Star Date: May 2010
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Welcome. Ba Kiga tribe - Lake Bunyonyi)
"Meeting the gaze of a giraffe or lion in the wild is looking into the essence of primal Nature itself. Our eyes then souls met as time stood still; glimpsing the wisdom of the ages for an instant, linking past and present. A place where everything is as it should be, illusion melting into clarity."
(Nancy Gill, from the wilds of Central Africa 2010.)
The majestic, snow covered peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains to the north of Bwindi, were known to the ancient Greeks as the 'Mountains of the Moon'. In 150 AD Ptolemy, Greek philosopher and geographer claimed that they were the snowy source of the Nile River. Over the centuries the idea of tropical snow faded into mythology until 1889 when Henry Stanley emerged from Central Africa and announced that these snow covered peaks did in fact exist. Rising from the Rift Valley floor to elevations of 5,109 m. these, the tallest mountain range in Africa, are exceeded in height only by freestanding Mt. Kilimanjaro & Mt. Kenya. Before Uganda's political turmoil the Rwenzoris were more often climbed than even Kilimanjaro.
In Uganda, tribal 'Kanakas' or kings ruled over their kingdoms for centuries, until banned by modern politicians for several decades. The ban lifted and feeling that modern politics haven't served them well, Bantu speaking kingdoms of this southern region, the Butganda, Bunyoro, Ankole and Toro tribes once again turn to their figurehead 'Kanakas' for advice. People are also remembering their connections with Mother Nature as modern business-minded churches emphasize donations as a necessary step to Salvation! Why does God need so much money? The remote Rwenzori foothills are home also to the hardy Bakonjo tribe who have hunting shrines in the forests dedicated to their one eyed, one armed, one legged pipe smoking god, Kalisa. What's the answer? Old ways or new? Allow each their own.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, formed in 1952 is one of Uganda's oldest parks. It is home to 85 species of mammals and 612 species of birds, 6th highest of any park on the planet. Mweya Peninsula offers stunning views from the Visitors Center of the wide Kazinga Channel, with the backdrop of the snow peaked Rwenzori 'Mountains of the Moon'. On the other side, the view of the water's edge from Mweya Lodge reveals large herds of mammoth elephants and buffaloes, undisturbed by the throngs of bobbing hippos, lazily sunning and having a drink. Teams of exotic waterfowl strut along the shore, often hitching a ride on the back of a large grazing animal. Crocodiles have only recently returned to Kazinga Channel, having disappeared for 8,000 years when toxic ash from active volcanoes chased them from Lake Edward. Seen smiling, open mouthed (how they regulate their body temperature) along the shore, they are definitely back and happy to see how many guests 'join' them for dinner. Lake Edward and Lake George are joined by the 36km Kazinga Channel. A 3 hour launch trip down the channel provides an up close look at the abundant wildlife lining the shore. Nature declares a sort of truce amongst animals as they drink, coexisting peacefully for the time being. The quiet is broken occasionally as a snarling male hippo, capable of biting a human or adult crocodile in half with one snap of his jaws, thrashes in the calm waters. Small gangs of 'loser' buffaloes, those who lost their females during mating, grouch at those around them, passing on their bad mood.
We broke from tradition and stayed in luxurious Mweya Safari Lodge for 2 nights, thanks to the generosity of Renier, the cordial and helpful general manager. So impressed by the view from their lanai, we decided to cover "how the other half lives" in our tales of Queen Elizabeth NP. Staying in the park is a great option, just remember you are in a savannah with wild animals all around. Venturing too far at night might be your final endeavor. Not fun to find out that you have been featured on this evening's menu!
We walked down to the boat from the lodge and after our cruise cut through the brush back up to the main road; completely oblivious to our surroundings. Sometimes being immersed in life on the African savannah is surreal and we get too relaxed. This is serious wild country. The point was driven home to us as we headed out in the Parks truck for a game drive towards Kasenyi, at daybreak the next morning. First we heard the spine chilling roars, then came face to face with three enormous male lions, only 1 minute from the lodge. They stared us down as we quietly pulled off the road to observe. Awe struck, we could smell them as they sauntered by within 2 feet. Roaring they gave us a parting glance before heading back into the brush, the same place we had walked through less than 12 hours earlier! The worker hitching a ride in the open back of our truck breathed a sigh of relief. Survival out here requires a healthy respect for Nature.
Riding through the back roads of the park we were able to see many buffaloes, grazing kob, and a lion pride in the distance. Mom lion was going crazy trying to keep all the young ones in order. Jumping, tumbling and leaping it was a hopeless cause. Game drives may offer up close views of leopards, elephants, buffalo, warthogs, rarely chimpanzees plus 8 other primates, and endless types of deer whetting the appetites of the large cats. Katwe explosion craters left behind a series of fascinating crater lakes, some fresh, some sulfur, some salty; home to local salt gathering fields and migrating flamingos. The views from the crater lakes are lovely with the mountains as a backdrop. Not able to go off road is good for the animals but bad for viewing. This compounded with the slaughter of animals during Uganda's tumultuous military rule, mainly elephants for their ivory tusks (over 200 pounds per tusk) has left the wildlife here struggling to once again build numbers in their herds. As the numbers recover we were told funny tales by Janet, our guide, of a cheeky elephant breaking through the thatching on her hut to eat 2 small fish she had fried for dinner. One interesting phenomenon we witnessed were herds of elephants, all with small tusks. Seems this defect spared their lives during the butchery and so they rule the savannah. No short tusk jokes amongst the animal kingdom here. We found the QE Park and Mweya Lodge personnel extremely friendly and welcoming. Don't expect great numbers of animals in this reserve, but the overall experience is worth making the trip to the Queen's namesake.
On our drive from Queen Elizabeth National Park near Katunguru to Kihihi we witnessed a magic show of Nature. As we bumped along the dirt road we saw millions of butterflies for miles. Blue, green, black, white, yellow, orange; a kaleidoscope with every combination of these colors. We were going so slowly that I would put my hand out the window and several of the little beauties would land on my arm. I became really present, noticing bright wild flowers of matching colors and began picking an imaginary gypsy bouquet as we crawled along. We passed through the grassy Ishasha region, home to the unique tree climbing lions. Hey, we used to have a dear, small Benji type terrier, "Simba", who would climb 20 feet up into the Kukui trees surrounding our home in the forest of S. Kona, Hawaii. Maybe the view is just better from up there!
It was all up hill from here. Accessing Bwindi Impenetrable Forest through these rough back roads was a challenge and a real adventure. The scenery alone is spectacular at every turn. Hitching the final leg up the mountains to Buhoma with a chef from one of the fancy lodges returning home from town with supplies, found us arriving at our goal just before dark. Nkoringo, in the south of the park also has good tracking, but there are no reasonable places to stay. Although outrageously expensive, our up close encounter with Mountain Gorillas, as described last month, was one of those 'once in a lifetime' experiences to relish the rest of our days.
Buhoma is a lush interesting mountainous destination even if you decide not to splurge on gorilla tracking Buhoma Village Walk is an interesting activity to check out. (The day Before your gorilla trek. Gets those legs and joints lubricated for the next day). It provides a good look at village life around tiny Buhoma with stops at schools, a handicraft shop, banana plantations where they brew the local banana 'hooch', medicinal healing with herbs, and a visit, complete with singing and dancing, in the local Batwa Pygmy Village. This easy walking tour guarantees all money goes back to the village people. Twenty percent of all proceeds from the UWA's Gorilla tracking is also supposed to go to the villagers living within the park boundaries, as their way of life has changed in favor of ecotourism and conservation of the endangered mountain gorillas. With awful roads and no electricity we found this hard to believe.
We heard drumming about 5 pm one afternoon near the park entrance and followed the beat down to a little stage full of lively orphans performing local dances. They put their heart and soul into their work and it was one of the best performances we have seen - what they lacked in glitz they made up for in excitement. The only ones there, the group was easily spurred on by our joining in with clapping and dancing in the sidelines. Our smiles were returned exponentially!
Hitching a ride back down the mountain we spent hours surrounded by stunning scenery as we navigated the bumpy dirt roads towards the highway to Kibale. Life is relative. After 10 days of roughing it, we were thrilled by the simplest amenities: paved roads, electricity, internet, a much needed ATM, and snacks at an Indian run store. Heck, we were even excited to see some backpackers at the funky House of Edirisa. Luring our new Irish friend and serious traveler, Yvonne, out of the noise of Edirisa to our place next door, we found out about Wilson's dream island in Lake Bunyonyi. Lake Bunyonyi (place of many little birds) is hands down one of the most beautiful lakes in the whole country. Surrounded by green terraces, the 29 island gems are covered by a blanket of mist in the mornings. The lake should first be appreciated from one of the many viewpoints above. Stay in Nature, on your own Island! A forester by trade and a wonderful progressive guy, it took Wilson 10 years to buy all the parcels of clear cut land on his island and replant trees. Fifteen years later he harvested some of the trees and fashioned 5 cabins from mostly natural materials. Still rustic, he is busily improving and upgrading his camp and guesthouse as we speak. Beautiful views, wind through the pines, lapping waves, and total serenity surrounded us for 4 days and 3 nights. We cooked Easter dinner over the coals, sharing with the helpful staff, Moses & Sam (and 2 of his 3 wives and 4 of his 11 children). Joseph walked around with Wilson giving him sought after business advice for his newly named "Island Paradise Campsites and Guesthouse". Wilson surprised us when local villagers paddled over in boats to dance and sing for us. We ended our relaxing stay with a quiet night around a roaring campfire, under the brilliant blanket of stars.
Kisoro isn't a place to pass through, but rather a place to seek out. They say Swahili was born in Kenya, grew up in Tanzania and died in Uganda. Going even further into this remote corner of Uganda we heard mainly local dialects. The only road to this out of the way place, bumpy but breathtaking from Bunyonyi to Kisoro, is a treat to the eyes. Nicknamed the "Swiss Alps of Africa", the surrounding scenery with verdant volcano peaks and terraced farmland is brilliant. Just head out in any direction for a pleasant stroll through the surrounding countryside. There are striking volcano peaks, hiding gorillas and other wildlife, looming from the Congo, Rwanda and S. Uganda. The town, in total disarray would make the Swiss organizers have a total meltdown, but then again Switzerland would have a hard time rivaling the colorful Monday and Thursday regional farmers market. Tongue in cheek our bus arrived 4 hours late in true Swiss efficiency, taking us through the volcano peaks into Rwanda. We bid a fond adieu, after 3 months to Uganda, a true Pearl of Africa.
And so it goes.........................................Next month join in the healing process of Rwanda, 15 years following the genocide that killed over 1 million Tutsi's in 100 days. Mankind, unlike the animal kingdom, is capable of wiping out not only whole segments of humanity, but also total species of animals. The animal kingdom is wondrous, with so many fascinating secrets to share. Until our next page let's take time to connect to Nature, learning the wisdom, past and present, offered for the asking. Thanks for sharing our webpage with all your family and friends. Put aside the fear and get the word out what a truly amazing world we share. Starting out with a following of 4, we were surprised when statistics were added to our website's control panel last year. This month had 76,000 hits from over 150 countries. Welcome everyone! Glad you stopped by. Thanks for keeping in touch!
Love, Light &
$1.00USD = 2,000 Uganda Schillings (us)
Queen Elizabeth National Park:
Lake Edward and Lake George are joined by the 36km Kazinga Channel. A launch trip, put together by the UWA Park service or the Lodge, ($15 -$30 at 3pm) provides an up-close encounter with crocodiles, hippos and elephants lazing at the water's edge besides endless water birds.
Chimpanzees can be tracked, craters explored and sweeping views of the Rift Valley enjoyed in the area. Game drives offer up close views of lions (some climbing trees), leopards, elephants, buffalo, warthogs, chimpanzees plus 8 other primates, and endless types of deer whetting the appetites of the large cats.
"Once back you can go for a swim, have a relaxing massage or work out in the Health Spa or catch up on unfinished business in the business center. Worries of business or the outside world will be the last thing on your mind as the helpful, efficient and cordial staff help make your stay here one to remember".
Park Entry: $30
The informative QEP Visitor's Center is full of helpful people to work out the itinerary you wish to follow: Chimpanzee tracking, boat trips, guides for game drives, etc. Lots of smiles and friendly faces greet you after your long trip. Displays acquaint you with the surroundings even if the ghoulish stuffed animals have seen better days. Again, you must arrange your own game driver before you arrive or they may help call someone from the village.
Some travelers choose to stay in the surrounding villages to save money (7,000-15,000us) Plan to start your game drive early (6:30) then you can catch the launch trip in the afternoon, after a relaxing lunch at the Mweya Lodge (1-3pm). You must check on whether the park's boat is going for sure or you can hire a special boat from the Lodge.
The restaurant sells tasty mixed vegetables and Irish potatoes for 3,500. Ask them to make a bowl without cabbage and it is made up fresh. Rogers, the Hotel Manager, who operates their Internet Cafe is extremely friendly & helpful. The best internet in a long time.
They also run an eco 'not for profit' resort on Lake Bunyonyi: Byoona Amagara. (13,000 - 30,000 per person)
Great colorful market on Monday
& Thursday afternoons when all the villagers come into town to sell
their produce. The central market becomes the quagmire
equivalent of Kampala's bus station - but more interesting.
There is a direct bus through the border to Lake Kivu, in Rwanda, 15,000us, (Horizon) just down the street from Graceland. Leaves at 6:30?? (ours left 4 hrs. late).
Pretty yellow weaver birds choose s single tree to create an