Tag Archives: Lake Victoria

Road Trip To The Ssese Islands

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

After five weeks of pretty hard work setting up the Film Africa project here in Uganda, I decided it was time to take off for a few days and see what else this amazing country has to offer. And craving to see open water again, I decided on a trip overland to Lake Victoria to spend a few days in the glorious Ssese Islands.

With only a few days to spare, fellow volunteer Louise and I decided to split the cost to hire a car and driver. A wonderful guy called Godfrey, who’d driven us from the Rwandan border to our new home in Rubuguri, said he’d do the trip to and from Kampala/Entebbe ferry port for 1 million Ugandan shillings (about £250), which sounded like a bargain to us. So at 7am on Thursday morning, we hauled our luggage into Godfrey’s battered Toyota Corona and set off for the long haul northwards.

For the first two hours to Kabale, we enjoyed the notorious “African massage” as we bumped along precarious dirt tracks through the mountains around Bwindi. Early-morning cloud hung in the trees, giving everywhere a magical feel – we truly were “Muzungus in the mist”! When we finally hit tarmac – the first we’d seen for 5 weeks! – there was elation at the smoothness of the ride. The 10-hour journey overland to Kampala was a profusion of roadworks, dusty bustling towns, markets teeming with produce, and occasional wildlife-spotting.

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

After a night in bustling Kampala, we battled through the capital’s chaotic traffic to the Entebbe ferry port, to pick up the MV Kalangala across Lake Victoria to the Ssese Islands. The ferry was crammed with people, goats and all manner of produce – our First Class tickets afforded us a cushioned seat rather than just a wooden one, but otherwise we were squashed in alongside dozens of other passengers.

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Three and a half hours later, here we are on gorgeous Buggala Island, the largest of the 84 Ssese Islands. I’m writing this by the lakeshore, sitting on a pristine white-sand beach with the soporific noise of the tide washing in and out. How wonderful it is to be back by water again!

The bird life here is extraordinary – I’ve already seen shoebills, herons, storks and dozens of other varieties in the past 24 hours (apparently there are 240 bird species here!). Vervet monkeys scamper all around us, watching us cheekily from high branches. The Mirembe Beach Resort we are staying in is basic but clean, and the overwhelming sensation here is of enjoying unspoilt natural beauty.

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Looking out across the vastness of Lake Victoria, our home down in the mountains of the southwest seems a world away…

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Uganda – The Adventure Begins

First boda boda ride from Kigali, Rwanda

First boda boda ride from Kigali, Rwanda

Well here I am in Rubuguri, southwest Uganda – a remote town near the border with Rwanda and DR Congo. It’s exactly three weeks since I came here overland from Kigali and I hardly know where to start in describing this place where I’m setting up a new film project for the local community.

It’s a dusty one-street town teeming with life and typical of many in remote, rural parts of Africa. Women carry all manner of items on their heads, picking their way slowly but surely along the sides of the road. Men drive goats and cows in front of them to distant mountain pastures, while others come off the land back to town, wielding huge lethal-looking machetes and sweating in the tropical heat. Kids with bare feet and dirty faces run along, calling out to me: “Mzungu, mzungu!” (“white person!”) and sometimes, “Give me money, give me pen!”

A music roadshow rolls into town and I'm caught up in the middle of it!

A music roadshow rolls into town and I’m caught up in the middle of it!

Motorbikes are the main form of transport here – cars are rare, apart from the odd 4×4 carrying tourists through town to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to go gorilla tracking. All bike riding is off-road here – there’s no tarmac for miles in any direction and the local boda drivers could certainly teach budding off-road motorcyclists a thing or too about handling bikes on rough, rocky, steep terrain! I’ve been using the boda bikes to commute to and from work so far, but I’ve got my eye on a sturdy little 125cc Suzuki I saw the other day…

Things are more basic here than even I imagined – limited electricity, patchy internet, and the shops (such as they are) stock very little other than basic foodstuffs and vodka sachets! The poverty here is quite confronting – and yet the local people are incredibly warm and friendly, some of the most welcoming I’ve ever met on my Africa travels.

Entertaining the local kids!

Entertaining the local kids! Photo courtesy of Louise Henry

It’s in this environment that I’m charged with the task of starting up Film Africa – a film project that will enable local people to use film to tell their own stories and spread vital health, conservation and education messages. With resources painfully limited, it’s going to take a lot of improvisation and a large dose of patience to get anything off the ground here, I think.

Armed with one small camcorder-style video camera (I desperately need a bigger one!), we’ve already made a start. On Friday, I filmed with the local Sunbeam Project, a music and dance project for orphaned and vulnerable kids. They were rehearsing for a performance at a local event and their sweet, perfectly in-tune voices filled the skies above with a rich, full sound that was unmistakeably Africa.

There are some big challenges ahead, but this place has already captured my heart. Happily, my work means I’ll have to integrate with the locals and I can’t wait to see Uganda through their eyes. And with a new set of wheels, I can’t wait to explore further afield – Lake Bunyonyi, Lake Victoria and the National Parks are already calling me! Yes, my African Film Adventure has truly begun…