Monday, August 06, 2007

dispatch from the land of the little birds - part I

A lesson in Rukiga, the very philosophical-sounding language of the Bakiga tribe of southwestern Uganda (Kabale District). I never received correct spelling for the phrases, so here's my own pronunciation guide:

Ah-Gandhi - How are you?
Nietzche - I'm fine.

As you might expect, my dorky side came out and I said Ah-Gandhi to nearly every passerby, just to hear them say Nietzche in response.

My friends Keiranne and Brenda arrived safely from the US last Tuesday evening and we set off for our first adventure in the pre-dawn darkness on Thursday. After purchasing Roll-ex (a fried chapatti topped with fried egg and then salted and rolled) from a street vendor, we claimed our seats on the bus - the very last row. Not surprisingly the ride was miserable and bumpy. We did a lot of head bobbing. I listened to a lot of iPod (new favorite for the road trip: Scythian Empires, Andrew Bird off Armchair Apocrypha) and looked out at the passing scenery, which changed from hilly to flat to hilly (soft, bare, golden hills that look like enormous piles of harvested wheat) to terraced cliffs (every inch cultivated with matooke, sweet potato, sorghum, beans). It was pretty peaceful, until a little boy in our row decided to relieve himself on the floor during the first hour of the 7 hour ride, so we had to put up with full wind from the window (just so we didn't pass out from the odor). Ick.

Disembarking in Kabale was overwhelming - being the only mzungus people on the bus (and in the town), we were swarmed with taxi drivers offering to take us to our camp on the lake. A bad choice left us with a driver that snatched my purse and hid it under his seat as soon as we got in the car. Luckily I was tired and cranky and not up for getting a new passport (not to mention losing lots of cash and my debit card). I forced him to stop and found the purse. As you can imagine, I was in full-on bitch mode for the rest of the ride. We were ecstatic to finally get to Lake Bunyonyi Overland Camp in one piece and with all of our belongings intact.

Overland Camp is nestled into a wooded hillside on the lake, with covered eating area, treehouses, tents and cabins. Our room looked out over the lake and had its own balcony. The first thing that strikes you about this part of Uganda is how cool it is. The temperature averaged somewhere around the mid 60s and dropped significantly at night. Our first day we went for a run (my run was about 25 minutes, while hard core Keiranne and Brenda continued on for another 40 minutes). The crisp, pollutant-free mountain air was making me nostalgic for fall in Ohio, so I sat on the porch, read my book and journaled.

Friday morning started at 6:45 a.m., with matte-gray, misty sunrise and breakfast of fried eggs, toast and milk tea before we set off on our hike. Bosco, a 16-year-old local boy orphaned by AIDS, was our guide for the hike. After a brief walk on the main road, we set off into the terraced fields, following a steep dirt path. The first hour of hiking was almost entirely uphill, leaving me completely winded and wondering how on earth I thought I was going to climb Kili this summer. We wound through farmland and villages, at one point inadvertantly interrupting a primary school class - students saw our strange white faces and the entire class (teachers included) ran outside to see what we were doing walking about in the hills. Some of the little ones were chattering on in Rukiga about how we were going to eat them. The turnaround point for our hike was a cave in the hillside, but after climbing in on hands and knees and seeing nothing but a long, very small passageway, I climbed right back out. Apparently I'm a bit claustrophobic (probably from when my brother trapped me in the secret hiding spot in his room so many years ago...). I'll have to cross spelunking off my list of life goals.

Lake Bunyonyi is known in the guidebooks not only for its idyllic setting, but also for its lack of water predators (crocodiles for one, but most notably the lack of bilharzia - a small snail that gets inside your system and eats up your insides...not pretty). Ugandans in this part of the country all know how to swim. Fisherman set nets for crayfish, which is the main source of food from the lake. We spent the rest of the afternoon on Friday renting a dugout canoe (which is made from a carved out trunk of a mature Eucalyptus tree) and paddling out to Bushara Island Camp - one of 29 islands on Lake Bunyonyi. We saw an otter on the way and crested cranes teetering along on a hillside. The national bird is monogamous and rarely seen without its partner. Kind of romantic, no? After docking and hiking up through a forest of enormous Eucalyptus trees, we had lunch at the camp and relaxed (I had crayfish masala with rice - I feared it would be little hardened creatures with claws in a bloody tomato paste, but not so, it was delicious).

Friday night was cold and drizzly, so we had dinner by the fire at the camp and I drank several mugs of hot cocoa and ate "glucose snackies," which are little biscuits that taste a bit like vanilla wafers. I can't go to bed without an adequate sugar intake. I eat so much here I'm starting to think I have a very happy tapeworm living inside of me. I slept like a rock and woke up to day two - another day of canoeing and hiking.

No comments: