Murchison Falls National Park

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“I can’t wait to see the lions,” my colleague said, clinging to the roof of the van in excitement.

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The rest of us looked at each other and shook our heads. It’s certainly not impossible to spot big cats in Murchison Falls National Park- they do live there, after all- but we’d warned our visitor we weren’t likely to see any, especially during rainy season. There aren’t many lions in the park, and with the tall green grass that sprouts up with the precipitation, there are countless places for them to hide.

I’ve learned not to set many expectations for my travels here. Not only does Mother Nature have plans of her own, but car breakdowns, road construction, missing ingredients, and power outages all combine forces to keep you on your toes. The upside of this unpredictability is that Uganda often exceeds my expectations, and that trip was no exception.

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After fields full of antelopes and giraffes, we finally slow to a crawl next to another van of our tourists watching a lion crouched next to the bushes in the distance. As our driver maneuvered back and forth in the small opening, trying to find a viewpoint, someone informed him that there was another one, just up the road. And indeed there was, not just one, but two. We watched them for ages, he and she, just going about their day as if vans full of snapping cameras were nothing they hadn’t seen before. Still, though, it’s a little surreal to see them in the wide open world, as they were meant to be. That’s the funny thing.

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As the lions meandered out of sight, we moved toward the water to see Lake Albert in the morning sun. Shortly thereafter, though, our guide urged us back toward the vehicle and sped off down the road. “There’s a leopard,” he said, ignoring our requests to stop in a field of oribi. And suddenly there it was, crouched on the branches of a distant tree. We stopped breathing and watched in silence as it paced up and down the largest limbs for a few minutes before climbing down the trunk and disappearing into the grass below. While the rest of us were a bit dumbfounded, our visiting colleague seemed to expect it all along.

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Lowering expectations may protect us from disappointments, but I wonder if it doesn’t sometimes stop us from experiencing the excitement of possibilities as well.

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