Sunday, May 1, 2011

First Holiday in Uganda

Lake Bunyonyi
The first thing many people said to us when we said we were going to Rwanda was “Is it safe?”. The answer is decidedly “Yes”. They are thinking of those tragic 100 days in 1994 when almost one million people died in one of the worst Genocides mankind has known. It’s well documented everywhere and understandably there is a commitment for it never to happen again. On 7th April every year, Rwanda has its Memorial Day to remember those who lost their lives in this tragedy. It lasts for a week and then people remember for 100 days and for many it is always close to the surface. Like many, we used this time for a short break, feeling it better for people to experience this very personal time without foreigners present. We decided to go to Uganda which is just North West of here.

Total Blowout
We stayed the night in a Catholic Hostel in the centre of Kigali for an early start, getting up at 4-30am, followed by a short moto ride to the bus station for departure at 6am. Well, that was the theory but unfortunately, although we had tickets, they had forgotten to write the seat numbers on them and double booked. After some discussion, they put us in a car to take us to the border and then another car in Uganda to take us to our destination. What they didn’t tell us was that this had happened to several others and there were to be 6 in the car, sitting on each other’s knees, and the driver was a MANIAC!!!!!! However, we arrived in one piece in Kabale just half an hour from the border and then on to our destination of  Lake Bunyionyi which was an “out of this world” beautiful spot where we stayed for two days in a cottage overlooking the lake. We had gone with Tricia and met up with other volunteers who all went off in different directions but had a couple of relaxing days in a stunning location.

We had arranged with three others to hire a vehicle and driver to go to Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth Park for a two day safari to see all manner of wild animals in their own protected habitat, including tree climbing lions. The driver was great but the vehicle had dodgy tyres as we discovered with the first blow-out after two hours on a potholed, creviced red road. The spare was little better but it did get us to our destination where we discovered we were staying the night in a round hut with just candle light and the background noise of hippos a few metres away. Well, it was certainly different and the threat of roaming lions at night made my 50m nightly trip to the loo in the dark very exciting. Now, was it the hippos or a lion following me? Whichever, not a good way to go! Lions might deal with you quickly but hippos are reputed to be the most dangerous in the rivers and plains. In the end, neither caused any problems but I nearly lost my life in the long drop loo when two birds flew out of the hole, swirling around and flapping against me before disappearing off into the dawn. VSO is nothing but exciting.

Bed for the night

The next morning the spare was looking a little “iffy” so they changed it for a tyre half as big again as the others. It seems were going to limp on safari but it did the job. We saw every kind of antelope / impala type animals, hippos, buffalo, warthog, vultures, baboons, monkeys and elephants, crocodiles as well as a myriad of birds but the illusive tree climbing lions were not to be seen in their fig trees so we will have to save those for another time. We had a long boat ride on the Kazinga Channel (boat made in the IOW) and have never seen so many birds and animals in one place. The whole two days were  a real treat. Thanks Rachel and Roisin for organising all this.

Then, it was onto Kirembe in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park were we stayed in a backpackers’ hostel for the night, meeting up with two other volunteers, Camilla and Cathy. What an amazing place surrounded on three sides with cultivated mountains and spectacular lighting. What a treat in the middle of African mountains to have “Bangers and Mash” for dinner and a breakfast called “The Works” the next day. It certainly would match any fry-up back home. Mary and I had booked two more nights in Bunyionyi for a rest and our return to a two-day workshop for new Headteachers in the District so we spent 9 hours cramped in tightly-packed local buses with hens in plastic bags and all the rest to get back to the luxury of that cottage again.

Two nights later we were returning to Kigali and managed to get a shared car which was somewhat more comfortable than the one we’d taken 6 days earlier.

Mary wrote in her diary three interesting things we saw
  • 3 people on a boda boda moto (driver, Cam and Cathy) complete with huge rucksacks.
  • wooden bicycles
  • African Women wearing fur coats!

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Hi, hope your enjoy reading about our adventures in Rwanda. We'd love to hear from you. Stephen and Mary