Sunday, January 7, 2001
Nile Safari Camp, Uganda When Samuel Baker came upon the explosion of water where the Nile bursts through a 130-foot ravine on its long journey to the Mediterranean, he named it Murchison Falls in honor of the president of Britain's Royal Geographical Society.
But the indomitable British explorer, who in 1864 was looking for the source of the Nile with his wife, Florence, later wrote that they didn't have much time to enjoy the view because a hippopotamus charged their boat, dumping them into the swirling waters as crocodiles sunned themselves nearby.
Today, a Uganda Wildlife Authority boat takes visitors to the same spot, but by now the hippos are accustomed to human traffic and usually turn their backsides toward the cameras.
Real crocodiles, with mouths that look big enough to hold those crocodile men warriors featured in Tarzan comics, still sun themselves ï¿½ and too often still grab a child or woman who has gone to the river to fetch water.
On most maps of Uganda, the national park through which the Victoria Nile flows west from Murchison Falls at a wide, leisurely pace into Lake Albert is called Kabarega. Idi Amin chose the name in honor of the legendary Bunyoro king who bedeviled the British and controlled the region when 19th-century explorers crisscrossed northern Uganda in search of the source of the world's longest river.
But in the past 10 years, people have gone back to using the original British name ï¿½ Murchison Falls National Park ï¿½ as the Ugandan government tries to lure tourists back to the country Winston Churchill called "the pearl of Africa."
In 1993, Zaid Alam traveled north from the Ugandan capital, Kampala, to camp out in the wilderness. He approached from the south, driving through bush in an uninhabited area until he saw the river and stopped at a spot about 12 miles downriver from the falls.
Today, you can see why he did. The view of the river from the swimming pool of Alam's Nile Safari Camp is both spectacular and sublime, and it reminds you why you love Africa ï¿½ or why you will.
Fortunately, visitors today don't have to undergo the trials that beset Samuel and Florence Baker to enjoy the view. Although they should remember to take anti-malarial medicine before setting out.
A stay at the inn
Inns of Uganda, Alam's company that runs Nile Safari Camp and Jacana Safari Lodge in Queen Elizabeth Park to the south, will send Godfrey Kiriya to meet your flight at Entebbe International Airport and drive you for six hours through 250 miles of lush green Ugandan countryside, a tropical forest, down the Albertine escarpment and into the camp, where waiters greet you with a cool white towel to wash off the dust and a glass of fresh orange juice.
Manager Ali Khan leads you to the terrace where you gasp at the view as the sun slowly fades, and the night sounds rise from the river.
The camp has 12 units, including six tented structures and six log chalets. All have verandahs overlooking the river, pull showers and flush toilets. At night, you can hear the hippos grunting below, and in the morning, blackface vervet monkeys scamper across your verandah before a waiter brings you morning tea or coffee.
The camp will organize game drives in the park on the northern side of the river where on a good day you will see Ugandan kobs, lions, Cape buffaloes, cheetahs, giraffes, gazelles, warthogs, elephants and Lake Albert, the northernmost of the volcanic lakes lying on the western edge of the Great Rift Valley through which the Nile flows on its way northward to Sudan.
The boat trip up to the falls is a must and a more leisurely way to see hippos, crocodiles, elephants and the rich birdlife along the river's papyrus-lined banks. Later on, you can drive to the top of the falls, then walk down alongside the rushing water and marvel again at the Bakers' sheer grit and tenacity.
Manager Khan says Alam's idea in building Nile Safari Camp was to provide a low-key, yet comfortable place to enjoy the beauty of Uganda, a country whose name has more often been associated with civil conflict and disease in the past 25 years. Alam, a Ugandan himself, also wants the camp to do something for the local people, who have a hard time finding jobs in the isolated and neglected region.
Of the 30 permanent staff at the camp, 20 are from the surrounding area. Khan says they are being trained to advance in the company, which also has built a school in the neighboring village and paid for a headmaster and a teacher. Scholarships are being established to allow two students a year to study at the university level, and a clinic is planned.
If this all sounds ideal, but you're concerned about keeping in touch with the "real world," all you have to do is rent a mobile phone at Entebbe airport. Then, as you lounge by the pool or sip a drink by the fire, the new repeater just installed in the park will carry your voice from this side of paradise.