Uganda is a beautiful country.” Sheila Walters, a Ugandan- born Canadian exclaims. To capture the country’s beauty in detail, she can not help overworking herself. Sheila and her husband Bryan in company of several Uganda tour operators are on a boat expedition on River Nile in Murchison Falls National Park. Though she is worn out with fatigue, Uganda’s beauty still overwhelms her.
Her lips are overworked. They have to pull on a cigarette, expel the smoke, laugh, and keep smiling at the same time. In addition, her lips also have to let out an occasional yell: “Ohhh Uganda is a beautiful, nice place. Sheila’s hands are busy. She grasps and steadies her camcorder as she records the copies wildlife along the river. Every time she gets a good shot, her body wobbles with excitement. We get nervous, lest she falls off the 25-horse power boat leisurely cruising along the river.
Bryan just concentrates on shooting still pictures using a pocket Nikon digital camera. Like his wife, he records hippos, buffaloes, elephants and crocodiles. The first crocodile amuses the Canadian couple. The massive crocodile has its mouth wide open. Flies enter its mouth at will. The boat moves closer to the gigantic reptile. The old creature does not move an inch. It seems as if it seem s as if it has not seen us. “Crocodiles can live beyond 100 years in captivity. Each crocodile uses 3,000 teeth in its life Span.” Our guide explains, his voice cracking through the evening breeze over the boat’s engine rev.
“Crocodiles can lay up to 80 eggs and if the temperatures during the incubation period are above 30 degrees centigrade, only males will be hatched. Females will be produced when the temperatures are lower,” the guide continues and the crocodile pretends to be listening. It opens its mouth wider and ‘listens.’ Sheila’s camcorder becomes busier. Bryan’s camera does the needful until Express Travel’s Tours consult Deo Lubega’s ancient Nikon F camera clicks.
Lubega is among a group of tours and travel agents who are in our group. His camera’s shutters crack and startle the huge crocodile. Frightened, the crocodile, in a slat second, dashes and dives into the water. It disappears for good. “Ooh, Uganda is such a beautiful country,” the honeymooning Sheila again cries out. By the time we hit the bottom of Murchison Falls, the Canadians are spell bound. “But why do some people say the place is not secure? Are there rebels in this park?” The overwhelmed couple asks. “No,” everybody answers. At night, October 19, the excited Canadians buy drinks for every member of our group.
Early the following day, after a peaceful and comfortable night at Paraa Safari Lodge, the game drive adventure kicks off at 7:00am. Luck is on our side. Our guide spots a leopard perched up on a tree. The shy predator disappears before any body can take its photo. A few moments later, we come across another leopard. It is gracefully resting on a tree branch and looks defiant. It shares with its eyes as sharp as our cameras’ focus on its body. The Canadians have no words. They just take as many shots as they can. It is at this moment that Lubega runs out of film. After a couple of minutes, daring Sheila gets out of the Paraa Safari Lodge four-wheel drive vehicle to get a better view of the spotted beast. The beautiful creature, with glowing eyes, does not like her movements. It dashes down as if it is going to pounce on her. As a result of her reflex action, she finds herself back in the vehicle, in her seat.
Sightseeing at Murchison Falls The savannah landscape teems with giraffes. They peep at the vehicle with pride. They seem to be in no hurry. They hesitate to leave the middle of the road. As the vehicle approaches, they majestically and gracefully move away occasionally turning their long necks to peek at their visitors. They move with poise, similar to that of Ziper models on the catwalk. The interesting drive continues.
We count our selves lucky again after sighting a male lion stalking some kobs. We get closer. The lion ignores us. We close the gap to about 15 metres, the lion just yawns. I save the last hunt for breakfast. They just run away. We stare, least aware that we are next to their head-a no nonsense old aggressive lion called Abraham. We have now got used to harmless lions.
We drive closer. It is a mistake. Abraham is far from friendly. He roars and licks his tongue. We ignore him to our peril. Not being used to such arrogance from man, Abraham roars again. The earth shakes. Before we know what he is up to, he charges towards the vehicle. We drop on our seats from atop the vehicle roof, shaking with fear. As we become terrified, one of Abraham’s wives’ emerges from a nearby shrub. She has three cubs. The cubs and their mother run away as cameras turn in their direction. The driver follows in a leisurely pursuit. The animals increase their pace we give up.
Sighting two leopards and eight lions in one hour is the best luck a tourist can ever get. We call it a day.” It is because you came with us. We have brought luck from Canada.” Bryan and Sheila joke. Later, when we move close to elephants which surprisingly become friendly, the Canadian honeymooners make up their mind: “When we get children, we will bring them here. I was born in Uganda when Idi Amin expelled Indians,” Sheila who married fireman Bryan on June 15 last year says. Paraa Safari Lodge sponsored the trip to Murchison falls National Park. The hotel management occasionally takes officials from various tour and travel agencies on such trips to create awareness about the safety of the park.
Sheila and Bryan were tourists who happened to move with us. Most tourists from the US and UK are wary of visiting the place because the travel advisories from their respective embassies have blacklisted the park as unsafe. The UPDF spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza says those who say the park is insecure are speculating. “We chased the terrorists from Zambia swamp in Apac District near the park to Aswa County Far Away. We have deployed two battalions in the park. It is safe,” he says. Paraa Safari Lodge has also slashed their rates by 50% to promote domestic tourism during the current off peak season. Bed and breakfast at the up market lodge now goes for $45 while full board accommodation for two is $105.
The park also runs a special bus to the park at a rate of $20 per a one-way trip from Kampala. Alternatively visitors can fly to the area for $85 per person for a one-way trip.