Going With The Flow - Slow Lanes in Uganda Part 5 Murchison Falls National Park

Posted in Travel / The Honey Badger Diaries / Videos

Going With The Flow - Slow Lanes in Uganda Part 5 Murchison Falls National Park

The negotiations taking place a mere ten meters from my window, where a clapped-out army green Defender is being appraised, have snatched my attention from my writing.

The buyer, a true connoisseur of vintage vehicles, was immediately captivated by the unique features of this classic Land Rover. His profound affection for these timeless automobiles was evident as he visualised it's potential, undeterred by the layer of dust and grime. Even the bird droppings on the windows couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm as he explored the equipment and junk stowed inside.

Love is blind. The worn-out tyres, rusty fuel cap, rattling windows, and overall appearance of this battle-scarred, weather-beaten vehicle have braved potholes and corrugations and even witnessed a civil war. It has trudged through thick mud and clay and evaded a landmine or two in its lifetime

. It may lack aesthetics, but it’s a testament to resilience that leaves the gathering in awe.

In a moment of reflection, the owner fondly twists his thin, greasy ponytail between thumb and forefinger. In his eyes, the vehicle has transformed into a cherished Rolls Royce, which he lovingly caresses with his right hand. To demonstrate his affection, he kicks the front tyre with passion. He hobbles to the driver’s door and cautiously tests the handle, which requires a gentle nudge and some elbow grease to open. The hinges complained. Letting out a painful, blood-curdling screech and jerked open in fits and starts, startling the crows, who scatter with annoying squawks.

This is going to be a tough negotiation. I believe this is what they call a “hard sell”? The stout owner pulls a grimy, greasy, stained, filthy handkerchief from his pocket. He shakes it, seemingly to wipe his nose, but no, no, his eyes. A fat tear glistens in the corner of his right eye and rolls down his grimy cheek. Could it be dust or an allergy to dust, certainly not sadness?

The antics amuse the buyer, who knows the deal will be done. It’s just a matter of time. With much ado, the vehicle is push-started and keeps going as the fuel pedal is pumped energetically, allowing great black billows of diesel fumes to be emitted. The exhaust belches a series of loud bangs and shakes itself to life. The seller takes a short spin around the Baobab tree with an expression of pure delight and a faint smile touches his face.  A while later the buyer takes his sweet time and gives the Landy a good test drive around the Lodge taking the revs up on a straight and beetles all along the perimeter fence leaving behind him a voluminous cloud of fine dust. 


Back to the Blog and writing I remind myself as the dust settles. The men drift off in different directions to contemplate. Pretty Blue Waxbills return and take up their piercing  "‘sree-seee-seee'with melodic warbles and ‘krrt'"notes.

On our journey, we were at the Kiborobya crossroads. Our destination the Murchison Falls National Park, where we hoped to spend a few days exploring, relaxing and taking up where we left off with Renè and Yvonne who have joined us. 

We attended to last-minute shopping and soon were back on the road. Our fridge was filled with reddest tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, green topped carrots and crispy pink cheeked apples. The aubergine bringals were for a Baba ghanoush.

Uniquely paterned Long horns amble lazily to waterholes and fresh grazing criss-crossing roads without a glance in our direction. Cattle are always a good sign. We were entering the Savanna plains with less forest and more grassland. There is a lot more sunshine and a little less rain.

The Vilakazi Murchison Falls Safari camp was perfect for us. From there, we could explore the Murchison Falls and the National Park. The rest camp has fallen on hard times and only a groundskeeper and his family remain. Vervet monkeys have taken over the restaurant causing havoc. While having our morning coffee a few elephant drop in to graze and inspect us before going down to the lake to bathe and drink. Their trumpetings thrilling.  Although we don't mind roughing it and enjoy the solitude we decide to move on. 

A stay is different to a sleep-over, and whenever we stay somewhere we endeavour to cycle or hike to suss out the scene and to learn about an area. Whenever I feel lazy I remind myself that this might be my only opportunity to do so.. that's enough motivation to get me sprinting again.



 The Murchison Falls – Kabalega Falls

The falls are situated at the apex of Lake Albert on the Victoria Nile in Uganda. After an 80km stretch of rapids, the river reaches the falls, where the Nile forces its way through a narrow gap in the rocks only 7m wide. Three hundred million cubic litres of water are squeezed into a 10-meter-wide gorge before plunging deafeningly over a 43m drop into the Devil’s Cauldron. "The earth moves" the guide tells seriousl. The force of released water whirls, pushing and pulling before settling down to continue placidly into Lake Albert. 

Around campfires, tales of brave Roman Legionaries despatched by Nero to explore the Nile are recounted. It is said that they reached Murchison Falls in 61 AD. Sceptics doubt the feasibility of such a complicated exploration.

Samuel and Florence Baker were the first Europeans to sight the falls, and they named them the Roderick Murchison Falls to honour the President of the Royal Geographical Society.

In the 1970s, Idi Amin renamed Kabalega Falls after King Kabalega of Bunyoro. Following the downfall of Idi Amin, the name reverted to Murchison.

I found the following snippet very interesting: Ernest Hemmingway crashed a plane downriver from Murchison Falls in 1954. That man certainly got around. There are rumours of Hemingway in many of the remotest places we’ve been to. For example, in Pomene, Mozambique, he used to fly in to do a spot of Marlin fishing while staying at the hotel overlooking the bay.

River cruises are a relaxing way to explore the river and, just before sunset, see the falls. Our Lodge offered this popular tourist attraction at a reasonable rate. Who could resist?

After our siesta and afternoon coffee we walk down to the harbour. Our German friends, unaccustomed to such liberties, march off in anticipation of adventure. Not often one can casually take a walk in a park they inform us. Indeed. 

The grassy plains make way for subtropical rainforests lining the riverbank. While we chugged up the river course, we could identify some familiar water birds, and lurking in the thick indigenous undergrowth, the guide spotted an enormous crocodile. I think he hibernates there and is well-known to the local guides. The brush is too dense to spot him on an off chance.

Loitering in the Rabonga forest were a herd of buffalo who ventured out to drink at sunset and a colossal tusker, which reminded me of Dalene Mathee’s elusive Knysna forest elephants.

Faster riverboats like the African Queen passed us as we made our way leisurely, not wishing the journey to end.

A billowing puff of mist rising cloudlike was the first sign of a rainforest cupping the falls, and then the beating and crashing of the tons of water became audible. Before rounding the final bend, tiny ripples on the surface of the placid water rushed towards us, gathering momentum and increasing in size as we neared the first island.

Seeing the falls in all their glory was a sight to behold, and we gave a collective whoop of pleasure followed by giggles and excited chatter before the prescribed selfie session began.

It is one thing to see 300 million cubic meters of water crashing over the falls, but the water’s impact on our boats’ engines was enormous as the masses of water pushed and rushed past us in strong currents and whirlpools. With the engines in reverse, the skipper resisted the urgent pull of the currents to keep us on an even keel. 

after our allotted fifteen minutes enjoying the falls we heading back to base stopping whenever someone spotted a bird or elephant to photograph.

My video, link below, shows a snippet of the water in slow motion.


Murchison Falls National Park

  • The 1951 film “The African Queen”, starring Humphrey Bogard, was filmed on Lake Albert and the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park.
  • The park is situated at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into a vast, palm-dotted Savanna.
  • The park was gazetted as a game reserve in 1926 and is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area.
  • The park is divided by the Victoria Nile, which plunges over the Rift Valley wall, creating the Murchison Falls, the emerald in the crown.
  • The park boasts 144 species of mammals, 556 bird species, 51 reptiles, and 51 amphibians.

Great herds of African elephants can be spotted all over the plains, embankments, and forests.

Giraffe inhabit the northern sections of the park exclusively. Murchison Falls National Park is home to over 1,250 Rothschild Giraffe making it the best place to see the species during a safari in Uganda. This is the largest population of Rothschild Giraffe in the world within a single conservation area.

A male Rothschild giraffe can grow to a height of 6m and weigh up to 3000 pounds, the female weighs 2 600 pounds and reaches heights of 4.5m tall. A foal weighs 50 pounds and measure 5ft tall. 

Giraffe are herbivores plucking leaves from trees and shrubs with their 45cm tongue. They will also eat young shoots, stems, fruits, tree bark and forage from one tree to another. An adult consumes about 75 pounds of food per day. They need as little as four hours sleep. Giraffe are not water reliant and can survive on liquids absorbed through leaves. Acacia trees provide them with the bulk of their nutrition. Male and female giraffe forage at different heights, with females foraging at body height.

Giraffe are sociable and the females establish dominance amongst the herds by fighting.

A giraffe's horns are called Ossicones Males have three Ossicones while females have two.

Buffaloes are numerous, and we would spot them daily wallowing in their favourite mud pool.

Uganda Kob are graceful and have similar colourings to our gazelle; they seem slightly larger than our springbok but with similar impressive leaps. Oribi, Jackson's hartebeest, waterbuck, and bushbuck are plentiful.

The primates include blue monkeys, red tailed monkeys, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, and chimpanzees in the Budongo forest.

On one of our drives exploring the river, we decided to take a seldom-used road, only to discover the road soon petered out into a single track. Not to be discouraged, we took the right turn on the next road.

The road soon deteriorated, and we realised we would have to find a spot to make a U-turn.

A great big CAT grader hiding in the foliage, came rumbling up to us like a prayer answered. The driver stopped to inform us that the road was under construction and we must turn back. Butch indicated our inability to turn and assured him we would do so as soon as a suitable spot presented itself.

“No problem,” he bellowed from his lofty seat, indicating he’d come to our rescue. He’ll oblige us with a stretch of graded road, and soon afterwards, he push his way into the bush and then proceeded to make us the perfect turn-around spot.

This act of kindness was one of many we experienced during our adventures in Africa.

This escapade called for a pit stop. With our table and chairs out, we enjoyed our picnic overlooking the sluggish river. We were fascinated by the fishermen who have inhabited the land for centuries, sustainably coexisting with nature and wildlife.

Daringly, Butch, the elephant whisperer, went off to inspect the embankment while an elephant gave him the glad eye. This is not the first time he’s done this, and I remind myself he’s even taken the plunge into the Khwai River with a giant bull elephant for company. Being able to move freely, without being irresponsible, in a park is alien to us, yet we find the freedom of movement exhilarating. His escapades even stopped the warthogs in their tracks.

We have since learned that Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, and several British Royals have visited Ugandan Parks. We are in good company, but we were one of only two other safari vehicles enjoying the park on our visit.

Our stay at Red Chilli Murchison Falls was a very pleasant experience especially since Jax and Gary, the manager's were Natalians. We craved chatting to ex-pats and here our needs were met


Our friend Katerina, whom we’d met in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, had until recently lived in Gulu and assured us that her friend, Annette, would put us up on her lawn for a day or two. Her husband Herbert, a tour guide, was a hive of information and could give us tips and tricks for our onward journey through Uganda. Having first-hand insider information is always welcome; the hidden gems we learn about encourage us to go off the beaten track. (To say “tourist traps” would be a misnomer; our experience was a lack of tourists.)

Malik, Enola, and Livian, the children, regularly came around for a chat, and we’d cheer them on when they played soccer on the lawn in the evenings.

Our three nights in Gulu were very relaxing. I did a spot of writing, Butch read, and we had our water tanks filled with bottled potable water, delivered by a very helpful chap who obliged us by doing most of the work. Thank you for your excellent service.

In many cities, towns and villages, the luxury of potable piped water is a dream; most people must buy bottled water. Boreholes and communal water points are strategically located but often far from homes and businesses. From early morning until late at night, young and old fetch water, which is carted in various containers, the size of which depends on the person’s ability to carry the weight of the water. On motorbikes, tuk-tuks and animal-drawn carts, large plastic containers are strapped for household use.

I was thrilled to produce a loaf of sourdough bread, which Annette enjoyed, so Malik informed us the following day before he rushed off to school.

Thank you for having us stay, making your beautiful, rambling home and garden available, and allowing us to catch up on some chores, laundry, and maintenance work. I also cleared some drawers and removed a few items cluttering my peace of mind. I have not regretted the decision to dump some stuff at all.


Life has a way of balancing things out. I suppose we’d gone plain sailing for too long when Karma struck a dreadful blow while driving on a road under construction.

Butch woke up that morning with blocked ears. A reoccurring condition he suffers from and, at times, exacerbated when he is stressed. After days of applying drops of his secret remedy, hydro chlorine,  the only remedy is a good rinsing by a GP or ENT specialist. He’d have to wait this time because he had  access to neither.

We realised this would be a frustrating day. I would be shouting until I was hoarse, and still, I would not be heard above the engine noises. Annoying for both of us. In sympathy, I am hard of hearing on those days or Butch, like many people who suffer sudden mild deafness, speaks in whispers.

As we slowed to a snail’s pace, the once-tarred road became a potholed, muddy mess. Heavy Chinese roadbuilding equipment littered the wet, puddled clay and gravel road. All my attention was on the road I was photographing. I had to lean forward in my seat to get the perfect shot. My seatbelt was straining tightly around my waist. With a final pull, I heaved myself forward and held my camera firmly. I realised I’d have to keep my phone between the side mirror and my open window to get the best shot. I’ve done this a thousand times.

The muddy water a few meters before us was deceptively hiding a deep pothole into which we dropped like a stone. My elbow caught the side mirror on my funny bone. An electrifying pain shot and ricocheted up and down my arm, sending my cell phone flying.

Butch, concentrating on the road and keeping the Honey Badger steady, didn’t hear my shouts of “stop, stop” until I flung myself at him. By then, the front and back tyres had rolled over my phone.

There are people who say, “Traveling without my phone is liberating.” I have no idea what they’re talking about. We live in the 21st century, and being digital is how the world works. I was devastated. Our families accepted our decision to travel long-term because we could be reached. I had no access to my bank account. Four hundred photographs were lost. To me, that’s a thing because my phone is my travelogue. The mood in the Honey Badger was funereal.


I stopped crying when we got to the Arra Fishing Lodge. By then, I had plan B up my sleeve, and my previous spare phone was charged. I could photograph again and chat with the kids, our grandchildren and my parents. Banking would remain a nightmare for weeks. Butch could relax.

We were on the Northwestern frontier of Uganda, where the Sudanic tribes of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda settled.

These communities are river people and depend primarily on fishing and subsistence farming. In the villages, goods, fresh produce and fish are sold in bustling informal markets and along the streets. Most village folk will sell something to make ends meet. People are creative and resourceful, and they are small business entrepreneurs. 

Arra Lodge is situated on a rocky peninsula surrounded by two lagoons fed by the Albert Nile section of the Nile.

The Otce Mountain ranges encircle the landscape, and nestled in the lake are ten islands.

Butch would celebrate his 74th birthday in grand style. The staff  and Joseph the manager treated him to a meal and a brilliant rendition of Happy Birthday. He felt thoroughly spoilt and indulged.

My Portuguese bread with candles, sparklers and Bovril was a hit and a first. Two of his favourite things…. Bovril and Me!

We explored the area on our bikes. We took long rides, visited the fishing harbour, and did a ferry and water taxi crossing with our bikes all piled in.

The Lodge’s staff, enamoured by Butch, sourced two fine Nile Perch. Butch filleted and barbecued them for dinner one night.

A visit to the fishing market, harbour and dock is a must. It’s colourful and chaotic, and the sociable vibe entices one to explore, smell, touch and taste the various offerings. Music blares from hidden ghetto blasters while motorbikes, tuk-tuks and trucks add to the cacophony and mayhem.  

While we waited for the ferry, youngsters asked Butch to pose for a selfie. I think a silver fox mzungu must be a rarity in these parts.

The voyage on the ferry was one for the books. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that so many vehicles of all descriptions could cram into the allotted space. Once the cars were safely stowed, passengers could embark. We filled every conceivable inch of space. We were the water that filled the jar filled with stones and sand. It was heartwarming to learn that passengers make the short journey at no charge, like sardines jammed into a tin. By the severe look on our companion’s faces this journey was a serious business. Butch and I sat stock-still not wanting to break the spell. 

The duration of the voyage was a short fifteen minutes. No sooner had we docked and we were spewed out like water from a whale's jaws.

We continued our cycle on the other side of the river, venturing onto single tracks, crisscrossing farmlands, the bustling village on a Saturday morning and rumbled through a small hamlet where only a few chickens and a goat were holding the fort. The pre-historic water monitor wouldn’t disturb his morning constitutional as he scurried ahead of me.


We are not folk who repeat experiences, especially when there is an alternative. We noticed a man haggling with a boatman a few meters from the ferry ramp. After a few minutes, he boarded the small craft and helped his pregnant companion onto a bench. It was a water taxi. Without further ado, Butch pushed ahead, bike in tow, to enquire about the possibility of us doing likewise. For a few bob, anything is possible. We loaded our bikes with much effort and went on a gentle boat ride back. The engine did splutter and cough, emitting a massive cloud of black soot and diesel fumes, but that is all in the sandwich.


At the suggestion of the Lodge manager, we decided to look for the elusive Shoe Bill. A giant stork-like grey bird with a massive fat hooked bill. Small numbers are relatively widespread in Uganda, and our guide said he had spotted them in the lake’s wetlands.

We put-puttered to all known areas, but he said we were not lucky this time. With our binoculars focused, we spotted other water birds and improved our tick list.

Fishermen sidled up to our craft to show us their catches, and the skipper bought a small tilapia. And I cringed at seeing a giant Catfish, a popular delicacy.

We didn't visit all the islands but I took upthe offer to visit one island sporting a huge granite rock. While Butch adjusted his lenses we clambered up to see the view where we got a bird's eye view of the river, mountains and wetlands. 


Back to the market we went to source our own fish with the expert help of our guide. With his help Butch was able to find the perfect fish with the brightest eyes. Firm to the touch, and cold. While they were busy I perused the pop-up kitchens where ladies prepare fish in large woks.

I was soon handed two broomsticks and ordered to fry a fish and turn it. Not as simple as it seems. Fish a gutted and three cuts are made into the skin. The fish are not seasoned. Into the hot oil, they are plunged to fry until the skin is crispy and the flesh is cooked to perfection. 

Fish is either fried in a wok or stewed with vegetables, but our grilled fish was the best he’d ever tasted, the  gardener said later.


Before I got too comfortable with the view, the beautiful sunsets and the shade of the ancient, monstous trees, Butch suggested we move on.

With a heavy heart, we said goodbye to the wonderfully hospitable staff at Arra Lodge. I would miss my daily sightings of the fishermen who diligently cast their nets and fishing traps every morning before work and again just before sunset. A few small fish would feed a family.

The owner of the lodge, a Dr.Jimmy Opigo, specialising in Malaria, came around on a few occasions to chat and soon had plans to purchase his own truck. Butch's stories and assurances that long term travel was a refirement inspired him to look into trucking.

And so we left all creatures great and small. On my quiet days I'd explore my surroundings and found the ordinary creatures as beautiful as the exotic.


The negotiations for the sale of the Land Rover are ongoing, but the buyer is optimistic that the deal will go through within a week. He said the engine was sound and fired up immediately. That was impressive, Butch said, considering the vehicle had not moved for 18 months.

Accompanying the buyer, a large oil company auditor, is a very handsome Che Guevara look-alike, albeit clean-shaven and beretless, he's from Havana who decided to remain in Angola after his tour of duty. This is my second encounter, the first being a charming radiographer in Beira, with men serving in Africa from that small island off Mexico. I mention this brief encounter because, once again, my perceptions and, yes, fears due to the disinformation and prejudice we were indoctrinated with, as a product of Apartheid, are wholly unfounded. This dapper man in his early forties, is my eldest son’s contemporary.

I remember my confinement in the Karl Bremer hospital, which was taken up with awe and wonder by the miracle I had borne, this wondrously perfect child lying in his perspex bassinet. At the same time, I prayed fervently that conscription into the army will end. I would do anything to prevent him from being shipped off as canon fodder in an unjust war. I promised him. This stranger's mother must’ve prayed the same prayer. I was the lucky one. But, ironically, we both lost our sons to another continent.

I must dash; there is too little time and too much to see and do. But first, shopping. 



Birds of Murchison falls National Park.