By Emma Were Belinda

Sometimes when foreigners visit our country and begin using all the superlatives to describe how Uganda is truly gifted by nature, we tend to think they are just being generous with words or they are just trying to appease those of us near them. Because we have never stepped out of our local environs to fully explore the beauty of this country we tend to fail to market our country both within and beyond our borders.

I must plead guilty of this disease and until the 23rd of June 2017, I was as ignorant as most Ugandans.  My time at Murchison National Park came about as part of a group of Media Managers that were selected by Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) to visit the park with an intention of changing the tourism narrative of Uganda. Murchison falls made a perfect start for me bringing into context the natural beauty of this country that the colonial British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchhill once baptized the Pearl of Africa.

I have lived in Uganda all my life but this was the first time I was visiting a National park in Uganda, not because I don’t love adventure but every time the need to unwind arises, my first thoughts fall outside Uganda. The closest I have gone with Ugandan adventure is at the beach in Entebbe!! What a shame!!

The freshness that comes with leaving town remains the most tempting and every time I get a chance to leave town, I seize it.

We set off from Kampala, UTB offices at about 12.45pm and our next stop was Kabalega Diners Restaurant which is located on the Kampala Gulu highway for our Lunch. Little did I know it was going to be such a long drive until I could catch something to eat. Lucky enough, I always have candy otherwise; the hunger almost spoilt the rather good ride. Where there’s a journalist, story telling never stops, of people falling off beds at night, meaning of Buganda proverbs and it went on and on …such a fun filled ride. By the time we arrived at Kabalega Diners, I was too hungry to eat. I just nibbled a little bit and that was it for me. We hit the road again and arrived at Chobe Safari Lodge at dusk.  We were welcomed with freshly made juice and later ushered to a well-deserved cocktail and Bon fire where we had a candid discussion about Uganda’s Tourism with the CEO Uganda Tourism Board Mr Stephen Asiimwe.  Chobe Safari Lodge is the pinnacle of adventure with significant view of nature, coupled with good food and hospitality. As a guest, I would not ask for more.

The Hippos and movement of other animals was a constant reminder ofhow close we were with the wild and someone was constantly scaring them off for our safety.

The next morning, we would be seeing more of the National park by taking a jeep trip safari tour. We kept our eyes fixed on our surroundings for a fortunate spot of a lion or leopard. However, we were afore warned by our guide and namesake Emma that sighting those two is somewhat rare, since we started our ride a bit late.  True to his word it didn’t happen. However, we didn’t miss out the rest of the wildlife; we enjoyed the families of Elephants, Giraffes, Monkeys, Hippos, Baboons, Buffalos, and numerous cobs.

For our next destination we took a boat cruise up the Nile towards the falls. The scorching sun was unbearable, but we enjoyed the ride from the roof of the boat. As we drew nearer to the falls the continuous thunder of the water was deafening and soon we embarked on Barker’s trail towards the top of the falls. We entered the jungle almost immediately into the intimacy with nature. We embarked on the trail into the wilderness and thanks to the manmade steps that makes it less scary. However, what started as a gentle climb soon became a challenging trek as we ascended up.

I almost fainted going up but thanks to my group mates who kept me going, I made it, to the top and enjoyed the shower at the top. I saw a few of my colleagues fighting for breath too; signs we need to hit the road to getting fit. The winner was my boss Ofwono Opondo who made it to the top and continued jogging. Nonetheless, the trek was absolutely worth every minute but not for the faint hearted. The narrow steps through the wilderness almost keep your heart in the mouth but also created immense photo opportunities. We were drawn closer to the angry waters and immense falls and the sound just leaves you in awe at the same time want to run in fear. At some point,us the cowards might not have made it to the last peak had it not been unending jokes from JossyMuhangi of Uganda Wild life Authority who kept us laughing as we gathered more energy to soldier on.

In my naivety prior to my visit, I had little appreciation for how spectacular and thunderous this natural wonder is .It’s probably the most amazing sight I have seen. Before my trip, a friend had advised me to get  the rainbow shot but unfortunately my camera broke down and I couldn’t take one but true as I arrived at the top, there, it was!!!.I asked a friend to take the shot for me. The watery mist bouncing off the rocks and raining over my head was the topping to the beauty of the whole trip.

A well-deserved barbecue was prepared for us at Heritage Safari Lodge with in the park. The welcoming dance by the restaurant staff was so touching but our stay was short lived since we had to ride back to Chobe Safari Lodge where we stayed our entire visit.

During his budget speech, the Minister of Finance MatiaKasaija pronounced Tourism as one of Uganda’s priority actions for financial year 2017/18.  One of the ways to achieve this is to market Uganda as a world class tourist destination. The onus is on all of us to change the Ugandan narrative by being sensitive on what we pronounce about our country especially alarmist reporting. Government can only do so much with marketing but if we continue sending out negative, unfounded stories, we shall only but water down that effort.

It’s about time we became patriotic as a contribution to the growth of our economy. Mr. Stephen Asiimwe, CEO UTB says Uganda is targeting tourist arrivals to increase to 4 million per year and double tourism earning to $ 2.7b by 2020.This translates into jobs for Ugandans and the chain continues.

As i reflect on my travel and stay at Murchison, my wish was to have more options for my travel. Affordable air travel would have made my journey less tiring. Yes, road transport is part of the experience but, for the one that wishes otherwise; let’s give them the option to choose. As we look out for outsiders, domestic tourism must also be encouraged. If we are offering Ugandans lower rates, let the responsible Ministry vigorously inform Ugandans about it. There is giving us offers, and there’s people getting to know about it.

My experience and stay at Chobe safari lodge, is one I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to miss. Let us experience it first and tell the world about it.

The writer is a Public Affairs Manager