Weekend in Rural Uganda II
7/2/2012 9:00:56 AM -
Sunday morning. Breakfast in the garden. In Uganda, there is 'tea' and there is 'African tea.' The latter goes with your standard milk, sugar and all. Here at Kontiki Hotel one is served like a king. And the waiters are eager to find out if they got it right. I began to understand why in Hoima they don't say ''feel at home.'' The phrase is ''feel at Hoima.''
Well, time to hit the road. It is a big day. On the itinerary: oil prospecting operations and Murchison Falls. Like the day before, we drove the same way to Hoima but we went further and further. The small human settlements here are few and far between. Another two hours drive, maybe more. I guessed we could have used less time but the Tullow regulation speed of 40 km per hour had to be observed.
Different big yards serve different purposes all within a certain miles radius of the oil well. Interestingly, these 'work over' units are all named after fish in the local dialect. To enter each of them we had to wear hard hats and boots complete with protective goggles and vests. Plus you need to wash your hands before entry.
At Ngege (this name means 'tilapia') we were received into the heavily fenced perimeter. Most imposing was the huge oil production installation which includes the rig. Production tests are still ongoing. A couple of white engineers in colourful overalls served as our guides. This must be some work, because each workman you see looks tough and well-built.
Though Tullow is the main operator they share responsibility and space with partnering companies such as Baker Hughes, Weatherford and Harliburton. All the employees are from different parts of the world. One worker had embossed on one shoulder the company badge and the Ugandan flag on the other. I found that very symbolic.
In terms of work, it was a relaxed day so staffs were happy to interact. Whilst Ghana's oil is offshore that of Uganda is on land. This requires different machinery and method for drilling. Still intimidated by the huge complex structure, I asked one of the drillers what risks are involved in their work. Without looking at me he muttered,
'No risk. It's a job and we get it done.'
These oil engineers are professionals on hire from Aberdeen or Singapore or Angola or Russia. They are contracted, arrive for a specific task over a specific period and then fly back. It's a job.
Well, I was faced with a different kind of job. The pleasant task of conquering the world famous Murchison Falls. To get there we had to drive further north for another hour and gain access into Uganda's largest National Park. Occupying a space of 3,840 square kilometres, Murchison Falls National Park is bigger than the entire Greater Accra Region of Ghana.
The park was named after Sir Roderick Murchison, President of the Royal Geographical Society. During the regime of Idi Amin (you know this name would appear somewhere, don't you?) the name was changed to Kabarega Falls, after Omukama Kabarega, King of Bunyoro. But the local name didn't quite stick. Around the end of the 19th century this King resisted colonisation by the British, was arrested and was exiled to the island nation of the Seychelles. Sounds familiar?
Eventually, we gained clearance to proceed to the water. The forest is thick, the drive, narrow and hilly. At times, climbing the steepness was laborious. But our friendly, bearded driver, Ibrahim was up to the task.
We saw more kobs, more baboons and warthogs. My goodness, I thought hippos are the ugly ones. I realise now that warthogs make everything look good.
Then we came across a group of buffaloes in their elements. They were ten in number all looking like naughty, big boys playing in the mud. Only difference is that these guys didn't feel one bit guilty. They just watched us watching them. We drove on.
In wildlife jargon there is what is called the Big Five namely, buffalos, elephants, lions leopards and rhinos. At Murchison there is the first four. Due to excessive hunting and poaching, rhinos have become extinct here.
At last we appeared at the top of Murchison Falls. Actually, the sound of rushing water does the formal invitation. A short walk over a bridge and a little hill brings us before a spectacle of nature - a large expanse of water 'boiling' over flat rocks.
The nature of this fall has to be explained. Murchison Falls is on the Nile. Yes, if the River Nile reminds you of Egypt please be informed that its source is in Uganda. Now, the fast flowing water goes over a range of flat-topped rocks, rushes down at a lower point and squeezes through a gorge. This hole within the rock is obviously too small for the amount of water at that speed. As the Nile forces its way through the gap it creates an explosion of white water. The rock actually shakes from the force of the water and then the water finally plunges down with a thunderous roar into a pool 150 feet below. Where it drops is called the 'Devil's Cauldron.' I don't know why they call it so but anything or anyone that falls in the water's descent is 'yamutu.'
From this stage, the water flows westward into Lake Albert. At this point the banks are thronged with elephants, hippos, crocodiles, waterbucks and buffaloes. The luxurious pool at the top was the setting for the classic Hollywood movie "The African Queen' starring Humphrey Bogart.
Prominent persons who have been here are Ernest Hemingway, author of 'The Old Man and the Sea.' Other notable visitors to the park include Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister and Theodore Roosevelt, a past American President. Whilst there, I saw a number of western tourists. Many of them come from all over the world to camp for a number of days.
My experience at Murchinson is that the water does a dance performance. The earth literally trembles. (oh, I forgot to say, as a result of the splash a trademark rainbow is created.) One has difficulty deciding exactly where to stand or which of the actions to watch; where the water travels from, where it explodes or how it tumbles down. Then there is also an observatory up where one could catch the long Nile and the rainbow. Some say this is the most powerful natural flow of water anywhere on earth. I say God is Great.
Records have it that whilst admiring an aerial view of this place half a century ago, Ernest Hemingway crashed his light airplane down the river. I believed I fared much better. I only forgot my medicated glasses on the rocks of Murchison Falls.
The writer is author of: Tickling the Ghanaian-Encounters with Contemporary Culture and A Sense of Savannah-Tales of a Friendly Walk through Northern Ghana