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Under African Skies

Bridget Connelly

If you had asked me 5 years ago if I would ever go to Africa, I would probably have answered no. Naively, I didn't know much about it. I knew of warfare throughout countries and too many poverty stricken areas. I thought it was too unsafe, too far away, too expensive to get there — I just didn't see how it would ever be a place I would end up in. Thankfully, in the last few years I have met people and had experiences that have changed my views on this faraway land. My boyfriend’s work, in particular, takes him there often, and he finally encouraged me to come along with him. My first trip, visiting the countries of Rwanda and Ethiopia, changed me and left me longing to return to this spectacular place to explore more, learn more, and meet more people. This past spring I was fortunate enough to book my second trip, this time to Uganda and Malawi with my boyfriend, my brother and best friend. To travel and experience life together with them is something I will always be grateful for. Its a trip I will never ever forget.

Terrence, Meghan and I linked up in Amsterdam. We were full of nerves and excitement and were so ready to be on our last flight heading to Uganda. That excitement soon became pure exhaustion and we were completely longing to get into a bed. We got off the flight to meet Greg and get our bags, and low and behold my precious cargo had not been so fortunate as to make it to our destination. What would I do without my makeup, my suits, my shoes, my anything at all. They had no idea where the bag was… I envisioned myself becoming a true “safarian,” wearing whatever I could make with what I found around me. But then I cried a little on the inside at all the cute new clothes I had purchased with the little money I had to begin with — now possibly gone forever. Smart Bridget! They gave me a “kit” to tide me over while they spent the next few days searching for my bag. As I looked inside at the XXL shirt, toothpaste and socks, I thought this was really going to do the trick! As my eyes filled with tears (slightly dramatic), my brother had one final zinger, “I mean I know I would rather have a kit than my suitcase!” Thanks, T! Alas, we gave them my information in case they found it and we were off to our hotel. We had to be up early for the trek up north to the safari. Clothes or no clothes we were going!

We stayed over at a nice spot for one quick night, and in the a.m., we headed to the only store nearby that might have something I could wear. Meghan and I searched high and low. Now in Uganda, it isn't so easy or even possible to go to any clothing stores you would find in the U.S., so we needed to get creative. While the fashions are very nice, I just didn't know if I could pull any of them off. We swooped up some essential items, although mostly felt SOL. But then my sweet friend Courtney, who is currently living in Uganda, came to the rescue! She called me and generously let me know that I could borrow some of her clothes. Now as much as I would've loved to wear African garb on a safari, I was SO appreciative of Courtney’s gesture and immediately took her up on it. We stopped there, after an exhausting yet thrilling 36 hours, and were finally on our way! Road trip with the Griswolds had begun!

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Now the roads in Uganda are not for the faint of heart. It truly became the game of dodge the (endless) pothole, car, cow, traffic jam, road closure….quite the wild ride! As crazy as the ride itself can be, there is really nothing like driving through the country sides and villages in Africa. It is so breathtaking and peaceful, yet painful and heartbreaking at the same time. There are trees, land and nature at their finest for as far as you can see. The stillness, the fresh air, the swaying trees — nature simply magnified. On the other hand, there are villages of such extreme poverty, children with no clothes, kids without school or education, families without jobs and worse, without homes. It is profoundly impacting. You want to do more, give more, yet it’s hard to know what exactly to do. It also made me realize how trivial a lost bag is in the grand scheme of things. Trips to countries in Africa have been life-changing for me, yet my heart is almost constantly breaking at the same time. It’s a lot to sort through emotionally. The people we have met and the places we have gone to will always be in my heart along with thoughts and prayers. I can only hope that Africa will continue to play a part in my life, in one way or another.

We carried on with our journey up North through Uganda and finally made it the Chobe Safari Lodge. I saw some photos online, but still didn't know quite what to expect. We were all somewhat freaking out inside when we arrived and took in the expanse of extreme beauty surrounding us. From the lodge, to the land, to the game park we were in, to the Nile River we were situated on— It was unbelievable. In every direction encircling us was wildlife and nature in its untouched perfection. Not to mention, there was a pool with a bar next to the River where hippos could be seen playing, and elephants quenching their thirst in the fresh water nearby. It was surreal. We made it, with our fearless driver Greg, we made it! We quickly checked into our stunning river-view rooms, got into our suits and bee lined for the pool (and bar) just in time for sunset. What a day it was.

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In the morning, early early morning, we got ready to head out on our safari with a guide named Dale. Dale came along to navigate us through the parks, and provide information on the animals. He also carried with him an AK47 in case he needed to protect us….slightly terrifying, but we knew we were in good hands with Mr. Dale. As we pulled away from the lodge to head out on the game drive, a herd of elephants came charging down the road to play, eat trees, and even mate with one another. It was crazy! They were actually 15 feet away from us. I had never seen anything like it, especially out in the wild. I mean the day was made for me right there, but it continued on and we saw one remarkable animal after another, even a leopard! After a long animal filled drive through one of the parks we made it to the Murchison Falls. It took our breath away, almost instantly. It is a massively powerful waterfall from the Nile River. A huge force of energy, yet serene all at once. We were not exactly supposed to go in it, but while Dale was away, we snuck around a few rocks and made our way in for a little dip to cool off. Being in the Nile River for the first time was such an important moment of my life. We were alone with our thoughts for a bit, sat, reflected, and took a few moments to talk about ones we had loved and lost. In a way, we felt closer to them. I can’t quite describe it, but you can feel such a peace being there. Plus being in the river and being with people I love dearly — it was a moving, even emotional experience. Icing on the cake of an already unparalleled day.

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Coming back to Chobe after a long day (14 hours) out on the bumpy roads, through game parks, in the hot hot sun, and after a flat tire, was SUCH a treat. We took long showers, filled up our wine glasses and came down to a feast in the main lodge. However, we did have to wait for the staff to come pick us up first! We could not walk around the hotel at night because of all the hippos wandering around (which we loved!). I was fairly certain Meghan was going to stay there forever and mother the hippos for the rest of her life. The little hippo lover. In the morning, we had one more breakfast out on the deck of dreams. The deck off of Chobe was our favorite spot at the hotel. It was the length of the lodge, with multiple levels, of chairs, sofas, and tables. At night we laid on the sofas and watched shooting stars take over the night, while listening to the hippos in the Nile River below. In the mornings we sat out there, sometimes with everyone in silence (except me), ate breakfast, drank in the freshest air and absorbed every inch of the impressive creations encompassing us. We could’ve stayed out on the deck for hours on end admiring, thinking, dreaming, and just being.

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Chobe was pretty hard to leave. The staff was so welcoming, kind and engaging. Many of the staff member came up to us and asked how our days were, remembered our names and inquired about what we were doing that day. It seemed as if they really sought comfort in knowing we were having a great time, the best time I should say. I think they could tell by the ear-to-ear smiles on our sunburned faces. We left Chobe on a high — we were on nature and animal overload. We were sad to leave, but also eager for the next adventure awaiting. And there were still many more to come….

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