After a whirlwind few weeks in Africa, we were thrilled to have a couple of days to experience some of Uganda’s astounding natural beauty at Murchison Falls National Park. On Monday we travelled north to the town of Bweyale to visit a project site and conduct a needs assessment and site evaluation for the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of an upcoming school. We were honoured to be hosted by the local African Action team and it was encouraging to see their hard work in the community and the difference they have made in providing water to service the local people.
One of the highlights was a visit to one of African Action’s wells where we were able to spend some time interacting with the local community as it happened to be peak water-collecting time. There is something very special about visiting an African well at sunset and witnessing the collision of beauty on so many different levels – the amazing contrast of colours as the sun sets over the village; the bright blues of the sky, the vivid greens of the rain-drenched crops, the earthy browns of the mud-brick huts, and the beaming white smiles of the local villagers who have come to collect water and who are all at once thrilled, perplexed and coy to find some mzungus at their well.
After spending a day with the African Action team analysing their WaSH needs we decided to make the most of our time in the time north and visit Murchison Falls National Park. Murchison is renowned not only for its natural beauty and vast population of African wildlife but also its colourful history. Now widely considered a safe place to visit, the vast expanse of Uganda’s largest national park was once a hideout for notorious war criminal Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). During the height of the civil war there were several incidents in the park, which was considered off limits for most tourists. In 2005, Steve Wallis, the British owner of Red Chilli Rest Camp, (where we stayed) was was rushing to the aid of a group of stranded adventurers when his vehicle was ambushed by rebels and he was tragically shot dead. Murchison has however overcome its tumultuous past of war and poaching and is considered to be in somewhat of a resurgence.
The Red Chilli Rest Camp is a great place to stay for the budget-conscious traveller. While there are plenty of luxury options if you like to safari in style (with price-tags upward of $300US), Red Chilli offers comfortable tents or banda options for around $25US per couple. And the resident camp warthogs just add to the charm – as long as you keep food well out of scent i.e. not in your tent, unless you are happy to share with a starving warthog which I am certainly not!
We drove our own vehicle to the park which I would only recommend for confident travelers. We went on a game drive with Wild Frontiers which entailed a 5-hour trip in an open top 4×4 truck and a guide for $45US per person. The scenery in the park is just magical, from lush, green hills, to sweeping savannas and vast lakes, and while we were not lucky enough to spot an elusive lion, we could not be disappointed with the broad display of elephants, giraffes, hippopotamus and countless hartebeest, water buffalo and onbi just to name a few.
In the afternoon we went on a 3-hour launch trip along the majestic Nile where we were rewarded with a stunning display of bird life, hippos and crocodiles and our first view of Murchison falls from the base of the waterfall. While this view was impressive, we were so grateful that we decided to make the journey to the top of the falls on our way home the following day as it was this vantage that quite literally could have bowled us over, if we didn’t use the handrails. The power and magnitude of the falls is hard to comprehend as the spray from the surging mass of water drenches you. I certainly felt that nervous, respectful awe that only comes when confronted with an aspect of God’s creation that may be visually magnificent, but is also capable of taking your life with just one wrong step. Literally breathtaking!