By Titus Kakembo
A lot continues to change in Uganda after two COVID-19-induced lockdowns. The profile of tourists is now “isolated showers” of Europeans and vast numbers of domestic and Africa-to-Africa travellers.
“We have kept our tip-top services,” says the manager of Apoka Safari Lodge in Kidepo Valley National Park. “We still treat every guest with kid gloves and a pinch of royalty. Everyone is pampered to make their stay with us memorable.”
Prices at the lodge have since dropped from $700 (sh2.4m) per night for bed and breakfast to $300 (sh1m). The place commands a view stretching as far as the human eye can focus. Mammals pass by on their way to watering points.
Apoka is facing stiff competition from Adere Safari Lodge, an establishment with nature, culture and comfort assured. It has fine whiskies and spirits that can make a seasoned guzzler stagger to their tent.
Tour guides are anxious to get back to work after two years of reduced business during the COVID-19 lockdown. A Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) ranger, Phillip Akoromwe, says there has never been a better time to go to Kidepo Valley National Park.
“The lockdown was like a farmer leaving the soil to regain its fertility,” he notes. “The shy mammals had enough privacy to ensure genetic survival. The translocated giraffes have multiplied like rabbits.”
Akoromwe says the park is renowned for having the biggest herd of buffaloes in the world.
“One can see a tiger, lion and cheetah in their natural habitat. When the Karamojong realised they can earn from tourism through revenue sharing, they abolished lion hunting culturally.”
In the past when a Karimojong man single-handedly killed a lion, he returned home chanting with pride. He was accorded a hero’s reception in the manyatta (a group of huts forming a unit within a common fence) by more than 200 homesteads. His body was etched with marks displaying his rank in the community.
“This is no more like we (the Karimojong) stopped believing in rainmakers,” confided Akoromwe.
Another ranger, John Logwe, armed with an AK47, binoculars and a guide book, thrills guests with an oral memoir enriched with twists, punchlines and suspense.
“That is the spot, where lions like to come and mate,” reveals Logwe. “But in their absence, I see about ten tree hyraxes”.
Logwe makes the sound tree hyraxes make when calling each other to meet and mate. One reportedly cries from a given tree and the other responds with the same tone piercing through the quietness like a hot knife through a brick of butter.
“Oh there they are,” Logwe points at the dry tree. ”Those are migrant birds from Europe and Asia. The moment it is summer where they fly from, they gather strength, make flight plans and zoom back.”
Logwe’s punchlines hit any tourist with a sense of humour very hard.
“Consider yourselves lucky,” he begins. “This is because I was supposed to die at a tender age, but I have been resilient. From day one, I faced a traffic jam of obstacles in life. My mother’s breasts had no milk. She opted for camel milk. It made me puke. The last resort was a beverage brewed from sorghum called Logwe.”
“This is the only drink I take,” Logwe pauses for the point to reach home. “Any wonder that my mother chose to name me Logwe?”
How to get to Kidepo Valley National Park
Access to Kidepo is by road from Kampala via Namalu, Soroti or Gulu, which would be an eight to 10 hours’ drive. The fastest means of transport there is by air, which takes between 60-110 minutes. It all depends on the turbulence. Aeroplanes are available from Entebbe International Airport and Kajjansi Airstrip.