Lake Victoria. Those are ancestors trying to say something. She keeps mentioning it. The lake wasn’t that calm. It was getting dark. The boat would occasionally seem to be swinging. To the left. To the right. And there was Kassim. So calm. Smiling. Sitting on the edge of the boat. The statistics show that not many have drowned in the lake. That offered some relief. The two hours on the boat ride felt like a whole day. It was lonely out there. The number of boats on the lake was close to zero. The skyline was so clear. There was no light pollution. The stars could be seen. A shooting star. No. An airplane. A conversation about Chinese investors ensued. It was a distraction. Then there was the singing. It was also a distraction. Two hours later, there was the main Bugala Island. Relief. We had swallowed some lake flies as we approached the landing site. They were attracted to the lamps used by fishermen on the lake.
Those flies were perhaps the only meal we’d had since morning. It was now closing in on 8pm.
By the fireplace. Conversations. Drinks. Music. It was the first day of a trip to the Ssese Islands. The main Bugala Island is one of eight four on the Ssese Islands. The rolling palm trees dominate the island that has fine gravel road good for cycling. Thirteen kilometers. That is the distance we had covered on squeaky mountain bikes provided by the travel guide. That was enough exercise for a month. As we sat by the fireplace, it was hard to tell the time. The fireplace is often known for stories people tell.
Our parents would sit around and tell us stories about the hare. The hyena. We would dance to “Mysterious Girl” playing on a Ssembule radio. Then there would be the Lingala song “Ndombolo”. Before we knew it, it was the traditional “entogoro” dance. With our dusty feet, we would retire to our beds, leaving our parents to discuss land and who would be responsible for grazing and milking the cows the next day. That was then.
On the Bugala Island, the fireplace offered an opportunity to chat. To play. The music was being played from a Dell laptop hooked to loudspeakers. As the night faded, we ventured into our beds at Panorama Cottages. Tired. Looking forward to the next morning on Bukasa Island.
Have you come to pray with us or you’re just visiting? He asks. He is one of the caretakers at the Bukasa shrine. This is the home of all the gods. He says. Ssese does present significant cultural symbolism to the Buganda kingdom. That was the explanation we got from him. We had not gone to pray. We wanted to know about the shrine. We were not permitted to enter the prayer room.
Then there are the waterfalls named Nanziri. They also have a spiritual attachment. Here, sacrifices are made to the gods.
The absence of cars, except for an old Land Rover parked – it has been parked for over 20 years – near the Orthodox Church, presents the perfect place for a walk. A trek at the Orthodox Church and ends at the Nanziri falls. It is on such walks that the camera men will show-off.
Given more time, the Nsirwe Island and the Bugaba Island are also worth visiting. The two are known bird and spider breeding and the African Grey parrots respectively. Bugaba is also known its African virgin Equatorial forest.
He had messed up our trip. Unfortunately, he had failed to plan. Domestic tourism is a service industry. A travel agent can mess-up your itinerary. After walking almost 20kms on Bukasa Island, he had failed to organize a snack. He had promised a barbecue later that evening. The evening when we swallowed lake flies. We got grilled goats meat. You needed two hands and a new pair of large incisors to eat the meat. He messed up the bookings for the rooms. The services on the island like the “quad bikes” can be best described as mediocre. We did not let him ruin our excursion. It was yet another night by the fireplace. For services on the island to improve, more people need to visit.
It had all started on a Friday afternoon when we left Kampala for Kalangala. A drive that leads you through the Equator, passed the roadside meat and gonja in Lukaya until Bukakata landing site presents several attractions. Bukakata is the connection to Bugala Island (the main island in Kalangala district) on a 25-minute free ferry service run by Kalangala Infrastructure Services (KIS). Late in the night, the lake is dominated by pressure lamps belonging to fishermen looking to make an evening catch. Fishing is the main economic activity on the 84 islands.
We await the next trip. Touring Uganda. Telling stories.
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