• My friend’s cousin started the New Nature Foundation in Uganda, and he invited us to visit. At first it seemed like an interesting idea that would probably stall out. But the more we thought about it, the more it seemed like this was the perfect time to throw ourselves into making it happen. Lindsey (my travel partner) was in school studying to be a sex-education counselor, and I was a teacher in Norristown, Pa., so we both had time off in the summer. Although we knew it would take a lot of planning, we also felt an experience like this might be life changing.
• We did a great job of planning the trip. But Uganda doesn’t run on the same clock. Our research was careful and well thought out, but a lot of that is lost in translation. Bus schedules, for example, are more of a joke than a reliable mode of transportation in Uganda. The bus will eventually show up—but it may be a day late.
• Lindsey’s cousin, Michael, met us at the airport in Entebbe and drove us to Kidepo National Park in the Northwest, where we stayed at the Apoka Safari Lodge. I remember staring out the window of the car for hours and couldn’t believe I was in Africa. I saw an old man riding a bike with a little girl holding onto his back. On her back was a baby, maybe a year old.
• Kidepo is a protected national park—it was filled with wildlife. You wake up in the morning, walk outside your canvas hut, and see gazelles and zebras grazing. There was an elephant named Bulbul that roamed around the grounds. You’d spot him the way we might see a stray cat in the backyard. On safaris, we would drive around in an open Jeep with the staff, watching giraffes and lions. They taught us everything about the wildlife from the species of endangered birds to the health of a particular lion. Being able to experience these amazing creatures in their natural habitat felt like a gift.
• We went to the community of the Karamojong people. Everyone came out of their huts to see us—children and adults—they wanted to show us their things. As we were leaving, the villagers gathered around us and started singing, dancing, and chanting. This one small girl came over to me, grabbed my hand, and started dancing around me. I wanted to join in, to let my guard down, and to be in the moment. But I had to force my body to move. I felt overwhelmed. I remember thinking I can’t believe I’m here. I can’t believe this is real. I’m in Africa with these amazing people.
• Our next stop was the New Nature Foundation in Kibale, an organization focused on ending deforestation. We both volunteered in the villages doing education outreach for six days. Since I’m a teacher, I taught lessons in the science centers. I’m used to being around kids, but there, the ages ranged from 10 months old to a 24 years old. We ended up singing songs, acting out animals, or playing kid games like “What Time Is It Mr. Fox?” Being part of this community, even for a small period of time, made me feel connected to the world in ways I never could have imagined.
• We took a bus to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to go on a trek to find mountain gorillas. We usually took drivers wherever we went, but for this trip we took a bus, which took all day. There were chickens on the bus. There was a man sitting on my shoulder—his butt was literally on my shoulder. The best thing about this trip is that you’re uncomfortable, and the worst thing about this trip is that you’re uncomfortable.
• We stayed at the Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, a sister lodge of the Apoka Safari Lodge. Our trek took about 10 hours, and it was the most amazing day of my life. It was really physical—you have to walk through dense forests. We looked for a few of hours, and then, all of the sudden, you could see a gorilla sitting against a tree, looking so wild and yet so familiar. We saw one mother with twins—they were the only twins in the world at the time. I was taking all of these pictures, but I also had to remind myself to just be there in the moment.
• The best thing about the trip was the range of emotions I experienced from one moment to the next. Sometimes it was anger. Sometimes it was annoyance. Sometimes it was awe or being enthralled. To be able to experience so much in just one day is so rare and special … and also emotionally exhausting.
For health tips on traveling abroad, check out Safe Passage.