Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Murchison Falls - Day 1

I know I haven't written about R&R yet, but I want to get the safari up on the blog before the memories start to fade, so bear with the out of order.

A few months ago my friend S emailed our friend E and me to ask when would be a good time to visit E Africa.  I have to say I had been skeptical she'd make it out here, but here we were discussing dates.  E, who lives in Kenya, had never been to Uganda, and I couldn't take any more time off, so Uganda it would be.  Then our friend A emailed to say she was interested too, and there were the makings for our very own 10 year college reunion in Kampala!

They arrived on Thursday afternoon and were at my apartment when I got home from work.  We had a joyful reunion (we hadn't all been together since 2004!) and caught up and then headed to bed in hopes of getting over jet lag (I'd only been back a few days myself).

I had to work the next day so went in early, and they met me at the Embassy at 11, and off we went on a weekend trip to Murchison Falls!  Another friend from Kampala joined us, and the five of us set off with our dedicated driver and safari van.  The trip to our first destination, Chobe Lodge, would take about 5 hours.  We chatted intermittently, watched the scenery, and napped.  After a rest stop about halfway through I switched to a seat in the back more conducive to chatting.

The road was mainly well paved, though there were a lot of dusty construction areas.  As we started approaching the park we pulled over where about a dozen people were standing at the side of the road watching an elephant grazing in the bush a few meters away.  Cue the cameras!  It was S's first safari after all :-).

We passed the spectacular Karuma Falls on the Nile River and soon encountered a large troop of olive baboons.  They were more than accommodating as we watched them, marveling at their behaviors and features.  One particular female in estrus caught our attention as she sought attention from some of the males, who willingly reciprocated.  The circle of life.

We turned off towards the park entrance, and the 14 or so km dirt road yielded some decent game sightings - giraffe, kob, waterbuck, and lots of monkeys.  We stopped at UWA headquarters to pay our park fees, and then we were in!  We proceeded a bit farther to the Chobe gates, where the guards warned us a couple of elephants were grazing just inside.  We entered the gates and almost immediately saw the two elephants, just adjacent to the lodge's parking lot!

We happily exited the van at reception and were greeted by warm towels, fresh juice, and a gorgeous view of the Nile.  The lodge was actually much nicer than I had expected, and I was very pleasantly surprised.  We checked in and then were driven to our tents.  As always, tent is a misnomer, as these had permanent canvas structures on a cement foundation with attached bathrooms and porches.  S and I shared a tent, which was gorgeously appointed and came with another gorgeous view.  We settled in and then walked back to the main lodge to relax.  We passed a bunch of monkeys and warthogs and saw the elephants from a safe distance.  I booked a massage, and S headed to the pool complex.

My massage was long and not particularly good, sadly, and by the end of it I was watching the clock and willing it to end.  I knew I was a bit late to meet the ladies for dinner and I was getting anxious.  Finally it ended, I dressed, and I headed out to walk up to dinner.  The attendant said there was a golf cart waiting because it was no longer safe to walk because of the hippos.  I thought this was just being overly cautious until about 30 second after I got onto the golf cart.  Right in front of us was a big old hippo, munching away on grass right in our path.  S/he didn't move, so the driver got out and clapped his hands and yelled, and eventually the hippo meandered away and we headed on to the main building.

I apologized for being late and related my hippo encounter and ordered from the very nice menu.  We were sitting outside overlooking a lawn adjacent to the Nile, and there were quite a few hippos grazing on the lawn, including a number of babies.  They entertained us between courses as we tried in vain to get good photos and cooed over the babies.

Dinner was delicious, the service was impeccable, and we had a really great time.  As dessert was served we heard a commotion and looked up to see the entire kitchen staff coming out with impromptu instruments (pots, pans, spoons, etc.) and singing for A's birthday.  She got an extra dessert which we all shared, and we had a good laugh as the hippos all booked it back into the water at the commotion.  We realized the banging on pots and loud voices must be what they use to scare them away!

On the golf cart ride back to the tent we encountered yet another grazing hippo, though not quite on the path this time.  I took a few photos which were only partially successful, but a fun sighting nonetheless.  The airstrip, which is steps from the lodge, revealed dozens of shining eyes in the headlights - a herd of sleeping kob.  We settled into the tent and showered and fell asleep to the lovely sound of rushing water around us.  What an absolutely wonderful first day!

Karuma Falls

Olive Baboon

Welcome elephants
View from our tent.


Gorgeous Nile

The tents
What a view!

Not great quality, but hippo!


Adrian Pratt said...

What a tremendous experience. Great pictures.

Nomads By Nature said...

Your hippo stories have me cracking up! I think the pot banging was a great alternative to our advice in Swazi: wait, or poke it with a stick which works but not generally recommended.

st said...

I've been a reader of your blog for some time now. I just completed A-100 today, and after a full french course will be headed to Djibouti for my first tour! We are thrilled to be headed to Africa for the first time, and we (my husband and two boys, 4&5) as wll as many family members are already looking forward to going on safari. Do you have any recommendations? We are looking at Kenya, Tanzania/Zanzibar and South Africa. It will be a first (& for some, only) safari.

Thanks! Sarah

Sadie said...

Sarah, congrats on Djibouti! My recommendation is to wait until you get to post before making any plans. Flights in this part of the world can be phenomenally expensive, and you may find it's much harder to get to some of these places than proximity might indicate. Waiting until you get to post means you can also see what flight routes are popular and affordable, and the question of where to go might answer itself. As for particular travel agencies, ask the CLOs and travel agents at the posts you're interested in - they usually know where to find the best deals. Enjoy! And don't forget to take advantage of the whale sharks while in Djibouti :-).