A Weekend at Murchison Falls



This post is not going to be about Hackers For Charity. This post is about the beauty of Uganda, and all it has to offer.

Well, actually, this post might be a bit about HFC if, when you see the incredible charm and scenery this country has to offer, it brings you a step closer in deciding to come visit.

So it can't all be just work and no play. At least in my book because if I was to keep up with the Long's standard it would probably be all work. So after insisting a lot, and when I say insisting its more like requesting, urging, ranting, begging, blackmailing and whatever else this hacker could think of, I got Johnny and Jen to accept my invitation to the Paraa Lodge for the weekend, hence leaving their beloved Jinja and all their works and actually enjoying a break. Yes, I had to force them to take a break !

I had looked around the internets before coming and from all I read online the best place to go to get the perfect experience was the Paraa Lodge . Johnny and Jen confirmed it as they had already been to the Murchison Falls area but never stayed at the Paraa as they could not afford it. So one more reason for me to pick this place as I really wanted to express my thanks for their welcome and care throughout my stay.

The Paraa Lodge is located near the Murchison Falls, which is a good 7 hour drive away from Jinja. And I'm not talking about a highway smooth ride like we would immagine ... Its actually an adventure driving through a mix of relatively acceptable roads and country back roads whose state depends on the last rains. Quite a road trip ! Here is a map to help you get situated:

Map_Murchison

So we set out and started our journey. Johnny, Jen, Declan and myself. Declan is the youngest of the Long family. He is a bright young man who can already build and code robots at just 12 years old ! A future hacker if I ever saw one :-)
I did not get to meet Trevor and Makenna, the Longs two eldest, who are away in Kenya for college, but I'm looking forward to doing so on my next trip.

So here's a recap of our whole 2-day getaway in pictures with some captions to tell you what's going on. These were all taken with my phone but I do think I got a few good shots overall. Jen had a much better camera and when I get my hands on her photos I will post them as well.

We set out from Jinja and started our journey. Apart from a few 'main' roads, most roads we travelled looked like this:

Road

And because it was mostly bumpy all the way, taking road selfies without an image stabilizer (wink wink iPhone) was sort of hard ...

Road_Selfie

Along the long drive we kept coming up interesting warning signs such as:

Warning

And finally we made it to the entrance of the Murchison Falls National Park, and were greeted by this surprising sign. Why surprising I hear you ask ? Well to make it easy to understand, I highlighted it :)

Sign_Murchison

Once you get into the park, it still is a good hour drive to the ferry which takes you across the Victoria Nile. We made it just in time, well actually we made it 5 minutes late but this hacker bribed the ferry guys for them to make one final run before going home ! It was already nightime so not really suitable for pictures, but you'll get to see pictures taken on our way back. For now, just a selfie taken during the crossing.

Ferry_Arrival

We lastly made it to the Paraa Lodge and I have to say I was surprised by this charming setting in the middle of the wilderness.

Hotel_View

We had rooms on the ground floor that gave us direct access to the pool.

Hotel_View_2

Rooms are nice and cozy, note the mosquito protection that is deployed around the beds at night

Hotel_Room

The main lobby is very warm and welcoming, here we were having coffee at 6 am just before going for our Safari drive.

Hotel_Lobby

A final funny story about the hotel, it was not uncommon for wild animals to just show up and roam around. Here we have a hog that decided to take a stroll in front of out room, under the watchful eye of an amused and not scared at all Declan.

Hotel_Hog

And then he went for a stroll around the pool, surprising Johnny and a couple of English tourists.

Hotel_Hog_2

But then again, we could not say we were not warned ! :)

Hotel_Caution

Now it's time to show you pictures taken during our Safari drive. Most will not need a caption, as the photos speak for themselves, but I will add a little something when deemed necessary. We set out at 6:30 am as it is the best time to catch most wild animals. We had a Safari truck from the hotel and our tour guide, James, was known to be one of the best spotters around. He confirmed that reputation during the Safari, but he was dissapointed that we did not get to spot lions. Johnny's explanation was, and I quote: "You can't have two Kings of the Jungle out at the same time" :-)

Safari_Start

So here we go !

Safari_Morning_View

Safari_Giraffe_View

Safari_Giraffes

Safari_Open_Road

Safari_Elephant

Safari_Hyena

Safari_Hippos

Safari_Hogs

Every trip comes with its obligatory lot of selfies :)

Safari_Me_jen

Safari_Me_John

Safari_Me_George_John

And who said selfies were just for people ? Here's a few of me with wildlife :)

Selfie_Buffalos

Selfie_Giraffes

Selfie_Elephant

And I just had to take a selfie/homage to our friend DualCore (check out his tunes here) who rocks our community with his amazing music, so while playing 'All The Things' I got this lucky shot, as our guide George was pointing towards wild animals he just spotted. Safari All The Things !

Safari_DualCore

Declan rocking the Hackers for Charity t-shirt in the wilderness !

Safari_Declan

And Jen caught on camera in a moment of contemplation.

Safari_jen

And here Jen teaching Declan the art of the photo-shoot. Notice the buck in the background !

Safari_Jen_Declan

One of the most notable things you see all around the wilderness are these huge termite nests everywhere. Makes you really steer away from them.

Safari_Termites

But it was time to get back to the hotel, the game drive was coming to an end. On the way back we came across some more giraffes,

Safari_Giraffes_Cross

Safari_Giraffes_Road

a baby hyena,

Safari_Hyena2

and a baboon :)

Safari_Baboon

But the weirdest mammal of all, in this beautiful landscape, remains the Mzungu, or White Person as called by the locals, riding a tour truck. Especially one wearing a New York Yankees cap :-)

Safari_Mzungu

That was it for our Safari ride. We went back to the hotel and chilled out by the pool, and in the afternoon it was time for our boat ride on the Victoria Nile, up to the Murchison Falls.

Here's a Google Maps rendering of where we were, those screenshots were taken on location while navigating the Nile.

Boat_Geo

So we got on our boat, with our tour guide and Captain, James.

Boat_Family

Of course it wastn't long before I convinced James to let me take the helm :)

Boat_Me_James

It was a smooth ride up the Nile, we were all enjoying the incredible scenery.

Boat_John

Boat_Me

Well due to the long day, you could feel that Declan needed a rest. But that only lasted for 10 minutes then he was back up and running.

Boat_Declan

I even caught Johnny trying to act the part of the fashion photographer with Jen. The model was perfect, but the photographer was found wanting :)

Boat_John_Jen

And a romantic moment ... Who said Hackers can't be romantic ? And yeah, Jen will not approve of me posting that one but you know what ? I did it anyway because I'm a rebel that way :) oups ...

Boat_Long_Rom

So obviously we came across our share of wildlife while going up the Nile towards Murchison. Crocodiles, elephants and hippos.

Boat_Bigcroc

The reason crocodiles 'chill-out' with their jaws wide open is because it helps them regulate the temperature of their bodies.

Boat_Crocs

Boat_elephant

Boat_Elephant3

Boat_Hippo

And we finally reached the falls, and it was breathtaking. We could not get very close as it would have been dangerous to do so, but Johnny still managed to get that amazing shot of me in front of the falls, and of course a selfie :)

Boat_me_Murchison

Boat_Selfie_John_Me

And what kind of boat ride would it be if I didn't get at least one selfie with crocodiles !
(Sorry Jayson Street but awkward-hugging the wildlife was forbidden :)

Boat_Selfie_crocs

And so we headed back, and I'm going to finish off the boat ride pictures with this shot of the Paraa Lodge as seen from the river.

Boat_Return_Paraa

Needless to say we did not have any problems going to sleep that night, after such a long day. And in the morning we set out to Jinja, which was going to be another 7 hour drive through Uganda.

In the morning we headed out to the ferry crossing, and while waiting for the ferry a funny thing happened that I was lucky enough to capture on camera. The occupants of a van parked right next to us in the waiting line stepped out for a smoke and forgot their window open, which is not reccommended as they say Baboons will jump in and steal the food in a flash. Well, it turns out it's not just a saying, it happens !

Return_Baboon_Steal

And right after, I captured the thief parading with his baby on his back and part of his bounty :)

Return_Baboon_Baby

The van people were actually amused by the whole thing and asked me to mail them my pictures. A funny story to take back home.

So there it was, our two day escape to Murchison Falls. But before closing off this post, here are a few pictures of the ferry crossing, as it is worth seeing and experiencing.

Return_Ferry3

Return_Ferry_me

Return_ferry5

Return_Ferry6

This weeked was one of the best I've had in a long time, not to say my life. The raw beauty of Uganda's wildlife is breathtaking. The people are very welcoming and nice, and because English is sort of the non-official language you have no communication problems at all.

I'm also very happy that I was able to tear away the Longs from Jinja for a relaxing weekend, and I know they needed it even if they will never admit to it, because that is just the way they are. Johnny and Jen are some of the most giving and loving people I know, as well as being incredibly humble about it.

I hope you enjoyed these pictures and my mildly nooby storytelling. I hope this post was not too long and that you are still reading this far. And I especially hope that this post will take you one step closer into visiting Uganda and Hackers for Charity.

If just one of you guys decide to come, then it was all worth it as Johnny proved that just one hacker in Uganda can make a difference, so immagine what many can do !

I will now start writing the final Uganda series post. It will be the hardest one to write as so far I have just told you about what I experienced on the ground, so basically undisputed facts and figures (if anyone cares to dispute them, you know where to find me ;).

What I aim to do in the final post is give my feelings and opinions, the lessons I have learned and a roadmap to move further into helping HFC's cause. That will be hard to write as you know by now I'm not much of a writer/blogger. So please bear with me for a couple of days so I can get my thoughts together the best way I can (I have already started writing it but it needs lots of tweaking).

In the meantime thank you for reading and please help spread the word. As always, Twitter and Facebook shares are much appreciated to help raise awareness.

Peace.