So, the agenda was to be: day 1, drive to Murchison Falls. Day 2, game drive in morning, back to camp for lunch, boat drive down the nile in the afternoon. Day 3: hike up Murchison Falls in the morning, drive back to Kampala.
I slept OK, per my usual pattern of sleeping well for the first part of the night, but I woke up around 4:30. That’s when I heard what I later learned was a hippo, but I thought was a warthog. V complained to anyone who would listen about how loud it was and that there were cars and people coming and going all night log (I had not heard anyone driving around until around 5:30 am).
Apparently I had serious allergies to some sort of plant up there because I had a constant runny nose and no decongestant to take. It was really frustrating. O was my saviour and had a benedryl he could give me for the second night.
But, on our first morning (day 2) we had pre-ordered our breakfasts, which in my case consisted of cheese, tomatos, and two pieces of white bread. Not appetizing, but necessary for malaria meds.
We had been admonished that the ferry leaves promptly at 7 and we need to cross the nile on the ferry in order to go to the game park and we must be ready to leave at 6:30. We were all assembled and ready by 6:20, but for whatever reason that we don’t know, we didn’t leave until 6:45 and by the time we got to the ferry, there were so many other cars in front of us, we didn’t make the first crossing. So, we sat around in the rain for about 45 minutes waiting for the van to cross the river, and by then we had missed having a game guide. It was not an auspicious start to the morning.
Just a side note, at the ferry all the cars crossing were other tour company vehicles. It is funny how the image of northern Uganda is that it is a war zone not safe for westerners. As you will see from the photos, the place if chock full of white folk. In fact, so far as I can tell it seems to be a right of passage for teenage Danish girls to come to Uganda and get their hair done in cornrows, a la Bo Derek in “10″. There were tons of families with little kids touring the north. Also, W, S, and A who had just spent 10 weeks working at an NGO in the north said other than one small area, it is completely safe for people to travel. It is so interesting how reality and hype in America differ.
Anywa… so, the driver went off to the game park, and when we did start seeing animals, I tried to give as much info as I had learned on my game drives in Tanzania. I referred to what I saw in Tanzania, but I didn’t dwell on it, as most people here had never been on a game drive so it seems kinda bitchy to incessently talk about what I had seen. But V, who had been to Kenya, had a constant chorus of “in Masai Mara the game was much better. In Masai Mara you got much closer. In Masai Mara…”. This was around the time I realized that she would make excellent crocodile food. Or, maybe it was when every time I’d write something in my notebook she’d ask “What are you writing?” (If she only knew!!) or when she said she couldn’t see a particular animal that we were pointing out to her instead of listening to what we said she would just say over and over “i can’t see it, I can’t see it.” We’re like, well if you would SHUT UP and listen, maybe you would!
The rain was a big hinderance on our drive. The roads were very muddy and we had a couple of Hail Mary moments (or at least what I assume would be Hail Mary moments, if I were Catholic). At one point it did seem a good possibility the car might roll over on its side, but in the end, all was well.
From what I could tell, the other cars, even those from the expensive tour companies, weren’t having much game luck. But, the real reason for our problems, in my opinion, stemmed from our crappy driver. Granted, we had missed having an expert guide so I wouldn’t expect him to be able to spot animals, but he just sucked otherwise. He was employed by our tour company, but he was incapable of taking control of any situation. He was letting us, who had no frame of reference for location, time, or situation make decisions, and then he would get mad at us.
I could give lots of examples, but I think it would be tedious. Here is just one. If you asked him to stop because you wanted to take a photo, he would stop for about 8 seconds, then start to slowly drive off, meaning if you were taking a picture,it was ruined. Occasionally he would ask “is it OK to go” but that was only after he started driving off. At some point I’ll do a review of the tour companies I was on and write up what I think makes a good, responsible driver and what you get when you go on a cheapy tour.
However, the scenery was very pretty. It was much more lush than I expected, and at one point when we were down on the Delta of where the Victoria Nile runs into Lake Albert, across the river we were looking at Congo.
Well, in sum, we had a crappy game drive, and we just barely made it back in time to make the boat launch in the afternoon. The good news is we did make the launch, and it was great!
it was a three hour drive – 2 hours against current to the base of the falls, and 1 hour back. “Nelson” had been driving the boat for 23 years and really knew his stuff. He could not only tell us about the animals and what they ate, but he could say “around this next bend you’ll see some crocodiles” and stuff like that. The photos are great and I can’t wait to post them, but as noted, I’m not having any luck. Will need to try a different internet cafe. Whereas in Tanzania a lot of my photos are of zebras, giraffe, and elephants, here at Murchison the order of the day are definitely Hippos and Crocodiles. We saw TONS of them. We also saw some cool birds. More to come when the photos are posted.
That night we went back to the camp, had dinner, and then sat around the fire pit for several hours. S asked us to tell stories and we had some good ones. O is from Montana and Wyoming and was able to give us some inside information on the long-lost Billy the Kid treasure. W told the story of his murdered grandather in Tennessee which was a forensics case that had a piece done on it on 20/20 or 60 minutes or something like that. I told my famous “maggots up my nose” story, and other fun stories from the zooarcheology lab at Indiana University (a treasure trove of gross-out tales).
We discussed gun control, school violence, fireworks and lots of other fun stuff. O, W, S, and A drank alcohol that is sold in plastic bags here. Apparently it was pretty good.
Around 10:30 I took my benedryl and slept pretty well through the night, and had the Hippo incident mentioned in the other post.
The only bad thing that night, which seems to be typical of the camp, is that the camp staff wake up around 5am and talk to each other in full-volume voice, so pretty much after 5am its impossible to sleep unless you’re really a sound sleeper.
Tags: Africa, Murchison Falls, Uganda