Written By: Anne-Marie Weeden
“What did you say your name was again?” I asked our skipper as he turned the boat away from the lodge into the river. “Stanley” he answered, smiling gently at my reaction, as he pushed the throttle forwards to make for the elephants on the opposite bank.
I shook my head in smiling disbelief – what were the chances? We were cruising the historic Nile river in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, and our guide for the afternoon shared his name with a certain Henry Morton Stanley, the Victorian explorer whose quest for the source of this mighty river is well documented.
We kept encountering these tiny echoes of the past. We were staying at the new Baker’s Lodge, named for another Victorian explorer, Sir Samuel Baker – the first European to view and consequently name the Murchison Falls, the dramatic point where the Nile explodes through a narrow gorge, about 20 kilometres upstream from our accommodation.
Our lodge was certainly a fine place to overnight for any modern-day explorer. Every night, sundowners and bitings (that charming safari term for canapés) were served: we would take a selection down to the riverside, congregating around the campfire in quiet contemplation of the day’s adventures. But for the ice cubes in our gin and tonics, we could have been doing the same a century ago.
The banks of this ancient river thrummed with life and the nocturnal bush orchestra did not disappoint: we fell asleep to the distant whoops of hyena and bass tones of lions on the delta, and woke to the guttural group calls of the Colobus monkey. One evening, we heard the rough sawing of a leopard on the opposite bank, followed swiftly by the panicked shrieks of baboons.
Journeying up the Nile by boat, with Stanley as our guide, revealed even more game – within just ten minutes of leaving the lodge we had seen a herd of elephant and that elusive of birds – the shoebill. Further exploration revealed hundreds of hippos, thirsty antelope, monster crocs, mud-encrusted buffalo and a cornucopia of birdlife. Not to mention the drama of viewing the falls themselves – from the river – as Samuel Baker would have first seen them.
That night, over a good bottle of wine, we admitted that our pampered experience at Baker’s Lodge was a far cry from the hardships experienced by those early Victorian explorers. Yet despite the creature comforts of the lodge, we were constantly enjoying moments where we still felt fully immersed in the bush.
Comfortable and well-fed we may have been, but the subtle nuances of this lodge allows the wilderness to work its magic: we still woke every morning feeling, more than just a little bit, what it might have been like for those intrepid explorers, drawing back their tent flaps on the Nile all those years ago.