@ The River Ishasha: True Serenity by the Riverside
@ The River Ishasha is a stimulating rhapsodic experience. It is the kind of place you go to, not only to get away, but to get immersed in. Built completely by hand, no mechanical tools, it presents itself as a piece of nature that excites all the senses.
Ntungwe River flows unabated across the lodges and behind the river is a dense forest sprinkled with various bird life and Colobus monkeys. There are Acacia trees doted all over the site plus it’s only a ten minute drive to the entrance of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The service is friendly and the meals are always inventive.
There’s no getting to Ishasha in a hurry. From Kampala, you are looking at a 9 to 10 hour drive to the South Western part of the country. With private means you have three options on the table. Either through Mbarara, Fort Portal or Rukungiri. With public means, one can take a local bus to Kihihi then hire a special hire taxi or boda-boda to the camp (1/2 hr drive).
At 10:45 am on a Saturday, we set off from Acacia Mall with Alex Porter, the lodge’s proprietor who also doubled as our guide. His monster VX Toyota Land Cruiser would be our carriage. We used the Kampala – Mubende – Fort Portal route. The route is not strewn with as much traffic as the other routes so it’s safer driving.
Off Kasese road is the beginning of the game drive. It’s a 70 kilometre stretch that goes over 5 bridges and eventually turns off on the left to the dirt road leading to the lodge.
The stretch is not part of the park but offers numerous views of game.
There was for example, a male elephant by the side of the road quietly eating. It had blended in almost too well with the grey branches of the trees but its size was simply too large to miss.
We came across hippos in a marsh hidden under the green. If not for keen eye of Alex, we might have simply driven past the majestic creatures. Female waterbucks and kobs were a regular sight as well.
@ The River is masked by green until you’re about 100 metres from it. The first thing you see is the main lodge area which is elevated. We were welcomed with some wet towels for our dirty hands and faces. Thereafter we were led to the sitting area where the simple beauty of the area was evident.
The load bearing poles are ornamented with buffalo skulls. There are couches made of eucalyptus tree where one can fall to catch a breath. The dining tables are made of Sudanese tick tree wood and are separated enough to allow about 5 groups of people to dine.
I spotted two Crested Cranes when I looked below us, about 70 metres away from the parking area behind us. In front of us, the river and the forest were poised majestically. The rejuvenating sounds from the river and the birds in the forest reminded us we were not in the city and could relax. A little near the main area is a small pool ideal for the young ones to swim in.
After setting our bags down in our cottage and taking a shower, we were invited to crispy pork. A welcome invite if you ask me.
Wild eating experiences
Breakfast is served between 6:30pm and 8:00pm. The staff will ask what time you would like it served and will have it ready the following morning on time.
On the first night, rather than going to the main lodge area to wait for our dinner to be served, we were invited to the beach.
We took some steps down an area off the main site. There was a shade with a hammock and a little to its left, the beach. Under the shade of an Acacia tree, with a fire lit using old dead tree trunks, we sat next to the river. The river’s symphony was accompanied by the croak of toads and chirp of crickets.
After the starter, the main course was delivered: Bombay potato salad with roasted pork and goat skewers. The potatoes were soft, piquant to taste and stimulating to the nose. Along with gravy, they made for a delectable meal. The pork and goat skewers were sapid, set with pineapple, onion and green pepper, the taste was nothing short of finger licking.
Lunch in the River
If there’s one thing unique at @ The River it is that nothing called lunch is boring. The next day we were in our shorts in the river, awaiting our three course meal!
At first sight, we imagined the river had all sorts of crawling things ready to go up our feet and scrape our smooth skins. However, Alex seems to know the river in and out. He took a swim to establish how deep it was and after finding a good spot convinced us we’d have lunch safely. Pizza never tasted as skittish as on the banks of a river hoping nothing creeps up the wrong place.
Lunch in the Park
On Tuesday, we had lunch on Lake Edward flats. It is called “flats” because it stretches out a distance before you get to the shoreline of the Lake. Our safari seats were set around the table. On the table, pork chops, avocado with kachumbari (tomato, onion and chilli salad), cabbage sauce and steamed potatoes. There were buffaloes, water bucks and warthogs in the distance not to mention birds hovering a long way off. With a Land Rover to our left flank, we thought to ourselves “Is this not true Safari?”
@ The River is a short distance from the entrance of Queen Elizabeth. The best time to do the drives is when the sun is not scorching because then all the animals wander off into a shade or a water hole. The park is opened from 7am to 9pm.
Ishasha is famous for tree climbing lions. Occasionally, one might see leopards in the trees as well.
While our game drives did not deliver lions, we came across hyenas, buffaloes, topi, kobs, hippos, and a great deal of bird life including; Fish Eagle, Pelicans, Egyptian Goose, Long Crested Eagle, Southern Red Bishop, Fiscals among others.
The Ishasha sector is not a plain stretch of land. It is a wave of ridges, burrows and horizons.
From one point you can view the endless stretch of Virunga Mountains that starts in the Congo and ends in Rwanda. And from another point, all that separates you from the Congo is a river (Ishasha), Olive baboons and hippos.
The en-suite rooms are the best rooms at @ The River. Self-contained; they contain a bathroom which has a sedate view of the river flowing. It is complemented with river stones and cactus to enhance the feel of the wild. The beds are covered in mosquito nets though on our stay we didn’t sense any mosquitoes or flies. The cotton sheets make sure one gets a good night sleep because once we put down our heads, we failed to wake up on time, on two consecutive nights!
For the other rooms, there are showers outside which are supplied with warm water every morning and evening. The main toilets flush, always have toilet paper and are ornamented with smooth river stones and plants.
@ The River is quite affordable and perfect for families and groups wanting to enjoy the wild together. It is a safe bet also, for the more adventurous couples needing an injection of wildness into their lives.