We had two big groups of hikers in the Lake Bunyonyi basin today, kicking off the second half of the high season. The Gorilla Highlands Trails of Uganda and Rwanda have been quite busy since June, abounding in canoeing, trekking and cultural experiences for adventurous people of all ages.
We shall commence this half-season account in the volcanic north of Rwanda. In the beginning of July, a pioneering trek started on Lake Burera’s Cyuza Island, a lovely private island that would be every backpacker’s dream. Daniel Streit and Alex Dolginow from America wanted to do something special before their gorilla tracking, and an inaugural transboundary hike sounded just right. In three days, filled to the brim with culture and nature, they crossed into Uganda, slept at Lake Kayumbu and traversed Echuya Forest to reach Tom’s Homestay on Lake Bunyonyi. “Very unique experiences I would never have found otherwise,” Dan summarised their tour.
This trekking experience that doesn’t yet have a name was organised by Owen Bright on the Ugandan side and Jean Pierre Rukundo on the Rwandan end. Right now the two of them are partners again, retracing the route from Bunyonyi to Kayumbu with Enock Arinaitwe. The three guides won’t turn towards the crater lakes of Rwanda this time but instead walk north towards the forests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. They are leading the Three Upland Lakes trip, created for East African Playgrounds (EAP) to challenge their British volunteers.
The second EAP group is also handled by a Ugandan-Rwandan combo. Arthur Musinguzi and Jean Paul Ishimwe are merely a day behind Owen, Enock and Rukundo, doing the very same 4-day trek. “Guides were amazing,” said one statement from our July evaluation forms, echoing many others.
Not only has our team become more Rwandan, there’s radical feminisation taking place as well! Our lady #4, Brenda Katusiime from Hoima, joined us over the weekend, accompanied by a load of foam. She wants to become a guide and help in the kitchen but her first work challenge was finding not-too-thick mattresses at Kampala factories. To make two concurrent EAP trips more comfortable, we have bought a full new set, and 2-inch padding will transform our camping in faraway villages…
“It was difficult to even enter the factory – the watchman didn’t let me in, claiming I should go to a showroom instead! But we were looking for something very specific… It eventually took me four hours to arrange for those mattresses. Taking them to Lake Bunyonyi was a little bit shocking because I thought the lake was was somewhere around Kampala but it turned out to be an eight-hour ride!” Brenda shared her experiences.
The four ladies and many gentlemen, employed or freelance, are our 2018 local team. But we also have an international extracurricular member!
Simon Dreven brought a group of 5 Slovenians to the Gorilla Highlands region at the end of July. They flew through Kigali, did our Ultimate Hike and then added a couple of motorised days in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Here, in the early morning of Mweya, a peninsula that reaches out into Lake Edward like an ace of heart, Simon showed extraordinary devotion. The driver’s phone was locked in Simba Canteen, the man with the key was late, and lions were awaiting in the savannah. Simon bravely reached through a broken window to gain access … Only to learn that staff members use the same hole to casually access the set of keys hidden behind the curtain!
“I am fearless when it’s about my team,” humbly said Simon. “And I knew Owen was there to save me in case of any trouble.”
In fact, in mid June Owen once again learned from Peter Habyarimana, an international first aid instructor. He visits us annually to refresh our knowledge of what to do if something unexpected happens in the middle of nowhere. It is astonishing how few accidents we have had in 13 years of hiking activities; the worst injury has been somebody stepping badly on Sharp’s Island and twisting her ankle. Yet you never know what happens tomorrow… “The staff enjoyed the training and according to my assessment they scored 100%,” reported Habyarimana.
At the end of these half-season highlights, a stop at Lake Bunyonyi is in order. We are pleased to report that our most popular Bunyonyi activity isn’t the half-day Culture on the Crest walking trip anymore. It is the 1-day Islands of Miracles, the more complete package that ads lunch at Mrs Annah, island hopping and a final meal at Edirisa to Culture on the Crest. German travellers brought by Matoke Tours remain our biggest nation.
text: Miha Logar