Murchison Falls National Park – the place where we were in for a treat or two!

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In Uganda, we have had countless wildlife encounters but we had yet to meet a corrupted cop. It didn’t take long after we left Gulu for one to spot us with “tourist” written on our car. Poor Justus was pulled over for taking over a slow truck. We carefully took it over after 1) 4 cars did it before us and 2) the truck signaled that the road was clear. Our lovely cop tried different approaches:

  1. He only wanted to fine Justus because he saw his infraction with his own eyes. His own eyes apparently missed the four others. Alright explanation #1 not quite believable, explanation #2, please?
  2. He only wanted to fine Justus because he put our lives at risk. This made absolutely no sense and the 700 km driven together showed that our driver was careful and very skilled. Alright explanation 2, not quite satisfying. Explanation #3, please?
  3. He only wanted to protect the children as this was a school area. What if…

After 10 minutes of being given different explanations (read: excuses) why we should pay a fine on the spot, we had enough. It was time to politely step in: there was a school break, there were therefore no children around and officers should not fine people based on “what ifs” but rather on facts, we haven’t feared for our lives once and safety was Justus’ priority while taking over. If he wanted to fine us because we infringed the law, fine but we were not paying any money on the side of a dusty road and we would see him in court. By now, the road had become a circus, with people stopping to look at those munzugus who got in trouble with a cop. Finally our cop muttered something and waved us away. We thanked him for taking his job seriously (we meant it and we are aware he could have been more persistent and more difficult. This was definitely an easy case of corruption) reassured him we would be even more careful on the Ugandan roads. I know it can be scary to deal with police in a foreign country but I would strongly encourage anyone to try to politely get out of such situations without giving any money on the side of the road. Corruption is an issue worldwide and your way to handle it matters. You can make a difference #saynotocorruption.

We reached Murchison Falls late afternoon and we couldn’t believe the lodge Stephen had found for us in such a short notice. Very cute, friendly staff, Fort Murchison Lodge was absolutely the perfect pied-a-terre for our Murchisonian exploration. We started with an early morning game drive and Ronald, our ranger, didn’t feel like wasting time. Yes, they were cute animals along the road but our main goal was to find lions. He asked Justus to drive right away where they were suspecting the lions to be. We had no guarantee but a lead he wanted to follow. We loved him right away, cutting the chase, increasing our chances of an encounter with the King. Yes, please! After 30 minutes driving towards the lions pantry, where his favorite meal could be found, we stopped. Ronald had spotted something. Did we see it too? We pretty thought he had made this up until we saw, further up the road, some cars lined up. We slowly moved towards the crowded corner and here they were two cubs and two lionesses playing behind a bush. They were still far away but we decided to park our a bit further up, taking the risk to miss them. Luckily, 10 minutes later, we were rewarded: a lion, a lioness and three cubs decided to make their towards us. Excitement and gratitude submerged us. We had come to Murchison Falls NP in the hope of getting closer to lions but we never expected to be that close! They crossed the road and found some shade in the bushes.

Justus offered to drive closer to the pride but we refused: we had already been given unforgettable memories and we didn’t want to bother this family any longer, we were ready for elephants, birds, monkeys, giraffes and hippos. We hit the road again, ready for another adventure: giraffe spotting! Those adorable creatures are extremely shy. Unable to see what is beneath them, they need to rely on their long distance vision and it can be therefore tricky to get close enough to get a nice shot as they tend to run for their lives if a predator comes too close for their liking. Luckily that day, we were definitely in for a treat, after the lions that decided we were worth a hello, the giraffes tolerated us, not too close tho, they demonstrated a few times their ability to run very fast, if bothered by us. Once the giraffes grew tired of us, we let them be and Ronald took us to the hippo pool. They were already in the water and didn’t seem to be willing to get out anytime soon. Too bad as a hippo on land was still missing on our list. Happy with our encounters, we couldn’t have been happier, we thought; we were proven wrong: elephants wishing us goodbye while we were going back to the ranger station was priceless.

After our successful and interesting morning, we didn’t know what to to expect of our boat cruise on the Nile river. We knew that the falls were 43 meter high and very powerful. We were told that we might see some crocodiles and hippos but there was (as usual) no guarantee. We were happy to be back on boat and enjoy a relaxing afternoon, sunbathing. We started our cruise with no expectation, meeting a cool family from Malawi and enjoying a chilled drink while cruising on the Nile river when suddenly people started to get excited and agitated: crocodiles! They were (Almost) everywhere! In the water (even on that hot day, I believe none of us fancied a swim) and on the shores, soaking the sun up. We found some “tiny” ones (still big enough to take us down easily. Bon appétit!) but also gigantic ones that reminded us that the Nile crocodiles are the largest freshwater predators in Africa. If our excitement was about to die, the next surprise waited for us is: hippos on land. Many of them had decided to get out to have some food. Say what?!

While struggling to believe we had actually seen so many crocodiles and hippos outside the water, we reached the main attraction the Murchison Falls. The Nile river surges through a narrow gap over a massive drop, creating some impressive falls. Our captain couldn’t get too close and with those waters infested with crocodiles, we were keen to keep our boat afloat. After 3 hours, cruising the Nile river, spotting some deadly yet fascinating creatures, the odd elephant and giraffe coming to the river to get a drink and the beautiful birds (over 1000 species!) Uganda is known for, it was time to get back home. This day got even better (seriously?) when a male Abssynian ground hornbill decided to walk on the track in front of our car. Justus stopped the car as the hornbill was obviously feeling happy there, happy to parade and we only needed to wait. After a while, he left, hastily followed by his partner that was less keen to parade in front of us. What. A. Grande. Finale!

Murchison Falls NP was a wonderful and the last adventure on our Ugandan exploration. It was time for us to get on a night bus to cross into Rwanda. Yes, we like border crossings so much, we have decided to spice them up: let’s cross a border at night between two countries where our linguistic understanding is non existing. Challenge accepted! Bye bye Uganda, hello Rwanda.

Next stop: Kigali!

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

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