Baboon Theft and Hippo Threats at Murchison Falls National Park

After a peaceful first day driving and animal watching in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, Philip and I were excited to explore the park both by boat and by foot.

We started the day with an early morning game drive and then headed toward the boat launch where we had crossed the river the day before. As we went to eat our packed lunch under a tree, our driver Bosco warned us to “watch out for the baboons!” How could baboons be so bad? We thought naively. 
Cute? Don’t be fooled. 
We had not been sitting on the bench under the tree more than a few minutes when a baboon descended on us fast. I spotted him out of the corner of my eye so I tucked the food back inside the bag and folded it over thinking that would stop him, while Philip held the rest of it up high. The baboon was smarter than my ruse and just grabbed the whole bag, taking the samosa that I really wanted to try. The pancake that was in the bag too fell on the ground so I snatched it back while Phil swung his leg at him in a last ditch attempt to not lose our lunch. His kick was in vain because the emboldened ape just reached back and grabbed the pancake too. He then perched himself in front of a tree opposite us, flung the plastic wrapper off in one swift movement and smugly enjoyed our lunch as we watched helplessly. 
We used to think baboons were kind of cool, now we thought they were jerks. The jerk baboon came around one more time until the locals finally showed us how to dispatch him by throwing rocks at his feet. We enjoyed what was left of our lunch in relative peace until I went to throw our garbage but the can was being guarded by our old world monkey nemesis. Bosco saw what was happening and took the garbage from me. “Let me throw it out,” he said, “they’re not afraid of white people.” Nevertheless, he armed himself with a stick for good measure and the baboon scrammed at the first sight of him.

Yeah you eat those leaves and leave my samosa alone. 
With the lunch hour unpleasantness behind us, we crossed the river to wait at a boat launch on the other side. Eventually, two boats arrived at the same time. One two-storey booze cruise type thing and one understated, dented aluminium beauty pulled up too. Ours was the latter. I climbed somewhat reluctantly into the small boat not entirely sure it could handle the trip to Murchison Falls, some of the most powerful falls in the world. Our skipper James reassured us that the boat called “Hippo” was safe and not to worry about the hippos in the water since “hippo + hippo = hippo”. Well that settles it, or does it?

From the boat we were able to get so close to the animals on the shore and were plenty impressed by drinking elephants, creeped out by basking crocs, and threatened by hippos.

Elephant comes down to the river to drink
Perspective shot as the boat pulled away. 
Creepy croc just hangs out on the bank with his mouth open. 
Hippo to humans: “Soon.”
The Nile boat cruise was an incredible way to do some wildlife watching and our excitement wasn’t over yet. Our captain steered us to the closest point where we could safely view the impressive Murchison Falls.

The water gets a little too turbulent after this to let our hippo boat go any farther. 

As our fun Nile River boating adventure came to an end, our Skipper dropped us off at the beginning of a short hike to the top of Murchison Falls. The hike is straightforward and not too strenuous so most people could enjoy it. It winds through lush forest and climbs up a cliff to various viewpoints along the river. After our game drive the day before, getting out to hike and move was most welcome and the views were very rewarding. 

A closer look at the Murchison Falls. 

The famous Murchison Falls is where the mighty Nile squeezes through a 7 meter gorge and then falls 43 meters below. The result is one of the most powerful waterfalls I have ever seen. Other falls may seem more majestic, but Murchison Falls is a worthy competitor in demonstrating moving water’s awesome power.

Thea, between two falls. 
Philip admires the falls from close to the top. 
From the top the mist from the falls floats up and provides welcome reprieve from Uganda’s daytime heat. Despite our exhaustion, the hike was the perfect way to cap off our second day in Murchison Falls National Park. While MFNP might not be the first destination that comes to mind when one thinks of game watching and hiking in East Africa, it proved to be a very worthwhile destination on all fronts. The park is quiet, teeming with animals and dedicated to conservation. A must see for any adventure-loving traveller. Just be sure to watch out for the baboons!

Peaceful Safari in Murchison Falls National Park

Few things can harsh your Zen while travelling worse than dealing with massive crowds. Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s lesser known answer to the more crowded parks in east Africa so we were keen to add it to our East African itinerary. 
After a long drive from Entebbe, which included the requisite car troubles leaving us stranded in sleepy Masindi for a couple hours while our driver sorted things out, we finally arrived at our place to stay for the night just outside the park. 

 Warm Boomu welcome
photocredit: www.boomuwomensgroup.org
The Boomu Women’s Group is a women-led camp close the Murchison Falls National Parks gate. 
We were warmly welcomed, shown our room in a thatched banda and advised what time we could expect dinner. One thing I learned while working in West Africa, is although cold showers are offered, they are not the only way. Uganda despite being tropical, is very mountainous and can be quite cold at night, so I asked if a warm bucket shower could be arranged. Much to our delight, it could but we would have to wait until after dinner. 

Bandas at Boomu
photocredit: www.boomuwomensgroup.org
After spending almost an entire day in the car and teeming with excitement from our close encounter with two rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary earlier that day, we had some energy to burn. We started walking to a nearby village when our driver Bosco joined us. As we walked the sky darkened both from diminishing daylight and storm clouds so we decided to run back to camp. It was a funny scene, the three of us jogging in flip flops in the dark under a light drizzle. It was a good thing that we picked up the pace too, because it started pouring hard right when we returned to camp. 
Our dinner of warmed beans, rice and roasted cassava was very welcome once the chill from the rain set in, as was our warm bucket shower. We retired early that night, and were up on the sun with the hundreds of noisy weaver birds that call the Boomu camp home.

Weavers, hundreds of weavers.
Photo credit: www.scienceblogs.com
After a simple breakfast of tea, bread and eggs, we bid adieu to the ladies and noisy weaver birds at Boomu and headed to Murchison Falls National Park for our first safari. When we arrived at the gates, Bosco hopped out to pay he entry fee and we were excited to see some baboons running down the road right by the gate. This was before we knew what baboons were all about; more on that later.

Baboons, while we were still excited to see baboons!
The park is lush, green and positively teeming with giraffes, ungulates, baboons, monkeys, elephants, many different birds, cape buffalo, lions, hippos and even the very rare leopard. After a short drive in the park, we took a ferry across the Nile to see more animals on the other side of the park.

Giraffe party 
Cape buffalo love to stare at you
As do Jackson’s hartebeest

We had our fill of  big game animals and thanks to Bosco’s persistence, we were able to see lions…lions (!!!). Noticeably absent from MFNP were crowds. Compared to the massive clusters of white safari vans than indicate an animal is nearby in other parks in East Africa, such as Masai Mara, Murchison Falls was refreshingly quiet. There were times where ours was the only vehicle on the track for as far as the eye could see.

Lioness posing for her glamour shot
Elephant strutting in the park
Elephant becoming a bird perch just outside of the park

We were amazed at just how many animals there were in the park and at how knowledgeable our Bosco was. After a long day of driving through the park, we arrived at the stunning Fort Murchison camp which overlooks the Albert Nile just outside of the park.

There we enjoyed a big, tasty meal and watched the sunset from the roof with a few lukewarm Nile Specials and retired early. Little did we know, our second day in the park would prove to be very eventful. Keep reading in the next post!