It all started with a simple question, “Olive, have you ever been to Lake Mburo National Park?” My friend Sue asked. Lake Mburo National Park is the smallest national park situated on the Kampala – Mbarara highway in Western Uganda. I had been to Lake Mburo mid last year but I didn’t explore anything aside from the lunch I had at the luxurious Mihingo Lodge and the endless picturesque view at Rwakobo Rock, in that order.
I told her that I had and she wanted to know where to stay, what to do while there and of course, the damage to her wallet. I am the plotter of adventures in my circles of friends; I get asked questions like these quite often. If I don’t have much information about the place (which is the case most times) – I find out for them and I am always happy to plan the entire trip down to the T – one of my favorite pastimes! I told Sue to give me a few moments.
For me, Rwakobo Rock; nestled on a scenic outcrop, was love at first sight. I imagined what it would be like watching the sun set into the plains, having dinner while staring out in the expanse of Savanna dotted with rocks and homesteads, nursing the “food baby” by laying out on the warm rock under the clear skies to watch the stars and the moon and not worry about leaving, listening to the whispers in the wild at night while nestled in a very comfortable bed with soft sheets and waking up to the view again. I wanted Sue to stay there and tell me all about it!
A quick Rwakobo Rock search on the web took me to their website where I got their email address. Fifteen minutes after I had sent my inquiry; I received a reply showing rates, activities and a suggestion. I was keen on their safari tents at $50 full board per person per night. And while I was still chewing the insides of my lower lip at the maths, the gentleman at Rwakobo suggested that if we like, we could stay at a community tented camp for only 15,000 Ugandan shillings and go to Rwakobo Rock for meals, activities and some downtime; thereby saving money for activities… I stopped chewing my lip, sat up straighter, grabbed my phone to text Sue about the possibility of spending only 15,000 shillings a night on accommodation and asked her if she had company to which she replied, “No. Let’s go!” And that’s how I emptied my piggy bank and embraced the adventure!
I was under the impression that Lake Mburo National Park only had luxury lodges and glamorous camps best suited for what people in the elite travel circles call “glamping” – glamorous/luxury camping and nothing for us with struggling incomes and an insatiable wanderlust. It turns out that there are a number of community tented camps all over the national park and a call to the Uganda Wild Authority headquarters in Mburo got us booked into a double banda; Zebra House in Rwonyo Rest Camp, which is the center of most activities and it also had a bat nest, how thrilling!
Word is, Global Coaches is the king of the Kampala – Mbarara highway and with the holidays, it made total sense that they were overbooked. So we took the Mash Poa bus instead and left the city at 3 pm on Good Friday; not the best of ideas but certainly the most exciting since we had to use a boda boda (motorbike taxi) to travel about 12 kilometers from the main road to our camp in the night. Talk about a exhilarating night life!
We bumped into a herd of animals, we couldn’t tell which ones – but at first, all we saw was what looked like a swarm of huge fireflies which turned out to be beast eyes! My heart started racing, I whispered to Sue asking if she could imagine us getting killed out there by wild animals in the national park… She just shushed me.
The ride seemed to take so long that I almost started to worry about our safety, especially mine since there were three of us sharing the motorcycle and only a backpack between me and a potential predator’s teeth.
We reached our camp a little after 8 pm and someone was there to receive us, show us to our banda and a bathroom with warm water was definitely most welcome. We slept before 10 pm but the bats woke us up early to listen to the sounds of the wild. It was really nice to listen to the frogs, crickets and all kinds of birds…
After the usual morning rituals, we were ready to officially start our adventures by 8 am and could not wait to go by the information desk to find out what to do first.
Our spirits were almost dampened when we were told we would have to hire a car for a safari drive since UWA in Lake Mburo didn’t have safari vans although Rwakobo Rock, Mihingo Lodge and the other lodges in the park have theirs in numbers. Luckily for us, there was a guide who owned a motorcycle and we hired him to chauffeur us around the entire weekend! While we waited for him to arrive, we went to Arcadia Cottages where we were treated to full flasks of tea and an endless view of Lake Mburo.
After breakfast that consisted of fresh fruit, French toast and Spanish omelette – not in picture, we went by the lake side…
Our guide, Moses finally came through and he was quite knowledgeable about the park, the animals and birds. It wasn’t long before we considered him a friend.
We were on our safari ride for a little over two hours on a motor bike, without sunscreen and my sun hat kept flying off because of the wind. I got tired of chasing it around and got rid of it completely. We went back to our banda and freshened up for our boat trip.
The guard told us a legend; that initially, hippos weren’t supposed to live in water. But the hippos made a deal; they promised the water god that they would not eat the fish and that their secretion would help the plankton thrive in water thereby providing food for the fish. Every time it yawns, it’s swearing to the water god, “I won’t eat your fish!” 🙂
But he also told us that hippos yawn because they’re simply bored. So, there is that too.
After the safari and boat trip, we had worked up quite the appetite and we could hardly wait for our three course dinner at Rwakobo Rock. We were so hungry we didn’t photograph our food, how unacceptable!
Moses, our guide joined us for dinner with tales of the national park; some hilarious – like how rain found him and a visiting white couple out on a nature walk and the lady panicked in case the African rain had side effects on her skin or her life in general…
And some pretty scary ones like how a hippo killed a community member and it had to be put down for good… And how all the predators we didn’t see during the day would come out and prowl the park at night. Listening to such tales at around 9:30 pm and 15 kilometers away from our camp left Sue and I wide eyed.
We almost contemplated talking to the Rwakobo Rock management about staying the night but the thrill of the possibility of almost getting killed that night and the fact that we couldn’t really afford to stay at Rwakobo Rock won.
Needless to say, the ride from Rwakobo Rock to Rwonyo Camp was the longest and the most dangerous boda boda ride we’ve ever taken in our lives and we lived to tell the tale…