Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year's at Lake Bunyonyi and hiking in the Rwenzoris

Lake Bunyonyi
In the very south western corner of Uganda lies a beautiful lake nestled between green hills and mountains. Lake Bunyonyi was apparently formed when lave from a volcano eruption (the 4,127m Muhabura volcano is a mere 20km away) blocked a river and created this 25km long and 7km wide water system. Fascinatingly, estimates of the lakes depth varies from 44m to 900m! Should not be too hard to figure out I think, but I guess it illustrates how remote the lake is. It is about 7hrs driving from Kampala.

As a backdrop for New Year's Eve - and the much derided 01st Jan - it was a perfect place to hang out. I drove down with three expat friends from Kampala and stayed two nights at one of the picturesque resorts on the lake shore. Surprisingly we were the only guests in this little paradise! It was a small resort, 8 cottages or so, and there was a large open terrace overlooking the lake and the hills on the other side. With a large fireplace and great food it was a wonderful setting for our New Year's dinner – and between the four of us we somehow managed to make it into a party later on.

As midnight approached we discussed whether we could expect any fireworks from the farms and settlements on the surrounding hills. We agreed that this was unlikely - fireworks is quite a luxury after all. I don't think there was an electricity grid in the area and it was pitch dark by mid-evening. Then, as we were finishing dinner an hour or so before midnight the sound of drums filled the night around us, and just before midnight bone fires were lit on most of the farms on the hillsides behind us and across the lake. The drumming, singing, shouting and clapping of the locals echoed back and forth across the lake. The sight of distant silhouettes of people dancing around bone fires to the sound of drumming was not quite fireworks, but far more fascinating!

The next day was spent lounging on a small pier by the lake. Free of bilharzia, crocodiles and hippos, Lake Bunyoni is one of the few places in Uganda where one can swim safely - and that is what we did!

The Mountains of the Moon
A couple of days into the new year I finally got to see what I consider to be Africa's most fascinating mountain chain – the Rwenzoris, or Mountains of the Moon.

Stretching along the border with DRC, the Rwenzoris are crowned by six peaks in excess of 4,500 meters; this is truly a mighty mountain chain! The tallest peaks are covered by snow and glaciers, from which meltwater forms rivers and lakes down the mountain sides and around them.

The history of the European discovery of the Rwenzoris is fascinating reading. The ancient Greeks had heard through trade links that the source of the Nile was a range of snow-capped mountains on the equator. They called them the Mountains of the Moon. This theory was never verified, and when Speke discovered Lake Victoria in 1858 and declared it the source of the Nile, the Greeks seemed to have been proved wrong. It was not until 1889 that Stanley by chance stumbled across the Rwenzoris and declared them to be the fabled Mountains of the Moon that the original theory was revisited. Remarkably the mountains turned out to be both snow-capped and a source of the Nile (there are many)! So the ancient Greeks had been right all the time.

We did a one day hike across the northern end of the mountains, crossing from Fort Portal on the eastern side of the ridge and over the mountains to the village of Bundibugyo at to the west of the mountains. The highest point was 3,014m – my highest ascent ever (I am not a climber..). Unfortunately, low hanging clouds obstructed the view to the DRC and the Ituri Forest from the top. I still can’t decide what was more challenging, going up or down. The way up was pretty steep, but on the way down we descended in excess of 1,000m in less than 3 hours, which is tough going for knees and joints.

I'd love to go back and go for the real peaks at some point - Mount Stanley is 5,109m tall. It’s an eight day trip and quite expensive, so lets see if there is time and money!

1 comment:

  1. dude...I'm packing!!! Sounds great over there. Keep it coming