Loki, I made it!

By on September 14, 2020

In the early 90s, my family lived in Bukoto White Flats, a neighbourhood that was pure heaven for any child growing up at the time. Of course, back then, we fancied the kids who lived in the Kololo areas, Upper Naguru side as well as those in the Ntinda region. The news was rife in our circles that those were kids of rich parents and they had it good. The rest of us who lived in Bukoto White Flats were kids of not-so-rich parents along with our adversaries from Bukoto Brown Flats. And perhaps we were truly from humble backgrounds, but when I look back now, I fully appreciate how good we had it. One of the reasons growing up in Bukoto White Flats was awesome was the network of friends one developed. Yes, there were kids who generally kept to themselves and stayed away from the crowds, preferring to have their own little bougie playgroups. But on a whole, most kids loved to be a part of the communal games. 

Due to this communal setting, I ended up making so many friends. Among these friends was a guy we used to call Loki. His full name was either Lokeris or Lokidit or something close to that but we preferred to call him Loki – with a subtle reference to his regular fibs, just like Loki the trickster god of Norse mythology. My friend Loki was a guy who belonged to one of the smallest tribes in this country – the Ike. At the time, not many of us even believed there was such a tribe so we simply took it as a joke and we all referred to him as Loki the K’jong. He and I developed a friendship and with time, his parents moved him from Buganda Road Primary School to Bat Valley Primary school where I studied just so he and I could travel to and from school together. We were tight.

At one point in our friendship, Loki made me promise that I would someday travel to his village just to see for myself that the Ike people were an actual tribe in Uganda. He also told me he came from the most wonderful place in Uganda called Kidepo and of course I did not believe him. As we grew older,  Loki and I started to drift apart and eventually lost touch. I’ve never heard from him since. (I hope someday I will). For decades I’ve wanted to visit Kidepo to fulfill my promise to Loki but I’ve never gotten round to it. When I was little, my parents had taken me to Kidepo but I remember nothing of the trip so I was hoping to someday visit Kidepo in my adult life.

Very recently, the guys at Travel Neza advertised a trip to Kidepo Valley National Park which triggered a bit of a nostalgic moment for me.  Without even thinking twice, I signed up for the trip, unsure whether I wanted to try and look for my old friend Loki or to fulfill my promise. 

Plans to travel got underway and the excitement began to build so I shared my plans with a few people.

When people hear that you’re traveling to Kidepo, you’ll receive all sorts of warnings and threats about the challenge you’re embarking on; there will be an emphasis on the road. And in case it is the rainy season (like it is right now) these warnings will be more profound. A few people will volunteer stories of enthusiastic travelers got stuck along the way. If you’re not a bold and daring kind of person, you may easily back out. 

 Kidepo is truly gorgeous. Getting there is the problem! (Photo by Kahuma Walter)

The truth is that in the past, things like the bad roads, the unending tribal warfare, and numerous cattle raids made the Kidepo area somewhat inaccessible and isolated. It remained closed off to most of the world. But a lot has since changed and all these things are no more, save for the road. The road has been and still is a nightmare! 

The entire journey from Kampala to Kitgum is quite fun actually. Along the way there is quite a lot to see and experience and if you are traveling with a fun bunch of friends, you’re bound to have a great time. The real problem comes when you approach the Game Park.  

With Kidepo, you gotta go big or go home! (Photo by Aaron Chandler)

When it rains, the road to Kidepo Valley National Game Park is not any fun. As a matter of fact, if you do not have the right set of wheels or driver, you’re going to spend hours on the road. Thankfully, the natives never really let that happen. They’ll come around to help push and pull until your car makes it out of the mud. Beware, because you’ll definitely part with several thousands of shillings for their help. One or two of the travelers I was with even alleged that the village boys take their sweet time to mess up the road just so when it rains they have a side gig – helping vehicles out of the locally created mess. No one has quite proven this allegation right but judging from the manner in which the boys were negotiating their terms of a temporal but lucrative gig, it may not have been the wildest allegation. 

After the haggling & arguing, pushing and pulling, the boys managed to get us out of the muddy mess after a few hours.

If you ever travel from Kampala to Kidepo, you’ll need to get enough rest at night on arrival because your body will be worn out from the trip. You might feel the urge to stay up and listen to some of the wild animals make all sorts of noises but your body will probably just switch off. There might be a campfire that will attract you but beware because this can easily go well into the wee hours if you have the right company.

It is always great to travel with people who love to travel as much. (Photo by Aaron Chandler)

Whenever you go to sleep in the Kidepo area, there are two things you can be certain of. First – the growling and howling of animals late in the night. You may hear a lion or two roar from far away or you might just hear other animals take turns to announce their presence. The second thing you have to look out for is the sunrise. The sort of sunrise you find at Kidepo Valley National Park is second to none. It is serene, tells the story of the peaceful Savannah rising in glory and will give you goosebumps. 

These guys are the landlords of the Park (Photo by Kahuma Walter)

Sleeping at Kidepo Savannah Lodge is quite something. You see, the Lodge is at the very edge of the Game Park. It is just about 500 meters from the Kalokudo Gate to the Game Park which means it is just a stone-throw away from the Park. In the night, some animals may wander into the camping area and even if they are harmless, you’ll feel your insides turn with raw panic. The security however ensures that no incident ever happens where the animals and the tourists clash. They are always on full alert. The Lodge is located in an area so prime, the Narus Valley, Mount Morungole and the ranges that form the border with South Sudan are all within sight. The Lodge basically tells the Kidepo Savannah story – a story of endless grasslands, occasional rocky outcrops, a wide range of wildlife, and a dose of Cultural impact of the Karamojong and the Ike. 

The Chill Area / Restaurant and Bara (Photo by Nature Lodges Uganda)

The well-thatched restaurant and bar area gives you a brilliant view of the park. With the right equipment, you may see a herd of Elephants, some Buffalos that have been kicked out of the herd or even spot a lion from a distance. The wooden deck in front of the thatch is where you can comfortably enjoy the experience of the milky way – something you would probably not see anywhere except on documentaries. 

Kidepo Valley National Park is itself something to behold. At a massive size of 1,442 Square KMs, the park lies at an altitude that ranges from 914M to 2,759 meters above sea level. It is blessed with two lovely winding rivers, River Kidepo and River Narus both of which you may not find, depending on what time of the year you visit and how much rain there has been. 

If you keep your eyes open, you will see things in the wild that will make you smile. (Photo by Kahuma Walter)

The local communities in this region are mostly the predominantly pastoral Karamojong and the smaller yet greatly threatened IK tribe which thrives on hunting and gathering. Because we visited the place during the COVID 19 pandemic, we were told not to approach the natives, for obvious reasons. Any other time, this community visit would have been extremely awesome.

Historically, Kidepo was Gazetted as a National Park around the time Uganda got her independence in 1962 and since then has been a gem because of having well over 77 mammal species and over 470 species of birds. The entire place is really just an isolated marvel lying in the semi-arid valleys that intersect the three countries of Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya. Because it is quite far and difficult to reach, there is a lot of beauty that remains undisturbed and unseen by many people. 

Kidepo tells an articulate wildlife story of the past and the present (Photo by Aaron Chandler)

Whether you’re planning to visit Lonyili Mountain, somewhere between Kitgum and the Sudan Border, Lomej Hills, Namamukweny valley, Mount Morungole, Kanangorok Hot Springs which are 11km from Kidepo River on the border with Sudan, Narus Valley, or Apoka Tourism Center, you can be sure that a visit to Kidepo Valley National Park will never leave you the same. It is a place that has been visited by very few because but is bound to inspire very many. 

You’re definitely going to love the bush walks. (Photo by Kahuma Walter)

When you hear that Kidepo Valley National Park has over 77 different species of mammals, you might assume they all roam about like a nice Lion King Movie set. But this game park is quite unique because these animals migrate a lot – mostly in search of water and food. You need a level of patience and focus to be able to see a game drive through without throwing a feat. The animals are usually shy and difficult to track – which makes it all the more exciting. You may get lucky and spot a pride of lions chilling on the rocks, a herd of elephants taking a casual stroll, or the occasional leopard. But generally, you can be sure to bump into some hyenas, wild dogs, elephants,bat-eared foxes, Warthogs, giraffes, African buffalos, Rothschild’s giraffes, zebra and various Antelope species.

You will find Zebra that are white with black stripes and those that are Black with white stripes. Photo by Kahuma Walter)

I know it may be unlikely that my childhood friend Loki will read this but if you do, Loki, I need you to know that I made it! And for this, I thank my good friends Lahm and Laura who continue to put together some very awesome yet insanely affordable travel deals with Travel Neza. Keep at it guys, KEEP AT IT!

Thank you Lahm! (Photo by Kahuma Walter)

“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those have not viewed the world.” ― Alexander von Humboldt

Bernard Ewalu Olupot
a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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