Breakfast at the Olympia Hotel was sparse to say the least. Before leaving for Lake Mburo National Park, we drove into town to change some money and find something substantial to eat. We were successful on both accounts. Off to the National Park with its vast green plains. Just after we passed the Equator, we stopped for lunch at the side of the road. Skewered liver, beef and chicken were waved in front of us in the hope that we would buy some. Instead, we settled for roasted bananas and chicken, which turned out to be an excellent choice because it was very tasty.
At 15.30pm, we reached Mburo, which has a large zebra population and is the only park in Uganda with a population of impalas. Situated between Masaka and Mbarara in the west of Uganda, is Mburo, which is the only park in Africa with a lake. It lies between undulating hills and green valleys. Before we even reached the gate, we saw our first baboons and impalas. We arrived at the campsite; it looked like we had the place all to ourselves. We quickly pitched our tents and got ready for our game drive. At Mburo, you’ll not see any lions, cheetahs, elephants or giraffes. If you were extremely lucky, you might see the odd leopard or hyena. During the game drive, we passed zebras, topis, impalas, waterbucks, buffaloes, warthogs, hippopotamuses, elands, monkeys, mongooses and many different birds. Back at the campsite, four impalas were walking around our tents. These are wild animals but just like warthogs, they often came close to the campsite looking for food and somewhere to sleep. Oddly enough, you could get quite close to them. After dinner, we gathered round the campfire but we didn’t stay too long because tomorrow, at the crack of dawn, we were going on safari, by foot.
13/10 Lake Mburo National Park
The park has a diversity of mammals: aardvarks, hyraxes, porcupines, hippopotamuses, zebras, pangolins, warthogs, hyenas, leopards, buffaloes, civets, genets, topis, elands, klipspringers, oribis, sitatungas, impalas, and crocodiles. It also has a excellent variety of birds, 375 different species of water and savannah birds: crested cranes, the rare shoebill stork, marabou stork and bronze-tailed starlings, bee-eaters and many more exotic birds such as the blue caped coucal, bare-faced go-away bird, nubian woodpecker and the swamp flycatcher.
On cool mornings, you could see crocodiles and hippopotamuses. The surrounding papyrus swamps hide the beautiful sitatunga, a very special antelope with small, elongated hooves, which allow them to move freely on marshy land. The above-mentioned list also included a couple of nocturnal animals. If we wanted to see them, we would have to leave at first light tomorrow morning. During the night, we heard a hyena howling. As usual, this really makes you feel you are part of nature. Half an hour later than planned, we started our safari. We had the same guide as yesterday. It was cloudy, which meant it was ideal weather for walking. After just a few minutes, we were scared to death by an ear-deafening crack and a roar, which came from the bushes. Our first thoughts were: “Oh no, not a buffalo!”. Thankfully, it was only a warthog; it was probably just as scared as we were. A little later, we passed a column of safari ants, quite impressive! But be careful not to tread on them otherwise you will be severely punished by these aggressive little insects.
Our guide asked us to be quiet and crawl. We are always quiet on safaris, but this time you could have heard a pin drop. We had to creep to an observation post without any of the zebras or elands actually noticing us. The soil at this particular spot attracts many creatures. The animals are extremely alert, they have probably already picked up our scent, but so far, they hadn’t yet seen us. We enjoyed watching the animals - until the click of a camera was enough to warn them of impending danger and they all ran away. We came down from our observation posts and walked to where the zebra and elands stood. You could still smell their presence. We tracked the zebras and occasionally, we caught a glimpse of one.
The sun slowly broke through. By the time we got to the plains, it was sweltering. We were treated to impalas, zebras, elands, warthogs, oribis, topis and waterbucks. On the way back, a buffalo suddenly crossed our path 150m in front of us. Out of curiosity, it stood and watched us until we came too close for comfort, it then ran off into the bushes. We arrived back at the campsite at 11am. Before lunch, we brought our diaries up to date and after lunch, we took a little nap - it was raining anyway.
We woke up at 15.30pm, just in time to get ready for the evening game drive. We drove towards a little fishing village. Up till now, we hadn’t seen a single bushbuck, now out of nowhere there were about a dozen of them. They are very shy, solitary creatures. To top that we saw a big herd of impalas. The calves were so nosy they came within a few metres of our vehicle. These beautifully marked animals kept coming and going. There must have been at least 100 of them huddled together.
When we arrived back, there was a sumptuous feast waiting for us. A rustling sound came from the bushes, Ronald, our chauffeur on this trip through Uganda, was convinced it must have been a buffalo, but we weren’t so sure. We just carried on drinking our nightcaps before retiring for the night. In the two days we’d driven and walked through the park, we hadn’t seen a solitary sole.
14/10 Lake Mburo NP – Lake Bunyonyi
After yesterday’s rain, it was slightly misty this morning. Looking out of the tent, we saw impalas walking towards the back of Karla’s and Beate’s tent. We stayed perfectly still so we could savour the moment.
Today, we’re off to Lake Bunyonyi (near Kabale). This area is often referred to as the Switzerland of Uganda. Many people are surprised to find this type of scenery in Africa. The road to Kabale took us through several banana plantations before we finally reached the main road. Just before noon, we arrived at Mbarara. We had lunch there while Pamela and Rosemarie picked up enough groceries to keep us going for a few days. The nearer we came to Kabale, the more the landscape changed from flat to hilly. Kabale is surrounded by mountains, which is where the Bakigas live. These indigenous people were originally farmers. When we drove over the top of a mountain, we could see Lake Bunyonyi, which is one of the deepest lakes in Africa. We loaded our luggage onto the boat, which took us to Bushara Island within a quarter of an hour. Bushara is a small island where birdlovers can have the time of their lives. One steep climb took us to our campsite where we camped for 2 nights. We had a few drinks in the local restaurant.
That afternoon, I started getting stomach cramps and had to go to the toilet a lot. I hoped my diarrhoea wouldn’t get any worse because in three days time we were going to track gorillas and if you’re ill, you’re not allowed to go. I had to go to the toilet twice before going to bed. Should I take Immodium to stop the diarrhoea? I’d rather not take any medication unIess it is really necessary. I decided to sleep on it and watch what I ate instead.
15/10 Lake Bunyonyi
I slept like a baby all night but as soon as I set foot out of the tent, I had to run like mad to the toilet. I was hanging in there by the skin of my teeth. Before my ‘light’ breakfast, I walked half way round the island. Everything was wet due to the morning dew. The birds started singing the dawn chorus. Two kingfishers sat on a plank waiting for breakfast to swim along. They were both frightened when a cathfish splashed out of the water.
After breakfast, I completed the other half of the walk with Ellen. We spotted several beautifully coloured birds such as the variable sunbird, cinnemon-chested bee-eater, stripped kingfisher, speckled moudebird, white-breasted cormorant, etc. The rest of the morning we stayed in the restaurant and passed the time of day by reading books and bringing our diaries up to date. As far as my diarrhoea was concerned, so far so good. If I had a light lunch, perhaps all my troubles would be over.
That afternoon, a Ugandan family came to the campsite to sing and dance for us. Contrary to the ‘masai’, last year’s entertainers, these people clearly enjoyed performing for the sake of it and not simply for the money. The smallest of them, a little girl who wasn’t even 2, stole the show. She danced around waving her arms rather like a baby elephant that still had not gained control over its trunk. During the performance, which lasted three-quarters of an hour, she wetted herself twice. You could see the urine trickling down her legs and onto her skirt. The rhythm of the drums ensured we could hardly sit still.
We lazed about the rest of the afternoon and did some bird spotting. We’ve got a long trip ahead of us tomorrow, and the day after that we’ll be tracking gorillas so we could do with a rest.
16/10 Lake Bunyonyi – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
After breakfast, we packed up our damp belongings. We left Lake Bunyonyi behind us and headed towards the northern highlands. Driving through the mountains was a very bumpy experience. There were hardly any trees. Practically all the land had been turned into plantations. I personally would love to see this landscape returned to its original state. While driving through one of the villages we suddenly saw a man running as fast as his legs could take him carrying a pig’s head under his arm. We then saw the decapitated pig’s body thrashing about on the ground. There was a blood stained patch where the head had been severed. Someone was standing guard over the pig’s carcass. We all felt our stomachs churning and it was difficult to erase the image from our minds.
We reached the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest sooner than expected. This is where the gorillas live. The transition from the cultivated landscape to the tropical rainforest was every bit as drastic as when they felled the trees to make way for the plantations. The air is humid; so every now and again there were thundery showers. It is almost as if the mountains, which are so steep and overgrown, were saying, “If you want to see the gorillas, you’ll pay for it dearly.”
We weren’t sure if it was because of the incident with the pig or the change in humidity, but most of us didn’t feel too good. Perhaps we’re just excited about tomorrow? After dinner, we had an early night, so we could be fit for tracking the gorillas tomorrow.
17/10 The Mountain Gorillas
We got up early. We needed a big breakfast to sustain us while tracking the mountain gorillas. We showed up at 8am. From this point on, a guide, two trackers, three guards and three bearers accompanied us on our trek through the jungle.
Bwindi’s Impenetrable Forest is home to approximately half of the world’s mountain gorilla population. There are 600 mountain gorillas, of all the gorillas these are the most endangered species. Approximately 300 mountain gorillas live here in a protected environment, these include the Mubare and the Habinyanja Group, a family of 17 and 22 gorillas respectively. No more than six humans a day may visit each gorilla family and no one is allowed to stay longer than an hour.
One suddenly realised we were one of the privileged few in the World who would came face to face with a mountain gorilla today.
We took a path, which soon turned into a trail. This is Bwindi at its best. Its scenic beauty is mysterious and breathtaking. Just a little later, we were going to need some of that breath. We walked pass a waterfall, the trail had long disappeared. It was getting steeper and more slippery. We crossed a stream for the third time, but this time there was no bridge, and we ended up getting our feet wet. There is an unbelievable amount of flora here. Bwindi’s Impenetrable Forest is the real African jungle. Climbing plants and other vegetation make it almost impossible, i.e. impenetrable.
As far as the different types of vegetation are concerned, it is a never-ending fight to reach the highest point in order to get more light. Gigantic trees are entangled in climbing and other parasitic plants such as mistletoe and orchids. Bamboo bushes thrive in the humid atmosphere and where the sun does manage to breakthrough the elegant heliconia and lobster claw unfold their colourful leaves.
The tracking can last anything between 30 minutes to five hours, and sometimes even longer. Two hours into the tracking and there is still no sign of a gorilla. The thought that there is no guarantee you’ll actually see one flashes through my mind. Now we can appreciate why you have to be reasonably fit to go tracking, that was a requisite, and the good hiking boots proved to be no luxury either.
We reached the spot where the gorillas were seen yesterday. They have moved on further up the mountain. The trackers were trying to find out where the gorillas spent the night. The climb slowly became more arduous. We had to rest more often. We cut our way through the thick jungle. After almost four hours, we found the spot where the gorillas slept that night. Broken branches and leaves, as well as enormous piles of faeces gave away where the silverback had slept. The silverback is the adult male, the boss of his group. Before leaving for Uganda, I read an article written by a holidaymaker, he compared the silverback, qua size, to a Smart car, now when I look at that turd, he might even be right.
Even from here, the trail pointed towards the top of the mountain. The trackers were doing their best, but so far, there’s not a gorilla in sight. Now and again, the words ‘give up’ popped into my mind but the thought that I’ve never been so close to one spurred me on.
We were making little headway, and as if that wasn’t enough the heavens opened. We were almost at the top of the mountain, and now we were all huddled together. An enormous clap of thunder scared us to death. It was just what we needed! Now that we were soaked from head to foot, they had finally found the gorillas. It took us four and a half hours! Due to the adverse weather conditions, it was very dark and the gorillas were hiding in the bushes. We could see a couple of silhouettes. Our guide instructed us to make a semi-circle around the gorillas. You could see them much better from here. The silverback was sitting in front. This particular group had two silverbacks. Once they started moving we got a better idea of the group. The gorillas moved further up the mountain. We followed them across the mountain top until they rested and sat down to eat. A silverback settled down comfortably in the bushes and started eating. Out the corner of my eye, I saw a shadow running away. A female gorilla passed in front of me not 3m away. We kept watching, minutes seemed like hours. Because of the bad weather, cameras were stuck or didn’t focus properly. Thankfully, the video still worked. The silverback started looking for a more opened space. He too sat down to eat. This must be the moment to take the perfect picture. All around us, we heard the sound of branches breaking. The group had surrounded us. One gorilla hide behind a bush, another climbed down a tree, and a third strolled by. One of the silverbacks also moved on. We turned, now the gorillas were in front of us. A female, with a silverback in her wake, came towards us. She passed 5m in front of us, I followed, and filmed her disappearing into the bushes. Another female walked towards us. When she passed, there was only 1m between us. The odour of the gorilla was very pungent and not particularly pleasant. Visiting time was almost over. On our way back, we saw the second silverback hiding in the bushes. One last glance before we started our descend. Everything was wet and slippery because of the downpour. The bearers were extremely helpful both on the way there and on the way back; they kept putting their hands out to us so we wouldn’t fall. Not even the guards managed to remain upright at all times.
Exhausted but extremely contented, we reached our campsite at 4.30pm. Although it was no mean task, we did finally manage to find and see the gorillas. Did the mountain really speak to us yesterday?
It might seem that there are no other animals in Bwindi, but nothing could be further from the truth. At least 120 mammals live here, including chimpanzees and eight other types of apes, elephants, bushpigs, giant forest hogs, various types of bats and rats, at least 346 different types of birds if not more, 14 types of snakes, 27 species of frogs and toads, 6 species of kameleons, 14 types of lizards and more than 200 types of butterflies.
After literally a cold shower and the occasional cup of warm water, which we through over ourselves, it was time to celebrate today’s success with a nice, cold beer.
18/10 Bwindi Impenetrable Forest–Ishasha Section in Queen Elizabeth NP
After all that hard work, we deserved a long lie and it slowly began to sink in that we had almost rubbed shoulders with the gorillas yesterday. At 10am, we headed for the Ishasha Sector of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. It took two and a half hours to drive there. In the meantime, we had the opportunity to repair the cameras and make the video camera moisture-free.
We still had 15 kilometres before reaching our destination when we saw a big monitor lizard crossing the road. Further down the road, Ugandan kobs were grazing. The landscape turned into an open plain interspersed with trees.
Once the formalities at the gate were taken care of, we carried on. Enormous herds of Ugandan kobs and a number of topis crossed our path. We were then driven to our campsite where we were allocated campsite number two. As soon as we arrived and jumped out of the car, we were taken aback. It truly was a wonderful place to spend the next few days. In front of us was the River Ishasha. A family of hippopotamuses live there. On the opposite side of the River Ishasha is the Congo. We walked up to the hippopotamuses with the help of our guide. There were about 25 of them, ranging from small to large in size. We stood there enjoying the noises and the view when we heard other noises coming from behind. The guide signalled us to follow him. We walked about 50m along the river. A large group of hippopotamuses were standing on the river bank. As soon as one of them saw us approaching, it jumped into the water. The others watched nosily before doing the same. Entering the water was accompanied by a lot of splashing and enormous waves. All things considered, it was the perfect introduction to our stay in the Ishasha Sector.
Ishasha is a very out-of-the-way place situated at the southern part of the park, which is renowned for its tree-climbing lions. Tonight and in the course of the next few days, we will be going to look for big game in the park. Ishasha provides the perfect opportunity to observe the animals in their natural habitat. Before the journey even started, Bart expressed his doubts about the tree-climbing lions. “Maybe it is written in books, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” was roughly the gist of it. Time will tell.
We pitched our tents. Pamela and Rosemarie started making dinner while we went on our first game drive. We soon saw large herds of Ugandan kob, topi, and in the distance buffalo. After driving for almost an hour, a jeep drove towards us, the occupants told us they had seen some lions nearby. We drove on quickly. We saw the said lions. Ten of them were lying in fig trees with their paws dangling down on both sides of the branches. What a splendid sight! Never before. had we seen this is real life. Their heads were drooping. A couple of them had their eyes closed and some of them were looking at the car. What a piece of luck! This is why people come to Ishasha, and that on our very first game drive! We stood for ages just enjoying it all. It started getting dusky - time to leave.
By the time we got back, our food was ready. During dinner, while the hippopotamuses were climbing up the bank, we talked about what we’d seen. This is the Africa we can never get enough of.
19/10 Ishasha Sector
We hardly slept a wink all night thanks to quarrelling hippopotamuses and laughing hyenas. This time we didn’t mind getting up in the morning for a quick breakfast before going on the next game drive. We left just before 7am. Yesterday we went to the southern circuit, today we’re going to the northern circuit. We’d seen the most common game here, but the game drive was anything but successful because after less than two hours our guide called it a day. Naturally, we know we are not visiting a zoo and that we were very lucky yesterday but we thought it a pity that the game drive was called-off so soon. On return, we talked to Pamela about our disappointment. She too thought it was totally unacceptable and filed a complaint with the head of the park. (Only later did we discover that Ronald was the person responsible for ruining the game drive. He couldn’t be bothered driving and even suggested dropping us off somewhere where we could watch the animals to our hearts content). All the same, Pamela had somehow managed to arrange a guide to take us on safari by foot. Our female guide told us, without any prompting, all about the flora and fauna we came across during the safari. We walked for almost two hours in the vicinity of the River Ishasha. Back at base, lunch was ready, pancakes and soup, as usual.
We brought our diaries up to date and had a little nap before going on the evening game drive. Naturally, we kept a constant eye on the hippopotamuses because with them around there is never a dull moment. All of a sudden, one of them charged up the bank, thankfully it was too steep for her. It was a mother trying to protect her calf from us even though we were quite far away, but her aggressive behaviour was most impressive. She then bumped into her baby making it drift towards a fringe of reeds. This simply made the mother even more agitated. Once again, she tried to climb up the bank. Wilfred, Pamela, Rosemarie and myself soon realised things could turn very nasty. We didn’t waste any time running as fast as our legs could take us. I didn’t know I could run that fast. Wilfred, Rosemarie and I ran towards the car and in no time at all we were sitting in it, but where is Pamela? From the car, we could see her fiddling about with the zip of the tent. She couldn’t open it and was looking our way with a rather blank expression on her face. Looking into her eyes, you could see she realised she’d made the wrong decision. Fortunately, the hippopotamus was unable to climb up the bank, she slide back into the water to look for her calf. This was a sign that the coast was clear and for us to get out of the car. We then burst out laughing at the expression on Pamela’s face, which was one of utter amazement. Not just because the zip had got caught but because the tent was facing the same direction as the hippopotamus. If she’d managed to climb up the bank then heaven only knows what could have happened. When we left, the mother was still looking for her baby, that was stuck in the fringe of reeds and trying to stay out of the current.
Ellen slept through the entire incident, but the noise had woken her up. In a sleepy voice, she asked. “What on earth’s going on?” We told her the story and then got ready for the evening game drive. Here too, we saw the most common animals and in the distance our first elephant. Our guide instructed Ronald to leave the road so we could follow the elephant. After roughly 200m we got out and walked behind our guide until we were about 100m from the creature. The elephant, which incidentally had only one tusk, continued eating. Further up, we saw a newly born Ugandan kob lying on the road. The baby tried to keep as flat as possible so it wouldn’t be noticed. The mother walked away in a nonchalant manner to give the impression that everything was alright. We decided to leave them in peace and went on our way. In the second half of the game drive, we hardly saw any animals although we were in the same area as yesterday where we saw the 10 lions. It seemed like they’d eaten, or chased, all the animals away.
Another day is coming to an end so we headed back home. All of a sudden, in the horizon, we saw a herd of at least 200 elephants. Two smaller herds were trailing behind. The lower half of their colossal bodies was dark grey, the upper half was light grey, obviously the elephants had crossed the River Ishasha. A couple of days ago, guides heard shots being fired, and the noise came from the Congo. This was probably poachers. Elephants often have to flee to Uganda. Even our guide had never seen so many elephants together. What a stroke of luck. We drove on and dropped our guide off at the information centre and we told the other guides what we’d seen. At first, they wouldn’t believe us, but they were pleased that so many elephants had arrived. It had been at least two months since they’d last seen one.
After dinner, we sat around the campfire. The guide in charge came to visit us. He wanted to know if everything was to our satisfaction and to offer an explanation for what happened that morning. We offered him a beer and chatted for a while. The beer turned out not to be such a good idea after all because it didn’t go down well. To get to the car, the guide had to lean on his colleague’s shoulder. It was a good job the car just happened to be pointing in the right direction. In the distance, you could hear a lion roaring.
20/10 Ishasha Sector
Last night was much quieter than the previous one. All the hippopotamuses decided to go to the Congo in search of fresh grass. We vaguely heard some lions and hyenas but they were so far away.
Just like yesterday, we tried getting up as early as possible, just after daybreak. This time we were more successful. We started off in the southern sector. Again, we didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. We were amazed that there wasn’t a trace of the 200 elephants. In the horizon, we could just make out two elephants. We decided to try our luck at the northern sector. It paid off. We saw four lionesses lounging in a fig tree, and a male sprawled out on the ground. Despite the fact that his mane wasn’t yet fully grown, he had a magnificent head. We had now counted 15 lions, 14 of which were in the trees. They had just gorged themselves and all the lionesses were dangling in the trees. The guide told us they were so full we could actually walk in front of them now. We took his words with a pinch of salt. Reluctantly, we had to leave this splendid scene. A little later, we saw a herd of buffaloes standing along the side of the road covered in shiny mud. They crossed the road right in front of us. On the way back, we saw more animals. The only creature we didn’t see here was the waterbuck. This large animal with its white ring on its bottom is something of a rarity here. We arrived back at the campsite just before 10am. I wrote in my diary all the things we had experienced that morning, when suddenly shots were fired. Poachers? A few minutes later, the guide in charge dropped in to put our minds at ease. The guides had fired the shots. They were shooting at some poachers, they didn’t hit any but they did confiscate their spears.
Although our vehicle didn’t have four-wheel drive, we wanted to try and reach the Lake Edward Flats that night, this was to be our last game drive. In general, the road is reasonably accessible. The first obstacles we came across were puddles of water and mud, which we were able to avoid. Ronald had to make more and more manoeuvres just to keep going. The clouds turned dark blue and forecasted rain. We decided not to push our luck and turned back. Heaven only knows what would have happened if we’d got stuck. Apart from the animals one usually sees here, we still hadn’t yet seen a lion, but you never know. We headed for home. The first raindrops began to fall and when the windscreen wipers were switched on they change into a layer of mud.
We saw Ugandan kobs, buffaloes, waterbucks, warthogs, topis, crested cranes etc. We tried our luck once more roughly where we first saw the lions that morning. We spotted them sooner than expected. As odd as it might seem, they were three lions lying in the trees. We can’t complain, on three of the five occasions we saw lions in the trees.
It was still raining and after we watched the lions for half an hour we went back to the campsite. The minute we stepped out of the car, we saw the mother hippopotamus with her calf trying to climb up the bank. She emerged from the water on the Congo side so we didn’t have to make a run for it. This time, all she wanted to do was graze.
By the time we had dinner, it was already dark. A car drove up. The guide in charge was back again, it must have been enjoyable last night. We offered him another beer. The story of the poachers came up again. He told us that if they catch any poachers they would be killed without mercy. It started pouring heavily, the rain lasted quite a while. We quickly disappeared into our tents but we were barely able to keep dry.
21/10 Ishasha sector - Queen Elizabeth NP
After a very wet night, we left for the northern sector of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The road through the park is just a seasonal one and rather muddy after all that rain. Without four-wheel drive, this could be a perilous adventure. We saw baboons, Ugandan kobs and a waterbuck with her baby, which incidentally was standing in the middle of the road. It was so scared, it just stood there unable to move a muscle while its mother was safely standing at the roadside.
We had to push the car out of the mud not once, but four times. Thankfully, the car wasn’t too heavy. Nevertheless, the last time was the worst. The car in front of us was stuck. The passengers had to get out and push it. We watched from a safe distance to see if they could manage. They weren’t making much progress, so Ronald tried passing them. We all stepped out of the car to make it lighter. Carefully, using the verge of the road, Ronald managed to manoeuvre the car alongside the vehicle and drove through the mud. Of course, he didn’t stop before he was on solid ground. We ran after the car and jumped in. Just when we started moving, Wilfred shouted, “There’s a lion in the tree”. Our immediate reaction was, “Sure, pull the other leg”. Sure enough, 50m from where we got into the car, there was a lion in a acacia tree, a mere 5m from the roadside. The lion was very interested in those people who were still busy trying to get the car out of the mud. Just then, the car became free and it drove towards us. Just like we did the passengers were walking behind the car. When we drove back to warn them about the lion, it jumped out of the tree. We watched it walking towards the people until it disappeared into the bushes. They had managed to reach their car safely and we went on our way.
We picked up a sick woman and her baby in Ishasha. I felt very sorry for her. It couldn’t have been easy for her travelling along this road.
We managed to reach the main road without any more setbacks. We did some shopping and arrived at Jacana Safari Camp around 3pm. This campsite is situated close to a crater lake next to a mountain ridge. We quickly found a place to pitch our tents. Just like the previous campsites, we were the only visitors.
For several days, we couldn’t take a shower. Our campsite was close to Jacana Safari Lodge, which just happens to have a swimming pool. As you can imagine, we were very pleased to go for a swim. The swimming pool overlooked Lake Nyamusingire. The lodge has a colonial look about it. It really is an incredible atmosphere. The manager said if we wanted to take a shower before dinner, we would be most welcome. The entire group invited Pamela, Rosemarie and Ronald over for dinner. We made our plans for the next day while the sun was setting, with the chimpanzees were screeching in the background.
22/10 Queen Elizabeth National Park
Last night, we frequently heard the chimpanzees screeching. In the course of the next few days, we will see what the Queen Elizabeth National Park has to offer. This park is one of the largest in Uganda and has countless lakes of all types and sorts, e.g. fresh water lakes, inland salt lakes and crater lakes. The park also has marshlands, savannahs, mountains and mysterious, undiscovered forested valleys. In short, a park that has an excellent natural habitat for breathtaking and exotic animals, be it in the air, land or sea.
A checklist of mammals consists of 66 animals including: hippopotamuses, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, Ugandan kobs, topis, bushbucks, waterbucks, forest hogs, aardvarks, porcupines, pangolines, bushpigs, warthogs, lions, hyenas, civets, etc.
Nile crocodiles can be found in the Kazinga Channel and in Lake Edward. You can also admire pythons, cobras, adders, mambas, and other snakes and lizards.
This morning, we’re going to visit Kyambura Gorge. In the gorge, a tropical forest has arisen; this is where the chimpanzees live along with other animals. This was merely a foretaste of what’s waiting for us at Kibale National Park.
Tracking begun at 9am. First, we walked along the edge of the gorge. After about half an hour, we started descending. The paths were slippery and muddy due to all the recent rain. A roof of leaves ensured it was very humid and all that crawling and creeping made me perspire profusely. We didn’t see many animals but the forest was really beautiful. We had walked for about an hour before we heard our first chimpanzee. The noises came from behind, probably from the opposite side of the river. Due to the rains, this had now become an impregnable obstacle. We agreed it was best to go back to where we started from and to drive up the other side of the gorge. We took the first path that went up to get out of the gorge. Once we reached the lip of the gorge, we came across a wounded eagle. Its beak and claws were most impressive. The guide thought it was more dead than alive and we left the bird to fend for itself with the words, “let it die a natural death.”
When we arrived at the place where we had set off, the car had not shown up despite our request, via the radio, to come and pick us up. We had no choice but to wait, Ronald finally turned up just before noon, which was the time we had originally agreed on. After some deliberation, Ronald offered to drive us to the other side of the gorge, a trip that would take 3-4 hours. That much exertion in the midday sun with only breakfast to sustain us seemed ludicrous. This morning’s trip was already more than some people could endure and besides we already had a game drive planned for that very evening. We turned down the offer and went back to the campsite for some lunch.
At approximately 3pm we left for the game drive, but before it could commence, we had to run some errands, e.g. shopping. We also visited another campsite (Mweya) to see if we wanted to stay there for a couple of nights. Although the animals in Mweya are more use to humans, we decided to remain at Jacana because it was more peaceful, sheltered and much greener. Time was getting on now and before the game drive actually got started it was almost half past four. We saw plenty warthogs, Ugandan kobs, buffaloes and waterbucks, but not much action. We also drove to an area where we should have seen some lions, but to no avail. It was almost a race against time. To put it briefly, the game drive was nothing to write home about. It’s moments like this one realises this is not a zoo and that you may consider yourself fortunate if you see something a little out of the ordinary. The car, a minibus, which the locals used as a taxi service, was not exactly suitable for a game drive because there were stickers on the windows, and the windows kept jammed. On days like this, when everything goes wrong, these shortcomings are very irritating. Of course, the trouble is, we’ve been spoilt for years.
Dusk soon fell and we returned to camp. Ronald and Pamela/Rosemarie were having words. We had no idea what it was all about because they didn’t converse in English but every now and then we got the gist of it. They probably had a row that afternoon. On the way back, Ronald drove like a lunatic. Those passengers who sat in the back were anything but happy, they actually felt quite nauseated. Today wasn’t our day. Thankfully, we managed to reach the campsite in one piece. Dark clouds were heading our way. The heavens opened, we’ve never seen the likes of it in all our lives. It was a fitting end to a disastrous day.
After supper, we jumped into bed to forget about today and start afresh tomorrow, after all tomorrow is another day.
23/10 Queen Elizabeth National Park
Our first observation today was that we managed to keep dry in the tent. We left for our game drive at 6.30am in the direction of the crater lakes, we should encounter some elephants on the way and if we had enough time, we could look for lions.
This area with volcanoes lies at the equator. It looks like a necklace threaded with lakes, which decorate the landscape. This area is covered by craters that have erupted. Some of them have even formed crater lakes due to volcanic activity some 8 – 10 thousand years ago. Other craters are dry. This unique concentration of unaffected craters is a lifeline to the animals in the dry season. It is impossible to describe what the craters looked like, they are just one of Uganda’s wonders with beautiful panoramas over the savannahs. A car with four-wheel drive wouldn’t be a luxury here either. We got into difficulty once, but apart from that, we managed quite well. In some of the craters, clouds were hanging until they disappeared like a blanket over the lips of the craters. The scenery is out of this World. Unfortunately, the animals were nowhere to be seen. We started thinking it might be a repeat of yesterday, when all of a sudden I thought I saw an elephant walking in the distance. The guide confirmed my suspicions and we took a look. Once we got closer, we could see it was a herd of about 50 elephants. We sat on top of the car to get a better view. They were just about to cross the road 15m in front of us when something stopped them from doing so. This gave us the opportunity to observe the herd. The smaller elephants were playing and the larger ones were plucking an acacia tree. The biggest elephant pulled a large branch off the tree effortlessly, you would have thought it was a matchstick.
The elephants shoved each other in an attempt to obtain the best places and made it known in no uncertain terms, by making loud trumpeting noises, that they wanted more space. After being thoroughly entertained for about half an hour we left the elephants and descended the wall of the crater. We came across the spoor of a hyena but not the animal itself. We frequently saw warthogs, bushbucks, waterbucks, and of course, Ugandan kobs. We spotted another three elephants. Suddenly, someone shouted, “A lion”, “Another one”, and “Another”, “Over there”, etc. We climbed onto the roof of the car so to see more. The lions were lying in ambush. Their prey (some buffaloes with a youngster) was only 100m away and were slowly walking our way. One lion hide behind a termite hill, another in a ditch, a third in the long grass and a fourth behind a bush. There was also a Ugandan kob in the vicinity. The buffaloes were very wary. I wasn’t sure if it was because of us or the lions. We certainly seemed to have made the lions nervous because two of them started retreating. The guide said he didn’t usually see five lions in this park.
In the middle of this spectacle, quite out of the blue, Ronald decided to use his mobile phone while sitting on the roof of the car and of course he had to shout at the top of his voice. He wasn’t exactly our favourite person before this incident, but this really was the last straw.
By this time, it was almost noon and at 3pm, we had a rendezvous with a boat that would take us across the Kazinga Channel. Before then, we needed some lunch and it didn’t look like the lions would proceed with the hunt due to the heat and the noise. We left the lions in the hope that we would see them later that night.
Before we could reach the campsite, we had to travel approximately 15 kilometres along a small path. Both sides of the path were covered in a reedy border. Little birds often flew in front of the car rather like dolphins swimming in front of a boat.
When the clock struck 3, we arrived at the boat. Kazinga Channel connects Lake Edward to Lake George, the crossing takes about 2 hours. There were many animals along the canal, obviously looking for somewhere to cool off. We had just set off when we passed a herd of buffaloes that were idling about in the water. They were surrounded by Ugandan kobs, and numerous birds including the saddle billed stork, and the pelican. Later we also saw waterbucks, African fish eagles, more buffaloes, birds and kingfishers diving for little fishes, not to mention our first African snake, a cobra looking for nests of bee-eaters in the steep riverbed.
On the way back to the campsite, we went back to see if the lions we saw that morning were still there. We took the same road, but this time from the opposite direction. We asked Ronald to stop once we arrived at the very same spot. He was totally convinced it was somewhere else and carried on driving. We tried convincing him he was wrong. After five minutes, he turned the car around, but he still wasn’t convinced. Only when we stood on the actual ground and our guide showed him the exact spot where we’d seen the five lions, did he finally admit he was a bit mixed up and hadn’t realised this was the same road. There wasn’t a sign of a lion or a kill. We went to the place where the lions usually hang out. On the plain, we saw two waterbucks running away. They were being pursued by a beige/gold animal, we were so convinced the pursuer must have been a lion that I, somewhat too enthusiastically shouted, “A lion”. It wasn’t, it was a Ugandan kob. The guide enjoyed himself immensely and wanted to carry on. Dark clouds told us that rain was on the way and Ronald was moaning as usual. To be honest, we would have to say we’d seen enough for one day and we didn’t want to risk getting stuck in the mud, especially in the dark.
Before we even reached the campsite, the first raindrops had fallen on the windscreen. We drove away from the rain and by the time we got to the campsite, it was already dry again. Thankfully, it remained that way for the rest of the evening. Our guide joined us for a drink around the campfire and after dinner we crawled happily into our sleeping bags.
24/10 Queen Elizabeth NP - Kibale NP
At 10 am, we left Queen Elizabeth National Park and headed towards Kabale National Park. Relations between Ronald and Pamela/Rosemarie were far from ideal, but it had a favourable effect on us, Ronald finally drove smoothly so we could enjoy the fantastic scenery. Our first stop was Kasese where we had the chance to call home to tell our families all was well. Our next stop was at Fort Portal. Before coming here, we had enquired on several occasions if it was safe to travel here. We were told, it was where we wanted to go, but other parts were not so peaceful. While we went shopping, there was another torrential rainstorm with huge hailstones. Hailstones in Africa, that was a new experience for us.
We still had to drive approximately 35 kilometres to the campsite, we were led to believe that the last few kilometres would probably be over a dirt track road and that it could be sometime before we could pitch our tents. That torrential rain didn’t help matters either. With hindsight, it wasn’t quiet as bad as what we’d expected. The campsite was just a few kilometres away from Kibale National Park and it overlooked a lake. We stepped out of the car and were welcomed by the owner and a TV journalist, who asked if he might film us. Once we had pitched out tents and I had up-dated my diary, we chatted about such matters as safety and travelling through Uganda. The journalist wanted to know what brought us to Uganda for three and a half weeks, and what I thought of nature, animals and tourism here. He filmed every word I said. Who knows, maybe I’ll appear on Ugandan television yet. We exchanged names and Email address, and then he left.
There was a television at the campsite, but it was only used for playing videotapes. There was a tape about rafting on the Zambezi. It brought back to mind the time I went rafting on the Zambezi. Later that evening, we watched the film “Gorillas in the mist.”
After dinner, we had a few drinks and the crickets supplied the music with all that chirping. We were all looking forward to visiting the chimpanzees at Kibale National Park tomorrow.
25/10 Kibale National Park
We got up at 6am. It was a gorgeous day. A red glow behind a cloud gave away a rising sun. The mist in the valley slowly began to lift. At 7am, we left for Kibale National Park, which is 766 km2. This tropical rainforest used to provide food and shelter for huge herds of migrating elephants. Even today, this park is home to the largest population of elephants in Uganda. These potentially dangerous animals are rarely seen but they leave enough traces behind to make their presence felt.
But Kibale is famous for its enormous variety of apes including the red-tailed money, diademed monkey, blue monkey, white cheeked mangabey, olive baboon, the black and white colobus monkey, the red colobus monkey, and last but not least the chimpanzee. Nowhere in the World do they have as many different types of apes as they do here.
You could also expect to see the bushbuck, Harvey’s red duiker, blue duiker, Ugandan kob, genet, bushpig and the African civet. It is a little more difficult to spot a buffalo, waterbuck, hippopotamus, warthog or the giant forest hog. In Kibale there are about 300 different sorts of birds, including the hoopoe, grey parrot, ant thrush, negro finch and the Kibale forest thrush, to mention but a few. There are also 144 types of butterflies.
Kibale has extremely old trees as high as 55 metres. Apart from the original tropical lowland rainforest, it also has a regular forest as well as a mixture of both of these. The park also has plains and marshes. But today, the chimpanzees have the leading role.
When we arrived at the park, the first thing we were told was that the regulations for visiting the chimpanzees had been tightened, the number of visitors had been reduced from 6 to 4. The guide saw we were disappointed because all six of us wanted to stay together, but we soon managed to persuade him otherwise and we left before he changed his mind. After rushing around like mad men for the first 10 minutes, we stopped. The rainforest was alive with strange noises. The guide then explained a few rules to us. For starters, if we should run across another group, we had to say we were looking for birds, we weren’t allowed to say we were looking for chimpanzees. This was because 6 people are permitted to look for birds. But, should we happen to come across a chimpanzee (purely by coincidence of course) we mustn’t use flash photography. However, we could totally disregard these rules because immediately afterwards he added that even if we were caught nobody would mind too much. The guide was a smooth talker and we couldn’t help but laugh. We carried on at full steam ahead just as we did prior to our little lecture. We frequently deviated from the path to take a short-cut. Now and again, our guide told us something about the flora and fauna. We walked for about half an hour before we heard our first chimpanzee. Again, we left the trail to find out where the sound came from, just a few minutes later we saw our first chimpanzee dangling from a bush just above the ground. As we approached, the chimpanzee climbed up a tree to join the rest of his group. The group were sitting in the top of the trees. According to our guide, there must have been 40 of them, but we only spotted 15. They often shouted and screamed at each other. They were eating and occasionally they would drop something heavy. Luckily for us, we weren’t standing right underneath them. While we were watching the chimpanzees our guide was on the radio giving instructions to another group as to how to get here but via a roundabout route, after all he couldn’t get caught taking a group of 6 people to see the chimpanzees, and that way we were able to stay a bit longer. The guide receiving the instructions was new to Kibale and he didn’t know his way around yet. Our guide took full advantage of the situation and led him up the garden path.
For three quarters of an hour, we had a glimpse of how chimpanzees live. Thereafter our guide asked us if we had stayed long enough and if we were satisfied or not. Of course, we were and we were happy to leave the chimpanzees behind.
On the way, our guide told us about certain behavioural patterns of chimpanzees and to demonstrate this he used trees and branches as tools just like the chimpanzees do.
Once we arrived at the visitor’s centre, we had to wait for our car to come and pick us up. We were back at the campsite by 11am. In the meantime, the sky had turned grey, yet another downpour. This time we were lucky that it didn’t happen when we were visiting the chimpanzees. The knowledge that another group had spent five hours looking for chimpanzees made us realise that we too could have easily been soaked to the skin. That afternoon we brought our dairies up to date and after dinner we watched a film. Another day had come to a close.
26/10 Kibale National Park (Lake Nyabelere)
Yesterday when we got up it was a beautiful day, today is dismal. Lots of dark clouds were heading our way. Today a local guide is going to take us to a mountain called ”The top of the World”. It got its name not so much because of its height but because you can see a long way away from whichever angle you choose. It has a panoramic view (360o) of the entire area and far away you can see the Ruwenzori Mountains (the Mountains of the Moon).
We just got underway when it started to rain. The umbrellas came in handy straightaway. The start of the walk took us along (let’s just call it) a main road.
Passers-by and people sheltering in the doorway of their homes shouted at us every now and then. We turned left. The road was slightly uphill and the rainwater left a little stream that cleared the way through a ditch in a worn out road. The rain became heavier and heavier. The road turned into a small path that meandered through sugar cane fields and banana plantations. Small farmhouses, narrow ridges with a beautiful lake below us and steep muddy paths were the last obstacles we had to overcome before reaching the “Top of the World.” I can even remember that one of us could no longer surpress the urge to swear like a trooper and shed a few tears. It was by no means an easy climb and conditions were far from ideal. Someone compared it to tracking the gorillas. Whenever the moaning reached its peak, we were almost at the top. The scenery was spectacular and if the weather had been better, and some people were in a better mood, it really would have been out of this World.
We couldn’t see the Mountains of the Moon because it was covered in a thick blanket of cloud. By now the rain had stopped. From here, you could see clusters of lakes dotted over a green landscape. We were planning on swimming in one of the lakes but the weather put a damper on that. Going down the mountain was a lot easier than going up it. Again, we wandered between the farmhouses and plantations towards the local market. It was very busy at the local market. I could do with a couple of T-shirts, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. We took the path that brought us to the clothing stalls. Suddenly everyone moved aside. A blind snake slithered along the path looking for a quiet spot to rest. Apparently, blind snakes aren’t dangerous, but if that’s the case, why did the locals step aside? Back to business. The first T-shirt that attracted my attention cost 3000 Ush. I thanked the lady, and said I’d look further. She immediately reduced the price to 2000 Ush. Pamela said the locals could buy it for 700 Ush. I asked Pamela to get another one for me and gave her 1000 Ush. Pamela walked on ahead so the sales woman couldn’t see she was with a Mzungu. The sales woman had a striped T-shirt in her hand. The colours (yellow, green, pink and orange) were so dazzling it hurt my eyes. I stammered “Oh no” and to make matters worse she wanted another 300 Ush but before I knew what had hit me, I’d owned the dreadful thing. Two T-shirts for next to nothing! We’d put the bargains in a plastic bag and went to meet Ronald who had to pick us up here. Before driving back to camp, we stopped at a lodge for a few drinks. The lodge had a picture-postcard look about it, it looked out onto a volcano lake. We had lunch at our own campsite and for the umpteenth time, it was raining again. This is the last night we’ll have to sleep in a tent so hopefully they won’t let us down. Tomorrow we’re off to Murchison Falls where they have traditional clay huts and bandas.
27/10 Kibale NP (Lake Nyabelere) - Murchison Falls NP
We left the Kibale region for good. People told us the roads were bad and if it rained the journey could take up to eight hours. We weren’t looking forward to it. It turned out better than expected, it didn’t rain and the road wasn’t too bad. Halfway through our journey we were ordered to stop by some armed men. We wondered if they were from the military, the police or even rebels? You couldn’t tell by their clothes. They looked at the car from every angle and even wanted to search it. They soon changed their minds once we told them everything would fall out if we opened the boot. “Okay, drive on” was the retorted reply. We later found out they were from the military. The rebels use this main road to smuggle arms, amongst other things, and that was why they were patrolling it.
Not much else happened on the way and we reached Masindi without any setbacks. We still had 89 kilometres to travel before arriving at Murchison Falls. The last few kilometres were a nightmare. Every time we drove over a bridge in Murchison National Park, we were attacked by tsetse flies. Actually, Murchison Falls National Park owes its very existence to these flies. In the past, they caused many of the local inhabitants to suffer from sleepy sickness (encephalitis lethargia). Reason for the inhabitants to abandon this area, paving the way for the national park.
You can compare the tsetse flies with that of the fly blind that plagues horses. All of a sudden, we were attacked by a dozen of these little terrors. Panic in the car. Everybody started swatting the flies to keep them at bay. They seemed almost invincible, you had to swat them at least ten times before you were finally free of them.
The can of insecticide, which Karla had bought, really worked wonders. Four flies were jammed in the window of the car but once they got sprayed they were soon kicking up the daisies. From now on, every time we approached a bridge, we shut the windows. This helped, and with the odd exception, we managed to keep the tsetse flies out of the car.
After those active last few kilometres, we arrived at the campsite in one piece. We were allowed to pick any hut we wanted. There were two beds, both had a mosquito net. It was pitch-black inside, but in the light, when the door opened, you could see there were a considerable number of mosquitoes. Fortunately, the campsite also had insecticide. We asked if we could use it and sprayed the entire hut before going to bed with, for us at least, a consoling poison.
28/10 Murchison Falls National Park
It had been three weeks since we’d last stepped out of a bed. It was quite comfortable and we weren’t bothered in the least by the mosquitoes. We left at 9am for a cruise along the River Nile. This river divides Murchison National Park into a northern and southern sector. Murchison Falls National Park is one of the most spectacular parks in Uganda, perhaps even in Africa. It’s without a shadow of a doubt the biggest, 3,840 m2 and it has the greatest concentration of wildlife along the river.
The most common animals found here are the elephant, giraffe, hippopotamus, leopard, warthog, lion, aardvark, pangoling, civet, buffalo, oribi, patas monkey, Ugandan kob, and the baboon. There are also 450 types of birds, including the Pel’s fishing owl, pennant winged nightjar, red-throated bee-eater and the rare shoebill stork.
Murchison Falls National Park has a diverse vegetation of woods and marsh land to open savannahs, giving us the opportunity to see many of the most common animals in Uganda.
But the main attraction at the Murchison Falls National Park is the awe-inspiring waterfall. The River Nile forces its way through a narrow crevice and plunges 40m in one breathtaking leap.
This is also the final destination of the cruise. Along the bank of the River Nile, we encountered crocodiles and hippopotamuses from very close by. From the roof of the boat, we also saw waterbucks, buffaloes, monitor lizards and countless birds, including the African fish eagle, kingfisher and the saddle-billed stork.
The sun was shining but because we were so engrossed in all the animals we hadn’t even noticed we’d got burnt. We thought the cruise along the Kazinga channel was beautiful, but this one was even better. After cruising for two and a half hours, we reached the Murchison Falls. We saw the River Nile spewing out through a 7m gap, which was accompanied by a deafening roar. Some of the passengers left the boat and walked to the top of the waterfall. Everybody warned us it wouldn’t be easy. You were advised to be in good physical shape, if you wanted to take part and furthermore, to go at your own pace. A newspaper article in “The New Vision” published just a few days previously, devoted a lot of attention to this subject. They particularly mentioned the steep and slippery walls as being the hardest to endure. They also quoted reactions from several visitors. Of course, we’d been put through our paces the last few weeks but even so we were a bit nervous when we started the climb. It was easy in the beginning and before we knew it, we were standing just a few metres away from the waterfall. Watching how the River Nile dispersed into a cloud of rain was a magnificent sight. By this time, there were no trees or bushes to give us some shadow. It was very hot and the sun burnt relentlessly on our shoulders. I was like a leaking sieve, the sweat just poured out of my body. I had a full-time job on my hands trying to keep the cameras dry.
We then started the climb. It wasn’t nearly as bad as everybody said. We climbed a few stairs to get to the top; our only adversary was the heat. The advantage of walking to the top is that you get to see the entire length of the waterfall. If you were to drive to the top, you’d only see about 10% of it. Ellen went back to the boat and was driven to the top but we didn’t know she’d see a herd of elephants and a group of crocodiles on the way and that too was lovely to see.
We walked for about an hour before reaching the top. The force with which the water is expelled through a 7m gap is unbelievable. The water is a huge whirlpool and causes clouds of mist. Ellen joined us in the afternoon, and together we enjoyed the view from the waterfall. We couldn’t stay too long because the car, which was needed for the afternoon’s game drive, had to be brought over by ferry. We had to catch the three o’clock ferry. It was now 2.45pm, we were back at the campsite, but we still hadn’t had any lunch. We decided to send the car on ahead and we’d catch up later, we’d take a speed boat. That way we could have lunch.
It was still very warm. Wilfred and I decided to sit on top of the car during the game drive, so we could enjoy the view and feel the wind blowing in our hair. The game drive was just underway and we’d already seen a bushbuck. These solitary creatures are very shy. As soon as the car stopped, it vanished into the bushes. We were lucky we could savour the moment just a little longer. Murchison Falls National Park is, qua landscape, one of the most beautiful national parks we’ve ever seen. Plains with palm trees were the most dominant features. There wasn’t much game to see in the first half an hour. After that, we saw our first giraffe and hartebeest in Uganda. The grass is very long, sitting on top of the car you could at least see across the plains. Whenever we saw something, we knocked on the roof, which was the sign to stop so that the others could also enjoy the animals.
Wars, conflicts and poachers have all taken their toll on the wildlife, but this was particularly evident at Murchison Falls National Park. A lot of progress has been made in the last 10 years, after the regime of Idi Amin. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait too long for a complete recovery of the animal population. While driving along we saw oribis, Ugandan kobs, buffaloes, giraffes, warthogs and right at the very end an extremely poisonous puff adder and one elephant.
The ferry left at 6pm and we had to be there before then. We arrived at one minute to six. The ferry is still on the far side and it is apparently too expensive for it to come across just to pick a couple of passengers. After all, the car had to remain here, it’s needed for tomorrow morning’s game drive. The guide asked us to come as quickly as possible because there was a good chance we could see some big game.
We had to make the crossing in a small boat, which couldn’t carry more than four passengers at once so it had to sail to and fro three times. Which would have been cheaper? Back home, we took a tepid shower, the water had been warmed by the sun, and it was a joy to wash all the dirt off our bodies. We had a drink in the campsite’s restaurant and shortly after we had dinner. Unfortunately, this was somewhat dominated by an army of ants that were on the move. Right along our table, large ants were carrying their eggs to their new home. If one of them were to sting you, it could be very painful, so be careful not to tread on them in the dark.
29/10 Murchison Falls National Park
We woke up at 6am. Whenever we came out of our huts there was a red glow on the horizon. After breakfast, we packed whatever we needed for our game drives and the swim at the Paraa Safari Lodge. At 7am, we crossed over the River Nile. Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting in the car ready for the morning game drive. Once on the other side, all Ronald had to do was fetch the car. After waiting for quarter of an hour, we decided to see what was taking him so long, to our astonishment he was phoning. We all piled into the car in the hope he might take the hint. He didn’t. Even the guide was standing in the doorway. Only when it suited Ronald did he finally get in the car, we left three-quarters of an hour too late. The chances of seeing big game in action were now considerably slim.
I personally wanted to see a leopard and a shoebill stork, you don’t often see either of them. We could do with a bit of luck. We drove to the area where we had the best chance of spotting them. On the way, we saw all the animals we’d seen the day before, except for the elephant and the adder. For some considerable time, we drove round an area where we should have seen leopards and shoebill storks, but we never saw one!
We were driving between a group of oribis and Ugandan kobs when the oribis raised the alarm. It was a whistling sound that warned them of danger. Their heads all turned in the same direction, and ours did too. The people in the car behind us pointed at lions. We could see the silhouette of 5 of them. Four vanished behind a mountain and one peered out over the plain from under an acacia bush. Once it had lain there was nothing else to see.
We couldn’t pursue the lions any further, that would have meant leaving the road, and that was prohibited. If you got caught the chauffeur would be fined US$ 100 and the guide would be arrested. Our guide said his boss sat in the car behind and that he wasn’t going to take a chance, and who could blame him. We didn’t even deviate from the road when we saw vultures circling around. It is such a pity that the park as so few side roads.
The last part of the game drive was a ghost town as far as the big game were concerned. We decided to head for Parra Safari Lodge for some lunch and a refreshing dive in the pool. The temperature had soared to about 40ºC.
At 15.30pm, we left for the next game drive, this was to be our last one, at least for this holiday. I think most of us would have been quite pleased if we’d sat this one out because of the heat. For this very reason most of the animals were nowhere to be found. This was the third time we combed the same area. Although Murchison Falls National Park is huge, only a tiny proportion is used for game drives, i.e. north of the Nile and then only west of Paraa Safari Lodge. I’d like to know why that is.
During the three-hour game drive, we saw the most common animals. Elephants, leopards and shoebill storks all remained elusive. There are approximately 2000 elephants and 6000 giraffes in this park. So where are they? Strange that we only saw a handful of giraffes and one elephant.
Today, the tsetse flies hit home again. Poor Ellen was their favourite victim, she got bitten three times above her right eye.
While we had a nightcap to round off the day, you could see Ellen’s eye was swollen and it was getting bigger by the minute.
30/10 Murchison Falls National Park – Kampala
All that shuffling of Ellen woke me up. You should have seen her. Her eye was so swollen you couldn’t see her pupil or eyelid anymore. It truly was a sight for sore eyes.
We had to travel for 6 hours, back to the place we started from three weeks ago. The first two hours were the worse, after that it was tarmac roads. Before we left the park, we saw two impressive buffaloes and a warthog. We all made a combined effort to keep the tsetse flies out of the car. If Ellen were to be bitten in her other eye, it would probably make her completely blind, at least temporarily.
After we passed Masindi, we drove through an area with papyrus. The locals were busy chopping away the side of this beautiful marsh plant. Actually, we’d love to have a few cuttings, so they choose a couple of nice ones for us. They asked Pamela if we would be prepared to give 1000 Ush so they could buy the local tipple. We were only too happy to do so. If you’d seen how happy they were and their friendly smiles, it was worth every penny.
We arrived at Olympia Hotel about 15.30pm. We agreed to eat again at the Ethiopian restaurant. This time Pamela, Rosemarie, Ronald and Bart came too. Three exquisite dishes with meat, vegetables, cheese and eggs were put in front of us and we enjoyed every last morsel. A man selling curios waited patiently till we’d finished eating before he approached us. A set of six small elephants were in great demand. He then showed us a mask that came from the Congo. Everybody fell for it as soon as they set eyes on it. All that remained was to agree on a price. I could have it for 25,000 Ush, that’s about US$15. Pamela gave the thumbs up sign. After this divine meal, we headed straight for the pub, just like the day we arrived. Bart managed to drum up another dealer. Bargaining began all over again. Just like his predecessor, he too had the masks from the Congo. I couldn’t resist the temptation to haggle. With great difficulty and with fits and starts I managed to finally beat him down to 25,000 Ush. I paid a reasonable amount and he made himself a tidy profit. Pamela was most impressed with my trading skills. Tomorrow we’re going to the curio market and I was just itching to go.
In the meantime, Bart gave us a couple of deep-fried grasshoppers to taste. They were surprisingly good but the thought of it does take a bit of getting used to.
We agreed to go into town with Pamela and Rosemarie at 11am. We wanted to visit the antique and curio market. Kampala didn’t seem quite so hectic this time around and we strolled through the streets at a leisurely pace even through it was very crowded.
The antique and curio market had about 50 different stalls. It wasn’t be so easy to haggle here. We immediately fell in love with a wooden anti-theft bag, i.e. a type of carrier bag which splits in two and has a wooden lid as well as a long chord that runs through the entire length of the bag, through the lid and back down the other side. Even Pamela had never seen the likes of it. The asking price was 60,000 Ush. We walked on and Pamela tried sussing out the street-trader. In the meantime, we’d seen many pretty things but the bag was the pinnacle of the market. Pamela came to meet us, as expected the woman drove a hard bargain. She wouldn’t take anything less then 50,000 Ush. By this time, we’ve combed the entire market and it is no where to be seen. It was a one-off curio. I decided to try my luck. She really was a tough negotiator. It took a lot of effort to get her down to 48,000 Ush, still too expensive for my liking. I also wanted a mask and I thought I could haggle for both once I got negotiations going. I was prepared to pay up to 60,000 Ush for the bag and the mask. She wouldn’t budge an inch and I decided she could take it or leave it by then. Half an hour later I walked by her stall. I shouted to her, “Hi, hard bargainer” and she started laughing. We started talking, this time her boss was present, a well-built lady who interfered with business while she was eating her lunch. We cracked a few jokes, had a good laugh and told her how the haggling went up till now. We talked a while and finally I got my wish, I could have both items for 60,000 Ush. We shook hands and departed on the best of terms, everybody was grinning like the Cheshire cat.
It was now 4pm. We had a snack at Steers (a fast food restaurant like McDonalds). We had a reservation at a bistro near the hotel. Pamela, Rosemarie and Ronald had to give an account of the journey to Bart. The girls were visibly upset when they left Bart.
They didn’t want to discuss the matter with us at dinner but we felt they should, that way they could get to hear what we thought of it all. Of course, you only heard one side of the story but during the trip we had picked up enough things to be able to assess the situation properly.
It was now 9pm and little by little during dinner we noticed that Ronald said things that simply weren’t true. Pamela and Rosemarie were very upset and worried they might get the sack. As far as we were concerned, this would be a great injustice because nobody could have done more for us on this trip than Pamela and Rosemarie did and they were always cheery. Unfortunately, we couldn’t say the same for Ronald who on more occasions than we care to remember presented himself as conceited, pig-headed and dour. I could write a book about him but I won’t because it would simply ruin a good story and a terrific holiday. We promised we’d discuss this matter fully with Bart on the return journey.
We tried to enjoy the rest of the meal and made the most of it. The uneasy feeling about the role which Ronald played in this entire scenario kept haunting me. My aversion to Ronald had reached an all time high. The girls will get a good tip but Ronald can forget it. He has to drive us to Entebbe tomorrow.
Pamela and Rosemarie came to the hotel to watch videotapes of the gorillas, chimpanzees and the tree-climbing lions. Then came the inevitable goodbyes. (Email) addresses were exchanged and we promised to write a letter or send an e-mail. Whenever Pamela started crying Ellen and Karla joined in. Both Pamela and Rosemarie really are one in a million.
1/11 Kampala - Amsterdam
About 11am, we left for Entebbe. Bart’s suggestion to stay the night at the Victoria Lake Hotel and visit the Wildlife Education Centre from there was a good idea.
Ronald was very reserved and once he dropped us off at Entebbe, he realised he’d blown it. Before we even went inside the hotel, he retreated quickly into his car to avoid all form of contact. We didn’t mind in the least and we enjoyed an early lunch.
That afternoon Ellen, Beate, Wilfred and I visited the Wildlife Education Centre. At this ‘third-rate’ zoo, at least by our standards, the locals can learn more about wildlife live in Uganda. As far as we were concerned, the main attraction of the park was the shoebill stork. We didn’t stay long. Back at the hotel, we spent our time just hanging about, writing or reading. The water was too cold to go for a swim. After our last supper, it was time to travel to the airport. Bart was already waiting for us, he came to say goodbye. Somehow he’d managed to pull a few strings and came to some arrangement with another airline company. Ronald dropped Bart off, again he avoided all contact. Oddly enough the co-chauffeur, who we met for the first time that morning, was really friendly, he waved spontaneously and wished us a safe journey.
2/11 The end
After stopping in Nairobi and changing in Brussels and London, we landed in Amsterdam a little bit behind schedule. The journey was very tiring but went without a hitch. In Brussels, we thought we were in trouble for a minute when we had to wait for a captain travelling to London, who had to fall in for a sick colleague there. We were asked to be patient, it wouldn’t take more than five minutes – it took half an hour, it reminded us of the outward journey and all the trouble we had with our luggage. Fortunately, this time everything went smoothly and when we saw our luggage on the conveyor belt at Schiphol another African adventure had come to an end.