When you think of Africa, what springs to mind? Just give it a quick google image search and see what comes up. Safaris? Wildlife? Picturesque landscapes by any chance? The odd tyrannical regime aside, Africa is perhaps best known for all these things and over the past weekend I was fortunate enough to see why.
I was in the largest of Uganda’s ten national parks, Murchison Falls National Park, in the North-West of the country. Though I usually tend to avoid tourist traps and resent being gawked at like I’m a walking payslip for some disinterested guide, there are times when i’ll make exceptions. This was one such time.
I was coming from Kampala with the rest of my ICS Challenges Worldwide placement group; a grand total of forty-six of us piled in two buses and strapped in for what would be a seven-hour coach journey. A few stops along the way broke this drive up nicely and enabled me to wolf down a Rolex for lunch (no, not the watch, a popular street food out here). Eventually, we arrived at our hotel in Pakwach, pretty groggy and in dire need of a Nile Gold, Uganda’s answer to Fosters. After several of these, we called it a night and prepared for the ridiculously early 5:00AM start; given that I’m not a morning person, I don’t think there are enough characters left for me to express how I truly felt about this.
Despite all my protests, morning did come, and it brought with the safari trip we’d come all this way for. Such an early start meant swift entrance into the park and hopefully a chance to see an assortment of animals because of the milder weather. This was slightly scuppered by the fact that one of the buses went off-piste and got stuck; queue the rescue team. Despite seeing an abundance of giraffes, buffalo and antelope, an early start wasn’t as successful as we had hoped and we were forced to head towards the Nile crossing in search of pastures new.
Once the short ferry ride was over, we headed for a typical Ugandan lunch of rice, a bean sauce and a chapati. Despite having already had a month’s worth of these types of lunches, it still hit the spot. A pretty bleak morning quickly transformed into a blistering hot afternoon; as we were just about to begin hiking up to a viewing point, the timing couldn’t have been better. In actuality, ‘hiking’ may be a very grandiose term for walking up a footpath (yes, that was Peep Show-influenced).
As we rose up the peak, more and more of the waterfall revealed itself to us until we were greeted with a full panoramic view. Customary selfies and group shots taken, we descended down from our perch to the top of the waterfall itself, a place called the ‘Devils Cauldron’. Here, the water from the Nile is condensed into a narrow gorge before bursting through at great speeds, creating a rainbow in the process. This was certainly the climax of the day; pictures don’t quite do this justice.
Though it was now time to begin making our way back, our day was far from winding down. We took this opportunity to go on another game drive to try and spot some more of the famous ‘Big Five’ that had so far alluded us. This was a resounding success. We spotted no less than eight lions, some on the hunt, others just taking the opportunity to lie around in the evening sun. We too used the setting sun to our advantage, taking the ubiquitous photos of the horizon and the animals upon it that’s expected from a safari.
To say we have now reached the turning point is a bit of an understatement and in the infamous words of the Eurythmics: ‘Here comes the rain again.’ My word did it pour. Thunder and lightning complimented the rain and cracked the sky, lighting it up in its entirety. We were still deeply rooted in the national park and the dirt track roads that had already proven to be hazardous had now become flowing rivers of mud. There was genuine concern that we may not make it back to the entrance, especially when we couldn’t get a clear answer from the driver about distance or time. With an attitude taken directly from ‘We’re Going On a Bear Hunt’, we slowly and steadily made our way through the mud until eventually we reached the entrance, and salvation.
Such a topsy-turvy couple of days, though infuriating, epitomised Africa as a whole. All the highs and lows matched the general experience of being in this chaotic continent, but hey that’s just the way it is. You can go with the flow or get washed away by it, either way, Africa just sort of happens all around you, so embrace every minute.