By Jonathan Benaiah (The Ugandan Tourist)
“Sometimes we get to see up to five leopards after merely driving a few meters from the lodge, but I’ll wish you guys the best of luck as well, hopefully we will see some; please enjoy your game drive.” These were the briefing words from our tour guide, Richard, as we set off on the rugged path, that one foggy Saturday morning for a game drive. My wrist watch read 36 minutes past the hour of six and my heart gleefully danced calypso from within my rib cage.
The previous day, with our backs towards the capital city, we had braved the over 5 hours’ journey along the Kampala – Gulu highway, past Luwero, Nakasongola, crossed the Karuma falls and went through Nwoya district; arriving at the Tangi Gate of Murchison Falls, and then getting to our lodge (for the next two nights) in good time for a healthy lunch. We received the usual Ugandan hospitality; a cool hand towel married with a chilled glass of apple juice to deliver us from the wrath of the scorching sun and to welcome us into this hot area of a National Park.
Like discharged batteries, our energy levels had dropped below minimum and it was right about the time to revitalize. Lunch was served in such great variety around a fine dining area, boy did I clean my lips with my tongue after smashing that colorful plate of everything African.
We were then led through some briefing procedure and thereafter guided to our rooms to check-in. We had arrived and were to have the afternoon at leisure to ourselves, as we readied our souls and bodies for the adventure that beheld us the following day.
Another round of extravagance around the dinner table ended our Friday itinerary, and just before we dashed off to our cozy beds, our hosts, Steve and Sharon from Pakuba Safari Lodge, advised us to get up early in the morning. We were to be up for an early breakfast and would thereafter depart at 6:30am for the morning game drive in order to catch some of the nocturnal (nighttime) animals as they headed back into their hiding spots after the night’s hunting.
Boy was the night long! The excitement of the following day’s program had me wake up several times to check my alarm; I never should have set one, because I never used it… haha! Like a little boy in pajamas on Christmas Eve under the Christmas tree, I looked forward to unwrapping the gifts that Uganda’s largest National Park had in store for me.
The sun rose beautifully that one Saturday morning slowly radiating almost all the corners of this 3,893 sqkm protected area, and at the bottom of my heart, I had this feeling of confidence that I could look forward to an awesome day.
After some hot coffee and fresh fruits for breakfast, we were whisked away in two twin-like safari vans, into the darkened wilderness full of predators and safari giants. This trip was getting beautiful.
Armed with my Nikon camera I shot plenty of photos of buffalo, Kobs in their smooth brown coats, hornbills, Goliath herons, Jackson’s hartebeests, serval cats, very many giraffes and other wildlife species. Our morning game drive led us down to the Nile Delta; a point where the waters of Lake Albert continually meet in intimacy with the world’s longest river forming the Albert Nile. Here we were entertained by an early morning party of hippos singing the baseline octaves of that all-time favorite “doh-reh-me-fah-soh-lah-tee-doh”. But sadly our morning game drive was short of any Big Cats.
The boat cruise gave us rare opportunities to see many water animals just meters away, birds of many colors, elephants as they came to the river bank for a sip from the Nile and of course the resounding success of seeing what has for long been dubbed the world’s most powerful waterfall and surely the roughest point of River Nile’s three months’ journey to the Mediterranean Sea in Northern Africa, from its source in Uganda’s adventure capital, Jinja – The Murchison Waterfalls!
Guarded from the beautiful harshness of this African wilderness, we were safe in our clean safari vans, and hastily returned to the game drive tracks for the much anticipated evening game drive. It was our second and last attempt at finding at least one of the Big Cats in Murchison Falls National Park.
Like a toddler’s bedside prayer on innocent knees pleading uncoordinatedly for sweets, toys, chocolate and tooth fairies, did my soul continually hope for a miracle; and as Mathew 7:7-8 suggests, when we sought, we found a lion pride. There they were in the open Savannah; three healthy-looking females guarding their cubs. It looked like they were waiting for the sight of dawn to head out for a kill. But I think our blood boiled much more at the sight of a leopard hidden in solitude along the banks of the river, in golden safari grass, stalking on its prey.
At this point I couldn’t ask for more. I had seen it all. Okay perhaps a visit to a nearby community was the missing cherry atop the cake, but my wildlife bucketlist had been almost entirely overturned (still need to track the mountain gorillas and head back to Kidepo to see the cheetahs).
I remember how smiley I was looking at the back of my Nikon DSLR, and seeing how close we were to both the king of the jungle and my favorite safari animal, the gorgeous sporadic leopard, clad in a coat of beautiful rosettes.
That evening we returned to the lodge for a luxurious BBQ in a lantern lit setting outside a campfire. I found this really romantic; it was probably Pakuba Lodge reiterating their love for us. A beautiful night it was and the following day we would return to the organized chaos, that is Kampala.
But the amazement had not ended… not just yet. Our hosts, Pakuba Safari Lodge drove us to the top of Murchison Falls for a bonus view of the falls right from the top… never have I felt like a royal, like I did at that point. The views from onhigh were vistas to forever behold.
Capturing the falls from the top on my cellphone
Views of the park from the top of the falls
The Murchison Waterfalls as viewed from below
I had merry sweet dreams, I was in the company of a golden guide and a dedicated hospitality team, I was in safe hands all this time, I maxed my safari big five bucketlist hunt (remembering that I had seen the Rhinos at Ziwa the previous year; the only member of the Big Five inexistent here), and above all my tummy was always happy. Thanks team Pakuba for the hospitality, and the team I traveled with for the fun.
The beautiful Pakuba Lodge
Please leave a comment below if you found this particular blogpost interesting and feel free to ask me any question that you might have about a safari to Murchison Falls National Park. If you are interested in seeing more of the photos and videos from this particular trip, feel free to checkout my Nikon Corner or to watch the Vlog here.
Till next time, I remain yours truly, The Ugandan Tourist.