Murchison Weekend

Typed on the afternoon of the 26th of June at the house.  Sorry this post is out of chronological order and still lacks pictures – should be rectified in a few days.

I got back from a two-day, one-night trip to Murchison Falls National Park last night.  This post will be half-positive and half-negative, so bear with me.

Saturday morning I went into town and met Moses, the guy from whom I was going to hire a Rav4 for the weekend. He had just had some fine-tuning work done to it and it was ready to go, but getting paperwork filled out took a bit longer than I had anticipated, so I was behind schedule and didn’t get out of town until around 10.  That said, I enjoyed the drive a lot.  I hadn’t been in the driver’s seat of a car in two months, and a right-hand drive car in ever.  The road from Lira to Kamdini is pretty ugly, and I had to ensure a few heavily speed bumped roads, and there were chunks where there just wasn’t any pavement at all.  It was still nice to drive, though, and I brought along a burned CD to keep me busy.  Just passed Kamdini, I took the turnoff before Karuma and found myself on a really nice, wide and paved road soaring westward.  I finally made it to a village called Purongo and turned down a dirt path through some villages on my way into the park.  Finally made it to the gate around 1.30, a bit behind schedule but in high spirits.

Spirits were a bit dampened by the cost of entry.  Not sure how, but I mixed up the numbers in my head and was thoroughly surprised at the gate.  But I was soon driving through the park and spotting tons of gazelles and some giraffes and warthogs too.  I got some basic directions from the guard and I slowly made my way towards Paraa (where most of the accommodations are).  After a lot of sightseeing and no Paraa, though, I started to convince myself that I had missed the junction and was on my way back out to the gate at Pakwach.  This was exacerbated when I asked for directions from a lost couple who were coming from said gate.  Turned around and headed back whence I came, with the other car following.  After a while, we were informed we were headed in the wrong direction (which means I had originally been heading in the right direction) so we turned around again!

This is where things got bad. As I was driving here, things went awry.  My front right tire stopped steering completely.  I swerved hard to the right, and then skidded to the left across the road and ended up against a bank of dirt.  Somehow, I kept my cool and tried to steer it forwards, but realized something was definitely wrong.  I called every number in the park that I had while I climbed under the car and realized that the drive shaft was clear off the wheel.  I finally reached a mechanic who said he’d call me back while I managed to affix the shaft back onto the wheel, but there was a nut missing and I knew it wouldn’t last.  I continued forwards, and after a few meters it popped right off again.  For the next two hours I would be under the car at least a dozen times, and this is including a good 45-minute ceasefire during which the car worked and I played spot-the-junction-or-you’ll-end-up-in-Pakwach.  I informed Moses of the problem and told him I’d keep him updated, and in the meantime I never heard from the mechanic ever.  Eventually, I found the junction and realized that, had I not stopped to ask for directions, I would have found it in another ten minutes or so.  Slowly rolled into Paraa and sat at the Nile for a bit while waiting for the ferry.

A good chunk of the day had been wasted with a broken car, but I was glad I wasn’t 100% stranded. But I was angry about the circumstances and slowly realizing I had no idea if I would get back to Lira.  But, I made it over the river and to Red Chili Rest Camp, the only inexpensive and probably the coolest hangout/accommodation place in the park.  I knew it was booked, but was hoping I could fenagle a tent or something.  I ended up secretly sleeping in the car in the parking lot for free, which is comparable to a $5 camping fee and a whole lot better than all of the $140 rooms at the other lodges.  Before going to bed I hung around the campfire and met some pretty cool people.  There was a guitar and a group of Brits sang a lot of great songs and it was really fun.  A few of them even improvised blues songs!  Oh, and on our way back to our respective camp sites we saw three hippos in the camp site. It was totally freaky being that close to those things since, you know, they could kill me.  It was a nice way to end the evening.

The next morning I went out on an early drive to the Falls. It took about an hour and 7 quick-fixes to make it there, but it was a really cool sight, so I’m glad I made it out there. I’m also glad that on the way back to Red Chili a bus stopped to help me with my car troubles and I got some international support. A bunch of Ugandans and expats tried to help and eventually we got some rope and tied the drive shaft in place. From then on I was able to drive, albeit with some hesitancy. From there I grabbed a small lunch and made my way north to the Pakwach gate while keeping an eye out for animals. Got to see some more giraffes and antelope, and one faraway elephant! Then I made my way home with my roped up car and called it a trip.

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