Set at the base of some seven giant volcanoes (most of them dormant… but not all) that more than tower over everything else, Kisoro’s a beautiful sight. Climb up the hill to the north and you get an expansive view of Lake Mutanda, another crater lake, and even some volcanoes situated in Rwanda and DR Congo, both of whose borders are a mere 12 km away. The town itself — small and relatively benign — is a stepping stone for both those countries. So why did I stay for three days?
Well, mountain gorilla tracking. Of course.
Fort Portal and Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
Uganda feels like a mix of both East and West Africa. Unlike in Kenya (let alone Somaliland or Ethiopia, which are entirely different from the rest of East Africa), many people wear colourful, loud prints and traditional clothing. And while Kenyans do it sometimes, Ugandans pepper their speech with the West African-signature high-pitched “ahhh!”, exclaimed approximately whenever we would normally use “wow” or “really?” to express incredulity. It’s addictive. And far more than in Kenya, boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) journeys seem to be the only means to get to some places in a timely manner, and also vastly outnumber cars — not unlike the zemidjans of Togo and Benin. Add on some dusty roads, plus my dusttrap hair, and long boda-boda rides are guaranteed to turn me reddish-brown from head to toe. No use washing my clothes if I have to repeat the journey again the next day…
Inter-town transport is a beast in and of itself, topping West Africa in both the over-the-top and hazardous departments. I was on a bus where a sex scandal (to use the term fellow passengers were calling it) emerged: a man and woman met for the first time, started flirting, and then she asked about his sexual history in front of all the passengers. The bus erupted into raucous laughter and made fun of the duo for hours after. The bus, speeding like all the other ones, also sideswiped a semi speeding on a twisty mountain curve, breaking a window near the back. And to top it all off, I had the most uncomfortable ride of my life, topping the one I had in Togo: in a sedan meant for five, we stuffed in *nine*: five in the back, two in the passenger’s seat, and two in the driver’s seat. (At least the driver-side passenger didn’t have to share driving duties like the one in Togo had to; the original driver just reached over the passenger’s legs to shift gears.) I sat on a seatbelt buckle for two hours. At least the view was nice, but I couldn’t even free my camera from my bag. No leg room, and no arm room either. Hooray for being alive, but I’ve grown so used to these standards that I’ve stopped being surprised or scared for my life. Just another day.
It’s with these methods of transport that I’ve been visiting the volcanic lakes of Uganda, and it’s totally worth the trouble.
Two hours from Kampala, and two hours from the western city of Fort Portal, and in between the towns of Mityana (30 km away) and Mubende (over 40 km away), there’s an unmarked, narrow and bumpy dirt road off the main road. You’d never know it was there if you weren’t looking for it. If you followed it, chances are you would have lost interest before reaching the first house over 2 km down the road.
And I would have never found myself there if it wasn’t for Belinda, who was introduced to me remotely by my friend Carla (who I met in Antarctica four years ago!). She owns a farm here, and it happens to be next to a village. While she spends most of her life in Kampala, farming is a shared passion of her and her husband (who was out of the country while I was there), and they had to look far from Kampala for land.
Sipi Falls and Kampala, Uganda
Strangers are getting into heated discussions in the matatus (confusingly called taxis) here. All around, there are banners, flags, blaring horns from rallies, and of course, hundreds and hundreds of posters from competing parties pasted over each other and over “No Posters Here” signs: it’s election season, with the big day two weeks away. Given the way things go in Ethiopia and Kenya whenever there’s an election, I’m a little bit nervous to be here, and also a little ashamed that I only found out the moment I got to Uganda.
The tiny village of Sipi is magnificently situated across from its namesake falls, two of them clearly visible and the third somewhat hidden behind a hill. I spent practically an entire day sitting outside at my hillside accommodation, chatting with the family that owns the place, and staring at the first (and largest) waterfall, watching it as the light changed from afternoon to evening before heading up to a viewpoint for sunset. But even away from the city, it’s impossible to get away from it all, as we could see and hear rallies in the distance.