By Rehema Aanyu
In July 2012, I relocated to Kasese, west of Kampala, for my one-year Global Health Corps fellowship with a non-profit organisation that serves communities in the Ruwenzori region. Initially, I bemoaned leaving “glitz and glamour” of city life, having spent most of my life in Kampala. One month in Kasese, I was deeply, madly and truly in love with the inescapable natural beauty of this part of the country.
Kasese district is sandwiched by four national parks namely; Rwenzori in the north, Kibaale in the west, Virunga in east and Queen Elizabeth in the south. It is also naturally gifted with a number of lakes and small rivers snaking their way in ancient trails of white rocks into Lake Edward and George. Another of these gifts of nature is Kazinga Channel, a 40-kilometre stretch of waterway connecting Lake George and Lake Edward.
It is an oasis that quenches the thirst of both humans and numerous animals, including elephants, hippos, warthogs, antelopes, crocodiles, buffaloes, cattle, goats and even birds. In February 2013, I was treated to a boat ride on the channel in celebration of a friend’s birthday. We travelled by road west of Kasese town through Queen Elizabeth National Park to the bustling fishing community of Katwe Kabatooro.
This small town is one of the numerous entries to the Kazinga Channel through Lake Edward. It was a boat ride organised by a friend, so we did not pay any fees, except cover fuel costs. On our way, we were treated to a spectacular view of wildlife, including birds, animals such as elephants, buffalos, antelopes and warthogs. We also got a glimpse of crater lakes whose banks were defined by herds of hippopotamus bathing in the sun.
While in Katwe Kabatooro, we made a detour to Lake Katwe, a famous salt lake where locals earn their daily bread by harvesting salt, which is exported to countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. At the salt lake, we enjoyed breathtaking views of numerous pink flamingos and beautiful layouts of salt harvesting ponds on the lake.
We thereafter made our way to the landing site, where we met fishermen delighted with their day’s catch of fresh tilapia, cat fish and lung fish from Lake Edward.
The landing site is equally spectacular, adorned with numerous colourful wooden canoes, engine boats used by fishermen and some bigger vessels used to take adventurists to tour the lake, its islands and of course the Kazinga Channel. On the boat ride to the channel, one has a clear glimpse of the now defunct salt processing industries, whose dilapidated buildings still tower the skylines of this bustling town, reminiscing over their past glory. On Lake Edward, we saw a number of animals, including hippopotamus, buffaloes, tiny white monkeys on trees, the deadly Nile crocodiles and a very fast yellow water snake that almost rammed into our boat. We almost jumped out of the boat trying to escape from it.
The writer looks at a yellow cat fish caught from Lake George
“Unlike the bubbling water points that signify the source of the Nile in Jinja, the Kazinga Channel needs no introduction,” our guide proudly announced as we entered this narrow waterway and indeed he was right. This natural waterway distinctly defines itself from Lake Edward and George, yet strengthens the obvious sibling-like bond the two lakes share.
At the Kazinga Channel, we saw a number of animals, including a herd of elephants, cattle from nearby villages, buffaloes, lots and lots of hippopotamus and numerous birds, including the crested crane, marabou stocks and water ducks with their ducklings. All these animals and birds were sipping from the calm waters.
It was so harmonious. On our way back, we caught a glimpse of the rare Egyptian kite majestically resting on a tree top as we toured islands on the lake.This breathtaking two-hour experience affirmed the fact that indeed Uganda is gifted by nature.
A buffalo and various birds at the shores of Kazinga Channel
Did you know?
At the Kazinga Channel, there are a number of animals, including elephants, cattle from nearby villages, buffaloes, lots of hippopotamus and numerous birds such as the Crested Crane, marabou stocks and water ducks
Monkeys are fun to track
Monkey tracking has come fast on the heels of the more sought-after mountain gorilla tracking. With a new adventure dubbed ‘Golden Monkey Experiential Tourism’, tourists can take a four-hour trek to see golden monkeys frolic, feed, court, hop acrobatically in the trees and care for their young ones. The swift monkeys keep themselves busy by pulling faces, grooming each other and flying between tree branches.
Currently, they are only found in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Virunga National Park in DR. Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Gishwati forest and Nyungwe forests. Unlike human beings, monkeys and gorillas freely move between the three countries without visas. This golden monkey trek gives one a chance to see the apes in action, petting and having a siesta. According to researcher Sandra E. Gray, their groups are single male multi-family, meaning there is only one resident male and several adult females, plus young ones of varying ages.
However, for reinforcement, between three and 11 outside males are accepted to join the group temporarily during the breeding season. For monkeys, communication is done fluently by vocal sounds, sign language and facial expressions. Grey says these have not yet been comprehensively studied and only the most obvious gestures are understood to any degree. Monkeys eat 33 record plant species, including fruits and flowers.
Their menu also comprises small invertebrates and bamboo leaves, which make up the bulk of the diet. The habitat of golden monkeys is in the evergreen semi-deciduous and bamboo forests. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) directorate of conservation has now completed the process of habituating a family of golden monkeys for experiential tourism.
This is as a strategy meant to diversify tourism activities. Tacking takes place strictly in the mornings and afternoons within a 23– 50 hectare area to maximise the experience. “The fee is $100, inclusive of the park entry fees. The maximum number per visiting group per day will be six,” Ingrid Nyonza Nyakabwa, the UWA marketing manager, says. “You will not have any regrets. It is money and time very well spent.”
Bookings for the golden monkey adventure are done at both the UWA headquarters on Plot 7 Kira Road in Kamwokya between the Uganda Museum and the British High Commission. Alternatively, they are available at the park office in Kisoro town or park headquarters at Ntebeko. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in south-western Uganda.
It can be accessed by road and air. Kisoro town, at the foot of Mt. Muhabura, is about 540km from Kampala, which takes about eight hours drive via Kabale on an excellent paved road surface. Public transport by bus is available on a daily basis. Mgahinga National Park head office is located 13km from Kisoro town and can be accessed by public transport. It is also accessible from Rwanda’s Chanika border post or Eastern DRC’s Bunagana border post.
Accommodation is available in Kisoro town, a gateway to the park which is adequately served by upmarket and budget hotels. There is a private lodge at the edge of the park and a privately run campsite right outside the park. For more information on other activities, visit the UWA website and the tariff rate card. “This product is now ready for the market,” Raymond Engena, the director Tourism Development and Business Services, says. “The activity is a new product mixed with the phenomenal Batwa Trail Cultural Experience, in addition to volcano hiking.”
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