Last week, Jon, Cher, and I drove from Uganda to Congo. It was the first time they had made this trip by car. The Ugandan roads are quite good, but turn to dirt as you enter Congo, and become painfully rough in places.
I’ve been told you can do the trip in one day, but I doubt it, or perhaps a seriously long day. We decided to take a route that is a bit longer, which goes through Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, about 5 hours north of Kampala. We stayed overnight at a tent and banda camp called Red Chilli. This park is cut in half by the Victoria Nile river. One of the popular tourist attractions in the park is to take one of the regularly scheduled three hour boat trips up the river to the falls, viewing game along the river edge on the way up, for just $20. We did this with a group called Wild Frontiers, and it was fantastic.
We saw hundreds of hippos up close in the water and on land. Elephants, crocs, warthogs, waterbuck, bushbuck, buffalo, and fish eagles. Murchison falls is beautiful as well. It was a cloudy day that turned to vicious rain and became impossible to stay dry. I simply gave up, stood on the edge of the boat and got soaked through. My camera and telephoto are not good enough to get sharp low light photos zoomed in, so most of the photos didn’t turn out great, but I’ve learned that photography is peripheral to the experience for me. I often don’t want to shoot, but feel somewhat obligated to for those I’m with. When it comes to animals, I’d almost prefer to watch them with just my eyes, or through binoculars rather than through a camera lens.
We met up with Andy, the manager of Wild Frontiers, for dinner. Jon knows the owner of the company and had met Andy a few months earlier. At one point, he asked me what I was doing here in Africa. I said visiting and hoping to find work. He said he was looking for someone to take over most of the managerial work there in order to free him up to do other company work. He wondered if I would be interested in the job. We agreed that I would send him a CV and he would send me a job description. We are still in discussion, and I’m trying to decide if I want the job should they offer it to me. I would be living in the park, either at or near Red Chilli and walking distance from the south side of the river. If you’re curious, here are two websites. I don’t know the pay yet. http://www.wildfrontiers.co.ug/murchisonboats.html (Wild Frontiers) and http://www.redchillihideaway.com/paraa.htm (Red Chilli)
Red Chilli has permanent tents with beds, and bandas (single room bungalows) which we stayed in. Wild warthogs wander around the place looking for handouts. We found a scorpion on the wall before going to bed.
The next morning we crossed the river at dawn on a small 6-car ferry, and drove slowly through the north side of the park looking for game on our way out. The landscape turned to open grassy fields and rolling hills. We saw elephants, giraffe, warthog, hartebeest, kob, and other antelope in beautiful morning light. I never tire of this.
It took us about two hours to get through both the Ugandan and Congo borders, and buy car insurance on the Congo side. Yellow Fever vaccinations are required for Congo, but Jon and Cher have never had it. Jon assured me that we could get through the border without it, but I decided to get a vaccination in Kampala anyway. Oh me of little faith. After getting through immigration, the health officer walked up to our car and told Jon he needed to see our yellow cards. Jon smiled and said calmly, “You don’t need to see that! You can see that we are all healthy.” The man then asked, “Can you give me a Coke?” Jon reminds me of the Jedi Knights in Star Wars: “These are not the droids you are looking for.” “You don’t need to see our yellow cards.”
The 150 km trip (about 93 miles) to Bunia on the Congo side of the border took us approximately seven hours. It was quite picturesque and the road wasn’t nearly as bad as we imagined it would be until the last two hours when it turned into an endless series of ruts and potholes, and huge trucks creating a never-ending thick fog of red dust that nearly blinded us as they passed. It’s good to be home.
More photos from Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda: