Heaven on the Nile
We pulled up to the bank of the Nile and tumbled out of the van for our river safari. It wasn’t my first rodeo here. While the rest of my group cooed at the disgusting baboons slinking nearby, I was not impressed. They are not nice monkeys, you know. But I suppose if it was your first time to be 10 feet away from a real live wild primate, it would be sort of a surreal experience of nature, even if the baboons are actually very ugly.
Our guides Charles and James welcomed the fifteen of us on board the comfortable cruiser for our journey upriver to the waterfall.
For my fourth river safari at Murchison Falls National Park in northern Uganda, I had made a very important decision. I was finally going to hike up to the top of the waterfall. In years past, I had yet to develop an appreciation for sweating or physical activity of any sort but now as an adventuring 21-year-old who wanted something new, I was ready.
Well, whether or not I was actually “ready”, I can’t really say, because, for one, I have always been terrible at hiking. I normally roll an ankle or incessantly complain about the degree of difficulty, but in our two-hour boat ride, today would be different. I didn’t want to stay in the boat because I was afraid of looking too sweaty in front of my new friends or not even try because I was scared I might actually break my ankle by falling over some East African rock.
The engine propelled us slower than I would have liked through the murky waters, but every once and a while, a Nile crocodile made an appearance before sinking suspiciously underwater.
I quickly became indifferent to the schools of hippos we floated by. Do you ever wonder if schools of hippos are well educated? I sometimes wonder what they think about or if they know all the people in boats take their pictures. Much like the baboons, I do not care much for hippos and I don’t think anything about them is cute, except maybe their tiny ears. I waved to an elephant eating his afternoon snack. He was kind enough to pose for a good shot because elephants are significantly more photogenic than hippos, thank you very much.
By the time I could hear the waterfall in the distance, I was already sweating. My legs were stuck to the leather seat of the boat. I peeled them off and psyched myself up for the hike to the top of the falls. The entire Nile River surged through the 7 meter gap in the rocks and I was anticipating the same flow of sweat from my pores.
The afternoon sun high above, the water squeezing through the pass, my steps a steady rhythm synced with Uganda’s heartbeat. I kept my eyes downward, so as not to be caught off guard by any jutting rocks that could be my demise. My gaze was fixed on ground flecked with metallic sediment. The path ahead sparkled. My face was hot and my lungs worked hard and I repeatedly told myself to take the next step up the uneven mountain stairs. The river mist would be my reward.
I could see it, feel it, hear it – closer, closer, closer. The salty perspiration stung my eyes and my glasses were foggy. Yes, I hike in glasses. I wish they had small windshield wipers. By the time I reached the top, my shirt wasn’t dry enough to clean them off, but it didn’t matter much. Mist rolled off the rocks and cooled my flushed face.
I stood at the top of Murchison Falls and looked out on the longest river on earth. The water rushed white over the boulders. The mist, suspended like a holy fog, was sliced through with a rainbow. The ground still sparkled. My body glistened with sweat. The sunlight reflected off the river’s surface. The waterfall roared like thousand lions. The ground was green with life.
Gold and white and light and sweat and moving, living water.
For a moment, it was heaven on the Nile.