Hyperbole and all forms of exaggeration are all fair game here if you have had the kind of weekend like my Easter. Also, I am giving free advice so I can do whatever I want. Kidepo Valley National park is already a piece of work. It involves covering 700km, 150km of which is marram and not the smooth kind. You sit until it hurts to breath. You stand until you realize that a combination of a bumpy road and a tired body is a recipe for a fall and you are nowhere close to a health facility if that happens. So you tell your butt to hang in there, give it a few more hours, remind it that it’s strong, African, and it’s capable of resilience. It will be over soon. You fix your eyes on the road for signposts of Uganda Wildlife Authority informing you of how much distance you have left to cover;
“Kidepo valley national park 115km” the first one reads, and about 1000kms later another says, “Kidepo Valley National Park 75km”, after 69900kms, another one reads, “Kidepo Valley National Park 64km” and a billion hours later finally the last one, “Kidepo Valley National Park 20kms”. Hope is on the horizon as well as lights. You are leading a team of 22 people into a jungle you have never been either and your faith is in Betty a person you have exchanged about 10,000 hours of phone conversations with and Chef Sisto another voice at the end of your telecommunication device since January when you started planning this adventure. You called them to confirm that you are indeed going to show up every day of the week leading up the trip. You promised to call when you were on your way to give them a head start but between splitting yourself into 22 pieces for everyone and sneaking in a minute to sip some orange minute maid, you forgot. Anxiety is at an all-time high. Someone at the back is asking why they don’t have network on their phone, another one at the front wants to know what’s for dinner, while photographers are asking what time the sun rises so they can wake up and catch it, and of course the last person to arrive at the bus during departure is so mad about arriving so late in Kidepo.
This is not a narration about my 4 days “womaning” a team of creatives in one of the farthest and most beautiful parks in Uganda, rather it is 5 things you should know before our pictures and stories from #KoiKoiNE dupe you into heading to Kidepo Valley National Park.
- Plan, plan and when you are done plan again. We started preparations for our trip in January and even then we were a little late to get the most convenient accommodation available inside the park in Uganda Shillings. Kidepo is one of the most coveted parks to see in Uganda maybe because it is the only park where you have an 80% chance at interfacing with the king of the jungle. If you are planning to visit during the peak season like Easter or Christmas, I suggest you start making your bookings at least 6 months in advance even if you generally suck at planning.
- Prepare yourself mentally for all kinds of people if you are travelling in a group. What is it they say, that you don’t really know a person until you sit in a bus for 13 hours? (Of course, I made that up). Even the most patient people tend to lose it after hour 10, plus heat, dust and a disappointing lunch is such a great soundtrack to irritation. On my bus, there was a bit of everyone. The ones so happy to escape their routine that they could have walked to Kidepo if that was an option like Anne who stated, “I am just here to get away from my life. The helpful ones, the party bringers like Cindy, the entitled ones and the quiet ones, whose silence is their presence. My advice if you have the privilege to choose who travels with you to Kidepo, take less of the entitled ones. Your mind will thank you after it’s all done.
- Manage your expectations. This is something the Ugandan service industry will generally school and graduate you in but the hospitality and tourism sector will offer you a PHD in. I can almost guarantee that chef doesn’t always mean somebody who can cook great food, neither does hotel mean a place where you can sleep. In Kidepo you have about two option. The Uganda Wildlife Authority serviced place and the “glamourous-300 dollars a night”- Apoka lodge. The UWA conservation area was good to us but it was also overwhelmed by us and 100 other Ugandans trying to see their country in their country’s currency. The food isn’t going to be winning any culinary awards so it helps to carry additional food and a shell gas where you can make something up real quick when Chef Sisto forgets to serve the breakfast you agreed on 4 months in advance.
- Get a good driver. Ours was Mzee Nsubuga Paul who knows a thing or 6 about driving on wild tracks and stopping in time for sunrise and sunset chasers to get great shots. He is also gifted with patience a trait you will be grateful for that many hours on the road.
- See the lion or don’t leave Kidepo. I have been to almost all Uganda’s national parks. I remember the game drive in Queen Elizabeth when we were told that the lion was hiding behind the bushes and if we waited long enough we would see it. We waited but no lion showed up. But I went to Kidepo with one goal.
TO SEE A LION. And behold the lion and the lioness 10m away from the bus chilling in “after-killing-a-buffalo” bliss. It was surreal. We had a moment. I didn’t even get my phone out to take a picture. It’s like every trip I have ever taken was leading up to that moment. To a staring contest between this powerful hairy being and a little person that could easily turn into its dinner. It’s a feeling you have 80% chance of ever getting in Kidepo Valley National Park, so forget every other thing I whined about above and go, see a lion or don’t leave.
About the author:
Komusana Fiona | Sunshine – She loves to have an opinion but more than that she loves to give it, so she writes. The idea that she gets to express her opinion without looking any one in the face is motivating.