By Jonathan Benaiah (The Ugandan Tourist)
The time is 19h17 and I am all alone, but not complaining; not even for a micro second. I am seated in my private cottage, listening to some soft music from my laptop while I use the same to type randomly. Yes, I am somewhere in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between the hills of South Sudan and the Eastern rift of Kenya. I am in one really discrete protected area; one which I have always loved to experience for myself, one which had me wondering, “What on earth was I doing, sitting on my bum in that office in the city. This place is the perfect place to be!” If I were allowed to say, I would continually utter how much “I am so in Love with Kidepo Valley National Park. A big crush on this one for sure!”
If I may rewind a few hours back, yesterday we left Kampala city in the morning at 07h18 seated in our comfortable 4×4 Land cruiser. We drove through Luwero, Nakasongola, Karuma and then had a mini lunch-stop in Gulu town.
While in Gulu we made a short visit to a crafts shop called Amani. Boy do they make stunning pieces of art! But what I found more fascinating was the story behind why this little women group was established in Uganda, like in 6 (six) other countries. I’ll give you some homework to find out for yourself more about that story.
Also in Gulu as we waited for our cheese burgers to be served, a few of us got to purchase some really nice T-Shirts from a roadside vendor as we geared up for the bush ahead of us that we had been told about.
What were we to expect? Well at this point it was a whole lot of theory lingering in our minds. Not even one among us was really tick about what exactly we were to expect, but we just couldn’t wait to be there.
After filling our tummies, we were ready to get back on the road. We headed on in the direction of Kitgum town. I was and still am actually surprised at the condition of this road, a little bumpy but not bad at all. I began to erase that stereotype I always had of the Karamoja region. Road works were going on, electricity lines were being installed and it will surely be a shorter drive from Kampala to Kidepo pretty soon.
When we reached Kitgum it was about 16h30. We took a mini tour around the town and then continued towards the direction of the reason we had set off so early in the morning. It began to rain quite heavily like to blow the roof off our nice safari vehicle, like to welcome us into this virgin land, like to confirm what we always were told about the heavy but short episodes of rain in this part of Uganda. But we were safe in our shelter on wheels; a big “Thank You” to our Safari Company.
We drove on for quite some time along the Kitgum – Kidepo road and it was soon a mere 64 kilometers to the park gate. It was already darkening but I began to feel like we would be there in just a few moments. We began to see the incredible landscape, the hills covered in rocks that looked like they were accurately placed there by an artist with tools of different sizes; an artist who took his time and paid extreme attention to detail. The nice green that I for sure did not expect to find in this semi-arid part of Uganda, the little cute settlements and shelters called “manyatas” along the slopes all made me sheepishly smile to myself. This safari was surely getting sentimental.
At 18h40 we arrived at a little guest stop called Buffalo Base for a drink, and the guys here informed us that we were a mere walk-able distance from the park’s entrance. It turned out that they weren’t simply emboldening us to endure this endless journey; we quickly climbed back into our beige-colored safari Land cruiser and headed on towards the park’s entrance arriving at 19h02. I saw a sign post, though in the dark, with the message “Lokumoit Welcome to Kidepo Valley National Park”.
The night was here and so were we, at the entrance of Uganda’s most virgin area of a National Park, yet one of Africa’s best National Parks according to CNN Internationaland Australian based travel guide, Lonely Planet.
We drove right through the gate in the dark and my nostrils immediately began to inhale the scent of wild game, oh yes I could see queues and queues, herd after herd of Cape buffalo in the dark. So many of them. This was Incredible!
We finally arrived at our lodge, Apoka Safari Lodge, a breathtaking lodge in the heart of Kidepo where we would be lodging for the next few days. It had been so long since I had last inhaled air so fine and fresh; free of the impurities and the emissions of the city. So glad I came, so glad I was here.
We set foot on the rugged paths of stone that led around this lodge and were guided on towards the main lodge area which featured a fine dining area, well stocked bar, a mini library but with an expert’s selection of safari books, and a cottony lazy lounge area.
We were immediately served to a warm finger licking dinner, the very best way to welcome anyone into a luxurious lodge in the true African wilderness. The chef did an exceptional job, especially with the starter. I for one kept on smiling throughout the meal in utmost gratitude.
Tired, but well-fed I was led to my private cottage, about a 50-seconds stroll from the main lodge area. We walked past a swimming pool dug out of the rock outcrop, the view was so magnificent even in the dark, selfishly lit by rural African lanterns. Walking up the stony path, I reached through my luggage to find my little Sony camera. But the resident guide whispered to me, “There was no need to rush with the photos, you will get a much closer and clearer look of this darkened glamour tomorrow morning.” This assurance from the tall standing Karamojong warrior encouraged me to save my camera battery for the next day.
Safe from the buffaloes, I arrived at what would be my home for the next three nights, a private and isolated cottage built on a fine rock facing the endless expanse that formed what would become my favorite Ugandan National Park. I was wowed even more. Gorgeous even in the night it was!
It was time for a quick shower, and to slide into to the white linen. The bed was gigantic and was guarded by a finely hemmed mosquito net. Everything was large, everything was African, everything was mine but luxury was defined in it all. I heard wild jungle sounds throughout the night. I kept on humming my self to sleep as I knew I would get to see all these animals in the morning at sunrise, but the impatience was a bit unbearable. By God’s grace, sleep snatched me away and I fortunately had no nightmares but only merry-sweet dreams.
Fast-forwarding to where we started; yesterday was a great night and today was extraordinary. Here I am sitting in my private cottage, listening to some soft music from my laptop while I use the same to type randomly. Today I saw the Apoka Safari Lodge below the sun, today I saw the park in good light, and almost got run over by a Jackson’s Hartebeest while walking round the lodge. I saw countless heads of buffalo, a couple of zebras in their signature black and white costumes, giraffe, waterbuck, warthog, hartebeest, oribi, jackals and elephants, just a few meters away from our open roof game drive vehicle. Tomorrow I will see plenty of birds and flora, I will see several reptiles and will end the day in a magical sun-downer in the Lions’ territory. I am confident that I will return to the city with everlasting memories.
It’s right about the time I slip back into the fine white linen that covers my gigantic bed and dream myself away. I will dream about this isolated but coveted gem in the northeastern part of Uganda. Of course I will return to the city in a few days but I plan to be back here very soon; and maybe for many more visits again and again and again.
Good night from Karamoja.