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

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.

Uganda’s very British problems

The coloniser left us with a number of problems including these very British problems we inherited. Not sure how they were passed onto us but perhaps it was during the signing of those several forever binding agreements where tea and cookies were served. The front runners of all this must have been the rich enough and privileged enough to chill with the coloniser. Or the beautiful and Melanined enough to sleep with them.
Perhaps it was a natural pull that the British found their perfect match in us as we shared the same ways. Quite a love story but unfortunately after the break up one party is still in confusion and suffering from abject poverty as they were more of leaches and dependants in this relationship and the other was just cunning. Bad thing is that even after the very ceremonial breakup, either party won’t fully let go. There is a commonwealth.

Speaking of break ups and the commonwealth, there was a royal wedding last weekend which reminded most of us of our own Royal weddings down here in the banana republic. Tooro and its princess who wasted our time then the Kabaka who ended up conforming to his traditions and getting a prince out of wedlock after marrying in church. What absurd state of confusion.
We have failed to find a balance between our British ways and our traditional ways. I can’t be sure where we shall draw the line on the topic of homosexuality.

But “We should definitely organise something soon to further discuss this!”
When a Ugandan says this, it’s just a polite way of saying see you at the next wedding. This phrase is #4 on the English language cheatsheet we were left with to guide us with the British language.

#1 on the Ugandan English language cheatsheet. Here is a baffling one.
All answers to how are you is ‘am fine’. But here are a few suggestions we can use. These should be crammed.
– I’m very unsure
– Bad, I think?
– I’m just pretending to work until home time
– I’ve no idea what I’m doing
– There’s so much to do but I’m not going to do it
– Have you seen the state of me?
– I’d rather not say
– Please go away
– No

The scary bit is not being honest about everything else. We are not honest about how we are or how we are feeling and this I suspect has led to dishonesty in other things like prices of items in owino or government funds meant for the sick or needy.
But I understand due to the many problems we have down here, it’s safer answering ‘am fine’ because if someone begins deliberating their problems they will be endless. And no one has time to listen to 99 problems and money is all of them.
Actually I came across a joke that if you have less than $40 on you in Kampala, don’t dare ask a girl how she is.

This is from some friends.
“Aged 20, the concept of being honest about feeling crap didn’t occur to me as a possibility. I thought you just didn’t tell people you were ill until you were dying or something.”

“I baffled my French boss one day when I was feeling ill and didn’t bother him about it until I felt I could no longer sit at a computer. ‘But you said you were fine an hour ago?!'”

And at the work place you find phrases like “I hope this email finds you well”
I bet you have come across this in your email. I swear this must have been the same statement John speak started with as he wrote to the Royal geographic society when he ‘discovered’ the Nile. Of course he must have said ‘hope this whatsapp text finds you well’

Nope, it finds me bored, tired and irritable, but go on…

Then when it gets to modern day communication You get things like “Did you get my text?”

Yup. Read it as soon as it arrived. Bye.

Often when we meet long lost friends.
“You are lost”
“You’re very quiet”
“You’re not”

And finally talking the weather
“Cold out there”
“Yeah it was raining when I left the house

– end of conversation –
– repeat tomorrow –

Nothing much to talk about the weather anyway. The British have over four different seasons but it all comes down to lots of rain and some sunny days as down here in Uganda we have two seasons but it all comes down to sunny and abrupt rain. You will wait in vain to put on your fav shorts if you are counting on perfect weather in either country.
Given how unpredictable the alternation is, the weather to put on shorts is anytime. So if you find a Ugandan soaked from head to toe wearing shorts, do not take him for a fool for the wardrobe choice, i guarantee you it was sunny and hot as the Sahara that morning as he was leaving the house.

The Thrill of Bungee Jumping

“I’d rather be scared to death than bored to death”

To take the jump or not to. This is how life has been lately as we battle every day situations and shenanigans in a crazy world. After a catastrophic week mired with anxiety, mild depression, zero motivation and whole days spent sleeping. I needed a push, a shove and a shrink who i found in my friend Adrian(Jack of all trades this one, same guy who did photography for my Airbnb listing). Not shocking since he hates my guts and  is not a professional counselor, Adrian advised me to go jump to my death. I cant believe i trusted this man’s discernment but i half decided to go Bungee jumping the following weekend.

I have been to the world renown tourist destination Jinja several times with family and friends, camped at the Nile and i always pass through it between home and Kampala. It is fun but there are those few seconds i always craved for. Those few seconds on the Adrift Nile high bungee. To suggest it to the parents would be like signing up for parentlessness and impromptu burial arrangements just like i waved off my rights to sue Adrift just in case something went wrong.

I have always known that am manically fearless and daring with my love for contact sports and trouble at school but jumping from one of the most spectacular 140ft high bungee in the world is something else.

A few years from now i will not be able to tell how i got up there but i hurriedly and fearlessly got up there with no second guessing or contingency plans but i guess this was partly induced by the the strict no refund policy in case one got weak knees and peed themselves.

Being a long time coming, i had to savor this moment,  while walking up the steel platform that soars over the cliff that towers over the deep fast flowing river Nile i looked down, i looked him in the eye. Though i highly suspect its a her since it involves risking it all and diving  into waters for a thrill that lasts seconds.

Prior to the decision to do the jump, one particular detail stood out being which diving pose i would use. Would it be the grand old pool dive, the superman flying pose, the Neo flying pose from the matrix or maybe the naked man stance. While up there I was shown into the ‘kings seat’ so called maybe because it has been sat into by greats including prince William and others who have taken on the ‘ultimate personal challenge’.  Here attention to detail was key as i was  strapped so hard at the ankles and at the waist area it left a humongous organ print on my khaki pants(exaggeration here for personal reasons). The bungee safety guy appropriately donning a t shirt with the words “id rather be scared to death than bored to death” pointed out the safety features perhaps in a bid to make sure i did not change my mind or because he has dealt with lots of back to back safety questions from scared patsies and sissies. Then under strict instructions i hoped to the edge, crossed the cord that separated the jumper from the safety guys which really made me feel like i was  in that situation where you are making a bad decision alone and the separating code was to make sure  you do not take anyone else down with you.  I still had my everything together standing on the edge, i was able to wave to the camera and  with the wind howling i heard loud mumblings with a barely understandable count from the safety guys as i jumped with the superman stance into the air. It felt like an unending jump into a bottomless pit in a dream, adrenaline at its peak with nothing to hold on, seeing nothing but green and blue then suddenly i felt a pull upwards and that’s when i felt saved and had to  soar like a kite in the sky. The upward bouncing ans swinging happened several times as i barely heard the  stewards calling on me to hold the oar so i could be lowered into an inflatable boat.

I Finally found the only thing that lasts shorter than sex or an mixed martial arts fight but more dangerous and exciting. I vow to do it again.

I was so exhilarated by the whole experience and relieved this moment again and again thanks to the great in-house photography and my resilient Sony xperia ray video recording. This is also when i found out that instead of looking like superman taking a jump, i looked like the drunk looser Hancock.

 

 

 

#UgHacks: How to hook up with a muzungu without being a rasta

So you are an average male Ugandan who likes to keep his hair short and neat, you prefer your jeans clean when you put them on, you are not into weed and smoking, and although we are all black, you have a lighter skin complexion and you have a real job so you cannot hang out at bars everyday. how are you going to compete with the Rasta who are everything you are not for a muzungu lady?

First what makes the Ugandan Rasta the bazungu ladies men is a mystery but we won’t delve into that. though i think it is the dreads, no. maybe the fact that they do not discriminate by age. or they are more Ugandan than the rest. mystery? so to have it easier just be a Rasta.
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But for one who sees this unfairness where if a muzungu is dating a Ugandan girl, they date the best of them preferably a model. Then when a Ugandan man dates a muzungu….all hell breaks loose but i do not want to offend anyone. so i think we need a meeting with the Rasta community because they are the majority of people setting these unfair standards.

Enough of the Rasta.

Given that there is currently an obsession about dating light-skin chics in Kampala,  if someone turned up with a white chic, competition would be dead. he would win the competition without lifting a finger.

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Now from Ug-Hacks here is how a “not-a-Rasta” guy can turn up with a muzungu babe.

Join Aiesec:this students organization is responsible for a good percentage of the datable white females who come to Uganda. if you are too old for Aiesec friends. (small shout-out to Joseph and Gerald)
Join an NGO: NGOs are breeding grounds for  bazungu females with good hearts. Keep your day Job and be one of the few Ugandans who volunteer or just be a big time donor. ‘hard paper’ that one but eyes on the prize.

Lastly: leave the tourists bazungu for the Rasta

UG-hacks: How to pick the right boda-boda in Kampala

I write this for the locals. For others, the thing is once you get to Uganda, try to become a local. it will be more fun that way. otherwise you will be conned by the man next to you right at the airport. In fact even by that one you landed with at Entebbe.

Today i start my series of UG-hacks. Hack number one is about how to choose the best and safest boda-boda when you are in town. find description of boda-boda here

Boda-boda at work. any load.

Boda-boda at work. any load.

For good price negotiation, choose the shabbiest and dirties boda-boda rider(huh!), these tend to be owning the bikes because by the time it gets old like that it means he finished paying off the loan he used to buy it so that only means low charges. And also the shabbiness indicates good nature. everyone will side with me, neat people tend to be a bit rude, arrogant and a tad bit too serious.

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And for guarantee that that boda-boda you are taking won’t only take you past your destination but also rob you,pick a boda-boda from an organized boda-boda stage. i mean boda-boda stages are everywhere there is a shade in Kampala. This won’t be hard. actually you can create your own boda stage without owning a boda-boda. what you need to do is plant a tree outside your gate and baaaam… boda stage.

As for cheap prices and faster getaways…always stop the moving ones. in Kampala there are boda-bodas that roam aimlessly and can take any direction and you could find them easily, just like in Kampala we have the ‘bazungu’. These boda-bodas will take you anywhere faster(for lack of a nicer word for recklessly) and you have the privilege of never hearing from them again.

Because there are those boda-bodas once you use them, they take it upon themselves to haunt you. whenever you show up at the stage or immediately show  your head out of the gate. they will show up. we all hate those ones. because there will be a time you will feel like taking a female boda-boda. and you won’t because of this contract binding you to that nagging boda man who want to have a conversation while riding. with all that wind blowing his words away but you have to be polite and reply.

Lastly please avoid the yuppy ones. you can identify these easily, they don’t put on helmets or their helmet visor is always raised. well this is a tricky one, most of them don’t put on helmets. so it only means one thing, all boda-bodas in Kampala have an opinion on everything, unfortunately that only means they are human. They will chew your ear off in that gustily wind while riding down one of the hills. The gas you will have at the end of the day will get you ready for the next UG-hacks.