Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sailing on Lake Victoria

The world's third largest lake lies in Uganda, or rather in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Lake Victoria, at 68,800km2, is about the size of Ireland!. On the lake, about an hour south of Kampala, close to Entebbe (the old Capital of Uganda) and the international airport, a small, old colonial relic lives on. The Entebbe Sailing Club offers boat hire, relaxing lawns and a pool overlooking the lake. I went down there the other week with some friends to try the water and the wind. As Kampala is not on the lake, the only option for swimming in the city is hotel or club swimming pools – which is nice enough of course.. Yet, natural waters have added charms.

And risks..: There seems to be some dispute about how safe it is to swim in the lake. There is certainly bilharzia (a parasite that penetrates your skin, finds its way to the liver where it feeds and develop into worms..), Apparently you are only at risk if you swim near the shore and near sea plants, so jumping from a boat is safe, but then what if what if the lake is shallow..?

Crocodiles – before setting out from the sailing club in the small and unstable Laser boat I was reassured that there were no crocodiles in that particular area of the Lake. However, a quick Google search just now yielded the following article excerpt:

[Crocodiles have already eaten over a dozen people since January this year along the shores of Lake Victoria in the eastern Mayuge district of Uganda, local media reported on Monday. Namugongo resident council chairman Joseph Waiwsa was quoted bythe New Vision as saying that the crocodiles had attacked many children from going down the lake to collect water." We are living in fear of the carnivorous crocodiles that have already eaten over a dozen people this year and over 30 people in the last two years," Waiwsa added.]

The article is from 2002, but still I don't find this reassuring. As with most other incidents in Africa, such attacks are certainly under-reported. And even if it was a different area, crocodilles do swim long distances.

I just finished reading a biography on Stanley, and was proud to be sailing in the very waters were he as the first European set sail and met with the ferocious king of the Buganda – Mutesa in 1877. Stanley and his followers had carried a small steam boat up from the coast of Tanzania, reassembled it on Lake Victoria and circumvented the lake. The story of his meeting with the king is fascinating reading. I think it took place near or in present day Entebbe and the sailing club. Stanley walked up from the lake in between thousand of Buganda soldiers lining the parade street up to the king's village. An agreement to allow missionaries access to the land was signed, marking the beginning of British influence in Uganda. The British brought development, infrastructure and trade, but also a range of problems. Among their better imports was sailing.

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