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Hippos, Elephants, Antelope, Giraffes, Buffalo – but no Lions

by Gail Mooney
June 9 2010

We are finishing up the first leg of our journey and will be leaving Africa tonight to head north to Istanbul, Turkey and then on to Warsaw, Poland.  Africa has certainly taken its hold on me and I will surely return.

After getting some good material on Letha Sandison and her foundation, Wrap Up Africa, we decided to get out of the chaos of Kampala and headed out to Murchison Falls Park to experience the “real” Africa and see the beautiful landscape and the animals of this magnificent and mysterious continent.  How could we come to Africa and not get out into the wild.

There were 7 travelers in our group – Erin and I were the only two Americans and we were joined by one young French man, one German man about Erin’s age, one Dutch girl in her late 20’s and two crazy Belgians – one Rastafarian and full of life itself.  I knew within a half and hour of our journey that this would be a memorable adventure.

We left late as usual – African time –and knew it would take most of the day to reach our destination, Murchison Falls.  Getting out of the chaos of Kampala was a constant circus of vibrant visuals.  It was a bit frustrating not to be on my own to stop and shoot as I pleased and I knew that I would need to be content with capturing the images with my eyes and storing them in my mind.  We passed hundreds of people coming and going, furniture for sale sitting in the red dirt, billboards advertising Coca-Cola, cell phone service and HIV prevention, bicycles burdened by loads of bananas and bamboo and women in colorful dress balancing an assortment of objects on their heads as they gracefully moved through the hordes of people.

We finally arrived at the falls and took a short hike to see the magnificence of the

Murchison Falls, Uganda

converging with another river.  Not the tallest waterfall in the world but a powerful one in a setting that defies description.

Murchison Falls, Uganda

No sooner did we get back to the van did the sky let loose in a torrent of rain.  When it rains in Africa – it really rains and the roads quickly become rivers.  We finally arrived at our camp after dark and in the midst of the downpour.  We found our tent after trekking a bit through the mud and given the warnings of the park.  We were told not to keep any food at all in our tent or our surroundings unless we wanted a nighttime visit by the not so friendly warthogs.  And if we needed to make a visit to the bathroom in the middle of the night to make sure we brought a flashlight and watch for wandering hippos.

We got a pre-dawn start the next morning to catch the ferry across the Nile and begin our drive through the park.  We quickly saw a group of hippos

Hippo - Nile River, Uganda

bathing in the river – the first of many that we would see that day.  As we bumped along the dirt roads in our van with the rooftop popped we spotted an amazing array of mammals and birds – baboons by the side of the road waiting to snatch something from us, a herd of Cape Buffalo, families of giraffes and an amazing variety of antelope and bush buck.  Everyone was keen to spot a lion but it was not to be, but the wonder of the landscape and all the other animals quickly took away any disappointment.  After all this was not a zoo or a theme park – it was the African savannah in all its glory and unpredictability.

That afternoon we took a boat ride up the Nile to Murchison Falls and on the way we saw dozens of elephants on the banks of the river.  I’ll never forget the sight and sounds of these amazing creatures as they walked single file along the edge of the river.

After supper that evening, a small group of people of various cultures gathered around a fire.  Some chatted in a variety of tongues, some played guitar and some did magic tricks.  It brought me back to my first travels when I trekked around the world as a nineteen-year-old girl.  And as I headed to my tent I was in awe of the clear night sky – thousands of stars stretching from horizon to horizon.

We had a short but amazing trip to a special part of the world and a place that I will surely return.  Africa sucks you in – it exhausts you – it energizes you – and it creates a special spot in you heart that cannot be described.  One needs to discover that all on one’s own and I’m sure if you ever venture to this great continent– you will be amazed and your spirit awakened.

And so we depart from this great land, our eyes are open, our heart is full and our spirit is free.

Check out our second podcast from Jinga, Uganda – the source of the Nile.

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