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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Showing Friends the Highlights of Uganda

UGANDA | Tuesday, 21 October 2014 | Views [301]

We stopped off at Karuma falls on the way to the northern side of Murchison Falls NP.

We stopped off at Karuma falls on the way to the northern side of Murchison Falls NP.

Since the half term break was only a week in length we decided not to fork out for air tickets but visit some of our favourite spots in Uganda instead. It proved to be an inspired decision as friends from England (Dave) and Singapore (Neil & Ping) chose to visit us at that time too. We managed to blend a mixture of tried and tested and new experiences – so where did we go? In short; Jinja, Lake Mburo National Park, Fort Portal including Kibale and Bigodi, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park.

The most significant new experience for us was entering Murchison via the northern gate near the town of Pakwach. En route we stopped off to look at Karuma Falls and being on the back of heavy rains they were thundering down the River Nile. The bridge that crosses the Nile close to the falls has featured in some historical accounts of Uganda that we’ve been reading recently. During the height of the troubles when the Lord’s Resistance Army controlled that area of the country this bridge was a significant landmark. Basically it marked the divide between safe and dodgy territory and buses would only cross going north once they had formed a convoy. Pakwach is a very run down town that still bears the scars of war and it has a distinct frontier town vibe.

However, the surrounding countryside is as beautiful as the rest of Uganda and the falls were very impressive. Not only did we get the experience to ourselves, as not many tourists venture into this area, but our guide told us some interesting facts about local folklore and traditions. Within the next few years the falls will meet the same fate as those at Bujagali near Jinja i.e. they will disappear due dam construction.

We spent the night at Fort Murchison which is a superb place to base yourself for a visit into the nearby national park. Not only is it set in wonderful, lush grounds but the views over-looking the Nile are splendid. One of our gang had a room which was very nice and in fact we all took advantage of his private showering facilities while the rest of us were camping. Mind you we did have beds and balcony furniture that went some way to off-setting the shared bathroom facilities. The restaurant service was also very good and we all enjoyed our meals.

The biggest bonus of being at the north end of the park is that on entering the protected area you have the views and the wildlife to yourself. We saw loads of game in that section and have never seen so many giraffes there. We must have seen well over 60 by the end of the day not to mention loads of elephants, antelope galore and a plethora of interesting birds. The river trip and outing to the top of the falls were as excellent as ever.

We spent our second night at Murchison River Lodge which again had a prime location on the banks of the Nile. This time it was only Steve and I camping but the tents were even better. The only drawback was we were miles away from the rest of the group as the lodge is set among many hectares of bush. The food wasn’t as good here but it is still a place we’d happily go back to especially to enjoy the hippo, monkey and bird life that quite literally comes to you.

The trip up to Fort Portal, Kibale and Bigodi was all tried and tested so nothing new to report. The highlight is always seeing all the different monkeys and once again they didn’t let us down. Plus this time we were lucky enough to spot a L’Hoest monkey that didn’t bound off into the vegetation. What was unusual this time was how clear the Rwenzori Mountains were – we still couldn’t see the topper most peaks so didn’t glimpse snow but they looked fabulous.

Queen Elizabeth’s elephant population also didn’t disappoint and we easily saw well over 100 of these huge peaceful pachyderms. We didn’t do a full safari just enjoyed the track to and from Mweya Lodge for a scrumptious lunch. Obviously staying there is always beyond our budget so we went back to Simba Camp located on a hill over-looking the park. The rooms here have always been okay even if they are typically over-priced. The surprise this time was how much better their customer service was and the fact that we could see that they are trying to improve the place. It was definitely cleaner, much of the old furniture has been replaced or revamped and the food has substantially improved. It felt to us that the staff were now proud of their place and wanted their customers to enjoy their stay. For those of you who keep up to date with our stories you’ll not be surprised to hear that the key to this change all pointed to the absence of miserable Oscar!

Lake Mburo was as lovely as ever and this time we hired Rwekobo Rock’s safari vehicle and Chris, the owner, drove us around some of the lesser used tracks. This proved to be an inspired move as it was superb and took in new territory for Steve and I too. The views from the top of Kazumu were fantastic – 3600 and we finally got a sense of scale of the park and realised just how many lakes its home to. Once again the animals were plentiful and we enjoyed regular sightings of impressive raptors. The highlight was disturbing a martial eagle (the biggest and most powerful eagle in this part of the world) that had obviously just caught and killed a baby warthog.

That’s about it other than: Steve and Dave taking themselves off to Jinja where they enjoyed more bird antics and saw some otters. Neil and Ping went over to Lagoon Resort to relax and make sure their batteries were recharged before heading back to busy lives in Singapore. Our time together in Kampala revolved around showing everyone some of our favourite haunts and enjoying beers and banter. With Steve and I being away during the Christmas and Easter breaks, and me not getting any more half term holidays this academic year, that was probably the last time we’ll be tour guides in Uganda.


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