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A Few Days At Lake Bunyonyi

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You would be forgiven for thinking that there is such a thing as the "Hello bird" in Uganda. As we are walking up the hill to enjoy the views over the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi, there are constant "Hellos!" called out, from afar and close by, some lighter,  some darker, some stronger, some softer. There is no such thing as one "Hello!" in Uganda. One call will inevitably provoke a bunch of others. The source of the hellos are Ugandan children and there are lots and lots of them! Few of them remain passive when they see foreigners, or "mazungus". It is almost exclusively pleasant, most of the time they are happy with  a "Hello!" and a wave. We can't help being amazed by their excitement.  

Ugandan babies is another source of amazement.  It seems like every young woman has a baby wrapped to her back. The babies are carried everywhere, without crying or making any kind of noise, all seeming content. We've hardly heard any babies cry since we got here, which is remarkable when there are babies pretty much everywhere! 

The children around Lake Bunyonyi are probably quite used to tourists as the the bilharzia-free lake is a popular destination. We decided to go there after our gorilla tracking to relax for a couple of days and maybe go for a swim. When we got to our place, having taken the boat across the lake, we quickly realised we were the only guests, despite the great reviews on Tripadviser!  We were consequently extremely well looked after by the friendly woman who was running the place. She cooked us the most excellent food, including crayfish from the lake, and made sure we weren't wanting anything.

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Taking the boat to our place on Lake Bunyonyi...

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...the Jajama Panorama

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They made sure we had hot water...

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...and clean clothes

Lake Bunyonyi is famous for its beautiful views and after having passed lots of "Hello birds" the following morning, we reached the top of the hill behind our hotel and were not disappointed. The south west corner of Uganda, where we have spent some time going on safari, gorilla tracking and now visiting Lake Bunyonyi, must be one of the most beautiful regions in the world.

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Views over Lake Bunyonyi

We also made an attempt at some canoe paddling. The canoes here are basically hollowed out trees and they are not the easiest to manoeuvre, at least not for us! We (or Grant rather) managed to paddle across the lake to a couple of other resorts which actually had guests. Clearly our place was not doing very well when it came to marketing itself, as the other places were bustling with life and overlanders.  After this contact with other people, we paddled back to be in time for our next activity - a guided motor boat tour on the lake. We were amazed by the perfectly straight trajectories of the locals' canoes as ours seemed to go around in circles most of the time, meaning we probably paddled twice as far as we actually should have!

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Paddling in an old school canoe on Lake Bunyonyi

Needless to say, being driven around in a motor boat was much more pleasant than paddling yourself. Our guide Dennis took us around to a few different islands of Lake Bunyonyi and told us about the history of the various places. Until the 1950s, unmarried women who got pregnant used to be put on "Punishment Island" and be left there to die. It is not very far from land but as few people could swim, being left on Punishment Island was most likely a death sentence.

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Punishment Island

On one of the other islands, a Scot had set up a leprosy colony to which people were sent from all over East Africa. It only closed in the early 1980s and the old hospital has been turned into a school. We visited the church, which wasn't in a very good state although the view was fantastic.

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The church on the island that used to be a leprosy colony

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On tour

Most of the time we were just sitting and enjoying being driven around while taking in the views and after a couple of hours, we were dropped at our place again. We looked around, hopeful, but no, we were still the only guests.

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Views of Lake Bunyonyi from our boat, including the Crested Crane, the national symbol of Uganda

We did manage to go for a swim in the pitch dark lake as well, which was pleasant although we didn't stay in the water for long. 

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Nice, short swim in Lake Bunyonyi

The next morning it was time to leave for Kampala. We had decided to take the postbus as we wanted to avoid the crowded matatus. As it was a Sunday we were in doubt as to if the postbus was going, but our hotel manager assured us that it was. At 6.30 we were off with a taxi to Kabale to catch the postbus. When we found it, it was safely locked in behind a pair of huge iron gates. The guard outside informed us that there are no postbuses departing on Sundays. Our taxi driver hence took us to the mode of transport that is always running - the matatus. 

We were actually pleasantly surprised when the minibus left not long after we had boarded it; sometimes you end up waiting for hours. But our relief quickly turned into despair as it became increasingly obvious that  our driver was trying to beat the world record in matatu speeding, overtaking lots of other speeding matatus. He didn't even slow down for the speed bumps, which made the ride even more unpleasant.  

We have been on a lot of mad rides this trip, on winding mountain roads and through congested cities, even on other matatus, but never have we been so afraid as we were here. An overloaded, badly maintained minibus, on a road with lots of bad drivers and cattle wandering alongside it. This could end very badly. We decided that we would get off and find another matatu and asked the conductor to let us off. He either didn't understand or more likely, feigned ignorance. Next, we called the driver to stop. Nothing happened. Then we called, or yelled rather, again, louder and louder, and now the other passengers were calling as well, trying to help us. Desperate to keep us (and our money) onboard, the driver didn't stop but he did slow down. Another passenger told us he also wanted off as he thought it too unsafe, and he suggested to get out in the next town, where we would have a better chance of getting a different matatu.

For the rest of the drive, the speed was more reasonable, even if we had to call out once or twice more. We ended up staying on the matatu all the way to Mbarara where we intended to get a bus to Kampala. By then our Ugandan friend on the matatu was in fierce discussion with the driver and conductor. He later told us that they refused to take us to the place where the buses departed from, as they were adamant to get the two "mizungus" onboard their friend's matatu which was going to Kampala. When we got out, we waited for our friend as we were surrounded by hawkers. When he left with us, one man walked alongside our friend and shouted angrily in the local language. The only words we could hear was "mizungo,  mizungu!!!". He told us later that they were angry that he "took those white people away!!". Thanks to our new friend, we found our way to the much more comfortable, and let's not forget safe, bus and arrived to Kampala in one piece. 

As for our hotel at Lake Bunyonyi, we can only hope that some guests have turned up to replace us!

Posted by Grantandhelena 07:15 Archived in Uganda

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