This wasn't the first time I'd been to Murchison Falls National Park, and I certainly hope that it won't be my last.
The park is Uganda's largest, and is home to 76 species of mammals and 451 species of birds. It is also the site where an estimated 2 billion barrels of oil has been found.
I don't particularly want to get into the oil issue of Murchison Falls, but I can recommend some reading in addition to this blog post for you all to form your own opinions on the matter.
On a beautiful May weekend in Uganda (I know I'm a bit behind on my posts), I went with Flan, his cousin, and her bestie for a weekend getaway to Murchison Falls, located about four hours north of Kampala.
We left on Friday afternoon, and spent our first night at the beautiful Nile Safari Lodge's sister site, Shoebill Campsite. Lucky for us, Nile Safari Lodge has amazing food, so we didn't have to cook for ourselves that night having arrived late.
Since we were staying on the south side of the delta, we opted for a relaxing morning (i.e. taking our time instead of joining in with the ferry rush to cross to the north side of the Nile where most of the charismatic animals are). Of course, our relaxing morning included a splendid breakfast at Nile Safari Lodge, while overlooking the magnificent river.
(Aside: Most lodges are located on the south side of the Nile - only Paraa and Chobe Lodges of the Marasa Group are located on the north side; therefore, there is almost always a mad rush to get to the ferry to get in the early morning game drive, when some animals are most active.)
Once we crossed the Nile to the other side, and started doing the safari thing, it was like nothing else mattered. There is nothing like being so close to nature and wild animals (nevermind the steel door of the car), with nobody else for miles. We saw some beautiful Ugandan kob, the obligatory elephants and buffalo of the big five, giraffes, and warthogs!
One of my surprise favourites of the day were the northern carmine bee eaters - how could you not fall in love with their beautiful bright colours!
After a quick but rewarding game drive, we headed back to the Nile for a launch ride to get a closer look at the actual Falls - also a filming location of Katherine Hepburn & Humphrey Bogart's "The African Queen," and crash landing site of the remarkable Mr. Ernest Hemmingway.
(Aside: ladies beware - those pesky baboons know the difference between male and female simply from your clothing. They have grown accustomed to women who wear skirts in typical East African fashion and will not be intimidated by skirt-wearing females. HOWEVER. If you choose to wear pants, they will not know the difference. Baboons assume that if you are wearing pants, you are a man, and will run away. I say this because the baboons guard the toilets near the ferry pier and it is therefore imperative to know that you have one of four options 1. wear pants, 2. throw rocks to clear a path to the toilets, 3. be brave 4. have someone who is wearing pants accompany you to the toilets.)
While I personally enjoy the Queen Elizabeth National Park launch trip more simply because of the greater diversity and density of animals the Kazinga Channel offers, the Murchison Falls ferry ride offers some spectacular views of the Falls. Some people like to actually get off and sit on a rock with the Falls as the backdrop. It is also possible to hike to the top of the Falls. BUT, since we were getting ready to camp that night on the delta, we had to pick up our ranger and set up before dusk!
Once back on land, we picked up our guide who brought us to our campsite. On our way, we spotted a couple of lions, a hyena whose mouth was sewn shut with a wire trap :'( and a leopard.
That night, we made a fire, cooked some rice, beans, and sausages, opened a bottle of wine, chatted into the night by the fireside, and fell asleep to the sound of utter and complete silence.
In the best part was waking up in the morning - to this:
Talk about glamping!
As it always is, it was very difficult to know that we had to head back to crazy Kampala, but we managed to convince Flan to take the scenic (longer) route back, through the eastern side of the park. We found this old abandoned hotel - a relic from the Amin regime.
Could you imagine all of these beautiful animals having to share a home with oil wells? Is there a way in which drilling could be done sustainably?