I wake up quite early because I want to break up camp and spot the tree climbing lions that roam around in the southern part of Queen Elisabeth national park. I’m still very sleepy because the noises of the Hippos have kept me awake. They walk around the camping site, but two park rangers keep watch every night so there’s nothing to fear. Actually at first I thought that was the reason for their presence. Later I found out they’re actually guarding the border because at the other site of the river lies the Democratic Republic of Congo and there is still a lot of rebel activity going on.
I leave my luggage with Julias, one of the fire masters and guards of the camping site. I shared with him my pasta last night and in return he wants to look after my luggage. He convinced me to do at least a little game ride. Apparently I just missed the lions when I arrived yesterday. Although he reassures me that there is a big chance they’re back today, I set out with very low expectations. I have had very bad experiences with tracking down lions. I never quite got the chance to really observe them from very close and maybe in my case, seated on a motorbike, it’s not a very good idea.
I’m driving on the southern circuit of the park. I’m focusing on the road and at the same time trying to see what’s in the trees.
After one hour I decide to give up and to return back, when suddenly I see a 4wd on one of the side roads. I decide to give it a go and to follow the car, hoping that they’re on to something…
And I’m right! Two cars are parked around a big tree with four lions in it! I’m completely absorbed by the sight of the lions. After two minutes an headline I once red pops into my mind: “Game of Thrones editor killed by lions in SA” (South-Africa). I realize that, although the lions are hanging lazily in the tree, they still predators and they can do with me whatever they want. So I decide to jump into the nearest car, introducing myself as Carl, the motorcycle driving Belgian. The Dutch family, Schepers, rents the car I jumped into. A big thanks to them for their hospitality! After half an hour of observing, I get out, jump on my motorbike and get the hell out of there.
I drive all the way up north on a 100km stretch of dirt road. I see dozens of baboons, hippo’s, buffalos and antelopes. I drive toward Kassese in the north with the beautiful Rwenzori mountains as a back drop. My destination for today is Mahoma falls. While I’m driving on the dirt roads leading to the falls, I see little plots with maize, banana plants, irish potatoes. This land looks like a Garden of Eden where everything can grow. It looks a bit like Rwanda but the hills are a bit softer and there are fewer houses.
I was hoping to see some indications for the falls but even my GPS is failing. I get stuck in the mud when I try to make a U-turn on these narrow roads. With the help of some kids I can push my bike out of the mud, but the falls are still nowhere to be found. When I ask, everybody sends me to different directions. In the end a boda boda directs me to the ecolodge. “There’s a guy who knows!” he says.
I drive up the steep hill towards the lodge and I arrive in what you could call a charming, typically Ugandan farmer compound. A guy with a big smile greets me. His name is Noah, 25 years old and the manager of this lodge.
I decide to stay in the lodge. Noah tells me he knows the area like his back pocket and he can lead me to the falls. So I decide that he will be my hitchhiker of the day. On our way to the fall we stop at several crater lakes and we spot some amazing birds. Noah announces with some pride that he knows more than 300 different East-African birds, but he has still some memory work to do because there are more than 700 different species in whole Uganda.
Finally I reach the bottom of the fall. I must admit that without Noah, the fall would have stayed a mystery to me. The brute force of the fall is overwhelming. When Noah invites me to take a shower under this thundering aquatic monster, I think he has lost his mind. But he explains me there is some kind pool so you can enjoy your “shower” safely. This is the result:
When I’m done with my refreshing bath, it’s almost nightfall and a storm is coming, so we hurry back. When I feel the first raindrops I decide to take a small cabin instead of my tent. Noah and I start talking while the storm hesitates to hit our hill. Far away silent lightening illuminates the sky. I’m drinking a beer and Noah drinks a soda. He’s a new born Christian and therefore not allowed to drink alcohol.
He tells me about his great passion: Tourism.
As a young boy he saw local drivers and guides conducting mzungus (Kiswahili for white person, means actually outlander) to the fancy lodge, just next to his primary school. Ever since he wanted to become one of them, he tells me.
So he asked his teacher what he should study to become one of them. He told him he needed to learn history, geography, biology, … and that’s what he did. He studied Tourism in High School and began to work as a voluntary in several lodges. Then he came across Emanuel, the owner of this lodge, and became the manager.
Noah believes that tourism; local development and charity go hand in hand. The Eco lodge sponsors three local primary schools.
Besides being the manager of the lodge, Noah is also involved in a lot of other things. He is member of the youth district council and helps young groups entrepreneurs with the start-up of their businesses. He does all this for just a small compensation. But he also has his own touring company: Uganda Crater Lakes Tours
“type in those words in Google and it’s your first hit!” he says proudly. He started out a few months ago, but business is booming, he says. The visit to the falls is just one of the many tours he offers in the crater lakes region. One day he wants to have an international travel company. But his base will stay in around the crater lakes. He talks about his native ground with infinite pride.
“A while ago they offered me a job in Nyungwe forest” he says, “ But I refused and gave the job to my older brother! They offer me jobs everywhere, but I don’t want to move, because this is heaven on earth!”
I realize that he’s right. The storm has passed with no real outburst, it’s nine pm and that means it’s time to go to bed in the African countryside.