Scarlett Chidgey (Uganda)

Scarlett Chidgey (Kinawataka Women Initiatives - KIWOI): Following an undergraduate degree in Journalism from Boston University, Scarlett worked as a communications manager for a science communications firm in Berkeley, CA. She then left to volunteer in Mongolia. Scarlett then served for five years as the Program and Communications Manager at the Alliance for International Women’s Rights (AIWR), an organization that supports women leaders and future leaders in developing countries. Prior to graduate school, Scarlett ran her own business as a communications and web consultant, managing projects and developing websites. Scarlett graduated from University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies with an M.A. in International Studies and concentration on Gender, Human Rights, and Development. After her fellowship Scarlett wrote: “The [fellowship]… enriched my perspective by giving me solid experience and examples to further support my human rights and development philosophy. It also enhanced my understanding of how grassroots organizations can operate and the struggles they face."



Safari in Murchison Falls National Park

20 Sep

In northwest Uganda, about 300 kilometers and a five-hour drive away from Kampala, is Murchison Falls National Park. The savannah, tropical forest, and other ecosystems of the largest national park in Uganda are home to wildlife galore—elephants, hippos, giraffes, baboons, Ugandan kobs (type of antelope), water buffalo, crocodiles, scores of bird species, leopards, and lions! The Nile River flows through the park, and as it narrows through a gorge about ten feet wide, it cascades 141 feet, creating a magnificent waterfall, the centerpiece of the park. Those who have seen the African Queen with Humphrey Bogart may recognize the famous Murchison Falls.

Murchison Falls view from the Nile River

Murchison Falls view from the Nile River

Just last weekend, I stood close enough to those mighty falls to feel the spray on my face. I had left Kampala that morning in a van, with a multinational group of seven other travelers and our driver. We were on safari and a short hike to the falls was our first activity in the park.

Our first night, as I headed to my safari tent to sleep, rain began to fall. And for about twenty minutes, I sat on my bed listening to the pitter-patter on the canvas and the loud thunder roll through the sky as white lightning flashes illuminated the otherwise pitch black tent, feeling as though somehow it made my African safari experience all the more authentic.

The new safari chic - a plastic straw safari bag!

The new safari chic - a plastic straw safari bag!

The next morning, I woke at 5:30 am. I was very tired, and it was cold and dark, but once I was up and dressed, packed breakfast in hand, I was excited for our 4-hour game drive through the park. We hopped in our van, drove about a kilometer to the water, and were ferried across the river to begin our drive. With the roof of the van popped up, I stood on my seat and leaned my head outside, with an unobstructed view of the wildlife we could see from the dirt road. I have seen giraffes and elephants in zoos, but to see them in their natural habitat was stunning. My favorite part of the drive was undoubtedly spotting the female lion, on the prowl to hunt some unsuspecting kob in the distance.

Giraffes are a-plenty in Murchison Falls National Park

Giraffes are a-plenty in Murchison Falls National Park

Momma and baby elephants saunter across the savannah

Momma and baby elephants saunter across the savannah

Female lions are the hunters in the family

Female lions are the hunters in the family

Ugandan kob (left) and water buck

Ugandan kob (left) and water buck

In the afternoon, we set off on a boat cruise along the Nile toward the base of Murchison Falls. Along the way, we spotted crocodiles, hippos, baboons, and a group of elephants. We passed by a sign that marked the spot where Earnest Hemingway had crashed a plane back in 1954. Although not as exhilarating as the game drive, it was a relaxing way to enjoy the Nile River, the wildlife on its banks, and learn a bit of history. Sleepy, I closed my eyes for a while under the sun’s glow with the gentle rock of the boat. When we approached the falls, we stopped at a rock where each of the boat’s passengers could quickly jump on to pose for photos.

Karla and Scarlett pose on a rock in front of Murchison Falls

Karla and Scarlett pose on a rock in front of Murchison Falls

Despite my cruise snooze, I was still tired after dinner, so I headed to my tent early and was asleep by 10 pm. But shortly before 11 pm, I woke up to a funny noise that sounded somewhat like very loud munching, crunching, and snorting. My tent-mate had not yet come to bed, so I was on my own, in my tent, while a hippo was circling around it!

Hippos are dangerous wild animals and the one circling my tent was bigger than this one!

Hippos are dangerous wild animals and the one circling my tent was bigger than this one!

When we first arrived to our camp, we were warned that the hippos sometimes came up from the lake nearby and roamed around the camp. Though they seem so nice and friendly, hippos can and will charge at humans with slight provocation. Hippos (reportedly) cause more deaths than any other animal except mosquitoes here in Uganda. So, we were told, if you see a hippo, walk the other way. If that hippo is standing between you and the restrooms, use the other restroom. If it’s bedtime but that hippo is standing between you and your tent, you go sleep someplace else. But they didn’t tell us what to actually do if they come stomping around your tent while you are in it! I knew that no matter what I should not open my tent, but I didn’t know if the hippos would try to knock the tent over or get inside. I just sat on my bed, alert and quiet, while I waited for it to disappear. Through the tent window screen I could see the beast’s dark, massive form eventually saunter away, and when I could no longer hear its funny noises, I carefully unzipped my tent door and heard some people say, “You can come out!” I would be completely lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous while that hippo was surrounding me!

Hippo tracks on the dirt path in front of my tent - the morning after its visit

Hippo tracks on the dirt path in front of my tent - the morning after its visit

Warthogs will actually get inside your tent if you leave food in there, and they don't use the zippers!

Warthogs will actually get inside your tent if you leave food in there, and they don't use the zippers!

On our final day, we left Murchison Falls and drove a couple of hours to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Once, rhinos roamed around Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo National Park, in northeast Uganda. However, rhinos were poached to local extinction, primarily under Idi Amin’s regime, and the last Ugandan rhino was supposedly killed around 1982 or 1983. In 1997, a program was initiated to breed white rhinos in the country by bringing the animals from other parts of the world to the sanctuary. In 2009, the first baby rhino was born in Uganda in 28 years. They named the baby Obama, after President Barak Obama, because the mother was from the U.S. and the father was from Kenya. Today, there are 10 rhinos—six adults from U.S. and Kenya, and four babies bred and born at Ziwa. At first we only saw two sleeping rhinos, a mom and her baby. But after some insistance, we were able to continue our rhino tracking after lunch, and we came across a group of three rhinos. A momma, her baby, and Obama, who is a guest in their family while his own mom is taking care of his baby sister (the only female rhino born thus far at the sanctuary).

Obama - the first white rhino born in Uganda in 28 years!

Obama - the first white rhino born in Uganda in 28 years!

I don’t think I could have asked for a better first safari!

Posted By Scarlett Chidgey (Uganda)

Posted Sep 20th, 2011

9 Comments

  • Ssekanjako Craish

    September 20, 2011

     

    You must have enjoyed the beauty of my country!!! invite more friends here, there are more beautiful places than that, others are just amazing!!!

  • Sue

    September 26, 2011

     

    That’s so amazing, to see these animals in their natural habitat. But the hippo incident sounds a little too close for comfort! I’m glad that he (she?) decided to walk away. Must have been hard to get back to sleep after that.

  • Rwanda Safari Booking

    November 1, 2016

     

    That trip must have been amazing. The animals in that park are wonderful

  • Self Drive in Uganda

    November 1, 2016

     

    I LOVE THE ARTICLE. Y ou really enjoyed the beauty of Uganda

  • Uganda is the pearl of Africa and this article confirms it

  • Please keep doing this great work and update us on the natural beauty of Uganda

  • Indeed Uganda is the best Destination in Africa

  • Juvenile Safaris

    February 12, 2020

     

    Truly, Murchison falls is amazing and i after reading this, i confirm it compliments what is said that Uganda is the pearl of Africa. Awesome article though.

  • I just visited Murchison Falls National Park and its really amazing. Although its now too hot on a game drive, I was able to see the tree climbing lions at Ishasha. Thank you for sharing this information with the world

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