"I see something!"
Dana is standing on the back seat of the car, torso poking up through the sun roof of the rented RAV-4.
We crossed into Akagera National Park just seconds ago. The gate is still visible behind us. And sure enough, by the side of the road, there's a buffalo. A cape buffalo, we later identify on the park guide. We stop again in another fifty feet: baboons! They amble across the grass, emerging from one bush and disappearing behind another.
Akagera is an enormous piece of protected land, Rwanda's only savannah safari park. They have zebras, giraffes, elephants, crocodiles– baboons are nearly passé soon, there are so many. They've even reintroduced lions recently, though we haven't seen them.
There is a mandatory safety briefing at the welcome center: you're allowed to drive around in a car without a guide, but there's a $70 fee if you get your car stuck and they have to come rescue you. You may camp in the designated campgrounds, and you're advised to pick one of the two with electric fences around them to keep the big game and monkeys out. Under no circumstances may you leave your car.
I only stepped out of the car one time, just for a second. I had a good reason: I needed to check the number on a road sign that had been overgrown, and we were still coming to terms with the map.
We had two maps of the park, which disagreed with each other about the existence of major roads. So when we didn’t find the campsite, we ended up taking an accidental two-hour loop into the park before we figured out how to match signpost numbers with marked points.
The missed route didn’t matter: driving around was the main objective of the safari park.
The road was hot and bumpy. I soon joined Dana standing half out of the sun roof for the view and the breeze. Dragonflies skimmed the hood of the car, which whirred periodically in the heat. We braced ourselves against the roof of the car, burning our hands in order to hold our bodies off the sharp edges of the sun roof while the car jostled through constant potholes.
"Stop stop stop!" Dana and I are scanning left and right: grass, trees, termite mounds. But what's that?
A giraffe on a hilltop overlooking a huge valley. A herd of zebras by the road junction. Baboons, again. We're watching an empty landscape, grass and trees, and then suddenly we're not. Silent animals are just standing there, looking mildly…