I Met Helen at Murchison Falls Park

The welcome committee hard at work.
It’s not every day that you wake up in the middle of the night to
pee and find yourself face-to-face with a full-grown hippo. What do you do? Do
you crawl back to bed and endure the night with a bursting bladder? Or do you
carry on and pretend the hippo is not there and pray it doesn’t tear you into
pieces?

For this, my brief encounters with miniature snakes and lethargic scorpions in Bor, obviously, had not prepared me smashingly. Especially when Helen the Hippo started bullying the warthogs into joining her nip the already overly manicured patch of grass in front of the safari tent I was sharing with Lottie, my new Dutch friend I met on the trip. Lottie was, of course, in deep sleep  when I cautiously squeezed out of the zippers, tiptoeing out barefeet so as not to make any disturbing sound that could upset big and chunky and moody Helen. And though I managed to scramble in and out of the toilet in the pitch dark without attracting Helen’s attention, I couldn’t, for the life of me, bring myself to sleep, knowing there was only a thin canvas between me and the humongous creatures outside.

So the night wore on, and I welcomed the sunrise groggy and still shaky. I lazily climbed into the safari vehicle with seven
other tourists, and obviously I was the only one who’s not too keen on the
early start. They all insisted we leave the camp at six so we can witness the
animals wake up (insert “Lion King” sound track here).  

Hello, sunshine! Shhh . . . you might wake the lions. 
We had to cross the river on a ferry to the
other side of the Murchison Falls Safari reserve where most of the game can be
seen.  Ten minutes later, we were weaving
through the meandering paths of the grassland, our hearts beating with
excitement as a whole new world woke up in front of our eyes. It was just mind-blowing
to see the landscape dotted with kobs, hartebeests, and oribis grazing as a
herd of serious-looking buffalos looked on. Somewhere behind the thin bushes hid
a monkey and a meerkat, cheekily chasing a pair of warthogs who did
not seemed happy with the intrusion. There were birds and lots of other
creatures going about their morning business in the sprawling savannah bathed
by the golden sun. A few shot us curious stares, some snorted in disgust as if
to say, “Damn humans, leave us alone and let us do our morning poo in peace!”
What are you looking at?
And the stupid humans with their big cameras
trudged on. Then
someone spotted a “walking tree trunk,” taller than the acacias, which brought
about childish shrieks and hollers that the driver had to shut us up or else we
will chase the animals away. A few
minutes later, we were chasing the elusive giraffe and its kin briskly
moving away from us to hide their heads in the acacia trees—as if we won’t
see them.
Look there, a moving tree trunk!
Then somebody mentioned elephants. As
luck would have it, I
glimpsed a movement I’ve been anticipating the whole morning. A bull elephant
with a stork on its back emerged from a big tree it was feeding from in what
seemed like a NatGeo-worthy pose. When it heard shutters clicking, the bull
moved away to reveal a herd of mommies, daddies, and baby elephants. I couldn’t
help but get a little bit sentimental!
We should take lessons from them on family bonding.
But
there was one more thing we wanted to see: the king of the jungle himself, who,
in his kingness, decided we were not worthy of his presence. We scoured the
park in the heat until we had to give up. And instead of lions we witnessed a
flirting game between two pervert baboons who shamelessly did the deed in front
of all the cameras, and smiling in satisfaction after. (Oh yes, I took some photos, but the baboons pleaded me not to post them here, so.)

It’s probably not a good idea to look for Simba on foot, don’t you think, guys?

As the charm of the morning wore off, we went back to our base at Red Chili Rest Camp to cool ourselves. January in that part of the world tends to be on the warm
side. After lunch, we hopped on the boat to take us upstream towards the
majestic Murchison Falls and observe riverbank wildlife—a fascinating experience
that warrants a separate post.

Now I remember while I was aboard the plane bound for Uganda, my
nosy European seatmate, upon knowing where I was going to spend my holiday,
exclaimed, “You are just wasting your money on Uganda, there isn’t much to see.
And besides, what of Kony?”

The bloke obviously hasn’t been to Uganda, or if he was, maybe he
spent the whole trip night-clubbing in Kampala. Little did he know that Uganda was
dubbed by “Lonely Planet” as the no. 1 travel destination in 2012. And the Kony
issue, so passé. Somehow, while the Youtube celebrity villain and
his minions were busy creating (invisible) child battalions in the bush,
Uganda’s tourism industry flourished and people (and animals) have moved on.
“Mommy, that human with the big nose says he’s afraid of Kony.”
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