By Mike Ssegawa
Day 2 of my visit to Murchison Falls National Park was in short incredible. Where in the world do you find nature walks, great animal sanctuaries, rich history, cultures, business acumen, water sports, water falls, boat rides, etc, all parked in one place.
It is what led to my conclusion,– God indeed gifted Uganda with nature, and the River Nile was indeed a handwork of none but the creator. It was a Saturday morning. The rest of the world was preparing itself for Idd celebrations the next day. My colleagues and I were up by 5am and got ready for breakfast which took longer than we had planned.
Stephen Asiimwe, the CEO of Uganda Tourism Board, our host for the trip, had wanted us to leave Chobe Safari Lodge by 6am so that we can catch a glimpse of the wildlife as they start their day. Mornings and evenings are the best time to catch wildlife at its best. But it took us another 30 minutes before we could set off for the Para entrance.
We took about two hours to reach the gate that gave us access to so much memory. In the day’s treks, we traversed several districts including Nwoya, Pakwach and Buliisa in Bunyoro. You could see Nebbi in West Nile just across the Nile river. I realized it was very easy to see animals in Murchison park than many parks I had visited including the world famous Masai Mara in Kenya. Murchison falls is incredible. Our guide of the day Kakuru did not promise much.
He said Uganda Wildlife Authority was a conservation agency, so if anyone wanted to see all animals, the better place to visit was the zoo in Entebbe. However, we were in the jungle, and it is not the animals’ business to wait for human beings. Here, they mind their own business. However Kakuru was spot on to add, the game park was home to the big four which many tourists want to see on their visit. On our part, we saw elephants, buffalos, giraffes, hippos among others, but we had no chance to see lions which Kakuru put to over 50 in the park. We also missed the leopard.
However several species of antelopes including Uganda kobs, errand, olibi, etc, are a common place, including baboons and monnkeys. We were able to find families of giraffes like I have never met before. In Uganda, it is the Rothschild giraffe that is common. Buffalos are also in plenty, especially loser buffalos who are kicked out of their herds over old age. Kakuru took us to see hippos down the river Albert Nile as it emerges from the Lake Albert to cross the famous Pakwach Bridge, the landmark bridge which marks the entrance into West Nile.
My friend Tabu Butagira of the Daily Monitor calls this region home, so, he encouraged us to support the local economy, buying crafts made by the industrious people of Pakwach town that evening. While in the park, Kakuru told us that hippos were the most dangerous animals in the park given the number of people especially fishermen they have killed.
He went on to say that most fishermen trespass the hippos’ haven as they want to fish in waters hippos stay, forgetting the saying in the wild, never get in the way of the hippo and water. Apparently there is more fish in the areas hippos stay. Hippos in this park and all along the Nile valley, have schools and nurseries everywhere. It is one of the most dominant animal you will see in the area. Also, elephants are in plenty. And there is nothing more I can tell you than asserting that we met plenty of elephants in the Murchison falls national park, as they had a fill of the rich grass in the savannah grassland which is full of their food.
After seeing the animals, we drove to Para Safari Lodge also owned by the Madhvani Group’s company Marasa, where we had a yummy lunch. Here, we found lots of white and black faces eating their lunch. The house was full. It was easy to tell the tourist season was officially on in Uganda, much as it is usually expected in July.
Here we were in June and all lodges in Murchison falls national park are fully booked. As we go down the Para landing site to pick a boat to the Murchison falls, located 17km from Para safari lodge, one of the guide William Lalobo told us about his lodge, Heritage Safari, and he asks us that we pass by for a treat in the evening on our return. We agreed. UWA official Jose Muhangi had booked for us a two deck boat, and so cruised towards the falls, 17km away.
The guide here tells us the journey would take us one and half hours upstream towards the falls. And that the boat was sailing at a point more than 20 metres deep. Along the way we saw buffalos, hippos, giraffes, crocodiles, to name among a few things. There’s forest is on both sides of the river, and the strong current runs down stream, so the captain uses skills to dodge high current areas which he has mastered. Finally we reach a point we can see the falls from about two kilometres. Here, the boat docks, and honestly we cannot go ahead as the current can sweep us away.
There, Uganda Wildlife Authority has however made a track. They call it the Baker’s trail. Those of you familiar with Ugandan history, there is a man called Sir Samuel Baker who allegedly discovered the Albert Nile and named this particular falls, Murchison. IT IS said that he used that path to reach the rock where he pronounced those magical words “Murchison” which have made this particular spot historic and a big tourist attraction. Wait a minute, this spot was once named Kabalega falls, after the legendary Bunyoro king. The Baker’s track is about 1.5km but it took us about an hour of panting and sweating before we could reach on the top of the hill where you can see the stunning site of the falls at different points and from different angles.
Honestly, if one is not physically fit, you better opt out of this expedition. Anyhow, I made it on top on the hill. While on top, seeing the Murchison falls forming and emerging out of the rocks, could be the most spectacular thing you could see on this visit – possibly in a lifetime. Also, there is another falls that looks beautiful just next to the Murchison.
It is called the Uhuru falls, which is unfortunately less famous than Murchison falls. Uhuru is a part of the river which formed in 1962, the year Uganda got its independence. The two falls make a breathtaking twin show of nature and beauty as the waters fall down more than 40 metres to match towards Egypt. I was told, there are the last major falls one would find on the Nile on its way to Alexandria.
There are lots of tourists taking photos at this place including the hell’s hole where water falls on different rocks making a strong foam and creating an ambitious of fog around the rocks where tourists stand to take photographs from. It is one of the best things and feeling one can ever experience. As we finish the track – I see one eye catching writing on the other side of the Baker’s trail that the Omukama of Bunyoro Gafabusa Solomon had visited that spot which legend has it was the place Bunyoro Kitara kingdom was born. And well, at this point, we are not in Acholi, rather, we are on the side of Bunyoro in Buliisa district where we found our bus waiting to drive us back to Pakwach.
It was evening. We crossed Pakwach Bridge, driving shortly to Pakwach town where we bought some souvenirs, including a stick with sword now in my possession. I was told it is the protection every man needs in his house and around his community. We returned to Nwoya district to head back to Chobe, not before we had briefly fulfilled our promise to Mr Lalobo to check on his Heritage Safari Lodge. It is a budget facility built in Acholi architecture.
William’s people entertained us with several Acholi dances including the rakaraka dating dance, before he offered us some snacks and drinks. He told us that this is the first lodge in the Murchison falls park owned by an indigenous Ugandan. He deserves to be supported. Time was again not on our side. It was past 8pm, we needed to drive back to Chobe safari lodge for dinner and sleep. We arrived there at 10pm. Tired.
We took shower before taking our places at the dinner table. Mr James Rattos’ people had prepared a sumptuous dinner as usual. After dinner, we got around Asiimwe talking about this and that of tourism in Uganda and the east African region. By the time we checked out clocks, it was after 1am. Already Sunday. Idd day. But I had write this piece. It is 2.09am. Good night.
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