Memories memories memories! Ever thought about how thought provoking memories govern our actions, decisions and destiny? Because of memories, one can either hang onto the past or let go. Because of memories of the September 11 twin tower bombing, American hunted down Osama Bin laden. Because of memories, a couple of Ugandans are still celebrating Kiprotichs’ golden Olympic triumph. Because of sweet memories of the fun I had while at Budongo Forest Reserve in Masindi during last year’s Christmas, I trailed back last month.
However, this time I was not in the company of colleagues, but rather my three-year-old kid sister Jessy, and grandpa Oleny Senior, an adventurous 65-year-old. Budongo Forest reserve is a semi deciduous moist forest situated in a flat terrain, with a richly green canopy that offers an opportunity for viewing different eco systems. There are 359 species of birds, 289 species of butterflies, chimps and white monkeys to explore.
Having left Kampala as late as 4:00pm, our tour chauffeur, Siraj Ssali, drove fast. Not that he is an impatient driver, but we only had three hours to make it to the park before the Murchison National Park’s gates closed. See, beyond 7:00pm, animal trafficon the road gets busy with different species of game crossing from one side to the other.
Consequently, tourists arenot allowed in so as to prevent accidents. In our case, we almost flattened a fat grey rat that crossed the parking yard of Budongo Eco Lodge out of the blue, 20 minutes after we had arrived in the park in time. Fortunately, Ssali was vigilant enough. While Ssali was cheerful that he had saved the life of a rat, grandpa was ranting because all his life he has never spared any rat that crossed his path, even if it meant chasing after it in the rain.
WINDING DOWN AT CAMPFIRE
As we waited for dinner to be served, we were invited for a campfire in the compound where we joined 25 tourists from different corners of the world. We were, however, warned against eating foods with strong aromas such as meat and bananas, so as not to provoke the attack of animals like chimps and leopards.
Budongo Eco Lodge is situated in the heart of the forest reserve, inside Murchison Falls National Park, which teems with wildlife. What I will live to remember about this campfire is the sweet piece of music by an owl nearby. It gave that strong emotion of being at peace with nature.
One might argue that a glance does not linger. It is different from staring open-mouthed until you drool, but a glance at the finely furnished interior of the eco-friendly room in the Hornbill Lodge was enough eye candy for us. Who knows, if management maintains this piece of heaven as it is, I might be tempted to have my honeymoon there in future.( right ,one of the trees believed to be the oldest in East Africa)
Unless you are a night watchman, you certainly know how sweet morning sleep is. You have probably smashed that alarm clock
359 …the species of birds found in Budongo Forest
289…species of butterflies
212…the years of a Mvule tree believed to be the oldest in East Africa
250 years of a mahogany tree believed to be the oldest in the region
accidentally for rudely waking you up. I almost did the same to my phone when the alarm went off at 6:00am, when we were supposed to go chimp trekking. Anyway, I soon found my way to the diner of the lodge in the thick fog and joined John Kibota, the guide on duty for a hot cup of coffee as he briefed us ahead of the planned chimpanzee trekking. Without this coffee, there is no doubt that I would have reconsidered trekking the moment the forest welcomed us with icy dew drops from its trees. It was as cold as if winter had struck Uganda.
No, of course grandpa did not tag along because his new soul mate Ms. comfortable bed was still charming him with her warmth. Besides, one of us had to stay behind to watch over Jessy. By 6:30am, we were happily lost in the middle of Kabalega’s forest, as Kibota preferred to call it. This is because before 1932, it used to serve as a hunting ground for Bunyoro’s Kings.
However, following the worrying rate at which game species were getting extinct, Omukama Kabalega was inspired to gazette it as a conservation forest. Thanks to this decision, the biodiversity in the forest has survived environmental degradation. Hence, one can see what is believed to be the oldest Mvule tree in East Africa at 212 years old. With a height of 50 metres, the gigantic tree has a base that is as huge as 11 mature eucalyptus trees combined. After enjoying the cozy sounds of nature, the trail progressed fruitfully with lots of baby monkeys swinging off the branches as they cheerfully played with wild fruits. We soon came upon a gigantic mahogany, which Kibota says is over 250 years old.
“Unlike the other trees in the forest, the buttress roots of this tree that starts fruiting after 80 years can reach a depth of up to 4.6m. This is approximately the length of three doors joined vertically. Like the Mvule tree, it is also one of the oldest in the great lakes region,” Kibota says. As I wandered close to the tree, suddenly loud roars similar to that of a lion echoed from the canopy of the mahogany tree.
This roar was immediately followed by more roars from the top of the tree. We soon discovered it was a clique of three chimps fighting to rip apart a white monkey. Unfortunately for the poor monkey, it was not only battered, but also preyed on alive, with its blood trickling down the tree branches. All this while, its young ones helplessly watched from the hollow trunk of the opposite tree.
TIME FOR GOODBYE
Before long, rain begun cascading down the forest, forcing us to halt the trekking and run back to the restaurant for shelter. It helped that there was a mouth-watering menu to nurse our hunger. The next time I looked at my watch, it had clocked 1:00pm, our agreed time for departure back to Kampala. Truth be told, we did not want to leave the lovely safari lodge and exciting forest.
How to get there
If one is taking a safari with a tour firm, there is no need to worry with the little details once the package fee has been paid. But those on private arrangement can find their way to Masindi by road and thereafter drive 30km north to get to Budongo Central Forest Reserve through Kichumbayobo Gate. To find Budongo Eco Lodge, take the main road to Paraa and after 8km, turn right at the signpost. There are separate charges for entrance into the Park and the different activities and information is available from local tour offices, websites and publications.
Murchison Falls: A splash of splendour
The electrifying Murchison Falls remain visually familiar to movie freaks, since it featured in the African Queen in which Toro Kingdom Princess Elizabeth Bagaya starred. It is part of one of the largest and oldest national parks in the country – the Murchison Falls conservation area.
It comprises Murchison Falls National Park, Bugungu Wildlife Reserve and Karuma Wildlife Reserve. British explorer Sir Samuel Baker named it Murchison, after the president of the Royal Geographical Society. Baker’s grandson was recently in the area retracing his ancestor’s footsteps.
It is sliced in half by the Victoria Nile, which squeezes through a narrow six-metre gorge to pour out in the spectacular frothing waterfalls. Murchison is home to lions, giraffe, chimpanzees, hippos and more than 450 species of birds. Safaris can be enjoyed by boat, car, on foot or traditional safari jeep. The park is open all year round.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
In the northern sector of the park, the grasslands are dotted with herds of elephants, giraffes, buffalos, and warthogs. Lions are regularly sighted as well as the elusive leopard. The Nile itself is packed with hippos and crocodiles.
The bird life is also spectacular, including the shoebill stork. Chimpanzees live in the southeastern part of the park in Budongo Forest. They can be tracked at Kaniyo Pabidi site and Busingiro in the Budongo Forest Reserve. But most of all, there is the Murchison and Karuma Falls.
Most visitors come to Murchison Falls on safari, possibly eyeing the Big 5, birds or chimpanzees. Visitors can also take a boat ride to hear and see the force and beauty of the Murchison Falls. Take a camera and pair of lenses to zoom in on the lazy hippos and crocodiles having a sun bath.
Uganda Wildlife Authority operates three boats namely the Shoe Bill, Kiboko and Mamba for the launch trips, while others are operated by private firms. There are angling adventures to see who can catch the biggest Nile Perch, which can weigh as much as 80kg. Others include Tiger Fish and Catfish. The annual Murchison Falls The annual Murchison Falls Invitational Fishing Tournament is one of the most popular events in the tourism calendar.
There are several accommodation facilities around the park, from the award-winning five-star Chobe Safari Lodge, the luxury Paraa Safari Lodge, to the Nile Safari Camp along the Nile River bank. One can stay at modest cottages at Sambiya River Lodge or opt for budget bandas or tents at the Red Chilli Hideaway Camp. Uganda Wildlife Authority also operates bandas, a bar and restaurant inside the park.
There are other camping sites near Paraa Rest camp, Rabongo Forest next to Wariongo River. Take along sun glasses, a baseball cap, insect repellents, water and keep your eyes open. Entrance for East African adults is sh10,000 and sh5,000 for children under 15. School children pay sh2500. Foreign non-residents pay $35, while children pay $20. Foreign residents in East Africa pay $25 for adults and $10 for children. Activities within the park, such as game drives, boat ride, nature walk and ferry crossing are paid for separately from the entry fee.
HOW TO GET THERE:
The journey to Murchison falls National Park is a five-hour drive from Kampala. One can rent a car, drive their own or opt for a guided all-package tour. Some would enjoy the scenic route from Kampala via Budongo Forest and the Rift Valley escarpment. Public transport is available from Masindi to the Paraa Park headquarters.
It is possible to go by air from Entebbe Airport to Pakuba Airfield, 19km northwest of Paraa and Bugungu airfield, 13km south of the park headquarters. Flights can also be chartered from Kajjansi Airfield. You can also access it from the north, via Chobe Gate, near Karuma Falls and Tangi Gate, near Pakwach, and Wangkwar Gate near Purongo