido.
It was a long bumpy drive, with warm light, shifting clouds, rocky vistas and peculiar shadows to massage the mind. So far up North-East, it sounds like a desert at the end of the world. And I’ll admit, it’s different from the rest of Uganda, nothing familiar, but all new and beautiful to behold.
Nataba gate was our point of entry into Kidepo, a vast virgin wilderness that stretches beyond the comprehensible gaze of the human eye, a national park like no other. When you get in, drive like a gentle breeze and occasionally pause to appreciate the jagged offering of nature. If you’re anything like me, put the camera away and be present. You’ll have plenty of picture-worthy moments on the way back.
I was keen to locate the famed lions’ rock or pride rock as some call it. It was easy to spot as it lies along the road, but was void of the usual suspects who were somewhere else taking their 20-hour long nap. Baboons were having quite the play day, rolling down and bouncing on the rock. When the lions are away, the baboons convene.
Off we continued our drive to the Apoka UWA office/Apoka observation point where one still has a clear view of pride rock (using the binoculars) and can keep checking in case the lions show up. We witnessed two separate massive storms in the distant hills, the stuff of legends. Clouds dark as night, and rain showers appearing misty from afar. I secretly wanted the storm to blow our way, but my hopes were dashed when the guide pointed out that different sections of the park lie within different rain pockets, and this wasn’t one of ours.
I noticed a jackal spy on us. It can easily be mistaken for a dog, but we were alert and cautious. Well, the guide was.
Apoka Lodge, not far from the UWA office, was void of human life. If you plan to stay the night, booking is essential! It was just us, buffalos, and lizards. Rocks underneath the shrubs seemed especially popular among the lizards, and the pool too was inviting. But the animals dip-pool was half empty and quiet. As luck would have it, we spotted another storm in the distance. It was raining everywhere but here!
We spent the rest of the day driving through herds of elephants, buffalos, zebras, bush pigs, giraffes, elands, oribi, Jackson’s hartebeest, antelopes of all kinds; everything but lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas!
Kidepo lived up to my expectations in all ways imaginable. And like all places I love, I will return to Kidepo. And until I see the lions at pride rock, I won’t leave!