Most of the following comes from the journal I kept during my weekend trip to Murchison Falls National Park in December, 2016. I decided to go on a solo adventure by signing up for a safari through a budget conscious travel company in Uganda called Red Chilli . They have a hostel in Kampala as well as a campground, tent and set of bandas on the Nile River in the Murchison Falls park itself. The entire weekend cost me $350, maybe $375 including the meals that weren’t included, which covered a night in Kampala and two nights at the park, transport to/from the park, hike to the falls, two game drives, and one Nile River boat ride. Hopefully the pictures and my writing can convey how this was an absolutely incredible experience for the money. My next post will be about an even more extraordinary experience at a completely different game park in Uganda- Kidepo Valley National Park.
Murchison Falls, 10-12 December, 2016
I slept pretty poorly in my bunk at the Red Chilli Hideaway in Kampala due to the indentation of a large number of previous occupants that left me always rolling towards the crater in the middle. I woke up and ordered breakfast before meeting my guide. The guy a the front desk actually came up and found me at 7:20/7:25am saying they were waiting for me to join them when I was finished and ready to go. What country was I in? We didn’t leave till 7:30am right? Turns out the Danish family I was tagging along with are very prompt, and our guide Ronald, was very obliging to their time table. From then on I was on their time, not Africa-time. The Danish family (Lars, Ellis, Kirsta, and Kristian,) were nice but spoke varying levels of English and very much kept to their family unit throughout the weekend. The drive wasn’t too long, we stopped for an opportunity to stretch our legs, plus I had the entire back row of the pop-top van. The last third of our drive was through the forested southern section of the Murchison Falls park. We saw lots of baboons in this section, as well as the Black and White Colobus monkey.
At mid-day we arrived at the starting point of our hike to the falls. I could hear them and see some churning water on the Nile, but we had to go on the path to see the fall themselves. Our guide/ranger was George, who led us on the trail at a very deliberate, if a bit languid, pace. Our first view was or the second set of falls that were created when a flood in the 1960’s forced a new path for the water to flow. The flood also wiped out the bridge Winston Churchill had given the funding for, 10 pounds, that only lasted 10 years before being wiped out with only the fragments of the base remaining. We hiked a little farther out and were able to see both sets of falls.
It was completely apparent why Baker believed that these falls were the source of the Nile River. I can’t imagine how much water was pushed through that narrow crevasse before the flood caused the auxiliary route for water to flow. Hiking down the falls, we caught some of the spray and a neat little rainbow that showed up in some photos.
After our pictures we returned on the path to our starting point where Ronald greeted us warmly and then drove us to the Red Chilli Rest Camp. We checked in and I was assigned to my large army green canvas tent (it fits two twin sized beds) and had some time to myself to work out, shower, and rest before dinner. Dinner was decent, with a view looking over the Nile River valley.
In a cliché’ of international solo travel, I was sitting in front of a bonfire with an American, an Aussie and a Kiwi. I spent my evening talking politics and global problems with: Greg, a shaggy haired 23 year old American who quit his job at Oppenheimer investment bank in NYC in September after two straight years of 100 hour long work weeks, and has been traveling and surfing ever since; Naomi, a young, stylish, black Australian who was in the midst of deciding on whether to go to law school or live in Uganda and work for a non-governmental organization for a couple of years; and Ed, a 30-ish year old fellow Hardcore History podcast listening New Zealander who is traveling all around the world for six months with his wife. They are in Uganda to see of they’d want to move abroad to a developing country for her development work. I went to bed in my tent feeling like there are compassionate, if sometimes disillusioned, global citizens in the world. Then I was subsequently woken up a few hours later by the sounds of a hippopotamus grazing and munching through camp!
I woke up before the alarms in the tents around me, got dressed, made tea and grabbed my bagged breakfast before loading into the van. We drove down to the ferry take-out point and were the first ones in line to get on the ferry. We were able to see the red sun rise over the Nile while waiting. Eight vehicles piled onto the ferry, the passengers walking on afterwards before we slowly and loudly crossed the Nile to the north side of the park- the grassland/savannah side. The vehicles off-loaded and we hopped back in the van to start our morning game drive, along with two more passengers – our ranger, a different George, and a ranger intern, Linda. Ronald popped the top of the van so that we could stand and take pictures, which also let in some nice cool morning air.
Antelope and birds were first, followed by sightings of old male buffalo who had been kicked out of their herds. Then we saw the distinctive silhouette of a giraffe in the distance. From the one giraffe in the distance we made our way onto an entire herd of males. What crazy creatures. We also started to see large herds of buffalo complete with the symbiotic relationship with the white birds eating insects off their backs. (Those birds were also seen on warthog and hippo backs as well.) Soon we encountered a female herd of smaller and lighter in color giraffes. Once in the park it was pretty non-stop animal sightings but no lion or elephants by the time we stopped near a school of hippos chilling in Lake Albert for a bush toilet break and to stretch our legs a bit.
After our break we were all feeling pretty determined to find elephants and finally we came across a big old bull and his almost as large son!
We stopped once more for a walking/stretching break on some antelope mating grounds where lions like to hunt. We came across the week-old remains of a kill, but no lions.
We drove and ferried back to the Red Chilli camp to rest before our afternoon water safari on the Nile. Stan, our boat driver, was excellent on our almost constant animal sighting-filled trip up the river to the Murchison Falls. Schools of hippos appeared every 50-100 meters, elephants were bathing, crocodiles were hunting, Kingfisher’s were suspended mid-air before diving into the water for fish. It was a non-stop adventure that included a Nile Special (local beer) on the Nile after we took pictures of the falls and turned back around to journey down river.
Camp was much less crowded than the night before. Dinner was an excellent jambalaya with pumpkin and bedtime was early after an incredibly nature-filled day.
Hippos woke me up twice with their munching right outside my tent. Actually right outside my tent, to where the outline of the hippopotamus filled up the entire length of the tent and the intense sound of the grazing kept me from going back to sleep for a long while!
The next morning passed similarly to the morning before, this time with all our stuff packed up and loaded into the van since we’d be leaving for Kampala right after this morning’s game drive. We were second to the ferry this morning and on the other side we didn’t pick up a ranger, just Ronald to drive and guide us. I did witness a baboon steal some woman’s breakfast right out of her hand as all the passengers were loading back into their respective safari vehicles!
I was on the prowl for lions, alert for animals staring in one direction or running away from something unseen. No such luck. We did see some herds of elephants and giraffe in the crisp morning light.
We exited the park somewhere on the north side and gave a ride to someone we picked up at the park fence, just to the next village (not an uncommon occurance.)
I’m not going to lie, while we saw more incredibly beautiful elephants and giraffes, not seeing lions was a bit of a bummer on this game drive (as was the overpriced lunch at Kalabaga diner on our drive back to Kampala.)
Images that I could not capture by camera but that I do not want to forget:
- Kingfishers hovering and then diving into the water
- Hippos really neighing like horses and walking rather swiftly and gracefully out of water
- A Nile River Eagle and its mate stately overseeing their section of the river
- An elephant bathing on the banks of the Nile
- How large an African elephant really is!
- Buffalo wallowing in mud
- Warthogs (pumba) running away with its tail upright and alert like a warning flag
- Antelope zigzagging through the tall grasses
- Colorful Bee eaters darting every which way
- Giraffes gracefully eating off of their favorite acacia trees
- The majesty of a Crowned Crane (the mascot of the Ugandan football team)
- Coming across schools and schools of hippos while cruising up and down the Nile