here, there, everywhere

Murchison Falls

In Africa, Uganda on January 1, 2017 at 5:46 pm


The White Nile flowing into Lake Albert, Uganda

The third day into the trip was December 31 so for New Years we headed north to Murchison Falls to enjoy a game park and the stunning falls where the White Nile gets compressed into 7m before tumbling down towards Lake Albert.  Up early but starting late as per African time, 10 of us took off in 2 vehicles.  We left the city and headed towards Masindi, the last town before the cut off to the park.

The roads were paved and relatively smooth for the first part as this is a touristy destination, but after Masindi they turned back to dust and potholes which made for a great 4×4 experience.  At times we couldn’t see the road or oncoming traffic through the orange clouds, and as I was sitting in the front seat of the second vehicle, I got to enjoy all the ‘will we or won’t we’ moments.

We had to check in at the entrance to the park and this is where my ‘white privilege’ kicked in, or so I was told after the fact.  I was the only white person in the group and when we went to check in, I stayed in the car and only got out to visit the bathroom, I did not go to the registration centre.  The drivers took my passport and went to register the vehicles and our names.  Apparently when the people at the ticket booth saw my passport, they registered both vehicles and every other person in my name.  Then the privilege turned off as they tried to charge 10 times for my admission.  Fortunately my friends are skilled negotiators and got me in for the same price, but this theme played out time and time again for the rest of the trip.  Eventually we were back on the road and about 45 minutes later we arrived at the Sambiya River Lodge.

Now I thought it was a decent place but in my opinion anywhere with running water is at least 3 stars.  The rest of my friends were not impressed.  It was New Years but there was no party scheduled, electricity only came on from 7 to 10pm at night, ergo no wifi, and the food was just ok.  Whatever, I was happy and figured my spirit could carry the rest.  The kids jumped in the pool, the adults played cards, and in the end we were able to convince the staff to keep the wifi on all evening.  We also met the guide who would go with us into the game park the next day and set up an 8am departure time.

Next morning everyone was up and at the breakfast table and ready to go by 8:30am (a record in my opinion).  Problem was the guide was gone, he’d left with another group.  Apparently he thought we were ‘rude’ because we laughed and asked questions while he explained the park ride to us.  Well, if that was rude better he stranded us then and there than later when he’d be stuck in a vehicle with us.  As we set off for the park, an employee came running after our vehicle to tell us we had a flat.  Fortunately we had an electric pump and were able to get the tire re-inflated so we could get to the ferry to cross the river to the other side where a service station could fix it for us.  We started off again and drove for about 30 minutes before we had to stop and put air in again.  The first vehicle stopped and turned off to come help but when the driver went back the battery was dead.  We were in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception, a flat tire and a dead battery.  This is why I travel, I love this stuff because you never know what will happen.  Fortunately the lead vehicle was a UN land cruiser which meant it survives every emergency and was able to get going on a rolling start.  The other vehicle’s tire had enough air and so we started off to catch the 9am ferry.  We arrived at the dock and watched the ferry as it was mid-river by that point.  The driver was able to send a message and bribe it to come back so we wouldn’t have to wait for the 11am sailing and within about 20 minutes we were on the river ourselves.

Arrived on the side of the river to find the service station could not fix the tire, so driver 1 took the vehicle back to the other side to find another station while the rest of us proceeded to the park to pick up a guide for hire.  Now this guy was something else.  He jumped in the back seat and proceeded to tell us about the animals we saw in that moment.  I asked a few questions about elephants, which we had not yet seen, and he told me he wouldn’t answer those questions until later as he wanted us to concentrate on the here and now and didn’t think he should explain things we would later forget.  !!!  Then when we did get to the elephants, something set off the 2 youngest kids in the back of the truck and they started crying and yelling.  This in turn apparently disturbed the elephants which were only about 20 feet away and they turned around to leave.  The guide told us to make the kids quiet because they were upsetting the animals.  Yes, yes, we will get the 3 year olds to shut up so as not to scare the elephants.  Elephants don’t move very fast so at least we had a good view of their departure.  We finished the ride, dropped off our odd guide and headed back to pick up the now repaired vehicle and get some lunch at the lodge.

After lunch it was back in the vehicles to head to the falls via a pretty quick drive through an area infested with tsetse flies and loads of fly traps.  You can hike to the top of the falls from the river below but I found out later most people in the vehicles were not fans of water so that idea was nixed at the outset.  Instead we did the much shorter hike from the parking lot up to the lookout point and then walked down to the 7m gap the Nile squeezes through.  Loud loud loud when that much water is forced into a tiny spot, and thankfully lots of spray to offset the heat.  This was by far the best part of the trip to date – the falls were stunning, the scenery spectacular, and everything made much better by having such great company to share it with.

We returned to the parking lot and the park attendant was there waiting for the admission.  Everyone but me automatically paid the small fee, park guy wanted 10 times the amount for me.  Again my friends rallied and ripped into the guy telling him I was Ugandan and eventually I paid the same or maybe a little more.  At any rate it was kind of nice not to have to do my own negotiating, I could become used to this treatment…

Back to the lodge for another evening of cards and relaxing in the lounge before loss of electricity and bedtime.  All in all a pretty great weekend.  And Happy New Year!

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