Thursday, November 22, 2012

Murchison River Lodge

Main Lodge - Dining and Bar
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda's largest national park and a favorite destination for safaris.  Murchison River Lodge is a newly opened lodge on the south bank of the Nile River that offers mid range accommodation in thatched cottages and river view tents.  We decided to have a weekend away and spend it at Murchison River Lodge.

The lodge was very easy to find by following the directions provided and as we got near, junctions were well marked with MRL carved wooden signs.  The parking area is located about 100 metres from the main lodge.  The benefit of this is that early morning noise of cars starting, and car doors opening and closing as people leave for game drives is kept to a minimum for guests that are still sleeping.  We strolled from the parking lot along the path to the large thatched bar and dining area.  We were warmly welcomed in the main lodge bar/reception area and took a moment to admire the river view, large papyrus floating islands and hippos splashing in the water near the opposite bank.  What surprised me about the lodge location is the close proximity to the river.

On the veranda of the cottage
Our plan was to spend two nights at the lodge and since we couldn’t decide between the cottages and the tents, we opted for a night in each.  Our first night was spent in a thatched cottage.  With a rear entry the cottages are well laid out and spacious.  They are designed to fit a family of four with two single beds downstairs and a large bed on the mezzanine level all equipped with mosquito nets.  A wooden verandah is suspended off the front of the cottage and looks out over the natural landscape.  The environment gives a real feeling of being in the bush.  Natural vegetation and shrubs surround the cottage but in no way feel unkempt.  As the hot afternoon sun beats down we take time to relax in the hammock and on the sofa while birds chirp and lizards chase each other around.  The furnishings in the room have a lot of character as they have all been constructed using reclaimed timber giving a real rustic safari feel.  The bathroom at the rear of the cottage has a lot of character.  Double sinks set into a chunky slab of timber and a large shower with solar hot water.  We really enjoyed our night in the cottage and felt pampered.

Outside view of a cottage

Inside the cottage (downstairs)

Our second night was spent in a furnished safari tent.  Overlooking the river we had a great view which we could enjoy from our covered veranda.  Inside the tent was a luggage stand for our bags to rest and two single beds with a nightstand between them.  The mesh sides of the tent provided airflow and allowed us to clearly hear all the sounds of the hippos, frogs and other night time noises.  Just behind our tent was a bush shower and a chemical toilet.  The water for the bush shower is not heated but comes from a small black water tank that does heat from the sun so it’s in no way cold.  Time it right at the end of the day and you’ll appreciate the refreshing water.  During the night a large storm rolled in and continued until the morning.  It is a night I will never forget for as long as I live.  Thunder claps loudly from all directions, flashes of lights and the continuous mesmerizing sound of the rain falling on the tent cover.  I have never heard thunder so loud and yet even that didn’t make me budge from the warm cozy comfort of my bed.

The Main Lodge overlooking The Nile River
The main lodge, dining and bar area is a comfortable, peaceful place to hang out and relax.  With views over the river you can get comfortable on a sofa, lie in a hammock or sit around a picnic table and interact with other guests.  A short meander from the lodge is a lookout point over the river.  The perfect spot to take a seat on one of the benches, enjoy a sundowner and watch the setting sun with the river in the foreground.

The food was a stand out part of our stay.  Fresh ingredients combined with homestyle cooking made every meal enjoyable.  The food wasn’t greasy in the slightest.  Freshness all around.  We started the mornings with coffee brought to our veranda.  A press full of Ugandan coffee is a great way to start any day.  Breakfast is made to order with your choice of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and mushrooms served with homemade toasted bread and juice.  The breakfast was great with the best scrambled eggs I’ve had in awhile.  Lunch is served buffet style and consists of cold salads, freshly sliced vegetables and homemade bread.  Refreshing lunch to break up a hot dusty day.  We also tried out a packed lunch to take and eat on our safari drive.  We were given a choice of several sandwiches again on homemade bread accompanied by fresh fruit and juice.  Dinner is a set menu consisting of three courses.  Dietary restrictions and vegetarians can be catered for, you just need to let them know.  Our first night the starter was vegetable sticks and guacamole, followed by steak, roast potatoes and vegetables and finished with a dessert of lemon cake which made me feel like a kid again since it tasted just like my Mom’s recipe.  On night two we started with tomato soup followed by roast chicken with rice and vegetables and a chocolate slice for dessert.  There is nothing I can fault with the food at Murchison River Lodge.

Main lodge looking over The Nile River
On our second night a camp fire was lit and people from the surrounding villages gathered around it to tell stories through songs.  Throughout our meal we could hear humming, singing and traditional stringed instruments being played.  After dinner as we joined in taking seats on the stone bench surrounding the fire, and were welcomed with local songs and introduced to members of the community who invited us to dance with them.  They wore no costumes but came as they were to share their songs.  It’s moments like these that are Africa at its best and we savored every minute of it.

It is evident that a lot of thought and pride has gone into the design and layout of the lodge.  Since the owners have a young child themselves, they have thought of things to make families with children comfortable like a children's play area and swing under a tamarind tree, a children's menu and early dinner times.  Chris one of the owners, was around during our stay and his passion for the place really shows in the way that he interacts with his guests.

Although we didn't camp while there I believe that their campsite deserves mention.  Set away from the cottages, it is well thought out and with amenities like camp kitchens, running water, a spacious toilet and shower block and plenty of flat space to set up your tent, any camper should consider this option if planning a trip to Murchison.  The campsite has a real wilderness feel about it but with all the amenities.  They also offer lazy camping in one of their tents as well as camping in your own tent with an option for full board meals.

The drive to the park gate is a mere 5 minutes away and within 20 minutes you can be at the Paraa ferry.  There are two routes to the lodge, the much shorter route takes you through the park and the longer more scenic route skirts the park and avoids park entry costs.

What I enjoyed most about the lodge was it’s rustic wild feel without sparing any comforts, the attention to detail and non pretentious nature of the place.  There is something about the Murchison River Lodge that I can’t quite put my finger on but when you’re there you feel very relaxed and at home.  A place where time matters little and relaxing is foremost.  If you’re planning a safari to Murchison I would highly recommend this little gem.

Since visiting, we are happy to inform that Murchison River Lodge has started building a swimming pool.

Cottages surrounded by natural vegetation

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Big Birding Day - Results

White Backed Night Heron
This years Big Birding Day in Uganda was the biggest and most successful to date. Although several species seemed to elude us during the 24 hour period, Team Jinja had a great day counting 133 species which put us in 8th place (official results).

Congratulations to all who participated and especially to the winners!

Highlights of the Day

Seeing the White Back Night Heron, a tick for most of the team.

Seeing two Crowned Eagles flying overhead.

Finally finding an African Jacana, a common bird that had eluded us most of the day.


Pink Backed Pelican
Long tailed Cormorant
African Darter
Great Cormorant
Little Bittern
White Backed Night Heron
Striated Heron
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Great Egret
Purple Heron
Grey Heron
Black Headed Heron
Yellow Billed Stork
African Open Billed Stork
Marabou Stork
Sacred Ibis
Hadada Ibis
Black Kite
Palm Nut Vulture
African Fish Eagle
Hooded Vulture
Lizard Buzzard
African Harrier Hawk
Long Crested Eagle
African Crowned Eagle
Helmeted Guineafowl
Black Crake
African Jacana
Water Thick Knee
Rock Pratincole
Spurwing Lapwing
Common Sandpiper
Gull Billed Tern
White Winged Tern
Speckled Pigeon
Tambourine Dove
Blue Spotted Wood Dove
Ring Necked Dove
Red Eyed Dove
Laughing Dove
African Grey Parrot
Great Blue Turaco
Eastern Grey Plantain Eater
African Cuckoo
White Browed Coucal
African Palm Swift
Speckled Mousebird
Pied Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher
Woodland Kingfisher
Malachite Kingfisher
African Pygmy Kingfisher
Little Bee Eater
White Throated Bee-eater
Crowned Hornbill
Black and White Casqued Hornbill
Yellow Throated Tinkerbird
Speckled Tinkerbird
Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird
Yellow Spotted Barbet
Hairy Breasted Barbet
Double Toothed Barbet
Yellow Billed Barbet
Angola Swallow
Barn Swallow
African Pied Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Common Bulbul
Yellow Whiskered Greenbul
Little Greenbul
Red Tailed Greenbul
Yellow Throated Greenbul
White Throated Greenbul
White Browed Robin Chat
Yellow Longbill
Winding Cisticola
Grey Capped Warbler
Tawny Flanked Prinia
Grey Backed Camaroptera
Buff Throated Apalis
Northern Black Flycatcher
Swamp Flycatcher
Brown Throated Wattle Eye
Chestnut Wattle Eye
Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher
African Paradise Flycatcher
African Blue Flycatcher
White Shouldered Tit
Yellow White Eye
Olive Bellied Sunbird
Green Throated Sunbird
Green Sunbird
Little Green Sunbird
Scarlet Chested Sunbird
Red Chested Sunbird
Collared Sunbird
Grey Backed Fiscal
Black Headed Gonolek
Northern Puffback
Pied Crow
Western Black Headed Oriole
Ruppell's Long Tailed Starling
Splendid Starling
Grey Headed Sparrow
Black Headed Weaver
Black Necked Weaver
Grosbeak Weaver
Golden Backed Weaver
Slender Billed Weaver
Little Weaver
Yellow Backed Weaver
Orange Weaver
Weynes's Weaver
Yellow Mantled Weaver
Black Bishop
Fan Tailed Widowbird
White Breasted Negrofinch
Grey Headed Negrofinch
Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu
Red Billed Firefinch
African Firefinch
Black Crowned Waxbill
Bronze Mannikin
Black and White Mannikin
Pin Tailed Whydah
Village Indigobird
Brimstone Canary
Yellow Fronted Canary

Sunrise over Bujagali Lake
Striated Heron
On Bujagali Lake
Little Egret
Pied Kingfishers
Birding on Bujagli Lake
Africa Open Billed Stork

Some children we met that were fascinated by our spotting scope

Immature Fish Eagle