Land of Rainbows and Tsetse Flies

Beasts on land and in water.

The boat trip started with a feisty argument between a Kenyan and an Australian about hippos, whether they are more dangerous on land
or in water, to the amusement of most of the passengers—except me. Though I
could hear the ramblings of the debaters and occasional applause from the audience,
what seized my attention more was the languid river disturbed by the bobbing of
hippo heads and crocodile eyes, as if beckoning me to dive in and join them. Ah, morbid thoughts again. 
Thanks to the guide who told us a story of a civilization
around Murchison Falls that was wiped out by a sleeping sickness epidemic, I couldn’t
help thinking about death. And each time, a tsetse fly landed on me and “playfully”
bit my nape, I imagined snoring myself to death in the middle of this Eden. Good
thing, the tsetse flies in the area no longer carries the parasite called Trypanosoma brucei that reproduces in
the bloodstream and migrates to the central nervous system which causes the
victim to lapse into a coma. The fact that a swarm of tsetse flies followed our
safari van around with some stray ones entering the vehicle and bit us did not
help my paranoia. I did not wear blue (they said blue attracts the flies) but I
was still a sumptuous meal for them nonetheless.

The tsetse fly. Small but deadly. Photo by Marlain Services.
A long time ago, around 1907 to 1912, a sleeping sickness epidemic
hit the villages in the area and killed majority of the inhabitants. The
survivors were evacuated, making way for the establishment of one of the most
compelling national game parks in East Africa that we were enjoying at that
As the boat slowly glided upstream in the next 3
hours, one can see a what remains of the villages. Not a single structure
remained whole, but have been reduced to rubble that later joined with the
earth. Nature, like destiny, sure knows how to reclaim what belongs to it.
Murchison Falls Park, is a stark, albeit beautiful, reminder of nature’s wrath
and revenge.
Although its history is nothing short of tragic, the abundant
wildlife that now makes the area come alive compensates for the dark past. I
was so amazed by the extensive array of animals that littered the riverbank that
I was taking what must have been a thousand photos with my two cameras (a DSLR
and a point-and-shoot). Aside from the crocs and hippos swimming in the river or
sunbathing in bank, there were elephants and kobs and giraffes and buffalos and
baboons cooling off and having their afternoon drink. The scenery was even made
colorful by different species of birds, the most intriguing of which were the
energetic bee-eaters who built their nests like honeycombs at the sides of cliffs
facing the river. A dazzling site of which a crappy photographer like me failed
to do justice.
The rich riverbank wildlife.
I allowed myself to drown in the maze of colors and excitement
both at the riverbank and in the boat (man, tourists can take photos!), when a
thunderous sound jolted me from my reverie and suddenly the majestic falls
loomed ahead of us in the mist, in all its mighty glory. Surely the bitter
ghost of Ernest Hemingway was out there somewhere for I found my stunned self
shivering, my skin covered with goose bumps! Sir Hemingway was supposed to
visit the falls with his wife when his plane crashed upon take-off and caused major
injuries which later on were attributed to his depression and dark moods. Bah,
writers! He never made it to see what we saw.
The thunderous welcome was music to our ears.
A spectacular sight the mighty River Nile made as it forced
its way into a small gorge between two huge rocks in the form of an explosive
white froth that crashed to the river below, creating a mist that gave birth to
a rainbow that one can literally touch if you go up to the hills where the calm
river turns into a force to be reckon with. (What a long sentence—that’s how breathless I was!)
There’s a pool of water at the end of the rainbow.
Never before has nature struck me in a way Murchison Falls
did. It evoked lasting memories that still give me goose bumps every time I
look at the photos.
Beauty beyond words.
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