The day I overdosed on nature along the mighty River Nile

My mind can sometimes prove to be more adventurous than a teenager backpacker roaming across the African continent. I woke up thinking about the mighty River Nile. This river is not only the longest in the world at 6,853km; it literally gives life to Sudan and Egypt.
Giraffes bond in the savannah. / Allan Brian Ssenyonga
Giraffes bond in the savannah. / Allan Brian Ssenyonga

My mind can sometimes prove to be more adventurous than a teenager backpacker roaming across the African continent. I woke up thinking about the mighty River Nile. This river is not only the longest in the world at 6,853km; it literally gives life to Sudan and Egypt.

It runs from Uganda all the way to Egypt and pours into the Mediterranean Sea. Its journey includes a detour to Ethiopia and its source remains a matter of debate with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo all claiming to be home to the spot where this whole journey begins.

The monitor lizard with its beautiful skin.

One thing that is not in contention though is that the Nile is also a huge source of life to lots of animals. To enjoy this abundance of life I advise one to find time and check in at Baker’s Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park in Northern Uganda. Here one gets to witness a concentration of wildlife especially when you do the boat cruise towards the falls or better still, the delta cruise downstream towards Lake Albert.

I have been to this park before and stayed at the northern side where you wake up and look at towering Rothschild giraffes strolling by as they look into the future. Well an animal of that height can surely see the future while the rest of focus on the present. This time though I set out for Baker’s Lodge. To beat the city traffic one has to be on the road by six in the morning and that is what we did. Breakfast was a meal we ate on the road and then continued to drive all way to the park.

The writer enjoys the ambiance of Murchison Falls.

After checking into this rather very eco friendly lodge we were served a late lunch and later on we went on a boat cruise upstream towards Murchison Falls.

Murchison Falls is largely famous for the fact that it is here that all the water of Nile gets to squeeze through a gap of rocks that is only seven metres wide before tumbling down 43 metres and flowing towards Lake Albert. To say that it is a spectacular sight does not do justice to it.

You have to be there and listen to the rumbling sound of the water hitting the rocks and feel the small drops of it landing on your skin as you marvel at the rainbow that forms each time the rays of the sun manage to dodge the clouds.

Well fed Nile crocodiles

The fun thing about being in a game park is the fact that you are in the home of these animals. You are the stranger and so you need to be alert all the time. The animals have right of way and it is you to beware of them, not the other way round. To further drum this message in, at Baker’s Lodge there is a clear sign that reads, “Beware of Crocodiles.” It is only a few metres from the safari suite that I was staying in.

A seemingly well fed adult Nile crocodile.

One of the staff members even casually told me about a huge female crocodile that was spending the night close by. It is possible that it was guarding its eggs and we all know what this means, that any potential threat to its babies will be dealt with viciously. In other parks like Masai Mara in Kenya or Selous in Tanzania, I have had to deal with staying close to hippos which are the most dangerous animals in the park.

However the fact that crocodiles are such efficient carnivores is really scary when you have to live that close to them. To further calm my nerves, I was told while on the boat cruise, that the crocodiles I was looking at were not that harmful apparently because they eat so much fish from the river to even think of me as a snack.

The delta cruise downstream

Imagine believing someone who tells you the crocodiles are no trouble because they are well fed on fish? What if I meet a greedy one that loves to try exotic foods like human limbs? What if it is just obese and hungry then I assume it has already had a heavy lunch?

Sometimes it is hard to hide when you are this big.

For the record, the Nile crocodile is the largest freshwater predator in Africa. These beasts are so huge that an adult male can be as long as 5 meters! This means that if it was a snack like your writer, I would fit inside its body without leaving traces on the sides of the mouth.

Anyway the fact that I wrote this is proof that I was not eaten by these relatives of Gustav (from that scary movie about a huge crocodile in Burundi). The delta boat cruise is clearly the highlight of staying at Baker’s Lodge. You will need a functional neck as the guides keep pointing out which animals are on which side of the river bank, in water and in the air.

A photographer’s paradise

As we sailed downstream towards Lake Albert, my travel companion, the Canon Rebel T5 was quite busy snapping away at so much. The boat had a hard top so I climbed up on top (sometimes I do crazy things when travelling) and started taking nice shots from a good angle. Photos of huge crocodiles, hippos, chimpanzees, baboons, elephants, antelopes, buffaloes, monitor lizards and so much birdlife.

Murchison Falls National Park is said to be home to over 550 bird species and indeed I got to see so many bird species. I am still working on the process of being able to see a bird and recalling all its names off head. Birds are often referred to quite elaborately by those park guides keen to show off their expertise.

I got to see the elusive shoebill more than once.

They will see one fly pass and mumble something like… “That one right there is brown crested African hunting eagle.” Names you will forget as soon as you leave the park. That is why after the trip I walked into a bookshop and bought a book about birds. Soon I will also turn snobbish about these things. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you ever make this trip and you love birds, the bird to look out for is the shoebill. It is huge, with a huge beak but also elusive and they are not that many left in the world. I was lucky to spot and photograph four of them leaving an Australian couple that had flown in just to find the same bird feeling jealous and vowing to do the delta boat cruise. The delta cruise is indeed a birdwatcher’s dream. If you have a camera with you then it will be so much more interesting as you get to freeze the moments or take videos.

After doing the boat cruise, the game drive can be a little boring as you may have seen almost all the animal by the river banks. Nonetheless it is still exciting to see the Warthogs run around or the giraffes necking each other as a way of bonding and showing affection. You will still have to keep a keen eye if you want to spot the elusive leopards that prefer to hide up in trees. For some reason on this trip I did not get to see lions and yet the other time I was in Murchison Falls we saw a whole pride of them sharing a meal under a tree.

Living the eco-tourism reality

From this one trip one can do all the above and also choose to do sport fishing. I understand this is a big tourism attraction as well given that the river is full of all sorts of different kinds of fish including the famous Nile Perch that can grow to be more than even 200kgs! The good folks at Wild frontiers do organise these fishing trips since they have the right boats and fishing gear for such adventures.

Mummy and baby going out for a swim.

I must also point out that I was really impressed to stay in a lodge that seriously employed eco-friendly practices. The whole facility was powered by solar panels and they avoided bottled water preferring to buy it in huge quantities and serving it in recycled glass bottles and tumblers. The bathrooms had cool stuff recycled from cow horns. The tour guides were also very knowledgeable and helpful. Along the river, they seemed to know where each animal was chilling almost as if they had agreed with them before the trip.

Many times the guide would show us a crocodile that had successfully hidden in the marshland or bring the boat closer to the banks to show us those baby crocs that one may mistake for large lizards. The mighty River Nile is not just a source of life for people straddled along its banks; it is also home to so many animals and birds. The delta cruise ends where the river joins Lake Albert, where the horizon is actually the Democratic Republic of Congo.