Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Camping in the African Bush, Murchison Falls National Park

Note to email subscribers: Please click on the blog title to get to the actual blog where photos display without hassle. Usually. Thanks.

Morning in our bush camp on the Victoria Nile Delta/ Lake Albert in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. Deluxe set up, eh? Actually, it was perfect. Except for our group of six, there was not another soul in sight. 
My family has done a lot of camping, much of it along Oregon's Wild and Scenic Rogue River. Our "scary" wildlife includes commonly sighted black bears and rattlesnakes, and also cougars, rarely seen. Things are a bit different "bush" camping in Africa.
Dennis, our bush camp guard and our game-drive guide. Yes, that is an AK 47.
Bush camping, you need a guy like Dennis, if you're lucky enough to find somebody as good.  He's a local from a nearby village, and TIA's guard/guide of choice.  TIA Adventures is the company hired to show us Murchison Falls National Park and many other Ugandan wonders. Dennis stayed up all night keeping a fire alive and making sure predators (lions! leopards!) did not enter the camp. In the morning he reported hearing a lion roar,  and during the night, he had shooed away hippos lumbering in our direction. Hippos spend most of their time in the shallows along rivers or lakes and come aground at night to graze. Hippos look comical and harmless, and make ridiculous huffing-grunting noises, but they are one of the most dangerous large animals in Africa, known to attack humans in boats and on land. (This tidbit from Wikipedia.)
This is what the "bush" looks like shortly after entering Murchison Falls National Park. The vehicle is a Land Rover driven by Pete Meredith. That's Leyla Ahmet Meredith in the pony tail. (PK searching for game.)  Leyla and Pete own and operate TIA (This is Africa) Adventures, and they shared the Africa they love with us for four wonderful days. Four people can sit comfortably atop the vehicle.
What's the "bush?" As far as I can tell, in Uganda, it is undeveloped and uncultivated national park land covered with mixed brush, trees, and grasses and populated with all manner of protected wildlife. Anyplace in Uganda that isn't protected is developed and/or cultivated, and wildlife is mostly missing. Uganda is an agricultural country, and fruit and vegetable farming and cattle and goat raising do not mix well with elephants and antelopes, lions and leopards.

That red rig? Unbelievable, but it has a Halliburton logo and a Texas license plate.
And it is headed to one of numerous oil extraction sites in and near the national park.
We heard a lot of talk about what oil might mean for this incredible place. None of it good.
We're tooling along in the bush and it is late afternoon and near the equator and light is fading. PK and I exchange looks. When are they going to find a camp? we silently ask one another. We, who like to set up camp several hours before dark in our wilderness world back in the USA, mostly so we can sip vino and watch the river roll by as we cook dinner and enjoy the sunset. 

There is zero stress going on that we can see or sense, and we go with it. What else can we do? The red-dirt one-track road is mostly mud after a pelting rain storm the previous day, and the ground is spongy. As we near the Nile, where we think camp will be, the land is flat and soggy. We veer off the road, such as it is, and toward the river. I think about sleeping in water. Suddenly, there seems to be a slight rise in elevation. A foot maybe? Anyway, it is enough and the Land Rover stops on more-or-less dry land. This is it! Bush camp. Pete unfurls a blue plastic tarp on the ground and the rig is unloaded in minutes. 
Dennis is restless, though. Gotta make a fire. He searches the area for wood and comes up with dripping sticks and punky chunks not likely to burn. He and Pete jump in the Land Rover on a wood-gathering mission, and the rest of us work on tents and dinner. 

Success! It took Dennis a long time to get the game fire going as a separate cooking fire was underway.

Here's Kara Blackmore wrapping a whole well-seasoned chicken in
three layers of foil to bake directly on the fire. 
 The chicken roasted perfectly and foil-baked potatoes were also delicious. 

Somewhere around the tiny kitchen is a spade stuck in the dirt with which to dig your own latrine when the time comes. Hope it doesn't arrive in the middle of the moonless night. You do not want to enlist Dennis's aid for such a task.
Camping is camping. The little tents could be anywhere. It just so happens they're  pitched in habitat where four of Africa's Big Five reside: lions, leopards, elephants, and buffalos.  The rhino, included in Africa's Big Five, is absent. Sadly, there are no rhinos left outside of sanctuaries in Uganda.
Here's Dennis ready to track down the lion he heard roaring during the night. The object of bush camping is to be in the center of game country (the bush!) early in the morning. We were ready to roll by 7 a.m. after a quick shot of coffee and a bite on the run. Let's go on a game drive! 
Game drive post up next.


  1. Fabulous - I wait for your newest entries eagerly. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think I would have been keeping Dennis company in the all night vigils 'round the fire, AK-47 or no. How did you sleep? Even when there's nothing more to fear than black bears and cougars the adrenalin courses at every perceived snap of a twig for me. You are such brave, hearty souls. How did your mom do during your absence?

  3. I slept OK. I woke up at around 5 a.m. and had to pee. But I stayed in the tent until it got light, an hour later. I wasn't concerned. The lions have so much to eat—antelope varieties—they're not interested in people. Dennis has fired his gun only once, and that was into the air to scare a lion that was approaching a safari vehicle aggressively. My mom did OK. My sister was here for a couple weeks. How're you? Music?