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Published: March 21st 2009
En route from Burundi, we stopped for one night in Kigali. The following morning was when I went to the Memorial Centre and then had lunch alone, feeling like chopped liver (New York slang). We then arranged a lift back to Kabale, in Uganda, with Milton, who delivers Ugandan newspapers to Kigali daily. For an additional fee, he took us straight to the Overland Camp at Lake Bunyoni.
A gorgeous place! The safari tent rooms are erected on wooden platforms with stunning views over the lake.
We walked to the local school and 'commune' where travellers volunteer through the House of Edirisa in Kabale. The school was impressive for the painted wall charts on the outside walls - I have seen this in many countries where there are few resources, but this is the first time I have seen them done more actively - i.e the answers are not given. Then we decided to hire a dugout canoe. The course (set by Barry who was steering. Allegedly!) was a zig zag around a small island. Once I had pointed out that we were heading back to the wrong camp, and the course was altered accordingly, we came back to
shore in a reasonably straight line and parked in one attempt. At least we didn't have the embarrassment of doing the 'Mzungu corkscrew'. We then swam off the pier - a pier that is very difficult to climb back up on to!
We were heading north to Murchison Falls National Park, but it is quicker to go via Kampala. We had hoped to do it in a day, but ended up staying overnight at a Backpackers' Hostel before getting a minibus to Masindi. Travelling in many countries there are sources of entertainment and food brought right to the bus, and Uganda is no different. On the bus from Kabale to Kampala, the entertainment was a man with a traditional stringed instrument who seemed to be making up songs about the passengers (similar to an Asmari Bet in Ethiopia), including the line "You sing for the Mzungus, you dance for the Mzungus, they give you money." It was a few days before my birthday so Barry requested Happy Birthday ... it was a passable version, although I was not sure I liked the 'you look like a monkey' verse.
We arrived in Masindi in time for lunch (can't go
far wrong with baked beans on toast) and then set about trying to find a ride to Boomu - a community camp at the gate to the national park set up by a women's cooperative. We ended up going with Sam, a local driver who approached us in the restaurant, and Martin (another tourist he had found). Dinner that night (and the next) was local fare.
Boomu is very basic, with bucket showers and no electricity, but was close to the gate of the National Park and OK for a few nights as a base (apart from evidence of a rat visiting the banda, luckily while I was out). The main problem being, no electricity = no cold beer.
Murchison Falls is one of the major national parks in Uganda but there seems to be an assumption that most people will go there on a tour. While hitching is possible, we found that vehicles can be a long time coming.
After doing a community walk with Edna, who runs the Boomu camp, we ventured into the Park, deciding that we could easily walk the 8 km to Kaniyo Pabidi with the intention of chimpanzee tracking. However, the
Tented accommodation overlooking the lake
UWA man told us that walking was not allowed because of the risk (which seemed low enough to me) of being attacked by an injured animal, so we ended up hiring a boda-boda to take us - I love it; 3 people on a motorcycle, no helmets. We arrived at the HQ with time to spare for lunch. Then, we set off down a good track, led by John (our guide). He was in walkie-talkie contact with the monitoring team, but with communication difficulties and mis-understandings, we took longer than he thought we should to get to the chimps.
Our first sighting was of dark shapes knuckling their way through dense, thorny undergrowth. After just two minutes they went where we could not follow. I thought that was it and was happy enough to say that I had seen chimpanzees in the wild. But, we headed back in a loop to intercept them ... and spent an hour watching them do chimp-like behaviour; one young male even scratched under his armpits! Every now and then one chimp would start screaming and others would join in, the noise reverberating through the trees, echoes coming back from other small groups nearby.
Hitching back was not too difficult - we were waiting for only half an hour before two young British women (from Barry's favourite city?) in their own car, picked us up. This gave us confidence that we would be able to hitch the 60 km to the actual waterfalls and back the following day.
We did get a lift fairly quickly from the Gate, and they were able to take us all the way to Paraa. The only hitch (?!) was that there were three of them, two of us and the backseat was full of pesticide spraying equipment. The driver was OK ... he had his own seat. The other two sprayers rearranged the equipment slightly and squeezed into the back, leaving the front passenger seat for the two Mzungus. Barry sat in first, then I folded myself on top of him. At first it was OK, almost fun ... after 15 minutes I started to lose feeling in my legs ... after half an hour they were totally numb and I felt decidedly car sick as a result of the poor road, facing sideways and a strong smell of petrol (gas for any American readers).
When we arrived at the ferry (which felt like 6 hours but in reality was about 1.5), I literally fell out of the car and sat on the ground while feeling returned to my legs, aided by a Chinese woman and her tiger balm.
We took the free ferry across the river and managed to book onto an afternoon river launch. The only option for lunch, within walking distance on that side of the river, was the very smart Paraa Lodge. Lunch was a very expensive, fixed, price, buffet so we opted to share a pina colada at the poolside bar and a small bar of chocolate.
After a short walk through scrub between the lodge and the river, in search of elephants, Barry and I wandered back to the river and boarded the boat. The trip took two hours to get to the waterfall, passing many pods of hippos, crocodiles, an occasional buffalo and getting a brief glimpse of an elephant. The boat can't get too close because of the power of the waterfall, but sheltered by a rock in the middle of the river (with the added bonus of good views of a pair of Rock
Pratincoles). The trip back took an hour.
It soon became apparent that nobody would be heading back to Masindi that evening, reducing our chances of a ride to zero (although we did make a half-hearted attempt as we walked along the road away from the river) so the only option was to spend the night at the Red Chilli Camp - the cheapest option. Luckily they had a spare safari tent.
The morning dawned and we got up early to have breakfast and get out on the road as soon as possible, to maximise hitching opportunities. We weren't waiting too
long before getting a lift about 10km in the back of a truck. Then we waited on the long, straight, empty road.
... and waited for something like 3 hours.
A few vehicles came by but were turning right at the junction. Just when we were beginning to think that maybe we should just go that way and work something out from the next trading centre, the first of a convoy of 5 minibuses, filled with students on a German/African cooperation project, stopped. The driver wasn't too keen to take us without checking
with his boss (in one of the other vehicles) but one of the passengers persuaded him.
They apologised that they were doing a slight detour to view the Falls from the top (damn!) and hoped we didn't mind!! As it was something we had wanted to do, but didn't know if it would be possible without a vehicle, it was an added bonus. It also gave Barry longer to be charmed by a young German journalist covering the trip. They eventually dropped us at Boomu Camp, where we packed our bags, had an argument with boda-boda riders (called by Edna to take us to Masindi) and eventually returned down the dusty road to the town.
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