February 1, 2022
We drove north from QENP to Fort Portal – about 120 km / 74 mi away from Kazinga and all paved road! It took about 2.5 hours and we filled the gas tank before heading to the AirBNB Fran booked about 12 km / 7 mi out of town. We stopped at a roadside stand and to buy some bananas – the lady sold us three bunches (no choice in the matter) for 5,000 UGX – about a buck and a half!
We were able to check into the place by 11:30, we had some lunch and did a couple of things before heading to the Kibale Forest National Park to see about chimp trekking. We’d read that you didn’t need a reservation except in high season, so we hoped that was true.
We arrived at the gate about 2pm and were directed to the Visitors’ Centre to book a trek. The lady at the counter said yes we could go right now! We had to pay $200 USD each for this and her machine took a while to get a signal and process the payment. She had to walk outside around the parking lot and finally got it done.
Fran quickly changed into long pants and shoes and Alex, our guide, joined us in our car to drive into the forest.
Our lucky stars were with us today as we could hear the chimps and only had to walk 4 minutes to find them. There was a small group of 3 ahead of us already there (from Virginia) and we observed about ten chimps in the forest. Sometimes you have to walk for 90 minutes to find them, so this was way cool.
We followed them for about 45 minutes as they moved around and they seem unperturbed for the most part; a few appeared to not like having their photos taken but none got aggressive
For the fee you pay you are supposed to get an hour with the chimps; we seemed to get more like 90 minutes but we weren’t complaining and really, the last half our was mostly watching them eat high in the trees while Alex told us about them.
There are about 120 chimps in this park and although they live in smaller groups so as not to overwhelm the food supply, they all know each other. They move around every day as much as 3 to 5 km / up to 3 miles. They communicate with howling.
Females can begin mating at 13 and the males know they are in heat when their bottoms turn red. They are pregnant for eight months and can give birth every four years. In most instances, they only have one baby but twins can happen although they rarely survive.
Their favourite food is figs which they will eat even when not ripe but they also eat other fruit and leaves. They tend to stop and rest a lot while looking for food so that’s why it’s so easy to observe them the way we did. They are sometimes killed or injured by traps put out by locals trying to catch antelope and if found in time, the rangers will attend to them. They can also be killed in the natural order of things by their group if the numbers in the park get too large.
On the road back to our accommodation we saw this:
We returned to our little house and because it turned out the stove didn’t work, the caretaker, Kenneth, brought us two propane tanks with burners on them. Fran wanted to make the spaghetti we were unable to eat back in Kabale but we had no can opener. Kenneth couldn’t find one but dared to open them with a knife and we had a very filling dinner.
We didn’t sleep well due to a dog barking on the property for a few hours in the early morning and were up and out of there by 6:30 as we hoped to make it to Murchison Falls NP some 324 kms / 195 mi away. We figured for sure the roads would not be paved which would make the going slow. Well to our surprise the route is paved the entire length! We missed a turn off in Bulisa so when we reached the most northerly part of the highway, we had to head east on a dirt road but we were trying to make the noon ferry (next sailing wasn’t until 2 and we wanted to take the Nile boat cruise at 2:30). We got to the Mubako gate of the park right at noon and were told there no longer is a ferry – there’s a bridge so the rush was over. The bridge, like many roads in Uganda, was funded and built by the Chinese.
This park is also $40 USD per person but there didn’t seem to be a vehicle fee here. We asked the kind lady at the gate (who spoke very good English) about accommodation that was not expensive safari lodge types and she showed us a nearby Guest House but there was no electricity (only solar on which she claimed would run the fan at night) and there was no place to eat nearby. She said most guests went to the Red Chilli Safari Camp to eat and then come back to sleep.
We decided we’d check out that place to both eat and sleep and the South African manager showed us a Banda with a fan that he believed would run all night. Here they have generator power in the morning and then again from 6 to midnight.
We decided to take it since we could eat here and get cold beer. Doug unpacked the car, we ordered lunch and while waiting drove down the boat launch site to book our cruise. This tour costs $32 USD each and take you to see the falls with animal sightings enroute and back – takes about 3 hours.
After returning the Camp to eat our Rolex’s (way overpriced!), we proceeded back to the dock to go on our cruise. We were quite surprised how many people there were – maybe two dozen total spread out on two floors.
Doug spoke to the captain of the boat about this new bridge. It was built by the Chinese (as was the road out of the park that we took the next day) and it took 2.5 years to construct – it finally opened to traffic last summer although it’s not complete yet.
Our guide was John and he told us some facts about the Nile:
- It is 6695 km / 4132 mi
- 400 m at the widest point and 7 m at the narrowest (the falls we were about to see)
- It begins at Lake Victoria, east of Kampala and ends at the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt
- It is a north flowing river
- It is considered to be the longest river in the world
Our boat trip was 17km against the current to view the Murchison Falls. We saw lots of wildlife on the north bank of the river. The water level is quite high at present and for most of the way, there is no bank.
We saw hippos, elephants, water buck, wart hogs, crocs, baboons and lots of birds: saddle billed stork, egrets, herons, African darters (like cormorants), red throated bee eaters, African skimmers and our first bush buck on this trip.
We got to the viewing point just before 4 and were disappointed we didn’t get much closer.
The falls are 43 m / ‘ tall, 7m / ‘ wide at the widest point and 300 cubic feet of water flows over it per second! Hence it earns the title of the “most powerful waterfall in the world”.
We turned around and lo and behold we observed a number of crocs on a sand bar.
We arrived at the dock at 5 and went back to our banda. We enjoyed a somewhat cold beer at the beer with a large bowl of popcorn and decided we didn’t need dinner. The power came back on shortly after six and we sat in our room with the fan on watching some shows. We went to bed before ten and the fan went off at midnight; it was warm but not too stifling for the rest of the night – no blankets or sheets needed!
Next morning we were up at six to do a game drive on the north shore of the park – west of the bridge. We did not have high hopes after Queen Elizabeth National Park but it did not even meet those low expectations. Our purpose of visiting both of these parks was not for game (these two parks were once some of the best in all of Africa, much of the game had been killed during the Amin regime and it’s not recovered since) but since we were here, and had time on our 24 hour tickets, we did them.
Right after crossing the bridge while it was still rather dark, we came across a buffalo and then a rabbit (again!). We saw a giraffe in the far distance and lots of guinea fowl as it brightened. Then it was nothing for a long time and the road we were on petered out.
We back up and found an alternate road that paralleled it and made our way to the Nile Delta on Lake Alberta to the view point.
Still not animals; finally we saw a small kob and later a red hartebeest. After that we saw small herds of buffalo in the distance, hundreds of kobs
And then finally giraffe:
As it was getting hotter and close to 10 am we decided we call it and made our way back across the bridge to get to the Top of the Falls lookout. The road was all brand new and had no speedbumps until we hit the turn off to the parking area – an 12 km / 7 mi stretch. It ended just before the parking lot and we parked. The ranger there told us about the hike down to the river you can take (45 mins one way) but you need a guide and it costs $15 or you can just visit the two viewpoints at the top. As we only had until 12:10 pm to leave the park without paying for another day, we just did the top of the falls – we’d already been at the river’s edge in the boat anyway.
Well we were not disappointed. This was amazing to see the Nile narrow to get through the “crack” and so powerfully.
As we are pretty sure now that we’re going to Egypt (assuming we pass a PCR test) we decided we’d push it today and make it back to Kampala. Fran found an AirBNB with all we needed and wanted – including a Lake Victoria view for $28 a night. We filled the gas tank one last time (we have to return the car empty) in Masindi where we saw the Masindi Hotel – there is where Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart stayed during the making of the African Queen.
The road was completely paved except for around the park gate (??) and we reached out to Kintu at the AirBNB we’d stayed at on arriving in Uganda to see about picking up Doug’s Kindle. Luckily he was home and we stopped there to say hi and moved on towards our AirBNB near Lake Victoria in a little village about half way between Kampala and Entebbe.
As usual, there are LOTS more photos in our galleries, so feel free to check them out.