My heart pounds and I shiver despite the trickles of sweat running down my back. The road is empty and there is no sound but the wind in the grass, but I am terrified.
I walk up the road, hyper-alert, every sense operating on high. My ears are tuned for elephants or buffalo crashing through the bush, my eyes focusing through the swirling dust for a lion or leopard that is going to jump out of the tall grass and eat me.
Not that hearing the elephants or lions in advance is going to help. By then it will be too late.
I am in the middle of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, on the 25km unpaved road between Katunguru and Katwe. “Take a boda-boda,” they said. “It will be cheap and there are plenty to take you.”
I did, thinking this was a great idea. Until the motorbike sputters, coughs, and dies.
I get off and stand in the middle of the road, glaring at my driver.
“What do you mean, no more fuel?”
He grins. “It my friend bike, he say enough fuel. But no enough. Sorry.”
I am furious. My life is in danger, and it’s all his fault. How hard is it to check that you have enough fuel in the tank to get to your destination? And isn’t it common sense to do so, when you’re driving through Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is full of hungry lions, herds of elephants, and stroppy buffalo?
We start walking, him pushing the bike, me alongside, hoping that we don’t surprise a herd of elephants. I am only mildly consoled by the fact that it’s the middle of the day so the lions and leopards should be sleeping under a shady tree rather than hunting.
A safari vehicle comes along and stops next to us. My driver doesn’t seem to want to talk to them, so I go. The muzungu couple inside stares at me as if I’m crazy to be out here. They’re right.
Their guide asks me what’s up, and I explain that we ran out of fuel. Someone is bringing us some, but in the meantime we are walking to the park entrance gate less than a kilometre up the road.
I am tempted to ask them for a ride, but for some reason I don’t and they go, leaving me to my jangling nerves.
We finally reach the gate and I breathe a sigh of relief. The couple’s guide is there and he seems relieved to see me. He says he would have offered a ride but he knew we were close to the gate.
“But that was very dangerous,” he says, giving me stern look.
No shit. I am highly unimpressed with my driver right now.
Our fuel arrives and we continue, riding the last few kilometres to Katwe. I’m wishing I could just finally be there.
Only three kilometres further on we encounter that herd of elephants I was so worried about. They are on both sides of the road, munching on trees and grasses. We stop before we reach them, and I notice one that we’ve already passed, but further away from the road.
We wait, hoping they will cross the road and move on. My driver is revving the engine in an effort to get them to go. They don’t.
I am looking around constantly, nervously watching the one behind us as well as the ones in front, and keeping an eye out for others that might be around that I haven’t seen yet.
Why oh why did I think taking a boda-boda was a good idea?
Finally, there is a gap between the elephants on either side of the road, and they seem preoccupied enough that my driver decides it’s safe to go. I have no choice but to go along with him. He rides these roads often, and despite his earlier idiocy, he probably knows the animals better than I do.
He revs the engine and we race up the road between the elephants. The terror I feel is almost worse than it was when we were walking up the road, because this danger is here, now, visible.
We pass between them and I watch behind us to see if any of the elephants are charging. But thankfully they are still going about their business of munching on trees, and don’t seem at all concerned about us.
We arrive in Katwe, miraculously in one piece, and I swear that I will never, ever again be stupid enough to take a motorbike through a national park in Africa.
What bad decisions have you made while travelling? What kind of adventures did they lead you to? Tell me about it in the comments!
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