Monday, July 18, 2011

Travels throughout SW Uganda

Over the course of the last 7 days, Grant and I took it upon us to explore southwestern Uganda and to investigate what the region had to offer. We did not come away disappointed. Coincidentally, our supervisors Margaret and Rehema had two conferences, in Paris and in Rome respectively, leaving the office empty and Grant and I without a reliable way to get to work. So…we decided it would be a convenient time to leave work and do some travelling. (In exchange for having a week off, upon returning home I will use UNC's grant database center to search for relevant foundations, and to send my findings to KWDT). Recommendations from our guidebook and random travelers quickly gave us a route to follow over the course of 6 days. As previously mentioned, we have already been to Murchison Falls for a Safari and to Jinja to do whitewater rafting. The northern parts of the country are extremely remote, lack reliable and efficient transportation, and possibly have security issues, so we instead headed South.


After a day of riding buses we arrived on the shores of Lake Bunyoni-around 6-7 hours away from Kampala and very close to the border of Rwanda and Tanzania. A mistaken text from our cell provider welcoming us to Rwanda informed us of our proximity. Lake Bunyoni-advertised as the most beautiful lake in Uganda and a fitting retreat from the hustle and bustle of Kampala, lived up to its reputation. The lake encompasses 20+ islands, nearly all accessible by a short canoe ride or even shorter boat ride, and we opted for the former to take us to our lodge where we stayed Monday and Tuesday night. We spent the next two days walking around the island, swimming in the lake (one of the few lakes where hippos, crocs, and water-born illnesses are absent) and enjoying the surroundings.


On Wednesday, with our minds set on going on another wildlife drive and hopefully spotting a lion in the wild, we headed for Queen Elizabeth National Park. We hired a local driver to take us on a 3 hour drive, and although we spotted elephants, hyenas, warthogs, and many others…the lions were nowhere to be found. Slightly disappointing….After the national park, we hopped on a minibus and made our way to Kasese and eventually to the Rwenzori Mountains. The ride to Kasese merits some comment: We are used to travelling in Uganda and have become accustomed to being crammed in minibuses that are intended to carry 14 passengers yet carry quite a few more. However, I think this bus might have been trying to set a record for carrying capacity. At one count, and the numbers are constantly fluctuating as people come and go, there were no less than 27 people in the car. We could really do nothing, literally, could not hardly move, except be thankful that the ride was only 50ish km and that this was an experience we did not have to endure often. Unfortunately, that is how the majority of Ugandans travel, and though it gets them where they need to go, it is horribly uncomfortable and a very undignified way to travel. Of course, it is also the cheapest, and in many areas, the only way to travel. Though it does provide a service that the people could not live without, it would be nice if there was another, more comfortable way for people to travel.


So…we arrived at the base of the Rwenzori mountains-Uganda's tallest mountains, peaking at 16,000 feet, and reportedly more difficult to trek than Mt. Kilimanjaro-though we did not test it out. We stayed at a great lodge, built right into the slope of the mountain, where we could enjoy fantastic views of the mountains and where we could take off on shorter day hikes to see the area. We took a 4 hr hike on a nearby mountain only to end up losing the trail, getting attacked by the most vicious ants I have been bitten by-within seconds they were in my shirt, on my legs, and in my shoes- so naturally I took off running up the trail, slapping the parts of my body I felt stinging, and throwing off my shirt to get rid of the ants biting me while jumping up and down. I imagine it would have been a funny sight to an observer. We probably should have hired a local guide to show us around…When not hiking, most of time was spent reading and hanging out.


When Saturday came around, we headed to Fort Portal-the largest commercial center in the region, to buy tickets for the most comfortable bus ride we could find for the 5-6 hour ride back to Kampala on Sunday. Now we are back in Kampala and getting reacquainted with life in the office.


We have two more weeks here in Kampala, and I suspect my next post will be up by the middle to end of next week.



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