Here’s how I’ll get there.
My extended family and I will set off from our home town Pakwach at about midday on a 33 degree Celsius day. It is the Christmas holiday season. Rasta man Johnnie will drive us across the bridge that connects West Nile to the rest of Uganda.
Johnnie has wild beards. He wears them like a Muslim cleric who takes such pride in them. He’s a tour guide too, knows the names of all animals in Murchison Falls National Park. He’s kept a special part of this brain for this knowledge, knowledge you pay for. He says, “Yah man!” quite a lot. He loves Lingala music. You’d think he’d naturally go for Bob Marley’s genre of music any day but that isn’t the case. Although his head veers towards reggae, his heart fell for Lingala so many years ago. He’ll never let it go.
He’ll dance his feet off if you played Congolese music for him. The strokes he shows on the dance floor are those you’ll see in an Awilo Longomba or Extra Musica song. Waist wriggling, knees bent, leg tapping and occasional kicking to the sound of a riff on an electric guitar. He’ll sing along to the words he can catch. He knows no Lingala, not even what “mbote nayo” means.
He’s a BBQ king as well. I’ll tell you about his roasting exploits another time.
Johnnie will drive and make a turn to the right onto a dirt road. He’ll keep the speed at about 30 Km/hr. We’ll see heads of hippos at the surface of the waters of the Nile, their massive bodies immersed under it. We’ll see kobs drinking by a pond, the sun-beaten savannah grasses swaying to the direction of the wind. We’ll drive to a gate manned by Uganda Wildlife Authority. There’ll be a guard at the gate and a woman sitting at the counter, waiting to receive payment before she grants us access to the National Park.
We are patriotic Ugandans who support local tourism so we pay the Ush 20,000 park entry fees. The guard will ask us to register in a counter book. It is an old dog eared book. It’s filled with blue and black ink and names of hundreds of people who have crossed that gate into the park. Some scribble their names with so much care. Each letter stands on its own. Others have a calligraphic style to their writing. Others’ names are ineligible. It’s as though they were forced into registering in that book.
We’ll write our names and sign. And those of us whose bladders can’t hold it in any longer will dash to the public toilet that’s about five meters from the gate. There will be lizards with orange heads resting on the rough toilet wall. In the urinal, there will be more lizards running on their fours from your intrusion. You’ll finish your business there and continue in Johnnie’s car.
We’ll see a brown animal with curvy horns. It’ll look like a genetically modified billy goat. It’ll stand under a shrub, facing our car, keeping still as though it has been dazed by the beauty of humans. We’ll take pictures and Johnnie will tell us it’s called a Hartebeest. It has such terrible sight that it could see a hole and still fall in it.
There’ll be a tower of giraffes marching in line: an old one at the front leading the pack with its head held high, younger ones in the middle of the pack and another elderly, massive long-neck at the back, keeping watch and making sure there’s no danger. They’ll walk with such elegance you’d think you’re watching a beauty pageant in the wild.
Kobs will be running, crisscrossing the driving tracks. They will be so many you’ll wish there was a lion jumping on one, bringing it down and tearing its flesh apart. It would be a tourists dream to watch a lion go hunting in the wild.
Imagine a lioness taking position (because they say lionesses are the ones that go hunting). It’ll focus on its prey and blend in the savannah, tip toeing towards its target. The kob will be oblivious of what is happening around it, grazing without worry, whistling in its world to a song one its friends composed. Maybe it’ll be whistling to “In the jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.”
Lioness will get closer. It’ll enhance all its hunting senses: Claws? Check. Canines? Check. Heart rate? Check. Eye focus? Check. Energy reserves? Check. Legs? Check.
It’ll pounce on the kob, bringing it down, ripping its flesh, blood running down its jaws. The kob will fight but it will be overpowered. It’ll become a meal for the lioness and its family.
Tourists will flick their cameras. They’ll shoot videos. They’ll stream the whole thing on Facebook Live because there is cell phone network in the Park. And when they return to their homes, to their folks they’ll tell the tale of the lioness and kob with gusto. That memory will remain with them for the rest of their lives. They’ll tell their grandchildren about it. Those who live long enough to see their great-grandchildren will pass this tale to them, telling them to visit Murchison Falls National Park.
As we drive towards the ferry that will carry us across the river, we’ll see a parade of elephants striding in the low grass, their trunks lowered. There’ll be elephant dung by the side of the road. No one will pay attention to it except me because I have four eyes.
We’ll pay to use the ferry.
It will carry eight cars. There’ll be girls taking selfies. Everyone will mind their business. Parents will hold the hands of their children. A white guy will be puffing his cigar on the other end, blowing the smoke into the air of the Nile. The ferry ride will be uneventful. It will perch in about 15 minutes and we’ll start another journey to the falls.
Johnnie will drive for almost 20 kilometres, being careful not to raise dust for the van that’s behind us but it’s inevitable. We’ll turn to a rocky track. Bumpy it’ll be. We’ll drive up this hilly road and descend at a curve. You’ll need to be a good and careful driver to avoid swerving off this bend into a trench.
We’ll hear the splashing of water. It’ll sound like an open tap with water gushing out at a high pressure. Johnnie will bring the car to a halt at the parking area. He’s an experienced driver with over a decade under his belt. We’ll make our way to the scene where the Nile squeezes through a gorge and charges down with a rumble like a fighter from Wakanda.
The power with which the Nile roars at Murchison Falls is not the kind that scares you away. It’s the roar that invites you to experience the beauty of creation. The droplets of water that are carried by the wind sit on your skin with a freshness that calms your soul. There’s a marque rainbow that forms. You can stretch your hand and touch it through the flash of a camera.
It’s one of those places that I imagine if you went to with an ailment, you’d return feeling much much better because of the therapy of nature and water. It is a marvel, a place you should have on your bucket list.
I spoke to Johnnie just before completing this piece. He told me he went for a game drive over the weekend at Murchison Falls National Park with some tourists. They sighted over 15 lions with manes patrolling their area.