Murchison Falls National Park, Days 356-358

Hippopotamus gamboling beside the Nile River, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, Africa

It’s an early morning departure for the 6-hour minivan ride to Murchison Falls National Park, 200 miles to the north of Kampala. Financially Christi and I are a bit below the level of a backpacker at the moment and we have literally scoured our backpacks and daypacks for any stray US dollar, euro, Ugandan shilling and Rwandan franc to help pay for this last safari. And this trip promises to be quite unique. Although poaching is a major problem in most African countries – either for food or for elephant ivory or rhinoceros horn – in countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, and any country with Congo in its name the problems are magnified ten times. Whole species are on the brink of extinction and extreme conservation efforts are under way in Uganda now that the country is somewhat at peace. The beneficiaries of these programs include chimpanzee and White Rhinos and we will visit both species during this trip. Added to this we return to the Nile; this time its’ the White Nile. Unlike the source of the Blue Nile (Lake Tana in Ethiopia) the actual source of the White Nile remains disputed. The best I can say is that Christi and I are close to the headwaters, but we do get to see the famous Murchison Falls themselves and if all that is not enough we will of course be going on safari. The only downside is that we are camping again. I know I have mentioned this before, but Christi and I are not natural campers and outside the continent of Africa my camping experiences have been negligible. Inside Africa, on the other, I have spent literally months under canvas (if you include all trips to the Dark Continent).

We begin with chimpanzee tracking in the Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, located in the south of Murchison Falls National Park. There are 87 chimpanzees habituated to humans and according to our guide yesterday’s tour group saw 50. Clearly the chimpanzees are less enthusiastic today. Personally, I think they are all fagged out after an all night rave in the jungle. It’s also raining. Frankly if I didn’t need to be out in the rain today then I’d be tucked up somewhere dry sleeping it off with a cute chimp from lat night’s party. To be fair we do see three chimpanzees, although from a photography perspective the environment is challenging. The canopy blocks out a lot of the light, while the chimps are swinging through the trees above us, arguably trying to avoid being captured on film. But you only need one photo, right?  Which is about all I got. But at least I have something to show you guys. Phew! Fast fact: 3% of a chimpanzee’s diet is derived from eating other monkeys. Not a lot of people know that.

We appear to be sharing our campsite with a resident population of warthogs who are much more sociable than the chimpanzees. In fact one could argue that the warthogs are extreme exhibitionists since they are happy to copulate in front of us – over and over again. If nothing else, I admire their stamina. And after all that sex, the warthogs are naturally hungry so they root around the rubbish bins looking for a tasty treat. So far Murchison Falls National Park is a blast.

The park is actually the largest in Uganda, measuring some 1500 square miles (the larger Murchison Falls Conservation Area encompasses 2000 square miles in which the wildlife can frolic in relative safety). The Victoria Nile River bisects the park for 71 miles and this includes the famous Murchison Falls. Here the waters of the majestic Nile squeeze through a narrow gorge, only 23 feet wide before plunging 141 feet below in an intense and powerful foamy spectacle. And it is loud too. This morning we take a two-hour boat safari up the Nile river from the Parra Ferry Crossing to the base of the falls. There is abundant wildlife en route: hippos, engorged Nile crocodiles (apparently there is a healthy population of Nile perch on which to feed), Cape buffalo, crested cranes, fish eagles, and antelope. Near the base of the falls we disembark and spend the next hour scrambling and photographing our way up the side of the falls and explore the surrounding area. In fact, there is very little separating the over-enthusiastic tourist (or photographer) from the edge of the violent, churning waters. So be warned and pay attention; you are only one slippery misstep away from a watery oblivion or worse a Nile croc snack.

Fortunately Christi and I survive to photograph another day. Or in the case an afternoon safari in the northern half of the park around the Buligi savannah grasslands. It’s another rich encounter and we even see a new antelope species, the Oribi, in addition to the familiar giraffe, elephants, antelope, and baboons. Sadly, though, no big cats – specifically no cheetahs or leopards. Boy are these guys hard to spot. An interesting experience back at the Parra Ferry Crossing. As we wait for the ferry to take us back to the southern section of the park, three men appear escorted by police. The police proceed to take out machetes and using the flat part of the blade lay into the three men. We send our guide to investigate (not wishing to be an accessory to murder or heaven forbid genocide). Apparently, the three men were caught in the act of killing a hippopotamus and will be sentenced to 7 years in prison each. The police are demonstrating the type of treatment the poachers will experience in prison. Well that’s alright then; no sense waiting for a trial and a conviction before initiating the punishment.

After another noisy night in the company of fornicating warthogs (I’m beginning to feel a bit inadequate), we leave Murchison Falls National Park en route to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, some 40 miles to the south. Along the way we stop for snacks and a bio-break. I notice a newspaper for sale called the Sunday Pepper, which appears to be something like the National Enquirer. A prominent headline on the cover promises thigh-luscious content within. And there is, but Christi has banned me from sharing that content here as she argues that this is a family blog. Okay, let’s move on to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary where these beasts could, arguably, be described as thigh-luscious. I mean what a phrase; I love it.

The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is attempting to reintroduce White Rhino back into Uganda’s national parks. Historically, White Rhino were found in Uganda, but the last animal was killed by poachers in 1983. Currently there are 6 adult White Rhinos (3 males and 3 females) and 9 calves. In 2009 The first White Rhino was born in Uganda for over 30 years. The adult female was donated by America and the father came from Kenya, so they called the male offspring Obama. The 17,000-acre  park is guarded day and night by 80 armed guards, but fee-paying tourists like ourselves are allowed to explore and even undertake a walking safari (with an armed escort – although if it came to the crunch, I’m not sure if the guard would be protecting me from the rhino or the other way round). As with the Mountain Gorilla trekking, the guards know roughly where the rhinos are and it is fairly easy to find Nandi (the mother) and baby Obama. Fortunately, they are both quite relaxed around humans and as long as we keep quiet and don’t get to close the guard said he won’t shoot us. Well that is comforting! Another spectacular wildlife encounter. I am in seventh heaven. Now where are those thigh-luscious girls I’ve been reading about?

Blog post by Roderick Phillips, author of Weary Heart – a gut-wrenching tale of love and test tubes. 


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