Monday 21st August 2006 began on a high tempo as we set off for our long awaited trip to Murchison Falls National Park with a newly wed couple, Dr. Frank Mwine and his wife Hope. You could clearly see the excitement on everybody’s face as we set off.
The journey, which started at 10.00am, was amazing and full of exciting sightings since we entered the park through the northern gateway at Wankwar. We saw all sorts of wild animals grazing in the park as we drove towards Paraa Safari Lodge where the honeymooning couple and their guests were to be hosted. Baboons, hartebeests, buffaloes, kobs and oribis were all over the place, which gave us the feeling that we were having a game drive free of charge.
The Public Relations Manager for Uganda Wildlife Authority who traveled with us said that tourists are now being encouraged to enter Murchison Falls National Park through the northern gateway at Wankwar on Pakwach Road. With security assured and the road infrastructure in good shape, tourists always have a great time driving into the park because of the large populations of animals that can be viewed.
That day, as we drove towards Paraa I caught sight of a kob with an unusual colour, and when everyone else finally saw this kob, there was concern. Usually these graceful creatures have a brown coat but this particular one was black in colour with a white stripe running across its belly. The park wardens later informed us that what we had seen was an albino kob.
We arrived at Paraa Safari Lodge in the early evening and found staff waiting to give us a warm welcome, with a cold glass of juice and a hot hand towel to wipe off the sweat. Long after we had settled in, two huge hippos gave us a scare when they sped past us as we had a moonlight dinner. Plates, spoons, glasses, forks and knives flew in all directions as people scampered to safety. I felt sorry for the people who lost their food during the scare.
The following day began with an early morning game drive, which started at 7:00am with Dennis as our guide. Denis’s expert knowledge and description of the different animal behaviours spiced up the game drive and made it simply unforgettable. During the game drive we viewed many wild animals including giraffes that were browsing the whistling acacia trees. We saw large elephant herds, buffaloes, warthogs, hartebeests, waterbucks, hippos and beautifully coloured birds.
At 2:00pm we left for the 3-hour launch cruise to the bottom of the Murchison Falls with the honeymooners who enjoyed every moment. Hippos yawning as they relaxed in the water were all over the place; crocodiles basking in the sun open-mouthed stared at us, while all sorts of bird species chirped about. A huge elephant that was guzzling litres of water took off when our boat drew close. Just before we viewed the Murchison Falls, our guide called Bruhan ensured that we first visited the “Crocodile Bar”, a small nook on the shores of the Victoria Nile where crocodiles breed and relax. Tourists who had filled the 40-seater boat climbed on the deck to get a better view and jostled for space to take a good shot of the crocodiles whose mouths were open so wide we could even see down their throats.
Tourists were awed when they finally beheld the Murchison Falls cascading down 6 meters in a mighty gush that left everybody speechless. They could not believe that such beauty existed. Hope Mwine, who was the bride, could not believe that she had travelled all over the world looking for tourist attractions, while beauties such as the magnificent Murchison Falls lay in her backyard.
“I can’t believe this; it is so beautiful and amazing,” she said breathlessly before wishing that more Ugandans could make an effort to explore the immense beauty of their country.
Dr. Frank Mwine, who had last visited Murchison Falls National Park in 1972, said it was even more beautiful than he remembered it. “We must convince the world to come and see these beautiful things, Dr. Mwine observed before adding, “There is nothing to fear, this place is very safe.”
I got a chance to speak with Mr. and Mrs. Olmsted from America who are close friends of the couple and had accompanied them for the honeymoon. “We have enjoyed ourselves immensely, and we promise to come back with the whole family next time because this is a very beautiful and magnificent place, Ann Olmsted said earnestly.
The park was busy with many tourists pouring in as others left. The General Manager for Paraa Safari Lodge, Kenneth Mugira said this summer season had been a lot busier than ever before because of the increasing confidence tourists have in the security situation in the park. “Increasingly, we are having more foreigners specifically coming to Uganda for holiday, and that is a good sign,” Mugira said. He explained that they host many honeymoon couples at the lodge and have a special experience for those who choose to stay with them.
The honeymooners had one of the best moments of their trip when they had a late outdoor lunch organised for them by Paraa Safari Lodge complete with a complimentary bottle of chilled champagne. They dined and wined as they watched the beautiful sunset, which they will probably never forget. We also later dined at the lodge terrace, after which we joined other tourists at the irresistible bonfire that had been lit for the evening. As we enjoyed the warmth from the fire we heard a sharp sound in a nearby bush, and when we looked there stood a huge elephant browsing with her two young babies. It was an amazing experience watching the elephants browse as we exchanged stories by the fireside, each of us sipping a cold drink.
After a hearty breakfast the next morning we set off for the Top of the Falls, a 30-minute drive from Paraa. The Murchison Falls are extremely powerful and beautiful. There are no words good enough to describe them. They have to be seen and experienced in person. A silhouette of a rainbow runs across the cascading Falls giving them a spiritual look. It is a sight I will never forget, and the memory of my first ever trip to Murchison Falls National Park will always be special.