Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Wilder Shores of Love – By Corne Schalkwyk

I was not expecting – while travelling through Africa – to stumble upon a romantic story of a European couple that wholeheartedly inspired and enthralled me. But this is exactly what happened when I visited Chobe Safari Lodge in Uganda.

Located in the Murchison Falls National Park, this five-star lodge is undoubtedly the gem in Uganda’s crown of tourism destinations. With breath-taking panoramic views of the Nile River, coupled with the sounds of its frothing rapids, the lodge will indeed set a new standard of excellence in Uganda.

I was fortunate enough to be able to join well-known author and anthropologist Julian Monroe Fisher on the second phase of his “Great African Expedition” to retrace Sir Samuel Baker’s early exploratory route through what is today known as Uganda. We were also joined by the great-great grandson of Sir Samuel Baker, David Baker, who shared some delightful titbits from the Baker family history.
The events of Florence Baker’s life read like a novel. Born in the 1840s into an aristocratic family who was murdered in the Hungarian revolution, Florence fled to the Ottoman Empire with her nurse. She was next heard of living in a harem, barely in her teens. In 1859, she was presented at auction, and it was in this most unlikely of settings that she met her soul mate. A widower and committed abolitionist, Sir Baker attended a white slave auction in Bulgaria and rescued the beautiful blonde girl 20 years his junior. Despite having being bought by the local pasha, Baker stole her away and the couple fled back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

They lived in central Europe for a while but Baker was intrigued by the escapades of his friend, the explorer Speke, and his quest to find the source of the Nile, and so developed a great yearning to go to Africa himself. This led to a life of danger and excitement, as well as a passionate exploration of the uncharted interior of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.

Their expedition into the African wilderness was to be no less dramatic than Florence’s early life. Sam and Florence were to suffer years of deprivation and conflict with local tribes before their fortitude brought them the ultimate victory.
 In 1864, Baker and Florence finally arrived at the shores of a lake in what is now Uganda, and identified the place where it was joined by the White Nile. Baker christened the lake “Albert”, after England’s late Prince Regent. Upstream, the couple discovered the mighty Murchison Falls, where the Nile flows through a seven metre-wide cleft in the rocks to plunge 45 m below, forming a spectacular rainbow. Baker named the falls in honour of the then-president of the Royal Geographic Society, Sir Roderick Murchison.

After their incredible adventures, notoriety of the unwed couple turned into fame: he for his discoveries, she for her resourcefulness, and together for their unconventional romance (they later married).
Today, those enchanted by the romance and derring-do of Africa’s great explorers can sit in unrivalled luxury in Uganda and let your thoughts drift back to a time gone by while you take in the whimsical Nile that inspired many a paragraph in Sir Baker’s dairy.

For more information on the Explorer in Residence programmes with Premier Safaris or accommodation at Chobe Safari Lodge, email