We were once again faced with a dilemma: 2 buses, a boda boda, 2 days on the road eating dust for 525 kilometers… or hire a driver with a car to take us to Kidepo Valley. It felt strange and slightly decadent to hire a driver but after doing some research, it genuinely seemed the best option by supporting a local company and saving some time. We came across KJong Safaris. This company was offering cusotmized tours and Stephen, the owner, got back to us right away. We started to plan our last-minute trip to the North with him, adding Murchinson falls to our itinerary and leaving Jinja out. Everything was easy and once our booking was done, we met our driver and guide, Justus and were happily ready to hit the road the very next day. We were so thankful to Stephen for being able to put a trip together within a few hours! We started driving early morning, heading to Gulu, stopping for goat skewers and chapati along the road. Delicious and cheap: our kind of breakfast! From Gulu, we headed to Kitgum where we filled our car up (how silly would it be to stranded on the side of the road with no gas left?) and bought some snacks. At the gas station, we met Paul, a Canadian traveler, who chose the adventurous way to reach Kidepo and was making his way on a boda boda. He confirmed that this was time-consuming but he had the time we didn’t have and we agreed on meeting at the camp. We started driving the last 140 kilometers on an unpaved dusty road. The drive itself was very adventurous and Justus skillfully avoided a million potholes! The scenery around us was breathtakingly beautiful and the road trip already made it worth to try to reach this remote area!
At the Lukomoit Gate, we were welcomed by two friendly rangers who gave us some info and instructions and wished us a nice time in Kidepo. Stephen had booked a Banda, a hut that were used by rangers, for us at Apoka Rest camp. Cozy and cool, this Banda was a perfect pied-a-terre for our time in Kidepo. Game drives were planned for us and we couldn’t wait to look for lions, giraffes and leopards. Many Ugandan families had come over for Christmas and it was lovely to share a bonfire with them after a delicious homemade dinner! The next day, before the sun could rise, our enthusiastic little group (we asked Paul to join us) picked up his ranger, Peter and the chasing game started. We can say now that lions and leopards defeated us. They were nowhere to be found, brilliantly hiding in the park. The lion rock didn’t hold its promises as no lion was found there either. Peter told us not to give up until we leave the park, you never know when a lion or a leopard would bless you with its presence. Skeptical, we still enjoyed our day, meeting and greeting (from the car obviously – after we were told a tourist thought it was fine to open the car and try to pet a lion, we let the need to confirm that this is not acceptable to leave your vehicle and bother animals) elephants, zebras, a dwarf crocodile, giraffes, monkeys, water buffalos and millions of jackson hartebeest and waterbucks. Peter was a great well of knowledge and we learned a lot about the animals that inhabit Kidepo Valley National Park. The park itself with dramatic mountain background and the vicinity of south Soudan is a gem. This might be out of the way but the detour gives you peace and natural beauty. At night you only hear the roar of lions (yep, they might be hiding but they know how to make sure we know they are here, somewhere!) and the elephants trumpeting.
After our last dinner, it was time to say goodbye to Paul as he was heading east the next day and we were on our way to Murchinson falls. We were looking forward to seeing him in Switzerland as he was planing a stop after his African exploration. He was convinced that we would get a chance to see lions in Murchinsons falls, hopeful we fell asleep dreaming of a potential encounter with a lion. We were woken up suddenly by Justus, knocking on our door, shouting “lions, lions”. Confused, we got dressed in a hurry and rushed into our “backyard”. There were two lionesses, slowly passing through next to the ranger booth. We were so excited! Peter was right! Never give up until you leave Kidepo! This would have been the perfect picture if it wasn’t for a car alarm that loudly scared the cats away. It was early morning so we decided to load the car and head towards Murchinson Falls National Park. Justus asked a ranger, who was standing on a rock scanning the surroundings, whether the lions were still around. As the ranger nodded, the three of us knew we couldn’t leave without a last try. We headed right instead left, deeper into the park rather than towards the exit. The excitement of a possible encounter erased the remaining tiredness and we jumped on the roof to have a better view and there they were two beautiful lionesses, slightly hidden in the high grass but it didn’t matter: we had seen a lion! Happy and grateful to Justus for giving it a try, we were now ready to leave the Kidepo Valley, a wonderful and special place on Earth.
Next stop: Murchinson Falls National Park!
Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!