Alice in Gandaland

This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, January 04, 2012 was originally posted on January 12, 2012.

DAY 7: “I’m jealous of your first safari,” Maggie admitted to Alice. Alice, the lawyer from London, had been to Africa before (Khartoum, Sudan of all places) but not once on a safari and didn’t really know what to expect.

“Yeah, it usually takes like two hours to see anything,” I told her. (Most of the safaris that you see on television shows edit out the hours of inactivity.)

In less than fifteen minutes after breakfast that morning, we were on a game drive through the African savannah, spotting our first animal — a warthog.

“Pumba!” cried Maggie. She loved how warthogs mostly walked with their tails standing straight up.


The northern area of Murchinson Falls National Park, which is mostly grasslands, was brand new to all of us, but it would prove to have more visible animals in such a short period of time than in most safaris in the rest of our experience (except maybe Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania). Maggie, who had ten safaris under her belt (and counting) was pretty impressed that newbie Alice was a bit spoiled on her first one.

“I love safaris,” Maggie the animal enthusiast said. “I can go again and again and again.” She was the most inquisitive one when asking our safari guide Winnie questions, sort of like the enthusiastic kid in the first Jurassic Park movie. Animals surrounded us as we drove down the dirt road: kobs, jackson’s hartebeests, little oribi, water bucks, and other antelopes that sometimes stand together like they’re on the opening screen of Big Buck Hunter: Safari Edition. Maggie named them all with occasional confirmation from Winnie, like it was some sort of zoology bee.

Jean, who had a few safaris under his belt as well, hadn’t seen a giraffe yet, and was pleasantly surprised when we encountered them — dozens of them in a groups — so many that when we talked to the park ranger we picked up from another group about how many we’d seen, he recognized how lucky that was; usually in those parts you only see three or four at a time.

“Are they courting?” I asked Winnie when I noticed two were knocking each others necks together.

“Fighting,” she answered. “But they are young. They are just playing. If the two were really enemies, they’d use the kick, using the hind legs.”

But four-legged mammals weren’t the only animals to see; plenty of winged creatures were around us: guinea fowl, vultures, kingfishers, Egyptian geese, egrets — and birds who always seem to catch a lift on the back of buffalo. (“How do you make a buffalo more hip? Put a bird on it.”) Birds weren’t the only winged creatures; when we drove through a thicket, we were attacked by swarms of tsetse flies — fortunately with no reports of sleeping sickness — that flew in and around our minibus in motion. Winnie kept swatting them off Geoffrey’s arm, like she was playing Whack-A-Mole, as he manned the steering wheel. Jean and I got bitten but with nothing more than a sting.

Eventually the tsetse flies went away, as if on cue, and Maggie and I took to the roof to sit on the minibus frame. “Now this is a safari!” I said, the way Will Smith declares something in every action movie he’s done. Around us the savannah started changing; there were palm trees everywhere, as if the tropics met the savannah.

“What kind of palms are these?” I asked Sam the official park ranger who was now traveling with us.

“Burass(?) palms.”

“Are they native to the area?” I wondered.

“No, they came from the elephants. From central Africa — Congo, Ethiopia. They eat the fruit and the seeds get in the elephant poo — the shit.”

“So each sprout represents elephant dung.”

Looking at all the palms — there hundreds of them everywhere — I realized that this was mean collection of shit.

“So where are [the elephants]?” Maggie eagerly wondered; not one to be seen with all the dung around. But in about ten minutes, one showed up, followed by another, followed by a whole heard of about twenty in the distance — another fortunate find for Alice’s first safari.

“A herd of giraffes, a herd of elephants,” Alice proclaimed. “So this is a good game drive?”


We upped the ante at lunch, when we stopped at the delta of the Albert Nile, where Lake Albert feeds into the famed river and forms a border with DR Congo. It was there that we saw a herd of about twenty hippopatami. Ranger Sam led us towards them on foot, much to my surprise; as everyone who’s been on safari knows, hippos are the number one cause of human fatalities by animal in Africa.

“Don’t get in between the path of a hippo and water,” Maggie reiterated the rule that everyone who goes on safari is told.

But we would not block their path, for they were already in water. Sam made some hippo sounds, which prompted all the lazy beasts to get up and go for a dip — a first for me. They frollicked in the water, which provided for some great lunchtime entertainment. “I never seen them all like this,” Ranger Sam told us — another plus for Alice.

“All I ask for is a lion with a big mane and a cub crossing the middle of the road,” Alice said feeling optimistic, yet realizing that might not actually happen. (Lion sightings aren’t so easy to come by.)

In lieu of lions, we got falls instead — Murchinson Falls, the falls so great that they’re namesake of the park, even though their “discoverer” is not a man named Murchinson as you might think; Sir Samuel Baker named them after the president of the Royal Geographic Society. We cruised to the base of the falls via boat — as The African Queen did in the Hepburn/Bogart movie — along with some other safari groups, on an hour and a half-long journey upstream, with beer and drinks. The cruise up provided sightings of more hippos, and more elephants marching up and down the bank, and Nile crocodiles.

Soon the roar of the waterfalls came within sight and earshot, and it was there that our group of four, plus two others, disembarked to head to the top of the falls on foot. Guiding us was another ranger, Lawrence.

“My name is Lawrence,” he introduced himself before a little history lesson about how they were named.

We hiked towards the falls until… another set of falls, a wider one, was revealed behind a ridge. “That is Uhuru Falls,” Ranger Lawrence told us. “Uhuru, it means ‘independence’ in Swahili. Or we call it ‘Freedom Falls.’”

The other falls were formed naturally, but only fifty years ago in 1962 — coincidentally the year of Uganda’s independence from the British — when heavy rainfall caused the river to flood, taking out a footbridge, and seep down an alternative path of the river. Once the water started flowing there was no turning back and the Nile forked into two sets of falls. Today, both falls roar together to form one of the country’s must-see natural wonderlands of water before coming together as the Nile.

“I think the park is okay, but the falls…” Jean said. He was in awe, more from the falls than the animal safari earlier that day. “What would you rate this safari on a scale of 1 to 10?” he asked me.

“I’ll give it a 7.5,” I answered after some analysis. Funny how you can say that after having gone on multiple safaris — but I wasn’t the only one.

Maggie was also impressed — it seemed she could never tire of a safari — and Alice could only have to be; for it was her first one. Regardless of all that, all of us were a bit tired from a long day.

“A shower, cold beer, hot dinner,” Jean declared. “It will be good.”

Geoffrey drove us southbound to the Budongo Central Forest Reserve, passing sausage trees and baboons on the way, where we’d spend the night in the Budongo Eco Lodge, base for the chimpanzee trek we’d do the following morning. It was there that we did in fact have showers (every crevice of our exposed body was covered in dust), cold beers (also local gin and tonics), and a hot dinner, while fireflies glittered in the wilderness around us.

“Cheers to your first safari,” I toasted, addressing Alice.


It was a good one — almost too good for a first safari. “You’ll be disappointed on your next safari,” Maggie warned her from experience. Alice had now joined the ranks of the safari club, and I’m sure if she’d never forget this one if she ever went on another; you never forget your first time.


Twice a day, Alice always had to step away for a bit because her city slicker Ugandan friend back in Kampala wanted morning and evening updates everyday to find out if Alice was okay and properly fed.

“It’s like calling my mum,” she told us.

Next entry: Monkey in the Middle

Previous entry: Rhinobama

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Comments for “Alice in Gandaland”

  • Catching up…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/12  at  11:08 AM

  • I will watch Lion King tonight.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/12  at  02:54 PM

  • Yay for safaris!  Crazy jealous - still my dream to go on one. Thanks for the updates and pics!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/15  at  07:35 PM

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Monkeying Around," which chronicled an eighteen-day journey through Uganda and Rwanda in eastern central Africa.

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