THE DEAFENING NOISE OF CHIMPANZEES
The sun was a large pink disk rising over the Nile as we saw our first hippos in the early morning light and heard the haunting cries of a fish eagle overhead. Climbing aboard our four wheel drive we drove into Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s largest game reserve, on the lookout for animals. There was electricity in the air as we held our breath in anticipation of our first sighting.
We had already had some encounters with Ugandan wildlife on the first day of our safari, visiting a rhino sanctuary, where we walked with armed guards to see the rhinos. Seeing such a large and potentially dangerous creature up close and on foot was a little intimidating and we were ready to climb into the closest tree at the first hint of danger. The juvenile, Obama (with a Kenyan mother and US father) was playing but the others were much more interested in sheltering from the midday sun.
Our second Ugandan wildlife experience was in the Budongo Forest Reserve, within Murchison Falls National Park, where we went chimpanzee trekking. Following our guide Emmanuel, we walked quickly into the forest listening for chimpanzees. After a few glimpses from a distance, we got lucky and followed a group of chimpanzees down one of the paths, watching them stop and wait for those lagging behind. Clambering over tree roots and through vines and branches we were in the perfect location when all chimpanzees had caught up and climbed up into the trees around us to the deafening noise of chimpanzees calling and banging on the trees. Mothers and babies, juveniles and adults were eating directly above us while we watched and listened.
And so, crossing the ferry and entering the safari area of Murchison Falls we had high expectations of Uganda delivering more amazing animal encounters, and we were not disappointed. Initially we wanted our driver Jameel to stop for every kob and oribi we saw, but the savannah was covered in all sorts of buck, as well as wart hogs and buffalo. It was not long until we made our first giraffe sighting and shortly afterwards a herd of elephants crossed the road amongst palm trees and grasslands.
The park continued to impress, and over the course of our two safari drives we saw numerous elephants, giraffes, mountains of hippos sleeping in the Nile and a lioness that had just killed a buck. Only the leopards remained elusive.
On an afternoon river cruise to the Murchison Falls we saw families of elephants drinking from the river, crocodiles basking in the sun, kingfishers fishing in the waters, hippos grazing on the shores before we reached the waterfall. We had opted to walk to the top of the waterfall where you realise the sheer force of the water, as the mighty Nile is forced into a chasm only 7 metres wide. The roar of the water was phenomenally loud.
After our safari experience, we visited Uganda’s second largest city, Jinja, also lying on the banks of the Nile, but much further south. We were visiting Jinja to participate in another of Uganda’s renowned activities, white water rafting on the Nile. We opted for a day trip and spent the day hanging on to the raft as we crashed through rapids that were all between Grade 3 and 5. We flipped, fell out, and spent the quiet sections swimming alongside the raft and admiring the river views. A flock of Uganda’s national bird, the crested crane settled on an island in front of us as we finished the day with a beer and a kebab. It was an adrenaline filled and beautiful day rafting along the river, and we thought the serenity could not be beaten until we visited the Ssese Islands for our last few days in Uganda.
Taking a ferry from Entebbe across Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest fresh water body shared between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, we crossed the Equator and arrived in a quiet little haven, Lutoboka Bay on Buggala Island, the largest of the Ssese Islands. We checked into our beach front cottage and spent the remainder of our time in Uganda swimming, lying on the white sand beach and having barbeques on the beach complete with a large bonfire.
A week in Uganda is enough to get a taste of an amazing country. Uganda has it all; beautiful landscapes, amazing wildlife, quiet paradises and friendly locals. An often overlooked African destination there are hundreds of things to see and do in this tiny and diverse country, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Lara Craig is currently in Uganda as a volunteer. For further advice on African travel contact her mother, Viv, of Viv’s Travel Bug on 4455 5047