Stories from Africa

  • Nile crocodile sunning
    A Nile crocodile suns itself on a boulder below Murchison Falls.

    On Safari: Beauty of Uganda Unfolds Before Our Eyes

    Eight of us squeezed into a small van that had been converted into a safari vehicle, which meant it had a roof that popped up. It was the start of a safari offered by the Red Chili Hostel in Kampala, Uganda. Nothing fancy, but it was a great value for those of us who like to travel and want to see the beauty of wild animals without emptying the bank account.

    My safari companions were from England, Germany, some Peace Corps volunteers and Max Rodenburg, my traveling companion from the University of Nebraska. We headed for Murchison Falls National Park, the largest park in Uganda.

    The driver navigated through the infamous traffic of Kampala, taking shortcuts through gas stations and other nifty moves to avoid traffic jams. Sitting in the front passenger seat, I watched the maneuvers with a combination of amazement and shock.

    Murchison is a very British name for a national park in Uganda. In 1864, Samuel Baker named the powerful waterfall on the Nile River in honor of Roderick Murchison, president of the Royal Geographical Society. Records indicate Murchison never set eyes on the waterfall.

    Later on my journey, I shared a raft on the Nile River with a family from England whose last name was Murchison. They claimed to be the first descendants of Roderick Murchison to see the falls.

    When the national park was created in 1910, it also took the name Murchison.

    Murchison Falls
    The Nile River crashes over Murchison Falls in Uganda, Africa.

    Murchison Falls was our first stop on the safari and is a spectacular sight. Here the graceful Nile is transformed into an explosive froth of thunderous white water as it funnels through a narrow crack in the Great Rift Valley Escarpment. It is nature's grand example of a food processor. Nothing goes through and comes out alive. Just below the falls, what was unfortunate enough to have survived the falls can encounter large Nile crocodiles.

    Standing at the edge of the falls is mesmerizing; it's impossible not to stare in awe as the water crashes to the base of the rift valley. Random thoughts of "one wrong step and it would be over"drifted through my mind.

    Sensing the force of the water crashing over the rocks was like putting your hand on your chest and feeling the beating of your heart. I placed my hand on the rock ledge next to the falls and could feel how the ground vibrated from the force of the falls.

    As I explored the waterfall, a woman from another safari vehicle approached me. She introduced herself as Michelle Marshall and asked if I had ever been to Arkansas to give a school presentation.

    Caught a little off guard by the question, I hesitated and then finally remembered. "Yes, once."

    "I thought so. Our son, James, remembers your visit from three years ago. He told us you were the guy, so we wanted to ask,"Marshall said.

    James Marshal and Dean
    Dean Jacobs meets James Marshal at Murchison Falls.

    I was taken aback that a student would remember my visit from three years ago, and also by the fact that he was here with his parents traveling in Uganda, Africa.

    Marshall explained how she and her husband had quit their jobs. They were currently on a seven-month world journey with their 10-year-old son, James.

    James and I chatted next to the waterfall for a few minutes and had our photo taken.

    "I loved your book,"James said."All the animals in it were so cool."

    He then shyly said, "We sold all of the things in our house to take this trip around the world, including your book."

    I responded, "It was totally worth it, don't you think?"

    James said with a huge smile and mountain of enthusiasm, "Totally!"

    Fremont Tribune

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