Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

Safari Africa is a beautiful illusion


Africa means looking at animals: the Queen Elizabeth National Park is a seemingly conflict-free experience space for wealthy safari tourists. I'm passing through. And soon get restless.

As two chimpanzees cross the dirt road, the experienced ranger looks forward to being a little kid. "Today is a wonderful day, we are very lucky," says Robert Adaruku and puts the binoculars down. He shines as effusively as if he had first seen a monkey. I can only partly respond to the excitement, at least I know chimpanzees from the zoo, and in the wilderness it always takes a while, until you have internalized that no fence captures the animals.

Robert has worked for 15 years in Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwest Uganda. He knows that the chimpanzees rarely leave the rainforest in the Kyambura Gorge for the open savannah. But there are the fig trees. The monkeys climb up to the fruits.

The Kyambura has always been an important source of water for the villages on the river. But the river valley is narrow, the river flows fast. Once, Robert tells us, water tears away people's belongings. So came the Kyambura to his name, which means "can not find something". It is such myths that one takes up as a tourist somehow strangely moved.


The chimpanzee population in the gorge comes from a large forest area south of the park. Both areas were connected by a corridor that was interrupted more than thirty years ago. The kimonambura chimpanzees lived from now on isolated and initially wild. They were not used to humans. After a UN peacekeeping mission secured the Rwandan-Ugandan border in the troubled 1990s, the habitualization of the animals began. And so the tourism, in which not participate now, by staring at trees with monkeys under a brutal sun.

In the Kyambura Gorge, you may not see a single chimpanzee, especially in the afternoon. "They look for food in the morning, call each other and quarrel," says Robert. Then it is not difficult to track down the monkeys. But as the heat increases, the chimpanzees become sluggish and retreat into the undergrowth, invisible to untrained tourist eyes (like mine), who already have difficulty distinguishing a bushbuck from an impala.

This afternoon, we encounter chimpanzees before we even descend into the gorge. We have perfect vision. What luck.

It is these unexpected encounters in the wilderness for which affluent people from Europe get dressed in beige camouflage clothing and fly for eight hours. They are looking for wildlife. In the evening, they bang on with a sundowner and feel like Hemingway. Safari Africa as an exotic experience for high earners.


I'm, if you will, just in transit and on this trip really not a typical safari vacationer. I come from the north from the Rwenzori Mountains , whose misty valleys have released me disheveled and emaciated. For seven days I marched through the inaccessible mountains, except for the snow-capped Margherita Peak , and lost four pounds. I can see that in the mirror.

On the way south, towards Rwanda , I come through the Queen Elizabeth National Park. I take a break. The reserve is located in the Albert Rift, the western foothills of the East African Rift Valley, where rain forest, papyrus swamps, craters and savannah meet. Two large lakes have also formed between the continental plates, Lake George and Lake Edward. The waters, like the park itself, bear the names of former royals. When the British Queen visited her colony Uganda in 1954, National Park was named after her.

The occupiers left, the name remained. Independence in 1962 was soon followed by a dictatorship in Uganda and in many other African countries. The name Idi Amin stands for the stereotypical tyrant. Faced with hundreds of thousands of deaths under the field marshal's mad regime in the 1970s, it is a marginal note in history that masses of wildlife have also been shot down. But the stocks have recovered. The diversity of species in Queen Elizabeth Park today is greater than anywhere else in Eastern Africa thanks to the diversity of ecosystems.


I can not deny that after the hardships of the past week, it's relaxing to spend three days doing harmless activities here: walking tour to the chimpanzees, driving through the savannah, boat trip to elephants. In the evening I sit in the dining room of the Mweya Safari Lodge, where the night costs $ 400, and fill my stomach like someone who had no appetite for a week. And in fact it was because of the persistent diarrhea in the mountains.

I'm drinking my sundowner now as well, because it's about drinking a sundowner after a safari day. It has been read somewhere or seen in the movie and internalized, it also cools down the body (it is believed). Then the sun has already set. On the lawn outside the lodge, employees have lit a fire around which a few half-naked men dance around, while others set the rhythm with drums. So now, for the tourists, they perform the great folklore theater, I think: the Africa of masks and magic.

Tour operators and lodges want to lull me into a twilight sleep, in which there are no conflicts in which Africa exists as a homogenous, archaic-mysterious cultural space, where the wild animals are actually more exciting than humans. Do you earn good money and who am I to condemn this? But I notice how I am lulled, how my tired limbs can hardly defend against the capture, but I actually have to continue to expose myself to the country and its everyday life, which just are not going to stalk for a local monthly salary , Safari Africa is a beautiful illusion .


The next day, however, the lodge first organized a trip to the Kazinga Canal. The waterway connects the two lakes of the national park. From the boat deck, elephants, hippos, buffalos and crocodiles can be watched without any effort, performing their show on the shore.

Flocks of waterfowl have gathered at the mouth of the Eduard Sea: pelicans, cormorants, goliath and black-headed herons. The unique shoe beak does not show up. On the lake, a single fishing-boat bobbing in front of a cloud-tower rising somberly across the other bank beyond the country's frontier, as if admonishingly to point out: This is already eastern Congo. As you cross the lake, you leave the harsh safari world and head into that dangerous conflict- zone Africa constructed by the fleeting noise of world news.

Once again, early in the morning, I let myself go the next day through the acacia savannah. The still deep sun covers the lonely landscape with a golden veil, which slowly fades as the day wears on. The light mood is almost more beautiful than the wild animals: buffalo herds stand together defensively, a Uganda grass antelope shows its silhouette, baboons crouch unaffected by the safari vehicles next to the bush runway. One last morning pure idyl. I fall into the well-organized concept of the game drive .

At lunchtime I drop off from the staff of the lodge on the main route to the southeast. My stay in Queen Elizabeth National Park is over. Now nobody takes me by the hand and shows me the way. I stand at the roadside and wait for the next minibus. Where is he going? Unimportant. It is about being on the road again among the people, and giving this circumstance more time and importance than a beautiful photo subject. Maybe this is the beginning of traveling, but why be dogmatic? At some point I just look at lions again.

  1. Although Uganda is not such a name for safari tourism as South Africa, Botswana, Kenya or Tanzania, Safari mass tourism has been around for a long time and most likely just in QENP. Mweya Safari Lodge is by far the largest lodge in the area. Well portioned safari mass processing - on a high level of comfort. But of course you will also find other things in the area. "Authentic" what almost everyone is looking for today .... Quite small accommodations where the nearest Google, OSM or Tracks4Africa known ski run is miles away.

    More unportioned wildlife experience you will find more in the Kidepo Valley, which is much less frequented due to the arduous approach.

  2. Kidepo Valley sounds great, thanks for the tip!

    • Because on the hills Kakine or Nagusokopire camp. You have to sign extra, if you want to do that without Ranger, but normally you are then really alone and in the middle of nature. In Nagusokopire there are frequent lion visit. Either for the onward or the departure to / from the Kidepo take the eastern, arduous route over Kotido and not the faster over Kitgum. Fantastic landscape and instead of 500 tourists a day as in the QENP there may be 5 per week.

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