4 - Into the Wild
Updated: May 15, 2022
It was a strange feeling to, in the same day, go from the sheer density of people, noise, cars, trucks & pollution of Kampala to the blissful quiet of the countryside and sudden appearance of elephants beside our Land Cruiser.
And then the buffalo.
Then the Kob and Jackson’s Hartes (hartebeasts)
And the giraffes. The mesmerizing, astonishing towers of giraffes.
And then more elepahants.
We were safariing!
We visited Murchison’s Falls, allegedly the most powerful waterfall on the planet. You can feel the fury in the air, then the spray jetting high into the air touches your face, and then you see the incredible whitewater river flow furiously smashing against rocks and then not just falling but thundering off the cliff to explode in the writhing pool below before slingshotting back up even higher in a thick white cloud of smashed water particles. The energy resonates through your chest, and we were soon soaked as if a rain cloud had just unloaded on us.
The rainbow needed a little bracing
And then we arrived at the lodge, in the middle of the park. A quick check in and then a quick swim. I jumped in the outdoor pool, and when I surfaced I discovered two giraffe, mother and young one, fifty feet away, looking at me. It didn’t feel unnatural or scary, just… right. In such a cool way. I was the visitor, being watched by the locals. Perfectly reasonable, as the pale naked ape frolicked in the big watering hole.
After sunset, some animals seek shelter inside the wall of lights along the lodge's walkways; it was disconcerting the first night when we walked back to our room after dinner and a family of six water-buck eyed us warily, from about six feet away! Warthogs were ambling around the grounds next morning🙂.
Breakfast was set for 6AM. I was woken by the concierge calling at 6:20AM (after about 3 hours sleep).
Jet lag: 3. JR:0.
So we left late, just as the sun began to light the amazing vista of Nile river and flat lands leading up to the hills spread out in front of the lodge — easily one of the most amazing vistas I’ve ever enjoyed.
Chagrined, wondering if we’d missed a late night kill, or some big cats returning to their private sleeping areas, we set out in the Toyota… and less than ten minutes later spotted a solitary lioness loping through some short grass. So graceful, lean and big! Levan threw it into reverse, and we spotted her again, until she crossed the road and disappeared into the long grass. Levan was thrilled, and I wasn’t sure if he was playing it up or if we really were lucky. It turned out we were the only group from the lodge to see a lion.
We ended up about 10 feet away from two giraffe. Many more elephants. Towers (the official appellation for a group) of giraffe. Kob Lake was a massive plain filled with thousands of Ugandan Kob (the national animal). Wart hogs. A big tree adorned with a dozen huge vultures, with the stereotyped long necks and bald heads. They usually mean a carcass is near, but we couldn’t find the carrion.
And then a massive migration of mean-looking buffalo, thousands marching
single-file to disappear over a far hill. So majestic.
I loved seeing the wide open grass plains stretching, stretching, then rolling up a hill to a ridge of horizon, and once seeing the silhouettes of a half dozen giraffe poking up as the highest points in the land. Quintessential Africa to this mzungu!
Then to the Nile for a boat ride up to see Murchison Falls from a different angle. Along the way we spied hippos in the shallows, forest elephants along the banks, and then the infamous Nile crocodiles sunning themselves in the mud, immobile, massive jaws agape to regulate their body temperature, the shallow-hulled boat coming right up beside them so I could peer down their pink throats into a toothy hell.
Climate change has dramatically increased the flow of the Nile here (no wonder the falls seem so furious!), so the boat couldn’t get nearly as near the base of the waterfalls as it used to, quickly losing the battle against the mighty current and being thrown sideways and quickly out of the gorge.
Then back to hunt leopards, but they proved too elusive. We hunted until the sun set, and returned to the lodge in darkness, which was a little dodgy. The park really is a dangerous place for humans at night.
Levan shared a story from his youth, seeing a male and female lion enter his village; the villagers didn’t know what to do and overreacted, angering the lions. He watched from up in a tree as a drunk man with a spear got eviscerated (“I thought he fell down and went to sleep”). Our poor guide essentially had PTSD and didn’t go to school for a week.
The next day we followed a speeding Toyota to a leopard lounging lazily in a tree. 10 minutes in, my curiosity had me gaze through the zoom lens at a neighbouring tree, where I spotted another leopard! Their camouflage is amazing. Levan couldn’t believe there was another leopard so close; he’d never seen such a sight.
The Albertine Rift the next day. Tectonic shifts thrust these massive mountains skyward (not from volcanic eruptions like most other peaks). The power unimaginable. Farmers cutting out terraced fields along the steep and jagged mountain walls.
Semipala Hot Springs in Semliki National Park. Impressive heated gusher at 98C! A smaller bubbling pool cooked 6 eggs for our crew. The best I’ve ever tasted!
Time to kill in Fort Portal, so Levan took us to a very American restaurant. Good food, but we could have been at a Moxie’s back home.
Dude rolled in in a brand new Land Cruiser, black with black windows. Bodyguards with assault rifles took up station at the base of the restaurant stairs. Apparently it’s a wealth flex.
Checked out a very large market across the street. Crossing the street ourselves felt more thrill-seeking than walking up to wild rhinos on their home turf.
Our hot water at the next hotel came from logs burning in tall clay chimneys topped by water tanks. Water was 🔥.
3 hour swamp walk with a pleasant host. Primates, birds, and interesting views of farmers in action. All manual, all tough. Kids around 5 years old were swinging shovels or that primitive-looking pickaxe/hoe.
Then into Kibale National Park for what I expected to be a trip highlight; trekking with wild chimpanzees.