On safari at Murchison Falls National Park

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October 18th 2008
Published: April 22nd 2009
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In October 2008 I had an opportunity to visit Uganda, primarily as part of an Engineering Ministries International team to learn about construction management in East Africa. My previous blog is an account of the work of this team. Before returning to the States, I joined two others for a three day safari of Murchison Falls NP.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008, three of the EMI team, John J., John W, and me (my first name is also John, but to avoid further confusion I went by my middle name Robert, or Bob) went on safari. After breakfast at the guest house in Kampala, we loaded up the Land Cruiser for the drive north to Murchison Falls. Fortunately, most of the road was paved, although a stretch south of Masindi was still under construction; an aid project by the South African government. With the current recession, fewer developed countries can afford projects in undeveloped countries, so the government of Uganda realizes that they will have to undertake more of the work to restore their own infrastrucure. This is where I saw a team of workers painting by hand the center line of the new highway. The drive was at least three hours to Masindi; so along the way we pulled over to buy soft drinks, chicken on the stick, and cassava roots from groups of vendors at various stations along the highway. The road from Masindi to Murchison Falls was not paved, and when we entered the park, the road was even worse. That didn't seem to worry the driver who tore along at breakneck speeds. We drove directly to the restaurant a the ferry landing, where we had a late lunch while waiting for the ferry to cross the Nile to the northern shore where most of the larger wildlife was to be found. While we ate lunch, our driver and guide found out that the following day cruise up the Nile to Murchison Falls was booked up, so we would have to take the Nile cruise that afternoon, which we did at 2 pm.

The cruise lasted about four hours. As we progressed up the Nile, we passed hippopotumuses (or it that hippopotimi), herds of elephants, crocodiles (or were they alligators?), a variety of birds, etc. As we approached Murchison Falls, the river became sudsy, reminding us of the high degree of pollution in the Nile. What is a source of drinking water is also used as the sewer. Following our cruise, we drove the half hour back to our lodge. While our huts were rather basic, the main lodge was very nice. We took advantage of their swimming pool until one of the pool attendants told us the flies that we were swatting were tse tse flies. I vaguely recalled that they were a source for sleeping sickness or some other terrible tropical disease, so that got us out of the water in a hurry.

We enjoyed a good dinner that evening, and talking to the American owner of the lodge. She spent part of the year at the lodge and the other part in Kenya where she was a psychology professor. There weren't too many other guests, so after reading awhile we turned in...before they turned off the generators.

Thursday, 16 October, was a very early start, as most wildlife is active in the early morning and late afteroon. We wanted to catch the first ferry that crossed the Nile at 7 am; which we did. We were joined by a number of other safari vehicles and a bus with African students. On the north side, we all scattered our separate ways. We soon saw herds of antelope (I can't remember all the varieties, or whether they even were antelope, but they looked like what we have in the high plains of Colorado), giraffe, elephants, Cape Horn buffalo, birds of evey sort, but no zebra which were not in that area. What we really wanted to see, however, were lions. I had previously been on safari in Kenya in January 1984(Tsavo East and West, Amboseli, and Masai Mara, where I had seen the Big Five, which includes leopards and lions, but the grass at Murchison Falls is taller than in Kenya (more rain I guess), so it was easy for lions to hide in the grass. By late morning, the animals were becoming fewer so we returned to the restaurant at the ferry crossing for lunch. The wart hogs were having their siesta by then, which seemed to be a good idea to us. After lunch, we crossed the Nile again in search of the elusive lion. We saw lots of animals, but no lions, even though we left the dirt tracks, and crossed the savannah (the antelop were all staring in one directions which is usually a clue that danger lurks in that direction...perhaps a lion). We returned to catch the last ferry to the south bank of the Nile, and then to our lodge. Again, dinner, conversation, reading, and then an early turn in.

Friday, 17 October, was an early start for a very long day. I wouldn't sleep in a bed until the following day back in Colorado. Our first stop was to view Murchison Falls from above. Murchison Falls is where the Nile goes through a gorge no more than 6 meters wide, and falls down an escarpment, onto the plains where we saw the wildlife the day before. I got really close to the falls and took the picture with the rainbow. I got soaked in the process from the mist. Then I realized that the water I was covered with was essentially sewer water. I quickly retreated to the Land Cruiser where I used what was left of my handiwipes to clean off my face, hands, and arms. We headed back to Kampala by 10 am, stopping in Masindi for a very nice lunch (Indian curry) at a guest house. I even had time to use the internet to send an email telling my wife that I was on my way home. We returned to the guest home in Kampala about 5 pm, where I took a shower and finished packing in time for the ride to Entebbe Airport for a 9:30 pm flight to Amsterdam. I spent my last few shillings on cheap souveniers.

Saturday, 18 October, my flight landed at Schipol about 6 am, where I had a 7 hour layover before catching flights to Minneapolis and then Denver. I used that time to buy Smarties and other European candy that my kids grew up on when we lived in Belgium, and tried to catch some sleep on their lounge chairs. If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed in the airport's pod hotel, like the Japanse have, which was only 45 euros per use. I might have gotten some sleep. In any case, after 35 hours enroute without sleep, I finally made it home that night, which was Sunday afternoon back in Kampala.

The trip was very meaningful and educational. I would recommend, however, readers take their safaris in Kenya.

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