LORNA’S RWENZORI TREKKING EXPERIENCE

 

Lorna at Rwenzori Peak

My interest and inspiration in the Rwenzori Mountain Range all started a year ago, around August 2016 on one boring Sunday afternoon as I was lying on my bed and lazily flipping over the pages of the Uganda Wildlife Authority Magazine and reading about the various national parks we have in the country. They all seemed interesting, but as soon as I opened the page titled Rwenzori Mountains National Park -The Mystical Challenge, I was extremely fascinated. At that exact moment, I started to envision myself trekking up to get to the famous Margherita peak that stands at an astonishing height of 5,109m. The idea of the highest point in Uganda covered in ice and snow sparked off so much excitement inside me that I knew right away I had to hold the ice in my hands.

I spent the next months doing my research on the Rwenzori Mountains. I wanted my dream of holding ice in my hands at the highest point in Uganda to come true. I contacted various trekking services; Rwenzori Mountaineering Services(RMS), Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS), and compared prices. I read stories of several people who had been up the mountain and I contacted them for their own personal experiences during the trek.From all the responses and advice I received,it was quite obvious that it was going to be a strenuous hike, normally only attempted by experienced mountaineers. I am no experienced mountaineer, but either way, I knew I had to get to the peak.

As months went by, I got to know of a club known as the Mountain Slayers Club of Uganda; A group of young energetic men and women with the desire to hike mountains and climb rocks. I contacted the team and agreed to join 14 of them to attempt the great task of conquering the mystical challenge.

Rwenzori Trekking-Day One – Sunday 9th July 2017 – Nkurungu Trail to Kebitakuli Camp

Due to a few delays our trek started a bit late in the afternoon, with the scorching sun beating down on our heads. We were introduced to the guides and porters who were to guide us during the trek, carry our luggage and prepare our meals .We were meant to start our hike using the Nkurungu Trail(which had not officially been used before) and this meant we had the honour of officially opening the trail. I stuffed my day pack with energy drinks, chocolates, energy bars, crisps, sanitizers; making sure I had all I needed but that it was not so heavy as to cause me additional fatigue.

The trek involved us going up and down a few hills and it was draining as the sun was very hot. We made a few stops under the shade of trees, munched on some energy bars, drank some water and went on trekking for 6 hours until we reached our accommodation for the night at the Kebitakuli camp. It was cold during the night, but fortunately we were sharing tents and had a nice fireplace set right outside to keep us warm. A delicious dinner was prepared and served by the guides and we ate heartily. We cracked jokes by the fire place and the guides briefed us about the next day’s journey and then we went to sleep.

Rwenzori Trekking- Day Two-Monday 10th July- Kebitakuli to Kambeho Camp

Day two Rwenzori Trek

Our day started at 6.30am with a warm bath for some of us under some trees and a tasty breakfast of eggs, sausages and bread, washed down with milk tea. This was followed by the day’s 6 hour trek to our intended camp for the night called Kambeho camp at 3700m ASL (Above Sea Level).

I found the trek very relaxing with plenty of heather trees, Giant Lobelias and a variety of beautiful flower species and vegetation to marvel at along the way. The water flowing down the streams of Mount Rwenzori is so clean, pure and cold.I must confess drinking water from a stream in Uganda is not usually a good idea, but up in the mountains, it´s pure and relatively safe. We had a few breaks for lunch and relaxation during the day which was lovely as it granted me a perfect opportunity to take some memorable photographs.

We arrived at Kambeho Camp in a relaxed mood, enjoyed another lovely meal prepared by the guides, swapped some more stories and then retired to bed for the night.

Rwenzori Trekking- Day Three-Tuesday 11th July-Kambehoto Mughuli Lake Camp

Day three Rwenzori Trek

After an early breakfast we were off again for a 7hour trek for the day, with a climb along the beautiful river Lhume.  The vegetation was spectacular, the sceneries eye catching too and my spirits were extremely high. I had plenty of time pretending to be a diva in front of the camera. This was so much fun so we had our regular breaks for energy drinks/bars and Lunch.  We set camp at Mughuli Lake Camp where we did the usual relaxing by the fireplace, telling stories, cracking jokes, dinner and retiring to bed.

Rwenzori Trekking- Day Four-Wednesday 12th July-Mughuli to Bukurungu East Lake Camp

This was one of the toughest days during the trek. We had two options; either climb the Portal Peak which is 4627m ASL or proceed for a less strenuous 6-7hour trek to the Bukurungu Camp which was meant to be our resting camp for the night. As usual, I love to take on a challenge and I agreed to join the group that went up the Portal Peak.  We had to wear gumboots as the ground was boggy and I found myself sinking into it several times. Luckily for me, my personal guide Denis was always by my side, front or back to hold me at my weakest moments.

Going up the Portal Peak was a very steep rocky climb for all of us and extremely energy draining as well. I had to mix lots of glucose in my water to keep my body going. It was a long devastating climb, I remember asking Denis several times if we were almost getting to the top and he always responded with“Just a few minutes Madame”, but these few minutes turned into hours and I eventually stopped asking. We finally got to the top but felt battered.

I could easily compare the Portal Peak trek to going 10 rounds with Moses Golola (a famous Ugandan Champion Kick Boxer). Not that I have tried kick boxing before – or would want to, but Portal Peak could easily be described as a fight that you’re fortunate to survive.

Going down the mountain was quite difficult too and I felt it was one of the greatest challenges of being tall.My knees felt weak and if it wasn’t for the knee braces that tightly held my knees in place; I suspect my knees would have given way.

We got back to Bukurungu Camp relatively late and had a shower, dinner and went straight to sleep. I was too exhausted mentally and physically for any chit-chat with the group.

Rwenzori Trekking-Day Five-Thursday 13th July- Bukurungu Camp to Bujuku Hut

After breakfast we were out again,  this time for an estimated 5-7 hour trek to the Bujuku Hut where we intended to sleep for the night. My mood was a bit low this morning. I am an introvert and extrovert at the same time (yes I am as confusing as that sounds). I am naturally very friendly and outgoing but I value my personal space considerably as well. Being around the 14 other members of the group all the time was starting to frustrate and irritate me and I craved for some alone time. I wanted time to mentally reflect, think and derive energy from within. Sadly the group later misinterpreted this act as a selfish one, which is truly wasn’t, but I can’t fully explain myself to other people all the time – more so when my full focus was on conquering the Mystical Challenge.

I was getting irritated with the constant muddy, boggy terrain and I’m certain my personal guide Denis noticed the look of disgust on my face. He surprised me when he asked me to follow him to a route he said was less strenuous, and just as though my prayers were answered, this was a totally different route from the rest of the group.Denis and I walked on our own for almost 40 minutes in total silence.My mood was getting better and the terrain was much drier and easier to walk on, allowing my pace to increase greatly.

“Madame you are walking fast”.He broke the silence as he looked at me with a smile on his face. He noticed the sudden calm and relaxation on my face compared to an hour earlier. I laughed hard and took out two chocolate bars from my day pack, handed him one and we started to chat.

It struck me that we had not engaged in much conversation since the trek begun, other than the usual “madame step here”, “madame step there” “madame you are walking too fast or too slow” or “madame drink some water”. It finally dawned on me that I had not said much to him and I was curious to know all about him.

“Call me Lorna not Madame” I said to him…but after various attempts he failed to pronounce my name correctly and so we stuck with “madame”.

I asked Denis about his family and I was surprised that he had only one wife and three children. The majority of African men living in remote areas tend to be polygamous with a large number of children.

I was impressed to know that his children were in school studying but the conversation became very uncomfortable when I asked how much he earned for his work and he told me he was paid only UGX 10,000 a day (around USD 3). Only USD 3 a day and yet he walked tirelessly with my day pack, holding my hand, encouraging me to keep on moving. He dealt with my tantrums, frustrations and mood swings and always remained calm. I have not met a man with such a calm, patient spirit in a long time. I could tell it was not all about customer care but that he was naturally a very calm man and I doubt he ever got angry in his life. I highly doubt it.

As we kept on talking I found myself more and more confused about his financial situation, not only for him but for all the guides, porters and cooks.According to his revelations they all earned very little and it perturbed me. As Denis was my personal guide, I felt a sense of responsibility and asked him to hand me my camera bag. I had hidden some emergency cash just below my camera so I took out a UGX 50,000 note and handed it over to him and then I promised to pay school fees for a term for one of his daughters. This was not because I am rich, far from it, but because I felt a need to step in and brighten his life in a way.

Denis´s face brightened up and he was smiling and laughing.He started to talk so fast, and he opened up and told me so many stories that I could barely keep up.His English was not so good and I struggled to understand some of the things he said but I was content he was happy.

We reached the central circuit and I was impressed with the pieces of timber that were lined up above the bog, this was just a brilliant idea. I remember stopping to take pictures with Denis, we laughed, we jumped up and down. It was so beautiful gazing at Lake Bujuku.Denis joked about how cold the water was and claimed only the Russians could swim in it.

The rest of the trek towards the camp was interesting and I was glad for taking some time away from the group and bonding greatly with him. I dedicate this day of my hike to Denis….It started on such a bad note but he turned it around for me and it ended up really well.

Rwenzori Trekking– Day 6- 14th July –Bujuku to Ellena hut

Lorna at Day six

Before proceeding from Bujuku hut it’s very important to read the warning information that is stuck on the glass window. When one arrives at Bujuku hut they are automatically at the heart of the mystical challenge. I remember reading through the instructions and getting extremely nervous. It read:

“You should not attempt to go any higher in elevation but descent to a lower hut in case you are coughing, have difficulty in breathing, shortness in breathe, severe headache or nose bleeding. It is difficult to affect a rapid rescue to Bujuku, Kitandara or Ellena huts as they are the worst places to have a serious illness at the central circuit”.

The more I read, the more nervous I got. I had been coughing the whole night, had difficulties breathing and at one point during my sleep I felt like I was choking and had to sit up on my bed for almost an hour. I wore five pairs of socks but my feet still felt cold. I noticed some blood when I blew my nose that morning and it was quite obvious the mountain sickness had got to me. I quickly swallowed my tablets and tried to remain calm. I remembered how long I had planned for this trip, the amount I spent on the trip and equipment – almost USD 850 (I would have flown to Mombasa on holiday and back for this amount). I remembered the pressure and expectations of getting to the peak from friends, family and my poor boyfriend who had to bring me a sleeping bag, skiing glasses, a brand new camera, hiking shoes and warm socks all the way from Norway. A trip he was not even part of but had spent a fortune on. All these thoughts ran through my mind and I decided I was going on until I reached the peak. There was simply no way I could give up at this moment. In my mind, I would have failed myself and all the people who were looking up to me.

As soon as we were done with breakfast we posed for some photos with beautiful scenery in the background and then went on with the day´s trek. It was a bit of a tough trek, starting off with bog and mud, then rocky and steep terrain. The rocks were giving me a hard time and Denis had to stretch out his hand every now and then to pull me up. I started feeling the fatigue accumulating around my muscles from days of trekking and I could  feel the altitude taking its toll as we were elevating fast. We eventually arrived at Ellena Hut exhausted after 5-6 hours and we had very few hours to sleep as we had to be up by 2am to begin the walk up the glacier.

Just as soon as we had supper and settled in, we met the guides for a briefing on the do’s and don’t s up the glacier and instructions and familiarization with the axes, crampons and harnesses. I was a bit disappointed as the equipment seemed old, with the crampons appearing rusty and weak, but I was too exhausted to worry about that and retired to bed for the night.

Rwenzori Trek – Day 7-15th July 2017- Ellena Hut to The Summit

We were up by 1am and had a quick breakfast, which enabled us leave by 2am. This was important so we could be up to Magherita and down by 10am. I took a dose of acetazolamide to fight the altitude sickness and as it was still pitch black night time, we all had our head torches firmly strapped on our foreheads as we set off. We finally got to the snowline area, fitted our crampons and practiced walking on ice. It was a tricky at the start but eventually became easier.

I took some time to hold the ice in my hands just as I had wanted. It was beautiful, spectacular. The views blew me away…..my dream was starting to turn into reality.

We climbed up and down a few more steep rocks and finally arrived at the base of the glacier. It was now time to wear the crampons again, get hold of the axes and summit.The moment was upon us. I felt nervous and anxious as it looked dangerous. I was not quite sure how I would get up there, I had never done this before, my emotions were a melting pot of excitement and fear.

Denis asked me to stick to him and there was a gentleman behind him whom I shortly followed.It started out well with us pulling ourselves up with a rope until the situation started to slowly get way out of control.

The guy ahead of me was slowly slipping down because of my weight on the rope and I didn’t know how to use the axe properly. The guys behind me were yelling at me to get out of the way, making me feel so much anger and confusion targeted towards me. I decided at that point to give up.

I remember yelling out to Herbert (the professional mountain guide who was at the base), to kindly evacuate me. I had totally lost interest in summiting. All I wanted to do was to get out of the way.Reaching the summit simply didn´t matter anymore. It took about 40 minutes for Herbert to reach me and I immediately asked him to take me down.

“No madame, you have trekked 6 days to get to this point, I have been watching you, you are a strong woman, follow me and we will get to the top” The rest is history.

I will forever remain indebted to Herbert, for being extremely professional and encouraging at my weakest moment. I pulled myself to the top, took amazing photos on the Magherita and was very proud of myself. I was glad that, despite of the negative energy derived from the group, there was one positive person at that crucial time to make my dream come true.

Coming down the glacier was a lot of effort as well and I remember breaking down into tears at some point as I was exhausted, fatigued and dehydrated. Herbert didn’t look so well either.My crampons came off so many times that I nearly gave up and opted to spend a night on the glacier. Herbert never gave up on me and I remember us reaching down to the base of the Glacier at 7pm. We had spent almost 12 hours struggling to go up and get down and this is not recommended at the glacier as it’s risky. We arrived back at the camp by midnight and I was totally devastated and torn. The challenge of Portal Peak was now remembered fondly as not so challenging in comparison. I had dinner, didn’t bother to have a shower and almost instantly fell asleep.

Rwenzori Trek -Day 8-16th July – Ellena to John Matte Hut

The trek down was really painful as my legs were hurting from the previous day. I walked really slowly with Denis as I was exhausted, so we maintained a really slow pace. I spent most of the day taking pictures and wishing to get out of the mountain. The trek took approximately 7 hours but we continued to bond as usual until we arrived at the camp. I was not comfortable being around the group after all that had transpired at the glacier, so I had my supper in silence and spent most of my time outside speaking to the guides. I went to bed early and asked Denis if we could wake up as early as 5 am before the others so that I could leave.

I was up at 4am, packed my bags, woke Denis up with one more guide and we were off on our own. This was one of the best days asI knew I was finally going home.It was also relaxing for me because I was away from the group. We cracked jokes, laughed, finished up my chocolates and we were later joined by two of the other porters who were carrying my heavier bags.We all walked joyfully until we arrived at the exit gate. I have never felt so relieved to be back to civilization. I quickly signed out as I waited for a boda-boda to pick me up and transport me to the Sandton hotel in Kasese town.

It was very emotional for me to say good-bye to all these lovely people who had carried my bags, guided my walk and supported me in achieving what I had set out to do. They felt like family and we exchanged contacts and bid each other farewell. I was so emotional and I wanted to cry so much. I wished I could offer them a better life and I felt they deserved a much more rewarding pay for their efforts. As I work for a tour company, I promised to recommend them to any of my clients or friends who would wish to trek the Rwenzoris.

The Uganda wildlife Authority and Rwenzori’s Mountain National Park management sent one of the guides to come up to the Sandton hotel where I was resting and awarded me with a certificate of appreciation.  This made me very happy, to think that despite of all that I went through, my efforts were recognized and appreciated. What an amazing feeling!

One lesson well learnt from my experience is negative people and negative energy are dangerous in our lives. We should always try to surround ourselves with positive people especially during strenuous or difficult situations.

I forever remain indebted to Herbert, Denis, Hannington, Robert and all the guides, cooks and porters who work tirelessly to ensure we have a safe, enjoyable trek yet earn very little in comparison to the job they do and the risks they face. It is my wish that one day I will be in a position to transform their lives and ensure what they earn is relative to what they are truly worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eco tourism at Budongo Forest

Budongo forest

Budongo forest est.825 sq.km is in the northwest of Uganda near Masindi town. It’s located in the Albertine Rift valley. It was home to mostly the mahogany trees which were planted for purposes of supplying timber for construction,furniture, flooring and boat building. It was also favoured because it was resistant to borers and termites. Currently it has a mixture of other trees like the fig tree, iron wood and other species. The mahogany is listed as a vulnerable tree species by the IUCN. The forest too is threatened by encroachment and illegal pit sawing.

It is also a birding paradise with about 360 bird species, 290 butterflies species,130 moths species,465 tree species and 24 mammals ,nine of which are primates.

On this adventure I also found myself immersed in the bird watching activity.Being a tour organizer and guide, such places are visited frequently to check on their availability to tourists and also refresh the birding skills with friends.

We made a stopover briefly at Kakonge swamp to do some birding. Birds seen in this area include Singing cisticola, Cooper sunbird.We later continued to Masindi town.

Kakonge swamp

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We arrived late due to a tyre puncture. Overnight was at Masindi Hotel built in 1923 by the Riftvalley railways and harbours.

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Car Tyre Puncture

Royal mile

This spectacular wide forest avenue was first enjoyed by King Kabalega of Bunyoro earning its name ‘The Royal Mile’. It is a 15 km drive from the eco-tourism site and visitors must pay a forest entry fee before entering the forest reserve. On an early morning visit visitors cannot fail to see some spectacular forest birds such as the Chocolate Backed Kingfisher and Paradise Flycatcher.

Royal mile is a popular birding destination in Budongo forest for both local and international bird watching enthusiasts. Royal mile avenue was once a historical hunting ground for King Kabalega, the nationalist ruler of Bunyoro Kingdom before he was exiled to Seychelles. During his reign he used it as an escape route too. He was later captured by the British Colonialists at Dokolo.

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Nyabigoma trading centre

Along the way, Nyabigoma trading centre is named after a big celebration that took place during the reign of King Kabalega that involved drumming by his subjects. A drum in Runyoro is known as E’ngoma. and ‘Beating the drum’ is “Okutera ebigoma.

The King a revered hunter, killed a leopard that crossed his path during his hunting expeditions.At this point, his subjects did a lot of drumming as a sign of victory for their king and a lot of merry making after hearing the good news that their King had successfully wrestled a Leopard. He always enjoyed hunting alone. He later stopped going for solo expeditions when his throne was threatened by the British colonialists.

Royal mile birding

On the next day we embarked on our trip to Royal Mile.On our way we were able to see sugar plantations owned by Kinyara Sugar works.This route too before Royal mile was rewarding with bird species that included the Pin tailed whydah,speckled mouse bird,woodland king fisher,great blue eared starling.

Birding along the Royal mile brought to our attention birds that we considered lifers (i.e birds seen for the first time by a birder). Some of the Birds seen by our team for the first time included the blue breasted Kingfisher, Chocolate backed King fisher, Ituri Batis,White thighed Horn bill. Non lifers included Narina Trogon, Spotted green bull, Dwarf kingfisher and its nest, Collard sunbird, Woodland King fisher, Western Nicator.

Primates seen included the Blue monkeys, Red tailed monkeys, Olive Baboons and black and white Colobus monkeys.

Forest stories

Raymond the site guide was full of stories. He told us a story of how elephants previously crossed to the forest from the nearby Murchison Falls National Park. They ate leaves of certain tree and got drunk .They rioted and caused a lot of destruction in the forest. You can imagine how they enjoyed themselves to the fullest. To control the elephant riots, the trees were cut down and replaced with other tree species like the fig,mahogany and iron wood trees.

“Strangling Fig trees”

Our guide also informed us of how strangling fig trees are ‘expert stranglers’ of host trees.It is interesting if two different species of strangling trees met on a host tree they will “connive” to strangle the host tree at root level as they grow in opposite directions.

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Busingiro Ecotourism centre.
The site is located in Budongo Forest, Masindi District.It was a common Royal “relaxation place” for King Kabalega. Busingiro means “relaxation place”. It is about 4-5 hours drive from Kampala City.
The Eco Tourism Centre is part of the Budongo Forest Ecotourism Project with the aim of conserving the forest by working closely with the communities residing near the forest. This provides local employment and sustainable income for local communities.

The area is famous for chimpanzee viewing, nature and primate walks and bird watching among others.It is also a famous habitat for butterflies.

Busingiro Trail butter flies

Polish refugee church at Nyabyeya

This former camp was built in 1942 for the Polish World War II refugees who had fled Germany due to prosecution.The Camp at the time consisted of 6 small villages and hosted about 3,635 Polish.The Polish refugees belonged to the Catholic faith.A church was later built between 1943 and 1945 which is still existence till today.There is also a cemetery with 60 graves of Polish Nationals who died between 1945 and 1948.After the World War II ended most of the Polish refugees were resettled in England, Canada, Australia.The graveyard and church are maintained by the Catholic community in Nyabyeya .

History of the Polish migration to Africa

The first group of exiles arrived in Africa in late 1942-44. Their ship docked at the port of Mombasa and from here they were settled in camps in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) and Zambia and Zimbabwe (formerly Northern and Southern Rhodesia).

The two refugee camps in Uganda were built at Koja, on the shores of Lake Victoria and Nyabyeya, Budongo Forest Reserve in Masindi district in northwestern Uganda.

The campsite at Nyabyeya, some 30 kilometres east of Lake Albert, was uninhabitated. No towns or villages were in existence.A small piece of land was demarcated for them which was previously covered by the lush tropical forest.More land was cleared to enable the construction of mud and thatch huts.

As they settled in,they utilised the fertile land in the area to grow crops like pineapples, maize, tomatoes, sunflowers and also kept livestock to supplement their diet and keep them busy.

The Cultural king at the time,Omukama Sir Tito Gafabusa Winyi IV of Bunyoro frequently paid occasional visits to the camp.

Photos:Polish Church,Graves and Catholic faithful

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Bunyoro Kingdom Anthem

After birding we were entertained by the village kids who sang the Bunyoro Anthem.Our hearts were touched by the confidence and singing. We gave them tips.

In Picture: Team leader Arshley Brian..giving tips to the youngsters

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Culture Norms

Every society has its norms.In Bunyoro a praise or pet name (Empako) is recommended. It is common to use the Empako for greetings when you interact with the locals.It is a form of respect.The use of formal names is sometimes considered “disrespectful”. The locals will always address you by it in subsequent interactions.
The pet names given to ordinary people are Apuuli,Akiiki,Amooti,Abooki,Araali, and Adyeri. Okali is a reserved for only the king and Bala is for chiefs.

In Toro too,a breakaway kingdom from Bunyoro in the 1830s also adopted the empako names and dance traditions.

Courtship in Bunyoro

In Bunyoro, a courtship dance is performed by young men to choose a partner for marriage.The dance was named after the “ebinyege” rattles that are usually tied on the boys’ legs to produce percussion rhythms that blend well with the drum beats and songs.

How to get there: You can use private transport and public transport (to Masindi and Budongo separately) or you can use the services of tour operators to the destination.

Best time of the year: All year round but best between November to April and June to September.

Age group restrictions:None

Possible Tour extensions:

  1. Murchison Falls National Park-Game drives, boat cruises,hiking to the top of the falls.
  2. Budongo Eco tourism site-Nature walks and chimpanzee tracking.
  3. Rhino Sanctuary: Home of rhinos
  4. Boomu Women Group: True African experience in the village
  5. Kaniyo Pabidi tourist site in Budongo forest:Chimpanzee tracking
  6. Hoima town (57 kms away from Masindi): Palace and Royal Tombs

How many days do you need for the tour: 2 days (Budongo& Busingiro only), extensions 9days . Total  11 days with extensions.

Amabere Caves- Explore history and Crater lakes

This is a popular historical site about 10 km from Fort Portal Municipality. There is a legendary tale that has kept it lively till today. Waterfalls and Caves welcome you. The picturesque crater lakes nearby are breathtaking. This tourist site in Kabarole district.It is preserved by the Rubombora family. They have preserved it for the future generations. The guides at the site are quite knowledgeable about the historical and scientific formation of the breast like formations on the rocks.

The locals explain that these breast like features hanging below the cave are associated with a legendary tale of a daughter who disobeyed her father.She was an attractive beautiful girl.It is told that King Bukuku of the Cwezi dynasty that gave birth to the current Tooro and Bunyoro Kingdoms cut off her breasts for refusing to marry the husband chosen for her. She later fled to this place and disappeared without trace. Therefore it believed that the oozing pillars on the rocks represent her breasts and milk.

Scientists call the hanging pillars that look like breasts, stalagmites and stalactites. The site guide explains that the oozing milk is calcium that rolls over the rocks as a result of the waterfalls over the rocks. He cautions you to avoid touching them, because they take several years to grow to their current size otherwise you risk breaking them thus hindering them from further growth. Stalactites and stalagmites are considered as part of a Country’s natural heritage and are protected by law in some countries.

The largest stalagmite in the world is in the cave of Cueva San Martin Infierno, Cuba. It is 220 feet high (62.2 metres).

Guide explaining the formation of Stalagmites and Stalactites

Guide sharing information on Stalagmites and Stalactites

As you walk down the caves you will enjoy the Nyakasura Waterfalls that pours its waters to the basement of the caves. During the rainy season the paths are slippery so it is advisable to watch your steps.

An extended walk to the surrounding is quite enjoyable and requires physical fitness. You will enjoy the crater lake scenery and have the chance to view them at the top of the hill.

How to get there

Amabere caves can be accessed by private transport. Since it is a short distance you can hire a taxi or tour operator to the site from Fort portal town. If it is part of your itinerary to other destinations, most tour operators will drive you there.

Accomodation

The Rubombora family has B&B accommodation on the site.

More accommodation is available in Fort Portal town that fits your budget.

This site combines well with nature walks, culture and cave exploration.

Other destinations that can be visited alongside the caves include Semuliki National Park, Kibale National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Mabira Forest Eco-tour

Mabira forest is a perfect destination out of the City Centre. It is 60km away from Kampala. It is one of the largest forest reserves with over 315 bird species, 312 tree species. It is also home to butterflies and primates that include the Uganda Mangabey monkey, Red tailed monkey. It is a popular birding destination for the birding fraternity. It has accessible trails which can be accessed with the company of a guide who is knowledgeable about the forest.

It is a forest reserve managed by the National Forest Authority which has encouraged the promotion of forest tourism in the recent years. It was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1932 .Over the years several organizations have campaigned to restore it .Ecotourism opportunities have been advanced and developed thus supporting the communities around the forest.

Other activities include Mountain Biking, Environmental Education and Research, Camping and Picnics, Primate Watching, Butterfly Identification and general Forest Exploration.

Our birding group has continued to explore places to hone our birding skills. Mabira forest was yet another destination we explored away from Kampala city. It is an ideal place for nature lovers.

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Our main objective on this trip was birding, forest walks and tree species identification. Lesser striped swallows welcomed us at our accommodation. They stayed nearby till night fall. The weaver birds too in the neighborhood caught our attention nesting. The Male weavers are known to be family nest builders before a female weaver “fully” accepts to visit. The female will check ‘thoroughly’ the ‘comfort facilities’ in the nest before accepting ‘matrimony’. This behavior is similar to human beings(Male) who are known Bread winners. If a man does not have the required resources and facilities to support the woman, the woman will not visit.

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Lesser striped swallows

 

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Black headed Weaver

During this trip, 45 birds were seen. Among the 45 birds sighted, some the birds included the Brown eared woodpecker, Yellow crowned woodpecker, Blue shouldered Robin chat, Red capped Robin chat, Black throated Apalis, Forest wood Hoopoe, Forest Robin, Jameson’s wattle eye.

Red tailed monkeys and tree squirrels were sighted.We enjoyed the long forest walks too enabling us breathe in fresh air thus boosting our oxygen reserves.

Accommodation: Self catering accommodation and camping facilities are available at the eco-tourism site for budget travellers. Mabira Rain forest lodge is also another eco –friendly within the forest with 12 independent timber cabins, Swimming pool, Sauna and massage and Conference and seminar facilities ideal for the mid –range/luxury  traveler.

Location & Accessibility: Mabira can be accessed by both public and private transport off the main road to Jinja at Najjembe trading Centre at 60km from Kampala City or 24km from Jinja another tourism Haven, home to the Source of the River Nile..

 

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Our safari van

Other ecotourism sites near Mabira that can be visited include the Griffins falls Camp also known as the the Mabira forest camp  located near breath taking falls. This camp was founded by the Mabira Forest Intergrated Community Organisation (MAFICO) to improve the livelihoods and welfare of the community by conserving the environment. The “Star” activity at the site is the Canopy “zip line” that sends you soaring high in between the rainforest trees.

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Group Smiles at the end of our trip

Birding with BBC World at Mabamba

Behind every successful man there is a woman and in my opinion the reverse is true. Women empowerment movements today may think otherwise. Well, I believe that the ladies just want to express their natural power and intelligence that existed behind the scenes for a longtime. True on this day January 15 2017, the birding ladies’ prowess was finally recognized by BBC World in Uganda. BBC World on this maiden trip chose the Uganda Women Birders Club a ladies birding division of Uganda Safari Guides Association (USAGA).

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Mabamba is a Ramsar Site since 2006 due to its importance as a habitat for the globally endangered species like the Shoebill and a stopover for migratory birds. It supports over 300 species of birds, community livelihoods through eco-tourism, fishing, agriculture and other activities.It is an ideal place for a one day trip or an add-on to other safaris in Uganda.

Meeting point was at Uganda House on Kampala road the tradition meeting point for USAGA FAM trips. That morning the ladies managed to keep time to make the trip. The team leader was Judith Mirembe the Chairperson. For the gentlemen like me and others we also managed to join the ladies because…behind every successful woman there is a man too. I know the readers of this blog post will agree or disagree with what makes a man or woman successful but that can be a story for another day.

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This is Catherine Byaruhanga reporting for the BBC

Mabamba marsh land is an Important Bird Area for the Shoe bill and other bird species .It is a popular destination for birding. Birding is done by boat with the guidance of the community site guides.When we arrived at the site, we did not waste time on pleasantries. Boats were organized and each of us was allocated a boat in groups of 5-7 individuals with the assistance of Herbert Byaruhanga  a renown birding enthusiast and also the Chairman of Uganda Safari Guides Association.

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At Mabamba, we glided through the water channels bordered by papyrus plants. The bird search started immediately. Although our mission was to spot the Shoebill, normal birding activity involves the identification other water birds. The search continued to trace the Shoe Bill. I was lucky to be on the leading boat with the site guide Ismail who was very knowledgeable about the birds. He managed to identify several birds along the way before he sighted one Shoe bill in flight after  about 1 hour and twenty minutes of searching. We thought it will land on the marshes but it just continued farther up in the sky. We thought our chances for seeing it had run out. Our eagle eyed guide,asked his colleague to move the boat ahead for another chance in the marshes. To him it was good signal for another one nearby. Indeed he applied the “Never give up” expression. The search continued and a few minutes later he spotted one in the marshland.

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Our guide Ismail seems to ask “Where are you Shoebill?”

Some birds seen on that day included the Purple Heron, Black Crake, Hammerkop, African Jacana, Lesser Jacana, Long toed lapwing, Blue-breasted Bee eater, Malachite Kingfisher, African pygmy Goose, Angola swallows, Pied Kingfisher, Winding Cisticola, Fan tailed widow bird and Yellow billed duck.

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“Fake Mounting” by the Hammerkop bird

There were quiet celebrations on our boat since we were the first to see it. We were joined by other boats,tourists and BBC crew  who were making their first excursion to the site. We positioned ourselves to have a clear glimpse of this iconic bird with our binoculars. We did not want to get close for fear of scaring it away except for the BBC team that moved a little closer to have a clear view for their story that was aired on Focus  on Africa on the 23rd January 2017.. Uganda: The rise in bird watching tourists http://bbc.in/2kGXjDj

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Shoebill

This bird is known to stay in one place for long hours as it waits for its prey which may be fish or frogs. Indeed on that day it stayed in one place until we started our journey back to the landing site. Even if you are not a birder or birding enthusiast, the tour of this renowned Shoebill habitat is always an exhilarating experience not to be missed on your itinerary.

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Excitement at take off

Mpanga Forest Eco-tourism site

Mpanga Forest Eco-tourism site is situated 37km away from Kampala city, enroute to Masaka. Previously the Forest reserve was only reserved for scientific research. However today it is also a perfect destination for bird watching and a day or weekend escape from the city. It has over 550 tree species with some trees over 100 years old and over 220 bird species.

Our 1 day excursion to this site was so exciting especially when it was time to see the White spotted fluff tail. This shy bird is not easily seen until you imitate its calls. On our trip we were lucky to have Arshely Brian an avid birdwatcher on our Destination birding team who can imitate the calls naturally. He managed to call it up several times for us to see. You should have to see the anxious faces and smiles of the team before and after it was spotted. If you missed it, Brian was always ready to imitate its call so that you have a glimpse of this shy bird. It is always amazing to see him imitate the bird calls. It is recommended to stand still or even take cover to avoid disturbing its presence until it comes out of its hideout. It does not stay long since it will has missed ‘meeting’ its imitator (bird) but for birders in the midst, the mission is accomplished.

Arshely Brian our expert bird imitator with a friend.

 

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Our main mission of the day was bird watching so that we can polish our bird identification skills and also relax away from home. Our walk through the forest trail about 3km stretch to the swamp was worth it. It gave us a chance to enjoy the fresh air and also exercise your legs.

During our forest walk to the swamp,we went off track,thus getting lost.We were lucky to meet young firewood harvesters who volunteered to lead us to the swamp. In this porous forest, firewood harvests are only allowed for fallen tree branches (i.e Old trees that fall naturally. Cutting of trees is illegal). This young team (Justine,Brian,Joel and Joram) with their dog in pursuit did well to show us some areas we had missed. We gave them a tip as a token of appreciation.

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Birding is usually a rewarding adventure if you are patient. The birds seen on our day trip include: White spotted Flufftail ,Blue throated Roller ,Grosbeak Weaver ,Great spotted cuckoo ,Little Greenbul, Lizzad Buzzard, Marico Sunbird ,Green Hylia ,Western Nectar, Chestnut Wattle-eye ,White throated Greenbul, White throated Bee-eater ,Rufous Flycatcher Thrush ,Spotted Morning Thrush
Red headed Malimbe ,Splendid glossy Starling ,Green Backed Camaroptera, Red cheeked Cordon Bleu, Black and white Shrike Flycatcher ,African pied Wagtail , Vieillot’s black weaver ,Copper Sunbird, Scarlet Chested Sunbird ,Green Sunbird ,Pintailed Whydah, Yellow throated Longclaw ,Eastern Plantain-eater, Brown backed Scrub Robin ,Dark capped Bulbul, Green throated Sunbird ,Northern grey headed Sparrow ,Black and white casqued Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, Great blue Turaco, Blue throated roller, African Harrier Hawk, Ayres’ Hawk eagle, African Harrier Hawk.
We also sighted a Lesser bush baby and Red tailed monkeys.

Therefore a visit to the eco-tourism site is so rewarding that you have a full plate of activities like Forest walks, Bird watching, Butterfly identification and Primate watching. You will also have a place to relax after a day’s adventure in the forest. Accommodation is available too for those who who like to spend more days away from home. It has double and twin rooms,space for camping and self catering facilities.For a day’s excursion,I recommend that you carry your own snacks.

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Birding can be done twice in a day that is early morning when birds are still in their nests, leaving or hovering around their nests in search for the day’s meal and in the evening when they return to their nests for a night’s rest.

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The Eco-tourism site can be accessed by both public and private transport. The site is approximately 1km off the Kampala to Masaka Highway after Mpigi town.

Also shopping for crafts can be done on your way back at Mpambire trading centre along the main highway. Items available for sale include Baskets, Mats, Drums, Stools and a variety of household tools.