Published: March 25th 2011March 13th 2011
Actually doing something! Murchison Falls
On the face of it, 3 months apart shouldn't pose such a problem. Especially for people who have been together for almost 10 years, and spent so much of that time together - we must be due for some time apart, right? While Lara has been in Uganda I have been keeping myself busy with work and other pursuits (read: PS3 games) but despite all this I have found that life alone in London can get you down sometimes. So after 2 months of living the bachelor life it seemed like a good time to jump on a plane and see what Lara was up to, and take my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa.
Seeing as we only had a week in Uganda together we thought it would be best to hit the ground running, so at the first opportunity we started a tour to Murchison Falls National Park. As soon as we got under way I immediately felt at ease, Lara obviously felt the same, and we quickly settled into our roles on most car trips: Lara constantly spotting animals out the window telling me things about the scenery we were seeing, while I just watch the road and
cringe the trucks speeding down the wrong side of the road, and laugh at the apparent ability to carry almost anything
on a motorcycle... Everything felt so familiar despite the fact that neither of us had been here before. I actually felt like this trip was a continuation of our time in South America 3 years ago and strangely, completely at home in the back seat of a Land Cruiser.
I don’t know why but I find being the passenger in a car so much more comfortable than commuting in a train, plane or bus. Perhaps it isn’t having to smell the person's smelly pits sitting next to you, or maybe it’s the prospect of not ending the journey at an equally unpleasant place, work. Whatever it is, the morning passed really quite quickly for having starting the drive at 7am and before I knew it we were pulling up at our first stop on our all too short safari – Ziwa Rhinoceros Sanctuary.
Lara hadn’t been feeling well since eating something that didn’t agree with her, but was determined not to let it bother her, so in the midday sun we walked out into the sanctuary (with
a guide) trying to spot as many of the 9 rhinos as possible. After a little bit of wandering around we managed to see our first one, resting in the shade and generally trying to keep cool during the heat of the day. Evidently that was something we should have been doing as after seeing a couple more rhino’s, including a baby called ‘Obama’, Lara’s condition started to turn. She had generally been quietly dealing with yet another case of disagreeable food when it became a little bit too much. So what do you do? It turns out the best course of action is to sit down. So there we were in the middle of a field 3 rhinos in front of us, about 20m away, and 2 rhinos about 50 m behind us.
The guide and I made small talk while Lara turned more and more green. After sitting (and exhausting my very small repertoire of agreeable rhino small talk) for around 10 minutes Lara managed to get back to her feet and walk back to the jeep, well almost. About 10 metres from the cars she stopped short, quietly had a little moment in some shrubbery, then
declared herself OK and we left.
Jameel our guide didn’t really know what to make of this. He made a couple of subtle digs at Lara for being a soft Pom, which I appreciated, by suggesting that he’d never seen a sick Australian. Maybe this made Lara more determined to do the next part of the tour: Chimpanzee tracking.
By the time we reached the lodge where we would start the walk into the thick, humid jungle Lara essentially hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for 24 hours. At least not been able to hold any of what went in down. It didn’t stop her though, and I think she would agree that it was totally worth it. After just a couple of obscured sightings, our skilful guides managed to place us in between two large groups walking along the paths in the forest. It was amazing, they just went about their business while we were only 10-20 metres away. Unfortunately due a combination of low light and my incompetence with a camera not that many of the photos turned out during this walk. Those that did certainly don’t show how expressive these awesome animals are.
with what the guide described as “one of the best” tracking sessions he has had, Lara’s fictitious tapeworm who we had nicknamed Terry, thought he would join the party, making Lara vomit in the jungle... again! Go Terry, way to spoil the moment. (Terry actually spent some time with us in Central and South America, and has a habit of turning up when he isn’t wanted)
From the Chimp forest it was only about another hour to the campsite/backpackers where we would spend the next two nights, Red Chilli, which is in a picturesque part of the Murchison National park overlooking the Victoria Nile, very close to the only car ferry across.
Lara ate very little and very impatiently waited for me to finish my beer and her dinner, before we went to bed for an early start in the morning. It was 6:30am or what my body was telling me was 3:30am before I knew it and we were out the door and driving down for the first ferry across the river. It was still quite dark and when I asked Jameel what time the sun rose he replied he said it was late and should already
Airport Guesthouse, Entebbe
be up. This left me confused for the rest of the day, how could the sun be late? Anyway, when the sun eventually did rise it was quite spectacular: Hippo’s in the foreground, a red line leading up to the horizon where the sun was reflecting off the perfectly still Nile and a great big ball of red hovering just on the horizon. Amazing. Perhaps still confused by it rising late, I just stood there and watched it, seemingly forgetting to take photos. Lucky Lara had the presence of mind to get a few pictures to record the moment before the best of it had passed.
From here Jameel proved to be a very skilled guide, driving the car while looking around to spot animals. He would consistently point off to the horizon and say look at those Giraffe, at which point I would look for a minute or two, pretend to have spotted them so we could continue. We didn’t need to be spotting distant animals anyway, there were plenty of animals within spitting distance of the car so we mostly concentrated on them. I don’t think I need to describe everything we saw – the pictures do
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
After a morning of driving we went back to the lodge for lunch, and then straight back out, for a trip up the Victoria Nile to Murchison falls. From the river the animal spotting was arguably better, with so many creatures using it, it was easy to spot so many birds, hippos, elephants, crocodiles etc. Once we reached the falls the majority of the boat went back down the river back to where we started. We got out and hiked to the top with a guide, and realised that all the people that went back on the boat missed out on some pretty spectacular views from the top.
The following day we started off in a pretty similar way as the day before (the sun did seem to rise a little earlier?) with us heading over the river to try and see as many animals as possible. This time there was more of an emphasis on seeing the lions as they had eluded us the day before. We were in luck, it seemed that we were the only car to spot a lioness taking her kill into the scrub. We must have only just missed the kill
Pretty happy with that we drove around for a little longer see more and more kob, bucks, buffalo, elephants, hippo etc until we had run out of time and had to start our mammoth drive back to Jinja and theAdrift Rafting
base where we were to go rafting the following day.
Once at Adrift I met Kristina who has been volunteering with Lara whilst she has been in Uganda. It was really good to see that Lara and Kristina got on so well together, I can’t imagine anything worse than being stuck in a foreign country forced to live in the same house with someone you didn’t like! The 3 of us had some beers looking over the Nile that night and generally bantered like old friends, which was really nice.
I was keeping a little quiet of just how scared I was of rafting. It was probably Lara’s descriptions in her last blog and talking to her since about just what happened on her last trip. Getting stuck in a Category 5 rapid and then having to voluntarily jump out of the boat didn’t sound that appealing! It turns out I really didn’t have anything
to fear, the company is very professional and friendly and basically the closest we came to death was bad sunburn on our necks and arms. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun though, after a couple of rapids we found ourselves asking the guide to go harder, fast and more crazy into the next set so we could flip the boat again and again!
Time to relax...
A full programme of activities for the first 5 days of the trip left us pretty tired so we thought it would be a good idea to take some time on the Ssese Islands. I wasn’t quite prepared for it to take 8 hours to get there, but once there is was awesome. Deserted, but awesome. The people at Ssese Island Beach Hotel
were very hospitable and even put on a BBQ and beach bonfire for us on our arrival. There didn’t seem like a lot of other things to do on the island so we just hung around on the beach, read books and went for the occasional dip in the lake. Just what I was after.
On my last day in Uganda we returned to the mainland and
we went to hang out with Gladys – Lara & Kristina’s new Ugandan BFF – and had a delicious home cooked typical Ugandan meal. Gladys and her boyfriend Abi were so friendly (as were almost all Ugandans) we chatted away for a while during the afternoon before Lara showed me around her local neighbourhood. Most of which was very basic, dirt roads and shacks that have been turned into shops mixed in with people’s houses was pretty much the name of the game.
Unfortunately that is where I ran out of time. We had to head back to Entebbe and then back to the airport. In the hour or so sitting in the departure lounge I got that familiar feeling of not wanting to go back to work and back to the daily grind. But I guess it is the daily grind that makes these eye opening and exciting holidays possible and so much better when they do happen. So with that sobering thought I got on the plane and headed back to home, which for now is in a flat in suburban London.
There are more photos below