The decision I made to go to Nimule National Park with the Video coverage crew has been the best decision I have made in a long time!! By 6.30 am on Saturday morning, we’d already hit the road and I was looking forward to what lay ahead. I was not prepared, nor could I have imagined what breathtaking beauty awaited me as we rolled into Nimule, in the Southern part of South Sudan, close to the Ugandan Border!
Just an hour and half’s drive out of Juba, on a newly constructed smooth tarmac road, we arrived in Nimule where a long winding trail of cargo trucks was waiting to be cleared through to go to Juba. This whole week the news has been awash with Trucks being stuck at the border and a fuel crisis hit Juba, simply because the Ugandan side of the border is a mess! I’m embarrassed to admit that a country that is only 2 years old, already has very good roads to its borders compared to a 51 year-old country that has been ‘liberated’ for the last 27 years! Anyway, seeing all those trucks lined up made me feel sorry for the businesses that have suffered this setback for an entire week, but cannot increase the prices of their goods despite the losses they have made.
But I digress….this story is about the beautiful Nimule National Park, not about the economy of South Sudan – that will be for another day. We arrived at about 8.30am and caught up with our guide, Isaac and the Animal Tracker who were already waiting for us. We set off into the wild and drove through some pretty rough terrain, which, we were informed, is frequented by elephants and rhinos. Our prayer was that we do not encounter any elephants, because, according to Isaac, they have been so mistreated by humans that as soon as they see one, they kill! So all the while, we prayed that we were not in their way. After a harrowing drive, we got to a point beyond which we could not drive. We parked the car, pulled out our cameras and hit the trail….And boy was it some trail!! First rule of the jungle is to strictly follow the Tracker’s footsteps…when he crossed a stream aiming for only particular spots, we did the same, even though it entailed getting our shoes soaked in water, when he went through a thicket, we did the same. This was particularly uncomfortable for me seeing as I am not graced with the height that the South Sudanese have – most of the time, I literally disappeared under the tall grass and emerged on the other side to see if I was still on the right track
After a while, we got to the most AMAZING scenery I have ever seen….the River Nile!! Forget what you’ve been told about the Nile, or what you’ve seen in Jinja….this part of the Nile, The White Nile, is something else…..Words elude me! MAJESTIC, MAGNIFICENT, VIOLENT, ROMANTIC, AWESOME are a few I can think of. The force with which the water run, the cascading falls, the rapids, the beauty, the awesomeness….gosh, I was gobsmacked. There were 4 sections – Falls 1, Falls 2, 3 and 4! Imagine, to this day, this place is still very, very virgin – undiscovered, untapped, uninterrupted! I made an amateur’s video which I will share with you my dear readers so you see what I’m talking about. By 11 am we had some amazing shots – with me behind the still camera! We took off to our hotel and waited out the scorching sun before heading out again to shoot more fantastic scenery.
Suffice to say, Day One was a huge success!
Day Two, we tracked Elephants!! What an experience!!
Isaac, our guide, had planned that we would get up early, go to the pier somewhere, and catch a boat to the inner parts of the Park where we would track elephants and other wild animals. I was rather skeptical about having to be on the Nile for 30 minutes after what I’d seen of the Nile the previous day but I was assured that all would be well even if the boat had no life jackets.
We were up by 6.30am and on the road by 7am. God must’ve heard my prayers because as soon as we called Isaac he informed us that the elephants were actually on their side of the park, “Commando” Village, and that we needed to hurry up to catch up with them. Remember we are not supposed to make noise because they would attack us, and we can only follow the Tracker’s trail. And we were in luck! After a few minutes walk, we found the elephants. OMG!!! Those animals ARE HUGE!!! I clicked away at my camera, zoomed in until I thought the animal was right in my face! They must’ve smelt us then because they suddenly took off!!
Turned out we were chasing a large herd of elephants – through the thickets, down the valleys, up the mountain, we went. All the while I was dodging thorny bushes, sharp rocks, and I was inwardly praying there were no snakes in that long grass. I was soooo inappropriately dressed too!! Short sleeved Tshirt, Flared jeans, and some ‘canvas’ shoes that wouldn’t really pass for trainers. All the guys in the team had army boots on, trousers tucked into their socks and there I was, no socks, nothing….So my fear of snakes was justified. Two guys had AK47s, one had a nice cute little pistol tucked away in his belt!! (I’m coming to the part of how I saw that little pistol).
Anyway, so there we were, in the middle of bush, simply depending on where the tracker went, following this herd of elephants we could not see. And today I finally understood the meaning of tracking animals!! We must’ve walked at least 15km. And right there I came to the realisation that I really need to start working out again!! Eeeeeeish!! I panted my way up the hills, all the while trying to be brave, thankfully my cameraman, Ray, also asked for timeout at some point and I rode on that. Most amusing though was this old man who is also a tracker. We first met him yesterday and I asked them what he was doing in Commando village. I was duly informed that he was a tracker and I expressed my disbelief that someone so old could walk up and down those hills. So when we got there this morning, Old man threw on an old shirt, a pair of shorts, and a pair of gumboots on his feet, grabbed his AK47 and was ready in a flash!! You can’t imagine how much I laughed!! And then later how ashamed I was that I laughed….that old man turned out to be the one who picked me up everytime I fell, who held onto my hand to pull me through some thickets, and he carried both his gun and the tripod stand for the camera with ease. Not once did he break a sweat and there I was inwardly crying for my mama!! We communicated in a mix of broken Swahili (on my part) and broken English (on his part) and by the end of the day we’d become really ‘tight’!! Hahahaaha….
My dear old man
Then we got a little scare…Some silly baboons, sitting high up on a tree, watching our every move, took it upon themselves to warn the elephants that they were being trailed. So the elephants also decided to lay a trap for us! According to the trackers, we got surrounded. Suddenly we saw elephants behind us, above us and on both our sides. I, not really knowing what that meant, just kept clicking away at the elephants I could see. That’s when I saw these guys take their guns off their shoulders and the other guy (turns out he’s a Judge), pull out his cute little weapon! Then I knew we were in trouble. I looked at Ray and he was simply sitting there looking stunned!
The decision was then made that we head towards the top of the ‘mountain’ away from the elephants. Up and up we went, till I could walk no more. ….and neither could my shoes! They split right there in the thicket….mounds of muddy water, etc had taken their toll on the poor shoes.
By the time we reached the summit, we’d given up tracking elephants and decided they were too clever for us. Then the descent started!! Yeeeeeey!!!! I must’ve fallen at least 10 times, according to Ray who was laughing away in the back, but my Mzee was ever so helpfu; picking me up, telling me to watch out, etc. After about 15 mins of that painful descent, and with thorns nicely lodged in various parts of my butt (: we finally got to the bottom of the hill. By this time I’d given up on my torn shoes and I had acquired an interesting walk cum dance as a result of the stones and thorns that were piercing my feet.
Braving the stones and thorns after my shoes gave way
As a token of appreciation, I donated my once closed shoes to Mzee to have them fixed and given to one of his children. He was quite happy actually and I didn’t feel so guilty for donating old things!
Aaaaaah, what a day!! I thorougly enjoyed myself and here I am, back in Juba but already planning my next trip to Nimule National Park, this time appropriately dressed and fit!!