by Glenn Kaplan
think the first thing you notice about Africa is the
smell. Kampala smells like a combination of woodsy
smoke, trash, burning meat and dust. The dust can
be overwhelming at times. The weather too, can be
overpowering. For the past week we've had a reddish
haze hanging over the city. It seems a cyclone that
was hitting Madagascar in the south was sucking all
the dry air from the Sahara and producing a dust storm
over all of east Africa. So it was in a thick, red
fog that we headed to Murchison wildlife reserve in
Gulu and Lira, both regional districts
of the Lordís Resistance Army (a rebel group composed
almost entirely of children), flank the Murchison
reserve. There were just massacres up north, and while
itís unsettling to think about, itís not a deterrent
as the LRA do not target foreigners and there haven't
been documented incursions into Murchison in two years.
When I decided to register with
the US embassy before we left they suggested we head
to a reserve in the south. They said that Murchison
was off limits to embassy personnel because of recent
intelligence suggesting LRA movements within the park.
Of course this was the State Department that also
insisted there was yellow cake uranium in Niger and
WMDs in Iraq, so we took their "intelligence"
and advice with an African-sized grain of salt.
Five sweaty hours later when we
arrived in Murchison; movement and smells immediately
bombarded us. Bugs, animals, bush--everything smashed
around us, dominating our senses. People say that
the Serengeti is the New York City of nature. If thatís
true, Murchison is something like Cleveland. Smaller,
but still there are termite mounds ten feet high,
towering giraffes, lumbering elephants and masses
My safari group consisted mostly
of Europeans. We took a super matatu (4wd, real seats,
a convertible, actual tires) for our game drive at
6:30 AM because that's when the animals are most active.
As we crossed the savannah my inner soundtrack alternated
between the Jurassic park theme song and Hakuna Matata.
Over the course of the next six hours we saw a giraffe,
gazelles, water buffalo, wart hogs, and a lion. Apparently
the lions in Murchison are fairly elusive so we considered
ourselves lucky. At one point we all got out to stretch
our legs, I thought about wandering into the bush
for a tinkle and then I thought about the lion we
spotted ten minutes earlier. I decided staying close
to the matatu was best.
In the afternoon we went on a boat
trip up the Nile. There were elephants on the shores,
hippopotamus and crocodiles in the water, and a miasma
of bizarre birds overhead. We made our way to Murchison
falls - a narrow gorge that produces one of the most
powerful surges of water on earth. While itís not
nearly the size of Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls is
surrounded by Buffalo, NY whereas Murchison is surrounded
by water buffalo, so itís a trade off.
At night we all had dinner at the campsite and the
most popular topic of every European I meet inevitably
surfaced: what the hell is wrong with America. Iím
usually the only American in these conversations and
end up becoming an apologist for global instability
and rampant consumerism. The only people around here
who actually seem to like America are the Ugandans.
After drinking beer well into the
night someone in our group hatched the clever idea
of heading to the Nile for some midnight hippo watching.
While intoxicated interactions with one of Africaís
underestimated and deadly creatures are never a good
idea, the managers of the camps begrudgingly agreed
to supervise us, and a small group of us drank beers
and watched hippos until 2 AM.
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