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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
White Water Rafting on the Nile River - Bujigali, Uganda
OCTOBER 01 , 2007

Our First Regret

I was recently lambasted via email from a friend in Melbourne who was disgusted that we call ourselves travellers yet have the gaul to insult all those hardworking people out there by taking a holiday from a holiday. This may in fact have been the first sign that we are becoming a little blasé about our whole East African Experience.

I do not like to be negative - in fact I like to think that in general I have a pretty positive outlook on life. Yet crossing back into Uganda from Rwanda, and spending a few days in Masindi amongst other western backpackers, highlighted again the fact that everything here is very similar to Kenya and Tanzania. Taking The Road Less Travelled for the past week was extremely refreshing, unfortunately we pushed ourselves past common sense to visit the Murchison Falls - and this has become our first regret for the whole trip...

In the week leading up to our arrival in Masindi we did a little research and tried to sign up to the low cost tour offered by Red Chili Backpackers in Kampala - unfortunately while they were happy for us to take the tour, and would pick us from Masindi, they expected us to travel back to Kampala to pay for the tour prior to it actually beginning. As we had crossed halfway through the country just to get to Masindi this seemed a little idiotic. We then shopped around and after talking to some satisfied American travellers - we opted to hire Yebo Tours and his 4x4 for a day trip out to the falls.

We met Yebo the evening before our trip, paid him enough cash up front for fuel, and everything looked rosy. 6am the next morning he met us at the Alinda Guest House and we set off for Murchison Falls National Park. We reached the gates of the park before they were officially open, yet through his connections we managed to get through without paying and were at the Red Chili Camp by 8:00 for breakfast.

Because we had just come from the Gorilla's in Rwanda we opted against doing a chimp trek, instead signing up for a one hour Shoebill Cruise up the Nile River. This was one of the cheapest options we could have taken, the other more expensive being a game drive which involved crossing the river incurring ferry costs and additional fuel.

Yebo drove us from Red Chili about 20 minutes along a rough dirt track to a luxury lodge on the Nile where they offered the cruise, we were met by the boat captain who very quickly had us onboard and motoring down stream. After maybe ten minutes of idle cruising (albeit we were looking at some amazing scenery and wildlife including hippo, croc and all manner of exotic bird life) we still had not had a sighting of the rare Shoebill - after which this cruise was in fact called. Being just Donna and myself on the boat, and the fact that we hired especially to see the Shoebill - we asked the captain where we might expect to spot the rare bird. After a a few seconds of uncomfortable silence he kindly informed us that they have not seen the Shoebill in these waters for close on two years. If we wanted to see the bird we would have to head down to where the Nile enters Lake Kivo.

Our main concern about visiting Murchison Falls was the expense - and here we were having signed up for a tour to see a bird that we had absolutely no chance of seeing - bloody brilliant. To say that threw Donna into a foul mood would be an understatement. For the next hour we travelled down the Nile, then back up and in reality it was a beautiful little boat ride - however it was an extreme waste of money considering we had already signed up for the main cruise that afternoon to see the falls.

When we reached the dock we thanked our captain and rejoined Yebo at the car. Attempting to salvage something of a day rapidly going to shit we asked him if he could drive us to the top of the falls to the view point rather than sitting around at Red Chili Camp till the boat cruise in the afternoon. He was more than happy to do so, however expected an additional pile of cash for the extra fuel, plus he reasoned he would need to cross the river to refuel the 4x4 - this was just becoming a sick joke. We passed on this sticking to the original plan. We then spent about four hours sitting around the camp, eating lunch and generally wasting time until the Falls Cruise kicked off at about 2pm.

At the pier we met about six other tourists who were taking the cruise up to the falls and back - we on the other hand had planned to disembark from the boat at the falls and walk to the top - with the weather looking ominously like a storm they did not assign us a ranger thinking that we would decide to cancel the walk. The boat set off and crossed the river to pick up some additional passengers from the far bank. We had just ploughed into the shore and taken on the passengers when the skies opened.

This quite possibly could have been the stormiest storm I have ever experienced. The crew on the boat quickly battened down the hatches, pulled tarps over the windows and closed the boat up to the elements as best they could - but to no avail, the rain was coming in horizontally drenching everyone and everything. After 20 minutes water began pouring through the roof - it was a complete white out - nothing at all was visible and with the incredible wind the boat was rocking on some decent waves. One lady began panicking and mutinously trying to rally the other passengers to get off the boat and take the cruise tomorrow - Finally things were looking up.

We have been in Rwanda and Uganda now for a good four weeks and are well used to the monsoon rains. I, like the crew, knew this would pass, and sure enough after about 30 minutes the rain slackened and the wind dropped. The crew quickly mopped up and we set off up the river in only a light shower.

The rain and the panicking women had put both Donna and myself into much better spirits and we fully enjoyed the three hour cruise to the falls. We spotted massive quantities of wild animals including buffalo, crocodile, hippo, bush buck and elephant, and all along the river we were entertained by the magical kingfishers and the majestic fish eagles. When at last we reached the Falls the sun had come out and we were given a glorious afternoon.

Supposedly some radio communication had taken place and our guide/ranger would meet us at the bottom of the falls for the hike to the top. When we reached the drop off point there was eerily no one waiting. The boat pulled into the bank and Donna and I jumped off into the bush. With the boat trailing away behind us we set off up the jungley path in the direction we hoped was the top. To say it was a little spooky is an understatement. After sitting on a boat spotting crocs for three hours, and then walking along the bank of the same river only ten minutes later - every broken twig or rustle of breeze in the leaves made us jump.

We pushed on and eventually the path began to climb upwards. From the boat we had seen very little of the actual falls, in fact if I had taken only the boat up and back I would have been extremely disappointed because on reaching the first of the lookout points on the track to the top it really was a stunning view. Hidden from view on the the river, a second fall - Independence Falls was visible from the bank. With the water fairly high at this time of year spray from both falls was thrown hundreds of metres into the air.

We pushed on up the track passing trees filled with chattering monkeys and baboons, finally reaching the top. Turning one of the final bends we were joined by our trusty guide/ranger who was quick to impart what little knowledge he had, as well as claiming his $10 dollar hiking fee from each of us.

At the top of the falls we were able to walk right out to the edge of the drop off which not only managed to soak us to the skin - but was quite exhilarating with the furious amount of water passing within feet of us.

A few minutes further up the track we met Yebo, re-boarded the 4x4 and fast tracked it back to Masindi. Now do not get me wrong - the Falls were nice enough, Yebo's offering was the cheapest we could have managed and his service was actually pretty good - it's just that bang for buck we have seen better for less. By now we despised having to pay for the car, for fuel, for park fees, park fees for the car, boat rental, ranger fees and so on, just to see another waterfall. Hell - we had seen Vic Falls in Zimbabwe for only 20 bucks each.

Are we disgruntled - yes - we would have been better to follow our initial instincts - miss out on Murchison Falls and push straight on from Masindi to Kampala. And so that is what we did the next morning. Bright and early we were up and sitting comfortably aboard the Baby Coach heading East to Kampala.

Click here to see the Murchison Falls Photo Gallery (21 photos)

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