Seeking ancient mystery rock art on Dolwe Island

Crazy how am getting used to taking random unplanned low budget(out of budget actually) trips to nowhere. So on my way to Iganga in Eastern Uganda I see a sign post showing Dolwe rock arts, I immediately did some googling and decided to go check it out on my way back to Kampala. I cannot even explain the sudden interest in 500 year old rock paintings but I think it was the pictures of the place I saw on Google and on the different websites that pulled me.

The road to the Bwondha landing site was one fit to be taken on a dirt bike although my neck and back would say a four wheel drive all terrain vehicle and for my bank balance I wouldn’t dare seek that opinion because I did not have the will to walk a 50+km journey. Bwondha was the landing site where I got a boat to Dolwe island.
For the first time I spent a night at a landing site as I had to take the next day boat. It is some kind of peninsula with water on both flanks you can hear the waves from all sides of the small strip town.

The accommodation here is not to standard for visitors, I slept on a raised concrete bed (Ticks off bucket list).
But there is nothing better than having a drink in a strange new place and this place gave me that good feeling as I hoped from one dingy bar to the next with a new found highly inebriated friend who followed me around like a new found puppy. We later took different paths as we did not synch very well either in terms of communication or alcohol blood levels. This place is a multi lingual environment but most choose to speak Luganda and I didn’t meet anyone good at it.
The town was fast asleep by 9pm but I located a ‘karaoke’ club by the noise pollution and this one strangely had benches. Being a stranger I found it unusual and the general feeling was of a crowd seated calmly waiting for the mid night bell so they could go wild. Like anything could happen though nothing was happening as I was there. I was not patient enough for the mid night explosion so I retired to my surprisingly confortable concrete bed.

The early morning boat ride to Ndolwe island Golofa side was as smooth as the waves allowed. I was rather sleepy and the waves rocking the boat was comforting. It took 3 hours to get to the spectacular Ndolwe island Golofa side. It was quite a sight to behold. Scattered rocks many stacked on each other in the lake. This should be the site of the 500 year old rock paintings I thought.

On reaching the shore I was greeted by a ruckus crowd of fishermen touting me about my short swimming shorts which I geniusly assumed were great for this kind of environment of heat, Sandy beaches and water. It really got me thinking of scary things like travelling while black in a country with no black people. Or moving around in a mini skirt in down town Kampala.

Anyway I immediately ventured into the densely packed island with no particular direction in mind. Found myself moving in a circle with my bearings all tangled up, its then that I decided to find a charging point for my phone where I made the inquiries and I got myself a guide at a fee.

Muyonga Arajab and Semwanga though insufficiently informed about these rock paintings, caves and hollows used a guide book from TARA(Trust for African Rock Art) and showed me around. It is mind boggling that something as old as 500 years is still present. The rock paintings, curvings and inscriptions are still clear. One only wonders what kind of paint or ink was used.
The theory goes that the early people used these paintings as directions for migrating groups before them and also as teachings.
It is amazing. Most of the writings and drawing are incomprehensible to anyone today but I can only hope these were not writings warning people not to shit in the cave like many recent ones I see. One goes ‘ tofuka wano fine 40,000’ meaning ‘ do not urinate here, fine 40,000’
These new and many other recent rock writings by locals are a threat to the 500 year old early man rock art. Only difference is the current writings fade faster than the early man writings. Amazing again. I had to ask what kind of paint was used and no one knows.

The views of the lake and rocks are beautiful. The water waves against the many scattered rocks create a sea like aura. I bet no one will rightly identify this place once I put up pictures and create a challenge for anyone to identify it.
No wonder the place has been nicknamed ‘the jewel of lake Victoria’.
There is also a perfectly placed flat area among the rocks suitable for a campsite and as informed by my guides the plan is in place to set it up. Means I definitely have to return as I did not get my fill of the place. This place is beautiful.
I had come to see the ancient paintings but I spent more time taking selfies and landscape pictures.
The island itself where people have settled cannot be described as picturesque as it is mostly ramshackled temporary tin, mud and wattle houses packed together. Also the scanty internet network coverage was a headache. There is no banking or ATMs(what would you be up to to assume there is a bank in a remote island) so it’s better to carry cash.

Being a far island I had to sleep over to catch the next day boat back to the mainland.
I had not planned for this but anything goes for a solo traveller like me. So I got to catch an ‘instagrammable’ sunset on the shore and also sit at the beach for a while and listened to the waves. I guess the people here got tired of the beach because I was here alone. Not entirely though, there were some cats around.

Feeling too knackered I went to bed early with no will to explorer the night life here. It was not so promising as night heavy rain is a norm here and it rained heavily this particular night. So the rain buttering the roof plus my tiredness I slept soundingly with no hope of catching the early morning 7pm boat. I would take the 2pm one.
At day break I took a solo round back to the rocks and shore for more pictures. I have never taken pictures this much before. Everything looked so perfect and picture worthy, beautiful to look at and it was very therapeutic to be here with nature.
I was not putting on the best rock climbing shoes in the world so I had to be careful as I sought out that perfect view having earlier fallen on my butt.
It was very hot and I had woken up stinking and there I was alone on the most beautiful rocky shore of the freshest lake in Africa, so I skinny dipped. One with nature but I was not the only one being exclusive with it as many had made the nooks and crannies of the rocks as rest rooms. It felt so refreshing but unfortunately I could not drink it.
After as I waited for my ride back I was busy editing my pictures only to see the only boat of the day back to the main land leaving(time moved so fast). Getting stuck on an Island was not the experience I had come for, so on the advise of some boat repairers around I was told to jump on a bodaboda and follow the boat to the next docking site where thanks be to God I found it and I was the last to embark before we set off. Whew.
So back to the mainland, back to Reality.

More information on these ancient mysterious rock art can be found here https://africanrockart.org/news/documenting-rock-art-dolwe-island-lake-victoria-uganda/

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Gorilla Trekking;Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Guest post by Patricia Mugisha

For many Gorilla trekking is a bucket list item but for me it was something I had no intentions of doing as it had never really appealed to me. Had it not been for Paula roping it into our weekend getaway to Lake Bunyonyi I do not think I would have done this on my own. Forever ago I went chimp trekking in Budongo forest, a pretty impromptu stopover along a trip some friends and I did from Murchison falls through Fort portal and down to Kanungu. It was the most amazing experience that year and after that I didn’t see any other ape topping that experience so gorillas were never on the brain. Fast forward a few years and here I am.

At about 5:30am with a delicious breakfast stowed away, we left the lodge heading for Ruhija that was 2 hours away arriving at Bwindi National Park. Other trekkers were gathered watching a welcome performance dance (Ekizino) by some Bakiga women from the area. It was a really nice energetic start to the morning. After a briefing on the do’s and don’ts of the forest we were separated into different groups and told which Gorilla families we would be trekking, in our case, the Mukiza family. Only 80 people in groups of 8 are allowed to trek daily. An option of porters at $15 each is given to help with bags and giving a little nudge here and there while traversing the trail. For those who can’t handle the strenuous journey ahead there’s an option of a stretcher for $300.we opted for two porters; Gloria and Speria.

There are only about 900 mountain gorillas left in existence making them an endangered species. Half of these can be found here in Bwindi and the rest in Virunga National park that borders Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Before the trek begins, spotters are sent out earlier and brighter than you and I would care to go to let the guides know where to go and what not.

The trek to see the gorillas was an excruciating 3 hours affair up some slippery slopes and down some treacherous thicket, penetrating the impenetrable…..(penetrate,hehehe such a funny word) is not easy people. There wasn’t a drop of rain in sight and the sun really came out! I was dying, thank goodness for Speria if she wasn’t there I don’t know what I would have done, I always considered myself somewhat fit but that notion went right out the window after the first hour. After eons sliding, falling and sweating buckets we finally got to them, Mountain Gorillas are a sight to behold!

The first one was Kanwanyi, very chilled out, then a female with her unbelievably cute baby and just to the left the head gorilla in charge; Silverback Mukiza himself. Pretty big guy that one his silver hairs glistened in the sun as he strutted about and made for quite the show. At some point we got really close and Mukiza got up suddenly as if to lunge. Us girls were so ready to sprint back to Kampala there and then. We’d been told in the briefing not to run when charged, just slowly back away. Easier said than done I was having none of that. Turns out he was simply adjusting his sitting position to his other butt cheek and went about his business. Trekkers are allowed an hour with the gorillas but with 19 minutes to go, we were all pretty satisfied with the experience and happy to call it a day. Then it was back to a 4 hour trek back up to the reception. I won’t lie I thought about the stretcher situation, got ashamed of myself and immediately got my ass in gear to finish what I had started, slowly! Speaking of said stretchers, a few months ago I saw a picture on social media of two foreigners being hoisted up during the trek. The man who’d posted it was up in arms talking about how slavery and colonialism were alive and well and calling for a boycott or whatever, naturally people in the comments were equally seething. Thing is though, I feel like if you’re going to have such a strong opinion on something at least educate yourself on the issue, until you’ve been down there and done this trek you really can’t be out here foaming at the mouth. This trek is difficult and should be classified as an extreme sport, the potters doing it are very willing with no one forcing them to do it. It is a source of income and also, it is not just for foreigners, it is for anyone that needs it.

Upon completing the trek all battered, bruised and splinter ridden for some there was a certificate awarding ceremony which I think is just incredibly great. This trek is an achievement! In all we started at 8am and ended at 4pm where we left and made our way back to the comfort of our lodge for some much needed R&R and gin.

Gorilla trekking is an amazing, out of this world experience. I truly saw and understood what all the fuss was about. Would I do it again, absolutely NOT! I do however recommend it. Just so you know there are instances where you could hike all day and not see any gorillas, it’s not guaranteed but trips are organized to make up for such an event to ensure you get your moneys’ worth.

Thank you Gloria and Speria. You truly are wonder women!

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Patricia Mugisha is; Travel. Food . Lifestyle. A Cacti lover, Rick and Morty groupie and absolutely hates musicals!

Read her blog at www.mugisher.com

Braving a new reality

 

It has been a whirlwind year so far. So many experiences, up and downs and u turns but nothing compares to suddenly quitting  a job. It was liberating, scary and exhilarating. A matter of sunshine and rain.
Joy and pain. But mostly joy.
As I take a pause and contemplate on my next move I find one place of solace , that is engaging with the bravest of them all, the people in the arts.
There is something about the starving artist that gives me great inspiration and admiration for them. First of all the patience they have lasts like a lifetime before they make it. The belief in their arts is only comparable to the belief a parent has in a son. And the determination to make it with accurate pin point focus to reach an end goal is mind boggling.

So as I pick my direction, I engaged with a number of  creatives, artists and artisans as I got to attend one of my favourite events ‘Creative talks Africa’ organised by Kq and design hub with the host being an articulate and interesting gentleman called Wabwire .
This is an engagement of one creative with an audience which consists mostly of other creatives and people involved in the creative industry. The second one I attended was about festivals in Uganda,  the founders and how festivals come about and how they impact artists and how they are mostly organised by foreigners.
I loved the whole concept and it was a source of inspiration and ideas.

I got several ideas floating in my head and I need a starving artists focus to make them a reality. So am counting down. The ideas have been conceived, now we wait for the delivery.

Despite the well deserved break from the 9-5 I cannot seem to rest, the mind is restless and on high radar alert than before looking for the next niche. This is all working out unconsciously but I will need to sit down and know what to focus on.
This is the year of the brave, the late 20’s come with a lot of expectations. As a classmate is getting married, another is living as a hobo yet they all have the same expectation from life. Someone should have prepared us for these strange times though all in all am enjoying.

The adventure, the whirlwind chase for something almost out of reach, the realisations of child hood dreams and fantasies, the travels, the awesome friends and family. The minor and major achievements, the festivals. The cries and the laughter. The ups and downs. That is life.
The 9-5 did not feel like life, it was more like waiting to die. A secure job, a monthly salary, an alarm set same time all year, same faces to see each morning. Boring. But having so far survived six months months off I will say all that financial self education from the internet that barely applied to our  Uganda economy has paid off.

Now though often being scared and hopeless one second and the next hopeful with possibilities , I feel like am living. I don’t know what I will be doing next, no ideas who am meeting tomorrow or where I will go. It’s just that.

All am looking for now is a stable wifi in the various remote locations am able to go.

Where the dinosaurs lived

I encountered the most beautiful place I had laid my eyes on, Karamoja. From Napak to Kaabong, it was all awesomeness, I was left in awe at the nature of the landscape, people and weather.
I have been embarking on these journeys alone but there is nothing like ‘solo travel’ because everywhere I have gone so far there are familiar faces, family and friends.

 

 


Being always madly impatient on most journeys with this one being the longest, it was a totally different travel experience. I hitched a ride with Lorika and his family so most of the time I was preoccupied with interaction with his very brilliant kids  and the rest of the time I was enjoying the Savannah grassland landscape filled with green hills and marvellously shaped rocks and different rock formations. The road itself was a typical safari road, mostly Marrum but smooth. It was a ride straight out of a movie with us heading to a far far away land of mystery. The first thought that came to my mind as I was gazing at this landscape that was unendingly moving past was ‘this is where the dinosaurs lived’.
Dinosaurs, the poster boys of extinction must have enjoyed such a landscape. The flatness where one could see as far as the eye could allow, the rocks scattered  all over, and the hills and mountains.

The journey took us through most of Eastern Uganda and we were lucky enough to take a ferry ride on the Lake Bisina.  It was  rather a big raft with a big engine. It was amusing. Looking at the ferry from far you would think it can hardly accommodate more than 5 cars but when it was time to board, am still amazed at what this big raft could carry

 

 

Proceeding through the beautifully formed Napak mountain I was like ‘screw it, I have seen everything where is the exit?’ but little did I know this was just the icing on the cake. Mount Moroto was far more monstrously imposing and stunning.

Passing through Kaabong to the Kidepo valley national park felt like I was in a place outside time and maybe space. The sunrise from behind the mountains found us on the road to Kidepo. I was dumbstruck and embarrassingly simple minded at this moment like those seconds when you wake up from bed.

 

 

This was a reserve for us from God but with the help of the early elephant hunters like Lorika’s great grand father. The story goes that Lorika’s great grand dad was a prominent elephant hunter who helped foreigners  in their hunting expeditions. But he cunningly took the foreigners In circles around the mountains and never really let them see and possibly hunt in the kidepo valley because he knew what a beauty it was and also wanted his great grand kids to behold this piece of nature’s cake. Talk of unsung heroes and a fairytale story as I got to do a park drive with one of his great grand children.

we saw the Buffaloes, lions, antelopes, water bucks, and the very elusive elephants, giraffes and one thing I noticed is that all animals in this very large expanse looked well fed, I guess it was just nature at its best. The Eco system was intact.

 

 


We also got to pitch camp at the Karatum lodge which is a new lodge still under construction  perfectly wedged between two rocks and overlooking the national park. There is no better view than this and I vow to be one of the first clients when it opens. Hope Lorika gives me a heads up.
So definitely I will be back to Kidepo valley.

 

The Karamoja cultural festival

What is culture if it cannot be celebrated proudly by it’s people and admired by people from outside that culture. That is why with an impromptu invitation from long time friend Lokol, other culture hoggers, appropriators and I took a long rather scenic ride to what seemed like the end of the world to Kaabong in Northeastern Uganda. A place I would later describe as ‘where the dinosaurs lived’. This ended up being a road trip around Uganda with new friends,family and fascinating stories.

 

 

The Karamoja cultural festival is arguably the biggest cultural festival by a tribe in Uganda. This started as a tribal meet up in Kampala perhaps to escape the usual snore of urban culturally eroded lifestyle lacking the fashion and pomp in lifestyle, food and clothing. perhaps the love to involve the people back home or lack of ceilings high enough to accommodate the edonga jumping dance. Anyway the mtv premier league second hand clothes wearing minds of the concrete jungle would not really appreciate a major distraction in terms of this traffic stopping colourful cultural festival which clearly truely belongs in the beautiful  flat, hilly, rocky savannah plains of Karamoja. So there was no venue more befitting this year than Kaabong which attracted all k’jong tribes from various walks of life. From the Turkana from Kenya, the Jiye and Toposa from South Sudan, and those  from Ethiopia. So despite  consuming the mind farts of many professors, historians and teachers I still cannot totally break down this very diverse ethnic group.

The usually traffic deprived streets of Kaabong this time were busting with energy and life with different sects dancing and singing in processions. Each displaying what is unique about them as K’jong. The Karamojongs are a big tribe divided dinstinctly by district borders. So we have different sect of k’jongs in Uganda coming from Moroto, Kaabong, kotido, napak, amudat nabilatuk, abim , Nakapirit, each having a major distinction from the other in some very unnoticeable way to a foreigner.

 

 

And what is a cultural festival without the food and drink. I got to taste the Agodish which is a flour meal mixed with ghee, milk, and some oil. I could only compare the sharp tingling taste to the Injeera from Ethiopia. Then there was the Emunna which would make the best snack ever. Emunna is a groundnut sim sim  paste mixed with milk, ghee, and pounded meat. There should be other ingredients in this food but that is what my amateur tongue got to taste.
The scantily but smartly clad girls adorned in various ornaments and beads including the current Miss Tourism Uganda who I got a glimpse of got all the fibers in me raged to an unpleasant stiffness but I did not mind much with all the local brew ngagwee streaming  through my veins in the scotching semi arid desert sunshine which unfortunately later turns into a bone biting cold breeze in the night.

It is hard to relieve this whole festival in a blog post but I got to take pictures of everything and anything with no one of the festival goers giving a flying squirrels posterior about it. Perhaps because here everyone was a moving exhibition of style and pomp. I myself was not left out as I followed norm and dressing, I felt k’jong, Scottish and female at the same time. The Shuka cloth for a trouser with barely nothing under and multiple colourful beads, many a fashion guru could use some ideas.

With the sound of energetic  stomping, synchronised sing songs , 2 day sleep debt all still in my head, I had to bide farewell to the festival and return to the less colourful life.

The Kasurur falls

Many know them as the Sipi falls probably after the place they are found , Sipi Kapchorwa Uganda but the locals have a name for them which is Kasurur falls altogether. Being a hater for cliche and very suceptible to boredom, a believer in ‘something different’ I will refer and implore all to refer to them by their given name by the locals, Kasurur falls.

After a long solo ride and being the annoying neighbour on the bus, I reached Mbale then Kapchorwa, perched up and camped at the scenic Moses camping site. Well I want to say this is the best spot to camp while in sipi. It is on the edge of the rock right opposite the Kaparukungu fall which is the biggest and main fall given that it even earned a spot on the 10,000 Uganda shilling currency. The Kaparukungu falls is named so by the villagers but many refer to it simply as Sipi 3 or the main falls.

Sipi falls is a combination of three breathtaking falls and the best of them is something relative. To me the best is the first fall Kapacheborion commonly known as Sipi 1 though am still undecided on that. My best as I got closest and one gets to busk in the mist formed. Also it starts it all.

The second fall is Kapachebrot also known as Sipi 2. This is the smallest of them but i got to view it from behind, quite a spectre. So basically each all is unique. After typing this I have to rethink which the beat of the falls is. It’s hard to choose. Because remembering Kapachebrot, I stood right there behind it, like standing behind an unsuspecting person to whisper something. It was amazing.

The falls are referred to beginning with ‘kapa’ as it means ‘family of’ in kooksabiny. So the falls are found in land that belongs to different families Chebrot, Cheborion and Rukungu.

Thanks to my guide Emmanuel, I managed to have a memorable time in Sipi and also he took the pictures, mostly. So after an ‘ice bucket challenge’ kind of shower at the camp i proceeded further up the mountains to Kapchorwa town to have a God’s view of the plains. Stunning, I could see as far as lake Bisinia and mount Moroto.

The pictures.