Uganda-Kampala Area and Ugandan Wildlife-Part 2

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Male Kobs, Murchison Falls

Part 2

W e decided to explore the Source of the Nile for couple of days and drove east of Kampala towards Jinja town located right near the source of the Nile, along the shores of Lake Victoria. Lake Victoria is where the Nile River begins, and makes its amazing journey to the north to spill into the Mediterranean. We drove past Jinja to Bujagali falls (was closed due to construction), not really a waterfall but a series of large rapids. Here white water rafting, kayaking, bird watching, mountain biking, bungee jumping, and many other outdoor activities are enjoyed. It appears to be a backpackers’ paradise!

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Nile River rapids from The Haven lodge

Jinja, (famous as the source of the Nile) and called locally as Omugga Kiyara is also home to many expats, aid workers and missionaries. It is the second largest town in Uganda next to Kampala, and the major market center of eastern Uganda. Jinja, means ‘Rock” in the Baganda and the Basoga language. Indian Christians from Goa, in western India, had arrived here during 1910 to work in the sugar plantations and railway that the British established in 1907. Many Indians settled here and built wealthy homes but most of them left during the dark and grim Idi Amin’s rule. Some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were scattered in the source of the Nile and there is a bronze bust of Gandhi in a Hindu temple near Jinja.

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The Nile Rver from The Haven lodge dining area

We drove to The Haven, a small lodge located on the west bank of the river Nile, about 20 km northwest from Jinja and about 2 hours drive from Kampala. It is an eco friendly and tranquil place with beautiful views of the Nile river with its first waterfall. The staff at the lodge were so friendly and approachable.

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Breakfast at The Haven

And the best meal is the breakfast. It was just amazing to sit at the lodge’s porch and enjoy the view while you eat, drink tea or sip wine. And we watched the beautiful birds-fish eagle and fish otters perched on trees… and waiting…and then all of a sudden zooming down to the river below to pounce on their catch!

We hired a boat early evening for a bird and wildlife cruise.

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Kingfisher

Our smiling guide, Charles, who works at the lodge, was our boatman and our guide identified the many birds for us–long tailed cormorant, dwarf bittern, slender necked egrets, kingfisher, black billed weaver, yellow bird, and the black and white cormorant.

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Heron

We also saw some fishermen hauling in their nets for the evening and children waving to us along the shore.  That evening we sat out on the porch, sipping our wine and watching the incredible sunset.

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Sunset from The Haven Lodge

A rainbow was beginning to form and it was just beautiful! The lodge also arranges for sunset cruises as you sip your wine and watch the sunset.

The next day, Charles took us for a hike through the village nearby called Namiyagi, a population of 6000 and mostly Muslim where men can take three wives. We wanted to experience some of the traditional lifestyles of the local people, the Bagandans who settled here in 1954. The Basoga tribe lived across the river, Charles said.

206This was amazing experience for us. Charles was also one of the ‘big guys’ of the village so everyone appeared to know him and were very respectful. He said that in a home, the wife does everything— grows the food, cooks meals, takes care of the children and husband, and collects firewood.  As we passed by the corn fields, two women working at the fields waved to us. Then we passed by a woman with a sleeping baby tied to her back, drying groundnuts, another older woman grinding millet in a huge stone mortar, while a neighbor who was peeling cassava root, offered some, to taste .

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Cooking beans

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Young girls singing

Most families have at least 4 to 5 children and as we walked, we were joined by ever-friendly and curious children. Even though they grew crops and have food to eat there appears to be much poverty here.

I learnt a lot from Charles about the local plants and herbs and how the Bagandans used them for medicinal purposes  such as fever, bites and colds. Casero a bell like pod with enclosed seeds that are used to relieve  malarial symptoms, and another familiar herb, the Indian basil ( tulsi ) which locals smelled to relieve headaches and which they planted arond their homes to ward off snakes.

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Casero-relieves malaria symptoms 

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Sweet potato, yam, sugar cane, cassava and sorghum, pineapple and coffee plants were all around us. Then there were also the prized vanilla beans.

Charles said the younger shoots of sweet potato, pumpkin and yams are eaten as vegetables.

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Charles and family at his home in the village

Next day after breakfast, we walked to where the falls were and watched the local children swim in the rushing wild rapids while others in boats were fishing in nearby waters as the Nile is famous for its perch and yellow fish. Tourists were rafting along the falls and manoeuvreing their way along the rapids. It looked exciting from where we stood. Then one tourist nearby jumped into the waters to enjoy a swim. These waters as we were told were free of crocodiles and hippos but they do say to swim at your own risk.

The meals at the lodge had European themes with some African touches. Compared to the scenery and location and the friendliness of the staff, the meals except breakfast were very simple and basic and could be improved. There is also a camp ground on the premises overlooking the river and a swimming pool being constructed that should be completed in January, the owners said.

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We decided to go to Murchison Falls National Park in Northwestern Uganda, the largest national park in Ugandato do a safari and to see the spectacular 45 meters raging Nile River Falls. The Nile River squeezes through an opening in the rocks and falls from this gorge with such powerful force. And I wanted to see this. It was featured in the movie, The African Queen, with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Murchison Falls Park has both a land and watersafari and most animals are found here except the zebra. My favorite is the giraffe so I was content to go here.

1671aMurchison Falls is located on the north west of Uganda bordering southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since it is the valley and is the lowest part of Uganda, the temperatures are hot and rains occur in March to mid June and August to mid November. The Nile River from the Victoria Falls flows through the park on its way to Lake Albert. Because of poachers, the wildlife has decreased with less elephants, few lions and no rhinos.There are giraffes, African antelopes, hippos, waterbucks, buffaloes, crocodiles, elephants and over 400 species of birds. Cheetahs, leopards and hyenas are rare here.

We booked the tour with a tour agency and our driver was also our guide. We drove in a safari cruiser for about 7 hours. It was about 4 hours drive through good roads and later through bumpy unpaved roads. The first part of the drive is a drive through lush green fields of sugar cane and other vegetables, vendors selling fruits and vegetables, dusty little towns and truck stops and colorful attired refugee Sudanese women carrying pots and containers on their heads. After about a 4 hour drive, we passed the last town on the road to Murchison Falls, Masindi, and turned off a unpaved road to go to our first stop, the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to see the white rhinos. The driver said that most people from the villages around enjoy walking and walk to their destinations. We passed by women carrying containers of water on their heads and children carrying goods and vegetables, and men with sugar canes and sacks of cassava on their bicycles, with children at the back…. smothered with dust from passing trucks and cars. We also passed small mosques and open markets.

1396aAt the sanctuary was an information center where photos of the rhinos were posted. There were white and black rhinos but the widespread poaching during Idi Amin’s reign led to the disappearance of these rhinos The rhinos had names tagged to them and there was one named Obama. I was curious why Obama, and the guide told us his mother Nandi is from the U.S, and the father Taleo from Kenya, so they named the offspring Obama!  The sanctuary had introduced the rhinos back from Kenya and it does a breeding program as well as educate the community and interns (including volunteers from western nations) on conservation and endangered species.

At the sanctuary, a ranger carrying a rife was assigned to us and he gave us a lot of information on the rhinos, as well as the trees and bushes around. He took us walking through the savannah bushes, up close to where there were three rhinos grazing. I was nervous hiking through the bushes to get to where they were. The mother rhino (called Kori) was feeding her 2 baby rhinos, called Laloyo and Justice. They are immensely huge animals with a terrifying sharp horn on their face, towards their mouth.

1419aThe rangers are used to being around them and I felt a little safe, although he said the mother was aggressive and unpredictable. We took photos quite near them. Then after 10 minutes, the baby rhinos just laid down to rest. When a big group of tourists came near us and started talking, the mother rhino immediately looked straight at us and just stared! I was ready to run but the ranger smiled and consoled me, saying,that a rhino’s eyesight is not so good to see us. That’s why rangers tell us to keep our voices down around them so they don’t hear us. I was so amazed to be so close to watch them feeding. The mother rhino finally ‘plopped’ down on one side (rhinos are too heavy to lie flat) for its afternoon nap!

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As we walked back to the waiting land rover, the ranger pointed to us some local trees including a shea tree! I used to dabble in making shea butter when writing my thesis on oils and fats, but never saw where the shea oil came from, so it was a bit exciting to see the shea tree! As we drove towards the lodge, we passed by the local cattle. I was fascinated with them as unlike the cows I had seen elsewhere they had such striking long horns.

1825We had lunch of beans (stew like) and chappati, and fried chicken with rice, at the sanctuary’s thatched roof restaurant. The beans were tasty. After lunch we headed towards Murchison Falls Park, another bumpy rough 2 to 3 hour drive through the park. Suddenly along the narrow road, the guide closed the car window and drove a bit  faster to prevent the many big tse-tse flies from coming in. Their stings are bad he said and can be painful. And they can be so persistent and wait for humans as they live on blood, like the mosquito. Hmm…that did not sound good. Then I was distracted by many baboons and monkeys crossing the road in front of us…and an elephant!  Wow! That was exciting!

1530aWe arrived in the evening at the river Nile, and waited for the ferry to take us across to the Paraa lodge where we decided to stay for two nights as the land safari was on this side of the river. As we landed and drove up to the lodge, we encountered many baboons strolling around with their young. We also saw some warthogs feeding on grass on the side of the lodge.

The lodge balcony had beautiful views of the River Nile. After we checked in we went to the pool area and had a drink at the bar and watched the beautiful sunset.

1457Many local families and tourists were enjoying the pool to cool off. It was hotter here than in Kampala as we were in the lower valley areas. The pool looked so inviting! But by the time we were ready for a dip we got hungry and went for dinner. It was a good buffet with a variety of dishes from Europe and a couple of local Ugandan and vegetarian Indian dishes with chappatis being present every meal.

The next day we woke up early and went for our safari at 6;30 am. Breakfast was not ready so we had some biscuits and met with our driver who was also our guide. It was quiet and we were driving through the vast beautiful savannah! The sun was just rising and it was so serene.

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And suddenly I spotted a giraffe eating leaves off a tree! I was so excited as it was the animal I wanted to see.  We stopped and stood looking through the opening of the safari jeep roof, and took my first photos!

1490aWhat a gorgeous animal…with a graceful and long flowing neck… and a tiny face. Her spots were mesmerizing. We did not bother her much as after initially looking at us she went on her task of eating the leaves off the tree.

We drove pass many Ugandan kobs…slender males with beautiful horns and females that had cute ears.

1521aThen we came across other varieties of antelopes, including the tiny oribi, and the Jackson hartebeests which were bigger than the kobs and had longer and more curved horns.

Many guinea fowls were in front of the jeep and took off as the jeep neared them.

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Guinea fowls

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Hartebeests

Then we came across a herd of buffaloes resting and staring at us as I took photos.

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After few miles we spotted an elephant close by. As we neared him to take a photo he just stared at us and started walking towards us. I was a bit nervous and asked the guide if we should take off. It stopped so close by and just stared at us as I was taking his photo. Then he started scraping the ground and sand filled the air.

1652aI got scared now but quickly took a photo and sat down. I asked the guide what that meant…his large foot scraping the earth. Our guide said the elephant was signaling us to back off saying that it was his territory or he could charge. I felt frightened now as he was huge! Perhaps a Ganesha mantra may reach him I thought! But he just stood there for few minutes and then just walked away. Was I relieved!

We passed by more beautiful kobs and other antelopes… and suddenly our driver who was on the phone with his colleagues and started driving fast towards some place. He said someone spotted a lion and he was going there. When we got to some bushes close to the Nile river bank, there were already 3 or 4 safari jeeps waiting to see this lion and all of them kept driving around to lure the lion out. It is hard to spot a lion here our driver said so we would be lucky if we saw one now. Suddenly after driving around the bushes we stopped as we saw a young lion walking along some bushes irrespective of onlookers!

1575aThat was an amazing moment! Quickly I took a couple of photos before it disappeared into some other bushes. We all waited again for it to emerge again…but no luck.

We returned to the lodge for lunch and then took a 3 hour boat safari towards Murchison Falls.

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We saw many hippos ‘sleeping’ in the water. I was waiting for 1 or 2 to emerge but they never did… even after the 3 hour ride! It looked like all they do is sleep and eat. What a life of leisure!

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We spotted some colored kingfishers high up on trees. Suddenly the guide on the boat excitedly told us there was a crocodile sleeping under the bush. He told us to be quiet and neared towards the bank. Suddenly a huge crocodile emerged and slid into the water quietly, even before I could take a photo of it.

As we neared the falls, someone excitedley pointed towards the river bank and I turned to see a family of elephants.

1792aThere was a small baby elephant with them and watched how the mother and the other adult elephants were protecting it under them. As our boat neared them the mother elephant just stood there and dared us until the others directed the baby away. Then it turned and left. We saw more hippos along the way…but all still in the water. Finally we neared Murchison Falls. It was a beautiful! Some tourists got out at this point to do the rough climb up to the top of the Falls.

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Top of Murchison Falls

After breakfast on the day we left, we drove throught the park to the top of Murchison Falls. We were so close to the where the river Nile was gushing out of a narrow opening in the Rift valley and explosively plunging to its depths below. It was a loud and rageful sound and it looked beautiful. I stood there and just listened to it, and watched it fall deep down…it was mesmerizing! Suddenly I was woken from this deep wonder by our guide, who was ready to leave for the long drive back to Kampala.

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Top of Murchison Falls

 

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Categories: Africa, Featured, Journeys, Uganda

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2 Comments on “Uganda-Kampala Area and Ugandan Wildlife-Part 2”

  1. maria mercedes bejarano
    February 11, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Thanks for sharing all this incredible beauty !Keep after beauty !! It is also within you !!!Gracias !
    maria

  2. February 11, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    Dear Maria…you are my ardent fan! Gracias para su palabras!

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