Updated: Jun 14
It was a big day and we were all up early. After multiple long days of driving, driving, driving… we were anxious to get out into the wilderness of Uganda… and explore.
Seriously... spending 10-14 hours in the Nomad bus leaves MUCH to be desired.
That morning, we were picked up from our accommodation at Kalalega Resort, by a couple smaller mini-vans and driven out to Murchison Falls National Park. This impressive National Park sits on the shore of Lake Albert, in northwest Uganda.
It wasn’t too far from our lodging, but once we made our way through the main gates of the National Park, it was like we had entered another world. VERY much having become accustomed to the bumpy, often decrepit roads of Uganda, we suddenly found ourselves on some kind of dream highway. It was devoid of any bumps and bangs and bounces… this was approximately 100+ kilometres of perfectly paved, smooth asphalt. I read the Park is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, so perhaps they have an excessive amount of money to spend!
Seriously second to none… and the best road any of us had been on so far… in ALL of Eastern Africa. We couldn’t help but wonder, with so much poverty, water pollution, deforestation, widespread poaching and so many more issues than any of us has time to mention… how could such a significant portion of funds go towards the paving of a road in a northern national park?
We were considerably baffled, to be sure… until we started to really pay attention to some of the structures being erected on the sides of the road.
Then suddenly it all made sense.
* Protecting investments...?
We reached the end of the road… well… the end of our dream highway journey anyway… and parked at the launching, just before the road crossed the bridge to the northern side of the majestic Victoria Nile. Here, we all boarded a river liner that took us on a three hour cruise to the base of Murchison Falls.
A jaunt aboard this double-decker river vessel was meant to be one of the big highlights of the Victoria Nile. In addition to onboard guides supposedly moving around providing interesting information about wildlife in the area, there was also a BAR!
How much better can life get?
Have a glass of wine… while admiring a cuddle puddle of hippos…
The African dream!
Well… it didn’t quite work out that way. It was good… just not THAT good.
The guide was quite obviously bored, having probably done this a million times or more. He slept in his chair for the majority of the expedition.
… and the bar only had beer.
Ok! Hakuna matata!
We all figured we could work within those parameters!
Due to the excessive amounts of hippos and crocodiles… I was so mesmerized, that warm beer did nothing to dampen my spirits.
Plus… every time the guide woke up, I inundated him with morbid questions. We all figured out, all too quickly, that he jerked awake every time one of us threw something in the garbage, so it was kind of a win-win.
My questions / His answers
… merely for research purposes… obviously…
Could make it from one end of the river to the other, without being harmed?
He guaranteed it would be my very last swim, and subsequently asked if I could hand over all my credit cards and bank information before I jumped in.
If I fell off the boat, what would get me first? A crocodile or a hippo?
Probably a crocodile.
What would happen if a crocodile attacked and ate a baby hippo?
This is a BIG one.
The hippo mama will seek revenge like no other… and kill all the crocodiles in the area.
I made some friends on board. There were 2 Americans that were down in Uganda, on business, filming a documentary for a young entrepreneur. Probably the youngest entrepreneur I’ve ever seen, actually. They had been shooting footage for some type of… and forgive me if I’m wrong… environmentally friendly water bottle. I think? Apparently with the sale of each of these bottles, a certain percentage is donated to a non-profit organization that implements and advocates for clean water, sanitation and hygiene services solutions in remote communities.
We did talk for quite a considerable amount of time, but my attention crumbled at every crocodile or hippo sighting… so I can’t be held accountable for not retaining all the bits and bites of the conversation.
They had finished their filming, so were seeing some of the beauty Uganda had to offer, before heading back to the States.
Our little rickety river cruiser got quite close to Murchison Falls, but thankfully we maintained some distance, as not to be swallowed whole. Me… disaster prone at the best of times… on an aluminum barge, triangled between hippos, crocodiles and the most powerful waterfall in the world… Seemed a little sketchy… and honestly, slightly out of my comfort zone.
There were a few moments, when the crew was attempting to turn the boat around, and it wasn’t necessarily going as smoothly as it probably could have. I wasn’t sure if we were actually turning or being sucked into the whirlpool of Nile death. I didn’t put much faith into the staff, considering I’d been watching the guide sleep for the majority of the trip.
We made it though.
Survival on the Nile ✔️
Once back at the boat launch… and after our sleepy guide had instructed us to ‘tip if we liked the tour or throw all our complaints into the river’… we headed back off onto our new favourite freeway!
We were on our way to the top of Murchison Falls to have lunch!
Besides the obvious disregard for spectator safety, it was magnificent. Dramatic. Breathtaking. You couldn’t help but fall in love with the dramatic beauty of the falls… and the surrounding landscape. It is easy to see why this is one of the top tourist destinations in Uganda.
Of course, in regards to safety precautions, I’m speaking from a North American standpoint only! Ugandan safety standards are obviously ok with a couple steel bars and a few pieces of dangling caution tape to fully protect people from the power of the falls, and I’m ok with that. Every second, the equivalent of 200 bathtubs full of water is forced through a gorge less than seven paces wide, but no biggie!
Our driver told us a heroic story of a man who attempted to survive a jump over the falls… hmmm… Seemed like quite a dangerous and stupid undertaking. Preposterous, actually, to plunge into the world's most powerful waterfall, thinking you might have a chance at survival. One might assume that should you have the ability to survive such a descent, you may not have the strength to battle the beasts at the bottom... But who am I to judge?
With a little help from my friend Google, I discovered he actually committed suicide due to a failed marriage. There was no attempt to survive. His body was never found…
They'll get ya every time…
Lunch was one boiled egg, a piece of fried chicken, a slice of chapati grilled cheese, some boiled potatoes and a piece of French toast. We all sat on the shady side of the remarkable cascade, slowly getting drenched with the drizzle of the mist, and nibbled on our yellow carb & protein delight.
Our final stop was the Chimpanzee trek at Budongo, the largest natural rainforest in all of Eastern Africa. This rainforest is not only known for it’s former abundance of mahogany trees, but is home to approximately 600-700 chimpanzees and managed by the Jane Goodall Institute for Research.
It was here, we began our chimp trek.
We were split off into 3 groups and then hit the trail.
I think we were all a little bit afraid of our guide to begin with. At our initial introduction, he really laid out the law of the land. Fair enough… we were following him into an area, completely foreign to the rest of us, and inundated with wild animals. He encouraged us to ask questions, but did so in such a terrifying manner, that we walked through the first leg of the forest, in completely silence. None of us dared to ask a thing.
I finally broke the silence by asking about lethal snakes in the area.
I don’t think I was fully prepared for the answer.
There are more too… but the most venomous and dangerous are always the most intriguing.
We spent over three hours trekking through the Budungo rainforest. The guide (apologies that I can’t remember his name) had a radio, so he was in constant communication with the trackers in the area.
Thank goodness… or I can’t even imagine how long we would have walked for. Hours!!!
At the very beginning of the trek, they advised us to have;
~ Long pants.
~ Long socks.
~ Long sleeves.
~ Hiking boots.
I was an epic fail on each and every one.
I showed up in capris, a t-shirt, short socks and regular running shoes.
To be fair, someone had told me I might need flip flops, so I had carted my foul smelling Birks around all day in my big, clunky purse, stinking up everything I owned. At one point, I made an attempt to just leave them in the van, but after walking away, I quickly returned to retrieve them. I knew I couldn't possibly alienate the rest of the passengers with my rancid foot odor...
Some of the crew were a bit disappointed they didn’t have the proper chimpanzee attire... BUT... in their defence, they had been told AFTER they had put in their laundry to be washed. Stupid me had left my black pants behind in one of my daily 'my pack is too heavy' purges. The only pants I had were the horrendous green safari pants I’d purchased prior to departure... and I’d cut the bottoms of them off in an attempt to make them fit better.
It didn't work.
I'm an idiot.
I wasn’t missing out on chimpanzees for a fashion faux pas.
To be fair… the long socks were meant to tuck your long pants in due to the excessive amount of fire ants in the area. The long pants & long sleeves were an attempt to eliminate the pain of jungle cuts & bruises along the trail. Hiking boots would have been nice, but runners were fine for the trail we trekked. I tried to remember to walk as though I were in a marching band, lifting each foot after every step, ever cognizant of the dead tree trunks, entangled branches and the fallen leaves that worked well to camouflage the treacherous rainforest floor.
After all the advice the guide gave us, it was actually HIM that managed to step on a thorn that broke right through his rubber boot and temporarily crippled him.
Then we found the chimpanzees…
A community of chimpanzees, I believe, if we are referring to it correctly.
Now… I will tell you… with all honestly… I have never been particularly enthralled with chimpanzees.
Take them or leave them…
BUT… there is something that clicks in your brain, in your psyche, in your soul, in your spirit and in your entire emotional state of mind… when suddenly you’re standing right there… watching these incredible beasts, with your very own eyes… in their natural habitat…
It was an exhilarating encounter… one that is tremendously difficult to describe. It was an intense buzz, being mere metres away from these wild creatures. Unforgettable. A high I’ve never experienced before.
I’m actually tearing up as I write this.
Today I discovered some things about chimpanzees I didn’t know before coming to Budongo. Actually, everything I know about chimpanzees is because of coming here…
I asked the guide what happens when a chimpanzee dies. My question was in reference to an older chimp we observed for some time, Baby Face. Baby Face was significantly older and slower than the rest of the community. His face was visibly greyer… and while the other adults went up and down the trees, Baby Face sat comfortably, enjoying his feast, without much in the way of much effort or movement.
The guide told us the sick and elderly chimps will move down from the trees and remain on the ground until their death. The adults and younger chimps will provide the food until the chimp passes away. When that happens, there is usually a 2-3 day period, where the chimps will gather around the body, perhaps saying their goodbyes.
If a baby chimp dies, the mother will carry the corpse around for a few days, coddling it and rocking it back and forth, as if it is still alive. She will eventually lay it down on the ground, holding her fingers against the infant’s face and neck for several seconds. After she has said her goodbyes, she will hand her baby over to her community of chimpanzees for them to leave behind.
Now do you see why I cried?
Should the mother die, all the other chimpanzees will immediately step forward and adopt the orphans. Regardless of who the father might be, all adult males help raise the young chimpanzees.
Funny though, they don't cry.
I cried enought for all the chimpanzees...
I so wish I could have captured all these incredible moments, in a more vibrant, sharper image, but iPhone 11 didn’t have safari and chimp trekking in mind when they developed their shit photography app. Epic fail on composition, exposure, focus, lighting, timing... seriously.
I had to rely on everyone else to capture the moments.
I really never thought I would hear anything as eerie as the Howler Monkeys of Costa Rica, but the chimpanzees top the charts with their variety of hoos and grunts and barks and screams.
There were times we thought they were;
Angry with us.
Fighting with other chimpanzees.
All of the above probably could have been true… but the guide assured us that they were just looking for their friends and trying to find food…
This guys blew my mind. Considering how captivated I was with the chimpanzees, I don't dare think of what a mess I'll be when we get to the mountain gorillas...
Chimpanzees are capable of feeling a wide range of emotions, including joy, happiness and empathy. They look out for one another and often provide help when needed.
Older chimpanzees pass their knowledge down to younger generations, ensuring the knowledge and survival of the community.
Playing helps young chimpanzees develop social skills. Chimps wrestle, chase and tickle one another, frequently climbing through trees and swinging from one branch to the next. Researchers have watched a group of young females play with makeshift dolls and care for them like mother chimpanzees.
When a chimpanzee is feeling stressed or anxious, others will often groom or hug them for assurance. One of the deepest bonds a chimpanzee will form is with its mother. During the first few years of life, a chimpanzee relies almost entirely on its mother for protection, nourishment and love.
Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, resilient and motivated. When faced with a challenge, chimpanzees use their highly evolved problem solving skills to come up with solutions. Chimps can make tools and collaborate with each other. Chimpanzees have been able to adapt to the degradation of their habitats, carrying out night-time raids on farmers’ crops, crossing roads only during safe periods and even deactivating hunters’ wire snares.
Pretty cool, eh?