By Mike Ssegawa

Sitting at the restaurant terrace of Chobe Safari lodge, facing River Nile as it flows through Murchison Falls National Game Park down to the Sudan and Egypt, it reminds me of the hard reality that life is the sum total of choices and experiences.

When Uganda Tourism Board reached out to me to join a trip organized for senior media managers to familiarize themselves with the magnificent Murchison Falls National Park, I didn’t have to think twice despite having two other events.

For there are few experiences one can compare with interacting with the wild, or water resources such as the Nile river. The trip from Kampala to Chobe Safari Lodge in Nwoya District was in uneventful, until we made a stopover at Kabalega restaurant in Nakasongola district. For anyone making a leisure or business trip to northern Uganda, this is one spot that comes handy.

Honestly they have delicious food but unfortunately, maybe because we were too many to handle our orders, the waiters somehow mixed up menus. But, Kabalega is a relaxing place where you can break from the long journey and eat or drink something without much worry. We drove comfortably to the upscale lodge in the middle of the game park facing the river. Chobe is a gem in a forest.

The environment surrounding the lodge is all natural – and the facility compliments nature. Located 13km off the main Gulu road, we arrived at Chobe around 7.30pm. Before we could check in, we had already seen wild animals having their final round of a meal on a Friday evening. Chobe is a product of Marasa Group, a company owned by Madhvani Group. We were told by the community liaison officer for Murchison Jose Muhangi, that the name chobe in Luo means a ‘place without men’.

The name was corrupted by the British, but in this area, women lost their husbands to either wars or wild animals so the many widows which gave the place its name. The world class facility was not short of guests for the two nights we were there as several tourists were trickling in private and tourist vehicles. The general manager of the facility James Rattos intimated to us that for the past one and half years, there are more Ugandans staying at Chobe than any nationality on the planet.

This was a good sign that Ugandan middle class was starting to spend on Ugandan tourism. The reception and restaurant of Chobe are located at a premium part of the facility overlooking a steep valley, where at the bottom the Nile flows fast towards Lake Albert. A few steps below the balcony, are several swimming pools where residents are spoilt for choice if they want to swim. A fire place was set between the river and the bar at the swimming pool. Whether day or night, here, you hear hippos charging or playing in water.

The sight of hippos is also a common place, but there are security to ensure no accidents take place. On our first night, the entire group comprising senior editors and producers sat around the fire to talk about Uganda’s tourism. Listening to Stephen Asiimwe, the CEO of the Uganda Tourism Board talk he underscored the fact that tourism was everyone’s business. He made a case for the media to support the tourism sector as tourism was a single sector that has potential to impact all sectors of the economy.

Apparently, according to Asiimwe, tourism contributes about 10% to Uganda’s gross domestic product and swears it could double or triple if all pieces of the puzzle were put in place. Talking over the fire place, we could not realize time was flying into the night. The laughter from conversation, questions and comments flowed. Wines and beers rained as the fire warmed up the pale tired faces. Time flew. No one was realizing until Rattos reminded us it was dinner time but the discussion on Uganda tourism sector was raging, from the concerns of the restaurants and curio shops charging in dollars to the yet to meet the standard service in our service sector.

Dinner was served hot. And yes, at a balcony overlooking the river. For now, I am thinking this must be the best part of the lodge to enjoy a meal, while enjoying nature surrounding this gem inside the animal paradise. Did I say, by this time; we have seen not only hippos coming as close as 15 metres from us, but, along the road, we had also rubbed shoulders with giraffes, elephants, baboons, monkeys, and antelopes. And this was before we stepped out for the game drive. It is 12.25am and I just need a good sleep.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day as we are waking up at 5.30am and set off at 6pm for a game drive around the park. I am excited and anxious.

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