Murchison Falls National Park (includes vehicles stuck in mud and a lion)

This past weekend I had an opportunity to go to the most popular national park here – Murchison Falls National Park. The Fogarty scholar in the program’s first year, Jeremy Schwartz, is now a third-year Med-Peds resident at Yale currently on a 6-week rotation at Mulago. He invited  me to come along with the Yale & friends team he had put together. We went to bed rather soon after I arrived since we had to be up at 4:30AM to hit the road at 5AM.
 

5AM people. Most of the "Yale & Friends" crew.

5AM "Yale & Friends" crew

 

 

The trip to Murchison Falls National Park on Saturday and Sunday went by quickly but not too quickly as to not feel like a trip of adventure with the requisite expected “unexpected” things of such journeys. We left the city and started the journey north in a privately rented matutu driven by one of the drivers Jeremy knows, Bunjero, from the Infectious Disease Institute at Mulago. We numbered 11 passengers including a lovely physician couple from England.

 

We stopped for food at one point alongside the road during our 6 hour journey, and I had my first “rolex,” a delectable food consisting of a simple omelet wrapped with chapatti.

Jesper waiting in line for roadside rolex

Jesper waiting in line for roadside rolex

 

You can spice these things up, but the basic one I had was superb. The salt-engorged diet of the US is lacking here, but not in this particular rolex! We also ate some goat-on-a-stick, passing up the liver-on-a stick. I mean seriously, I cannot eat liver-on-a-stick at six in the morning. At any rate, after the stop we continued on. One of the strangest parts of the journey was a track of about 20 minutes of speed bumps literally in the middle of nowhere. It severely slowed us down, and we were begging for a satisfactory rationale for them. We arrived at none, Bunjero included. Oh well.

 

 

 

As we traveled north, we noticed beautiful landscape and increasing differences in the infrastructure, housing, and development of the homes and stores. What would be described as “hut” became increasingly more common and stores fronts and electricity were less prolific compared to Kampala.

Near Arua on the way to Murchison entrance

Near Arua on the way to Murchison entrance

Clearly, we saw lower socioeconomic status. People waved and smiled often as we drove by and kids, like everywhere else, were fascinated with our presence. En route we stopped for a picture of Karuma falls the point where the Lord’s Resistance Army advanced to at its farthest attack from the north.

Karuma Falls

Karuma Falls

 

 

Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest protected area. Much of the game suffered poaching during the Idi Amin regime. Numbers have been gradually increasing since then.

 

We entered the park and took in the sweeping, classic picturesque Rift Valley savannah. For me, having accumulated a mental picture of Africa with experience and lore, some level of inculturated mystique that can be erroneous or romantic, the land, I could not help but feel one of those surreal moments the savannah can impart on a foreigner.

Park entrance

Park entrance

 

Brendan hilariously broke my pensive gaze when he said, “It looks a little bit like South Dakota.” True – South Dakota with giraffes.

 

 

 

You are probably not surprised to hear we found ourselves stuck in the mud at one point having to get out and push as a group to dislodge the vehicle. All part of the fun. We continued, seeing various animals such as Ugandan kob, impala, water buffalo, and warthogs. When we arrived at the Nile River, we were greeted by guards and extremely gregarious baboons.

Baboon - up close and personal

Baboon - up close and personal

And by gregarious, I mean one of them hopped into the front of a car next to us in the driver’s side, another one wrested food from a young British woman, and all the baboons present posed for us in a pathetic puppy-like way.

Seriously, I'll take your leftovers

Seriously, I'll take your leftovers.

 

 

The ferry to bring across the matatu arrived, which Bunjero and his vehicle took, while the rest of us hopped into a boat toward Murchison Falls. 

Ready, set, photograph a hippo!

Ready, set, photograph a hippo!

 The casual trip up the Nile showcased elephants,

This isn't the Mississippi River

This isn't the Mississippi River.

water buffalo, many species of birds, a hippopotamus splendor,

hippo and water buffalo

Two for one: hippo and water buffalo

crocodiles, and waterbuck.  Eddies and foam increased as we neared the Falls and then we saw the Falls from a distance,

From a distance...

From a distance...

and got out of the boat on a small set of rocks so that we could get our pictures taken with it in the background. Moms love those pictures!

 

 

 

We made our way back to the other side of the river to meet Bunjero. Menacing clouds appeared in the distance and our next decision was whether or not to go to the top of the falls. We did, just as it started raining. It was worth it, too. I have been fortunate enough to see many falls, but the power and landscape of this waterfall was simply breathtaking upon close view.  The sun had almost completely set by the time we arrived at the lovely solar-powered and extremely comfortable lodge Jeremy and his wife Tracey had scouted out beforehand. After a nice dinner, the rest retired while Jesper (Swedish medical student), Brendan (Yale resident), and Dr. Mo and his wife (name alluding me) discussed politics, international affairs, and economics. With so many perspectives, we had a rich, energizing discussion despite our fatigue. We had to cut it off at 10PM or so since we were again leaving

Jesper and Sheena braving the mist

Jesper and Sheena braving the mist

early to do a proper safari.

 

 

After breakfast at 5:30AM, we hit the road again back to the Nile ferry.

Our happy crew at 7AM river crossing

Our happy crew at 7AM river crossing

After our crossing and more interactions with the baboons, we picked up a guide and continued onward seeing a lion, giraffes, elephants, and many other animals and birds.

Lion

Lion

As we were tracking some giraffes we became stuck at one point in a serious way.

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

 Two vehicles stopped to help us. Some ingenuity with a jack helped us get out of the mess.

Jeremy pushing the matatu with all his might

Jeremy pushing the matatu with all his might

Being mesmerized with giraffes, I started off towards them. Giraffes on one side, Lake Albert in front of me with the green and dark blue mountains of Congo right there on the opposite shore.

Mountains in Congo in background

Mountains in Congo in background

Idyllic in some way, except for when the mud is flying, the ropes are breaking, and the matatu stays lodged in the deep rut!

 

 

 

We found a Land Rover stuck at one point and came out of the matatu to help as we continued. I went to use nature’s bathroom and noticed a pungent stench. I looked left and saw a completely stripped carcass (except for a completely intact head) of an impala. The vertebrae were completely exposed and the horns remained on the animal.

Speaks for itself

Speaks for itself

Meanwhile, the guide from the Land Rover shouted, you need to leave! There are lions nearby. (Oh, hence the carcass and vultures.) Well, I had to wait a moment, but Bunjero didn’t and he grabbed the carcass and dragged it to the road for all to see.

 

 

 

You’ll have that. We continued towards the exit, but not before we watched a rain storm sweep across the savannah, including a mass running of water buffalo. We enjoyed seeing the curtains of rain in the distance and so clearly.

"I bless the rains down in Africa." 

This 3-day trip provided a great way to see Uganda’s physical beauty. But perhaps just as important, the people in our group made wonderful travel company. Provocative, fun and thoughtful conversations filled our downtime or travel time. I am thankful for the new friendships that came out of it. I think this has been one of the hidden treasures of my time abroad so far – new friendships, new stories, new backgrounds, and new differences and commonalities to discuss. New energy. The trip continued after Murchison with a different tone, perhaps a reticent one of sorts. Next stop: Gulu, gateway to the refugee camps of northern Uganda…

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2 Responses to “Murchison Falls National Park (includes vehicles stuck in mud and a lion)”

  1. Amanda Says:

    Oh my gosh, these pictures and stories absolutely blow me away. When can I come visit? And, in your opinion, is it possible to subsist entirely on energy bars during my visit? Because I’m not eating any side-of-the-road rolex-on-a-stick.

  2. Florence Mills Says:

    ~~~ I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information -~-

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