Hungry hungry hippos – Queen Elizabeth NP, Uganda

Leaving Jinja behind, we headed further west around Lake Victoria, passing through tea plantations before dropping south towards the capital Kampala, where we hit traffic for the first time in days. Trucks and buses are plastered with slogans such as ‘Gods Mercy – Team No Sleep’ and ‘Hope for the Best’ (if you’re driving a truck here and haven’t had any sleep you’d better hope for the best!).

Standard weird names of African Shops.
Standard shop name in Uganda

Thanks Kampala
Kampala welcomes you

Stocking up at a local supermarket, the deli counter was serving up biltong and fresh goat stew, while outside the city was doing a big business in steel – gates, bed frames, play equipment – all for sale on the roadside beneath a haze of smoke and pollution. Arriving in Entebbe one of the Brazilians unknowingly snaps away at the sunset as we pass right by a military base with big ‘no photography’ signs on the fence. Luckily nobody seemed to notice.

Have you been circumcised?

Heading off at sunrise we pass the shores of Lake Victoria before crossing the equator on land for our second time since leaving the UK. Not having witnessed the ‘water down the sink’ trick in Ecuador, we were stoked to realise the locals here are happy to demonstrate for free. With three buckets setup, one in the southern hemisphere, one in the northern and one on the line, we follow along as a gentleman demonstrates with water and a white flower first clockwise then anticlockwise spin, followed by straight down without spinning at all when we reach the equator line. Since he used the same funnel for each location, either this myth is proven to be true, or he’s very adept with the wooden block he uses to calm the water after pouring it in.

The Equator

The Equator
Standing in opposite hemispheres

The Equator
Demonstrating the alternate down the drain spins

Is it all a scam? Demonstrating the 'water down the drain' hemisphere trick
Demonstrating the alternate down the drain spins

A row of nearby souveniour shops beckoned, and almost everybody walked away with something – a wooden carving of Africa, a couple of paintings, a new pair or pants, or a pair of huge Ugandan cow horns (yep, they were ours). Shortly after this we drove through a small dusty town where locals stand by the side of the road with handfuls of ‘chix on stix’ or chicken on a stick. Our driver pulled in, we were mobbed at the truck door, picked a couple of pieces, then found out we’d paid four times what our driver paid. Damn it!

With our new Ugandan cow horns
Our new Ugandan cow horns

Roadside shopping
Roadside shopping in Uganda

Tasty chicken.
Chix on stix, roadside chicken on a stick

The scenery began to change as the hills became higher and more pronounced and banana, coffee and tea plantations dominated. We spent the night at a very basic (drop toilet) campsite right by Kalinzu Forest, where we pitched our tents beneath falling avocados and our driver Tom demonstrated the African way to get a fire going ( involved a lot of kerosene). The next morning while the rest of the group headed out looking for chimpanzees in the forest we stayed behind, sleeping in until a troop of massive baboons silently surrounded our tent before disappearing into the forest.

Heading into the hills
Heading into the Uganda countryside

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Rift Valley viewpoint

Driving through the Rift Valley to Queen Elizabeth National Park
The road through the Rift Valley

Baboons on the roadside
Baboons on the roadside

Passing another Rift Valley viewpoint, this time we descended into the valley itself. Passing several elephants our guide informed us that in an amazing feat of evolution, elephants are beginning to grow smaller tusks, with some growing no tusks at all, in response to the threat from poachers (it’s true, read about it here).  The main reason for our visit here was to take a hippo cruise down the Kazinga Channel, linking lakes George and Edward within Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Rift Valley viewpoint

Elephant crossing
Elephant crossing in Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park

Donning our  mandatory bulky orange life jackets, we maneuver to within feet of these huge, stinky beasts, as they duck in and out of the water, flicking their tiny ears in circles to eject the water when they rise. Hippos live off grass (god knows how you get so fat eating grass) and this is apparently why the water here is so green, because they spend all day shitting it in. When a mother gives birth she leaves the group just incase she has a boy (the dominate male wouldn’t be happy about that). If it’s a girl, she comes back, if it’s a boy, she’ll stay away until her son is big enough to stick up for himself in a fight. The same goes for baboons, of which we saw plenty on the riverbank, with mothers carrying boys beneath them and girls on their back.

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Hungry hungry hippo

Hippo cruise in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Hippo cruise along Kazinga Channel

Kazinga Channel Hippo Cruise
Hippo cruise along Kazinga Channel

We spotted some more elephant and a couple of waterbuck, which are apparently so stupid they’ll run from prey then hide by sticking their head in a bush. Warthogs aren’t much better, running 100m before they forget why they’re running and stop to keep eating. Lake Edward shares a border with neighboring Congo, and rangers patrol the area to ensure both countries are fishing on their own side of the line.

Hippo and Cape Buffalo
Hippo Cruise along the Kazinga Channel

Monitor lizard
Hippo Cruise along the Kazinga Channel

Mother and baby, Kazinga Channel hippo cruise
Lone mother and baby hippo

When the area was declared a National Park the fishing villages were already here, and with nowhere else to go they were allowed to stay on the proviso they cannot grow crops as it will attract the wild animals. Still with the population increasing, pollution and overfishing are becoming an increasing issue within the park.

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Fishing village where the Kazinga Channel and Lake Edward meet

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Hippo Cruise along the Kazinga Channel

If you’re into your birds there are loads to see, including dozens and dozens of cormorants on the riverbank all facing the same direction, wings open, shaking their heads in unison to keep cool. Pied kingfisher will follow the boat picking off the fish confused by the boats wake, and you’ll spot them nesting in the riverbanks as well. Back at the camp we pitched our tents beneath a spectacular lightning storm in the distance. Men were advised to use the womens toilets at night as elephants and hippos sometimes wander into camp. At 2am the storm was no longer in the distance, and even with earplugs it was impossible to sleep through the lighting and cracking thunder right above our tents.

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Cormorant birds shaking it off

Pied Kingfishers nesting in the riverbank
Pied kingfisher nesting in the riverbank

Lighting storm in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Lightning storm in the distance

The morning was spent with another game drive where we spotted Ugandan kob, a small antelope only found in Uganda, more elephants, and a couple of 4WD’s who’s stupidly tried to drive off road in search of a pride of lions rumoured to be around and got bogged in deep mud. Heading back out of the park past a crater later, we watched as an army truck full of cadets pulled over to illegally feed corn cobs to the baboons.

Crater Lake
Crater lake within Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Ugandan Kob

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Elephants in this part of Africa are growing shorter and even no tusks in response to the poaching threat

Passing through bamboo plantations we drive over the local airstrip and eventually pull up outside Rafiki’s Guesthouse in Kisoro, our jumping off point to hike into the surrounding mountains in search of the endangered mountain gorillas.


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