29 June – 1st July: Sipi Falls, Sipi: Sipi Waterfalls, The Karamojong, Kidepo and Murchison National parks.
It’s around a four-hour journey from Jinja to Sipi. The road starts off pretty good but soon deteriorates. We reach the long winding road that leads to Sipi, it’s high and the views are stunning. We reach our next destination; Crow’s Nest. Just about sums it up!
If you are going to Sipi, suggest Lacom Cottages (new) or Noah’s Ark, just a little further up the hill.
It’s fairly basic, I thought I was on Robben Island 🙂 But the room (size of postage stamp) does have an en suite……….with long drop toilet! Now, I’ve traveled all over Africa but never been in an abode that serves up a long drop in an en suite. I’ll let you work out why that’s not a good idea; hygiene and Africa are often not great bedmates!
We’re only in the place a few minutes when Emma comes running up in tears. She’s dropped her £300 prescription sunglasses down the long drop! It’s literally, oh shit! I get a torch to try and locate them. Fortunately, the long drop is dry; not a turd in sight thankfully, just a couple of rats running around. There is no door to access the long drop below, it can only be reached from above. Just gets better doesn’t it? The boys at the lodge create a makeshift trap for the glasses; it’s a long stick with a plastic bucket tied to it. I’d given up and was doing my best to console Emma when the boys presented the glasses to us with much pride. They even cleaned them up with disinfectant etc., not bad service!
We took a walk to a local sunset viewing site (needed to be paid for of course!) for sundowners and a photo session. I’ve been a little disappointed with sunrises and sunsets in Uganda, it’s very hazy with little definition or drama in the sky.
Next morning we visited the local community. They grow bananas, coffee, mangos and avocados as the soil is so fertile in this region. The lady from the community gave us a lesson in planting and growing coffee. The upper slopes, like Sipi, grow the finer Arabic coffee. We sat around, peeled the ripe coffee beans, roasted them and ground them the traditional way by hand and then had a nice fresh cup of coffee.
It rained around midday but cleared up in time for our hike to the Sipi Falls. It was long and steep, slippery descent to the main Falls (there are four in total). It took us over an hour to get there. The main Sipi Falls are a sheer 100 meters drop, over a natural arc bridge. Very beautiful setting with natural banana plants and lush green vegetation surrounding it. The falls were in full spate after all the rain so we got completely drenched, but it well worth it and the view at the base of the falls was quite spectacular.
Next up, the hike to waterfall number two. It was now really hot and the climb was getting very steep and slippery. I thought my lungs were about to burst, I’m so unfit. Just when I was hoping for a breather, the guide presents me with my worst nightmare – a 200 ft man-made, rickety, wobbly ladder up the sheer face of a cliff. Now, my biggest fear (apart from Liverpool winning the Premiership) is heights, so this was a real sphincter test for me 🙂 Emma zoomed up, that made me feel really good – not! I did eventually make it to the top (without looking down), sweaty palms and all. When we reached the top there were some very curious children wondering what the Muzungu’s were doing. Then, wait for this…………..a little old lady in bare feet with a big pick axe passed right by me and nonchalantly glided straight down the ladder like it wasn’t even there. Thanks love; you know how to make a guy feel good!
2nd July: Mount Moroto Hotel
I take back what I said about Ugandan roads! This one was mainly red dirt with patches of mud, definitely a 4×4 route.The road from Sipi became really bad after we reached the main road going north. It was muddy and very uneven with one obstacle after another. After a while my back wheel protection plate became loose. I did my best to remove it but one of the nuts was broken and needed to be sawn off. Nothing I could do but take it really easy until we reached the next village. There I found Milton. I walked into the Works Office for the roads and asked for help. Milton took to some local guys that had a very basic workshop. Everybody crowded around; the Land Rover always seems to get so much attention. All I could hear amongst the local lingo was “Muzungu safari”. They were really helpful and charged me the price of a couple of pints and we were back on the road.
We made it to Mount Moroto Hotel early that evening. It’s a nice stopover with beautiful views of the mountains. It’s probably worth a couple of nights, as you can go hiking in the mountain where there are still some primitive tribes you can meet with a local guide. Mount Moroto is green and lush and offers stunning views. We are now in Karamoja region; home of the Karamojong tribe.
Next morning we head off to our next destination – Kidepo National Park. It’s a rough but very scenic and interesting journey. We come across many of the Karamojong, working in the fields, many dressed very colourfully. The men wear all manner of hats of different designs and colours, with feathers in them that depict their social status. The girls mostly wear a kind of brightly mixed tartan skirt and many have scarring, still part of their traditional customs. They were all so friendly and I couldn’t help myself from getting out of the car and approaching them to take a photograph. They all seemed most honoured to be asked and were quite excited at the prospect. When I showed them the results they howled with joy; I’m not sure they’ve ever seen a photo of themselves before. It was odd not to be asked for money (as many others do); this is a proud people that apparently are quite fond of Muzungus. Their language is an ancient mystery; it has bits of Gaelic, Hebrew, Himalayan and Tibetan, amongst other things. So there was no chance of a cup of tea and a chat!
2nd July – 6th July: Kidepo National Park: A Eureka Moment!
I have waited years to visit this park. It has captured my imagination for many years from tales I’d heard about its incredible scenery and isolation. It lies at the very north of Uganda, where Uganda borders South Sudan. In fact, the Kidepo National park is contiguous with its northern neighbour but much of the Sudanese side has been wracked with poaching and troubles from the war.
Kidepo has been off the radar for many years due to the unstable situation in Sudan, and worse still, the vile atrocities of the Lords Resistance Army that were carried out close by in the Kitgum and Gulu areas. We may just have made it in time, as we just received news yesterday that fierce fighting has broken out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. I just pray that it doesn’t escalate and reach this incredibly beautiful and unique piece of Africa.
As we reached the park, the vistas of rolling hills and mountains were breathtaking. The whole park is like that. It’s surrounded on all sides stunning mountain ranges and every few minutes we were treated to another eye-dazzling view as we rounded a bend or reached the top of a hill.
The game is plentiful; buffalo are everywhere, we had just missed lions that had a zebra kill, the Rothschild Giraffe has made a comeback (that was a first for me), the rare Oribi antelope is ubiquitous, as are zebras and Jackson’s Hartebeest. At this time of year, elephants head out of the park but we did manage to see a few bulls and large breeding herd.
We got talking to one of the Rangers who informed us that human population growth in the region has become a big problem for the elephant and has cut off their natural migration routes. It’s a similar story elsewhere in Africa, habitat encroachment is turning wildlife areas into small isolated pockets that become islands. It’s a thorny issue but for the animals it is catastrophic; they can’t reach places of water and food and their gene pool implodes. Man wins again.
As I’ve mentioned in other narratives, NGO’s seem to dominate the parks and reserves in many parts of Africa. That is as visitors / tourists, it was certainly the case here. Almost everyone we met was working for an aid agency, NGO or some kind of God Squad. I got talking to an American lady over the campfire. She had been working in Uganda for a number of years. During the conversation, she advised me to be wary of the “people groups” in the region. When I inquired what was the meaning of people groups, it was Tribes! Can you believe it? The p.c. brigade must have now decided that using the term Tribes for traditional Africans cultures is unacceptable. They seem hell bent on bringing a modern divisive 21st C western culture into these places and destroying their traditional roots.
Anyway, back to Kidepo. No sooner had we arrived and made our way to the campsite (that has 360 degrees views) than the heavens opened. It was torrential, I couldn’t see more than 6ft in front of myself. We made the decision to try the Bandas back at HQ as everything was wet. They were fine, good sized rooms with an en suite (not a long drop this time!).
The great thing about being in this part of the world is that we are seeing new game species and birds for the very first time. For instance, in Kidepo we came across the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill with their colourful blue and red faces and Rothschild giraffe, both of which we’d never seen before.
The roads were mainly in good condition but we did need to avoid a number of black cotton mud tracks. I was very impressed with the organisation and management of the park and the great attitude of the staff. It also had a heavy military presence in order to protect the animals from poaching from across the borders. Four nights was plenty to get to know the park and see it in all its glory with some amazing sightings and experiences.
6th to 7th July: Dove’s Nest, Gulu
We left Kidepo early morning to reach our stopover in Gulu before making tracks for our next destination, Murchison Falls.
We got to Fugleys in Kitgum for lunch. It’s a quirky and fun kind of place with all kinds of characters you can meet over a pint at the bar.
Unfortunately, the auxiliary battery was not charging. This could be a big problem as it runs both the fridge and freezer. Luckily I have brought along my battery charger and after a nights charging on Reconditioning state, it’s recovered itself – phew!
Dove’s Nest is a nice convenient hotel that’s good value for money…….and full of NGO’s.
7th – 10th July: Murchison’s Falls.
It’s still all dirt road, another five hours drive to Murchison Falls. The road is in good shape and we make it in good time to the North Gate at Murchison. We pay our dues, enter the park and are treated to the sight of massive herds of Ugandan Kob; another first for both of us!
The game in Murchison is centred around the Delta area of Lake Albert, which is on the north side of the river Nile. The park is divided by the Nile, to the south is the more forested area, with plenty of private lodges. There is a Ferry which goes regularly between north and south for a small fee and also takes vehicles. It’s quite efficient and well run.
The north side of the Park is the preserve of Paraa game Lodge and the U.W.A. campsite. We are wild camping on the north side as it’s closest to the game and the Delta savannahs. Before we wild camp, we always ask about the status of baboons i.e. are they present, are they troublesome, do they damage tents? In this case, we were told that so long as you don’t have food in the tent, there is no problem at all. That advice we received from two different officials.
We take an evening game drive and are rewarded with beautiful scenery and plenty of game; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many giraffes in any one specific place. They are all Rothschild’s Giraffe. We managed to come across a hyena den with one pup, there are herds and herds of Ugandan Kob, elephants, oribi, warthog, buffalo and so many birds, quite a garden of Eden.
The following morning we take an early game drive and find lion. I can’t quite believe that UWA allows people to be driving around on top of car roofs and getting out at sightings! In this case, the number of people outside of their vehicle drove the lions away. It goes without saying, that once the animals can define the shape of a human being outside of the vehicle they will get spooked and flee, beggars belief but who am I to reason why??
In the afternoon, we take a boat trip to the base of Murchison Falls. It’s a two hour trip up the river Nile where we see elephant, hippos, crocs, plenty of kingfishers and many other aquatic birds…..and lovely scenery all the way there.
When we arrived back at camp, disaster had struck – in the shape of baboons! The tent was unrecognisable, it must have been used as a trampoline by the baboons and the frame and poles were completely broken in four places.
It’s worth noting that we have an Oz Tent, made in Australia. They are designed to be light (aluminium frame) and quick to set up (only takes minutes) but whilst they may be fine for kangaroos, they are anything but baboon proof. It’s been a worry of mine for some time and we need to find another solution. This is the second time this has happened and it completely ruins the trip.
All I could do was extract the frame and throw it away in the bin, it was beyond repair.
We had to spend the night in the staff quarters as it was getting dark and the last ferry had already left; what a nightmare!
Nevertheless, we were determined it wouldn’t ruin our time at Murchison and we duly got up the next morning for a game drive. We were lucky again, we found the lions and had a lot of fun watching the five young cubs chase a fully grown giraffe around the bush.
On the way back, I decided to visit the campsite and reassess the broken frame. We managed to salvage the situation by making splints of the broken members, it’s not perfect but should see us through the rest of the trip. providing of course that the baboons don’t mind!