Monday, 31 August 2015

What it took us to conquer the Rwenzori mountains.

The team trekking over bog, a stretch of thick mud during their ascend. Left, Jackie Asiimwe and one of the guides get ready to hike to the peak Margherita. Courtesy PHOTO 
By Mathias Wandera
For many people, reaching the peak of a mountain is a dream. It is the kind of thought that tickles your entire being. Imagine yourself seated up there on a certain icy and rocky top, staring at the whiteness that lies far and beyond, touching the snow, listening to the sound of melting glaciers and simply knowing that at that point, you are possibly high above everything and everyone. Dream-like indeed. Unfortunately for many people, this remains just that—a dream. However, there are always those that dare to bring the dream to life.
Last month, a group of friends decided to beat the heights of Mountain Rwenzori. Four ladies, Jackie Asiimwe, Joy Mirembe Abola, Mitchelle Barlow, Penelope Sanyu and two gentlemen, Bernard Tabaire and Peter Mugarura, set off to meet Margherita peak, Rwenzori’s highest point. Their boots met the rock on July 14, and seven days later, after a five day climb and a two-day descend, they were back from the mountain top, having reached the peak. It is a milestone they will not be in any hurry to forget because, as Asiimwe intimates, it took all they had in them to reach Margherita.
“Easy is not always the right word to describe a mountain climb. It was tough. We battled on for days. You had to give your all and just keep putting one foot before the other. But in the end, it was worth it. The sight up there, no words can correctly paint it. And all six of us made it to the peak, which is an achievement in itself. I think our success came down to preparation,” Asiimwe tips.
Before the climb
As it is always said, the only time success comes before work is in the dictionary. Nowhere else, and surely not in the case of summiting a mountain. In order to pull off a mountain climbing expedition, preparation is key.
“A week in the gym is most certainly not going to cut it,” quips Tabaire. “You need to be in the best shape in as far as fitness goes. This is not something you attain in a week. It takes a lot more time than that - many weeks, if not months.”
Knowing that their Rwenzori climb was scheduled for July, the team started steady preparation in January, six months prior.
The climbers take a break on one of the peaks of Mt Rwenzori. Below: Excited by the flora and fauna on the mountain slopes, the team capture some moments. Courtesy PHOTO

The physical preparation regime
For the first weeks, they started by climbing stairs. Workers’ House being one of the highest buildings in the city, they made it their training ground.
“We would go there five days a week in the evenings and trudge up and down the stairs. We did this for about four weeks,” Asiimwe narrates. Climbing the staircase helps alert and develop one’s climbing muscles, a quality one needs on the mountain because of the mountain’s vertical and steep nature. 
It also helps with stability as climbing the mountain will demand vast levels of stamina to traverse past the steep slippery rocks, especially when carrying a load on the back.
Soon, they incorporated long walks as part of their workout schedule. They embarked on such walks every after a fortnight. As Mirembe reminisces, “We walked from Nsambya to Kisubi. Then we did the full length of the Northern Bypass, which is from Namboole to Busega. We also did one walk circling the seven hills of Kampala.”
The walks they did always ranged within 20 to 25km. They knew they had to get used to walking long distances because usually during mountain climbing, it takes around six hours to walk from one camp to another, moreover ascending. They needed all the muscle strength and perseverance they could get. They even made two trips to Mabira forest to carry on simple two-hour and six-hour hikes respectively.
“It is important to train in an outdoor environment like the forest rather than the artificial surrounding like the gym. This gives you a feel of the kind of environment you will be facing. In fact, as part of our Rwenzori preparation, we climbed mountains Elgon towards the end of May and Muhavura at the beginning of June,” Tabaire shares.
It is not a requirement to climb another mountain in preparation for another but training in hilly areas is key. This equips your body with the ability to easily acclimate in a mountainous environment. As Mugarura reveals, “the climb becomes harder as you go higher. Suddenly, you feel like a load is pressing down your chest, breathing becomes harder because higher areas do not have enough oxygen. All these are altitude effects. So one needs to hold a few training sessions in areas of higher altitude to be prepared.”
Training personnel
Much as one can still do fine when training on their own, employing services of a professional workout coach is advisable, more so when one is preparing for their first mountain climbing adventure.
This team employed someone to guide them through the drills and in Asiimwe’s view, it was worth it. “Our workout coach had a better image of the kind of training that would better equip us. Also, he helped us take workout more seriously. We did a lot of testing drills with him. We jumped on steps and over logs, we skipped ropes, dragged heavy tires around. We also did dancing and swimming exercise, though this was carried out on individual basis.”
The team’s climb had a charity aspect to it. Some people had pledged to donate good amounts of money for every member that made it to the peak and the team had in turn decided that they were to donate this money to babies’ homes around town to help buy mattresses and blankets for the children. It is the awareness that her presence at the peak was to bring in money to change children’s lives that kept Asiimwe inspired not only during the climb, but even during the vigorous training sessions before.
This is the kind of inspiration that everyone needs before and during the climb because as Asiimwe noticed, it takes more than physical fitness to make it. “You need to be mentally and emotionally prepared. You need to be inspired.”
“My inspiration was my brother. He had climbed Rwenzori before and it is his success that kept me inspired through the whole process. Also, July being my month of birth, I couldn’t think of a better way to mark my birthday,” Mirembe says. This pushed her to workout extensively to ensure her success on the climb.
Mitchel Barlow adds that you need to develop an attitude that embraces challenges. “The climb is a challenge, so is the preparation. What keeps you going is an attitude that welcomes challenges and is actually set to accomplish them. I looked at climbing the Rwenzori as my top challenge for this year. I kept telling myself that I had to put this challenge behind me no matter what. Mentally, this pushed me.”
Timing is paramount. Apart from the fact that Mirembe wanted to mark her birthday at the peak, the team decided to book for their climb in July because usually at Rwenzori, July is a dry month, which makes climbing easier. Doing the climb in wet seasons is more challenging as the mountain is a lot more slippery.
It is for this reason that Barlow advises that before booking, one needs to make research on the best time to climb basing on the mountain’s condition, but also their personal programmes, especially where work commitments are in the picture.
A great experience as it is, mountain climbing is not exactly cheap. According to Mirembe, it took each team member $1,000 (about Shs3.3m) to put the Rwenzori climbing package together.
First, you have to pay a fixed amount to a mountain climbing service provider. Each member paid $750 (about Shs2.5m) to Rwenzori Mountaineering Services. This amount is to cater for your whole experience, including accommodation, feeding and the tour guides and porters.
“Then you have to spend more money to acquire climbing gear and other equipment, which include warm clothing, climbing boots, sleeping bag, gloves, hiking stick and some other necessities. This may cost you about $250 (about Shs850,000),” says Mirembe. But if you want to get top quality climbing gear, then this amount will shoot to around $1,000 because as Tabaire observes, quality climbing shoes that are light, have grip and are water-proof, cost about $500 (about Shs1.7m).
Nonetheless, the cost should not be one factor that deters you because there is always an option of saving. Mirembe says she started saving for the trip months to the scheduled date. “All the other members did the saving in their preferred fashion but I remember at one point, Asiimwe and I were saving Shs20,000 each day. And we were able to raise the required amount. If you are committed to something, you will always figure out a way.”
Wildlife Authority
Get fit. Trekking the mountain is physically draining.
Be mentally prepared. Ensure you are aware of the task that lies ahead.
Have a good sense of humour. You will need to incorporate the fun throughout the entire trek to make it more bearable.
Know your strength. It is important to gauge your body’s strength.
Practise, practise, practise. Put in effort.
The mountain. The Rwenzori Mountain, also known as the Mountain of the Moon, is Uganda’s highest mountain, towering up to 5,109 m (16,761 ft).
This makes it Africa’s 3rd highest mountain.
Location. It is located at the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its highest peaks are snow-capped throughout the year, sharing this quality with only mountains Kenya and Kilimanjaro.
World ranking. Mountain Rwenzori is ranked in the top 15 world’s best hikes, according to National Geographic because of its exceptional glaciers and the beautiful flora and fauna. It is one of Africa’s most sought after hiking experiences.
The numbers
The number of days it took the members to ascend and descend the mountain.
Average amount ($250) each member paid to acquire climbing gear.
Shs2.5 million
The amount ($750) each member paid to Rwenzori Mountaineering Services.
Shs3.3 million
Average amount ($1,000) each member contributed to the whole expedition.

Adventure. Reaching a mountain peak is a dream come true for many adventures, but also one that requires serious preparation.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

International tourism expo set to show Uganda’s tourism potential!!

Birds rest near a crocodile on River Nile.
Birds rest near a crocodile on River Nile. Photos by peninah asiimwe/ Courtesy 
By Joseph Ssemutooke
In Summary
The expo, expected to boost the country’s tourism sector, will showcase Uganda’s tourism potential to both Ugandans and foreigners.
 In two weeks’ time, the 39th edition of the Africa Travel Association annual congress will kick off  at Speak Resort Munyonyo. It will run from November 11 to November 16. This will be the second time Uganda is hosting the biggest gathering of Africa’s tourism sector technocrats, the first having been in 1994. According to the chairperson of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), James Tumusiime, UTB is to launch the first-ever Uganda International Tourism Expo as part of the occasion
Tumusiime says the expo is to be held between November 14 and 16, in conjunction with many other tourism stakeholders in the country.
Other partners include the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Uganda Wildlife Education Centre Uganda Tourism Association, the Uganda Museum, and Ngaali Uganda, among others. Tumusiime says UTB’s long-term aim is to make the expo annual, for purposes of marketing Uganda’s tourism potential further.
Andrew Welishe, one of the coordinators, says the event is to be held at the Uganda Museum, with visitors allowed in free of charge but having to meet a negligible fee to access some of the more specialised activities and services which will be at the event.
“We want stakeholders to show visitors from all over the world what Uganda has to offer to tourists,” Welishe says. “The different tour service providers will showcase what they have and at what prices.”
Welishe adds that the expo will showcase to Ugandans as much as to foreigners, so that Ugandans can understand that exploring the beauty of their country should not only be left to foreigners.
“We will have a lot of animals for the people to see. There will be exhibitions and competitions regarding the preparation of local cuisines. There will also be story-tellers from the different tribes in Uganda explaining how these tribes used to live as well as elders from the different tribes in the country, among others,” Welishe said. The top 10 Uganda tourist attractions to be showcased at the expo include the big five wild animals, traditional shelters, traditional art of war, traditional cuisines, music instruments and traditional dances, folk stories and colonial relics.
Welishe explains that the purpose of traditional shelters will be to showcase the different types of architecture that Ugandans made before the coming of the White man. He says contrary to what some people have come to believe, there were actually many interesting architectural styles in the country.
The big five wild animals
Organizers say the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and African rhinoceros will all be on show at the expo. These will be in addition to other must-see animals such as the hippopotamus, crocodile, and birds such as the ostrich, among others.
Music instruments and traditional dances
From the various types of stringed instruments, to the different types of pipes, to the different types of winged instruments, organisers say the expo will have an interminable array of traditional Ugandan music instruments. With skilled players actually making for a traditional music carnival.
All sorts of traditional weapons from the different parts of the country will be showcased. Welishe says elders and other well-informed people from the different regions have been lined up to explain how exactly the different communities conducted war. He adds that there will actually be mock warfare to exhibit how exactly the weapons are used in battle.
Other tourist attractions to be showcased
Traditional Cuisines.
The organisers say there will be people who know the unadulterated traditional dishes of their respective communities, who will prepare and avail (at a small fee) the traditional dishes as they were prepared eons ago. And they say that actually the real traditional dishes are rather different from what we think them to be today.
Folk Stories. Mr Welishe says this will be for the evenings, and that the settings will be constructed to reflect how exactly it was like in the olden days –most of it taking place at bonfires.Colonial Relics. With the venue being the National Museum, organizers say the usual relics of national significance from the colonial period will be on show. He says, however, in addition to the ones resident at the museum, many relics are going to be ferried from different parts of the country for the expo.

Fading glory of Kilwa Kisiwani 

The tour guide takes one of the tourists around one of the sites at Kisiwani.
The tour guide takes one of the tourists around one of the sites at Kisiwani. 
In Summary
Kilwa Kisiwani was once the most famous trading post in East Africa. Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime found out what could still be standing in the glorious place on the Tanzanian Coast.

I will not assume. So, permit me to ask: ever heard of a one Nasir Jones alias Nas? Okay. Please keep your fingers away from your head. You do not need to scratch it for an answer. A quick google search will reveal that Nas is an American Rapper who is ranked as one of the greatest MCs of all time.
I bet you, dear reader, are trying to figure out the relationship between Nas and “Kilwa Kiswani”. Hang on, please. Nothing Lasts Forever is one of the rapper’s memorable songs. In part of the song, Nas raps, “Eventually everything comes to an end…nothing lasts forever.” These lyrics may not make sense till you come across their living testament. Kilwa is one such.
It is an island located 200 miles south of the Tanzanian capital, Dare-es-Salaam and 13 minutes, by boat, from the mainland town of Kilwa Massoko. When the great traveller Ibn Battouta stopped at the island in 1331 he described Kilwa as, one of the most beautiful cities of the world. Kilwa was home to the largest mosque in sub-saharan Africa. It housed the Husuni Kubwa (great palace) which the early writers referred to as the largest pre – European building in East Africa. The Island town was a principle centre for trade in gold, iron and slaves from Africa which were exchanged for cloth, jewels, porcelain and spices, from India and China.
Of its grandeur…
Fast forward, Kilwa’s grandeur is dead and gone. All that is left of the ooh and ah architecture it once flaunted are ruins.
Recently, I took a tour of the Island with a group of Ugandan and Tanzania journalists en route to the gas rich region of Mtwara. The seven-hour journey from Dar –es – Salaam to the mainland town was only enjoyable because of the good company in the vehicle. The regular banter and the ear candy bongo flava (Tanzanian music) blaring from our car’s rickety radio served well to ease the boredom promised by the journey’s duration. The beautiful coconut trees (some seemed to have walked straight out of a postcard) and the long Mkapa Bridge across River Rufiji were some of the fascinating sights along the way.
The 13 minute-ride on the motor boat, from Kilwa Massoko to the island town, was longer than I had anticipated. Salome, my friend and neighbour on the journey, diagnosed this as anxiety.
At Kilwa
Abdallah Ahmed, our guide, received us on the other end. He quickly carried out a monologue, in Swahili, about Kilwa’s history. He thereafter led us around one of the most significant historical sites on the East African coast. The sight of the remains of the great palace, the crumbling great mosque, the Portugese coral-stone-built gereza or fort and the face-lift-thirsty ancient tombs, give no hint to Kilwa’s glory days.
As my friends were posing for social media destined photos, my mind was reflecting on Nas’ lyrics; “Eventually everything comes to an end…nothing lasts forever”. I was only jolted out of the lull by Salome’s request to take a photo of her at the new carved door on the gereza which was recently installed as part of preservation work of Kilwa’s beauty.
By the way, what runs through your mind when you hear the name Salome? Personally, it reminds me of Saida Karoli, a once popular Tanzania artiste who some Ugandans nicknamed Maria Salome (a title of one of her songs). That she is currently in oblivion is another testament that; Nothing Lasts Forever!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Lake Chahafi:A crater Lake hidden in Kisoro

Largely unknown to the tourist world, Lake Chahafi is one of the several crater lakes in Kisoro District whose scenic view is simply breathtaking. PHOTO BY Joseph Ssemutooke 
In Summary
It is the kind of experience you should hope to encounter waking up on the shores of Lake Chahafi, one of the several crater lakes down in South Western Uganda’s Kisoro District
You wake up to sweet jazz music cascading into your room from an orchestra of various birds merrily playing out their daily morning tunes. You step out into the rising sunlight and your eyes crash into a delicious sight: Mountain Muhavura erect in his invariable aim for the skies, the crowd of cloud around his peak indicating that he has successfully hit the celestials.
You turn your eyes from Muhavura toward the opposite direction, and the placid waters of a picturesque lake sprawling off between the high hills invites you to check out what is in progress at thatmorning hour. At the lake’s shore you get to behold a crowd of crested cranes singing and dancing as though on a morning exercise routine.
It is the kind of experience you should hope to encounter waking up on the shores of Lake Chahafi, one of the several crater lakes down in South Western Uganda’s Kisoro District.
Like other smaller crater lakes in Kisoro, Lake Chahafi remains largely unknown to the tourist world, pushed into the background by the more famous Bunyonyi and Mutanda lakes. But as a visitor you will actually find solid reasons why small Lake Chahafi perhaps deserves to be ranked along with the larger Bunyonyi and Mutanda on the list of lakes one has to prioritise when planning an excursion to Kigezi region.
Lake Chahafi (together with its vicinity) is ranked by Kigezi tour operators as one of the places with the largest population as well as diversity of birds in south western Uganda. This is quite a statement, given that this region sits with the Kazinga region atop the rankings of Ugandan regions on the subject of bird endowment.
Nelson Mugisha, a tour operator in the region, avers that indeed Chahafi has both a bigger population and a wider diversity of species than most other tourist destinations in Kigezi.
Mugisha’s claim is supported by information from the African Bird Club, where Lake Chahafi is indicated as one of the lakes where a number of rare East African bird species have been sighted.
Talking of that gives Chahafi its competitive edge in this respect, Mugisha says: “The lake descends into a sprawling swamp of lush papyrus vegetation, of a kind you can hardly find on other lakes in Kigezi. It is this swamp that attracts the birds in bigger numbers and in more diversity than is to be found in other areas, because the birds always find it easier to feed and nest in the vegetation.”
Among the bird species to be easily seen at Lake Chahafi and rarely anywhere else are the Lesser Jacana, the African Jacana, the Brack Crake, the Blue-headed Coucal, the Common Moorhen, swamp flycatchers, swamp warblers, among others. Yours truly had a chance to behold two rare species: the Common Moorhen and the Malekite Kingfisher.
Largely unknown to the tourist world, Lake Chahafi is one of the several crater lakes in Kisoro District whose scenic view is simply breathtaking.
Michael Murangira, a local tour guide in Kisoro, points out that Kigezi was nicknamed “The Switzerland of Uganda” owing to its rugged mountainous terrain and Mediterranean climate. Murangira names the Lake Chahafi area as one of the most scenic in the entire Kigezi area. “Lake Chahafi actually has a twin to its east, called Lake Kayumbu,” Murangira says. “In between these two lakes is a towering thread of a hill, and standing atop this one 
you will catch breathtaking scenery sprawling several kilometres on all sides below.
Standing on the several high hills in the Chahafi area, one is spellbound as he rolls his eyes as far off as Mountain Muhavura on the horizon. In between the horizons lay incredible spreads of forest vegetation, hillside gardens, oddly-shaped ridges and gorges, name it. 
Strategic base to tour Kigezi
Lake Chahafi has a resort right on its shores, and Murangira says apart from staying here when touring the Chahafi area, Lake Chahafi Resort is also ideal for one wishing to go tracking Gorilla or mountain-hiking. He explains that Lake Chahafi is about just 20km from Mountain Muhavura, Mgahinga and Sabinyo –and less than 20km from the Mgahinga gorilla sanctuary.
There’s a colonial history to it
For those with interest in the past, there is also some interesting history to be encountered at Lake Chahafi. A rich colonial history about the struggle for control of the region at the time of the First World War. For the shores of Lake Chahafi is where in 1914, the joint forces of the British and Belgians set up a base to ward off the approaches of the Germans in the struggle for control of Kigezi.
And going backwards beneath 1914, the Lake Chahafi area is also where the Bafumbira tribal leader Katuregye based in his attempts to repulse the approaching British imperialists. This Katurebe and his subjects were inspired by the native Nyabingi religious movement which claimed that the spirits of the land would help the natives defeat the colonialists, and there are interesting tales about the dramatic campaign that subdued Katuregye.
Still talking of history, the Echuya Forest Reserve is also around this area, its fringes holding one of the largest Batwa pygmy communities in Kigezi. One gets to see the Batwa Pygmies living in their traditional setting as it has always been since time immemorial.
Other attractions in the Lake Chahafi include visiting the farms to see the farming styles in this area of fertile volcanic soils, sailing on the lake, fishing, among others.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Nature serenades in the countryside

The rumbling waters at Treasure Valley Park.
The rumbling waters at Treasure Valley Park. photos by rajab mukombozi 
If you love to be in a serene place on any day, Treasure Valley Park along River Rwizi is the place to go as Rajab Mukombozi found out.
As one enters Treasure Valley Park, the cool breeze from the river and the gushing waters of Bururuma Falls give one a relaxation feel. The palm trees on the vast piece of land where Valley Park sits protects revellers from the scorching sun rays as the birds chirp in the background.
Treasure Valley Park is a recreational centre situated along the banks of River Rwizi, located 3.5km from Mbarara town on Mbarara – Katete road in Nyamitanga . One parts with Shs2,000 on a boda boda or Shs10,000 by cab to reach this place from the town centre.
Restaurant and atmosphere
If you hunger for some fast food like chips with beef plus if you thirst for beer from all tribes as well as soda and bottled water, they are readily available at the restaurant. You savour on this as you gaze at nature. The undulating rocks make good seats for guests that do not carry mats or chairs along.
It is common for hangouts to blare music at top volume but this is not the case at Treasure Valley Park.
“I intend to make this place an amusement park with beautiful trees and calm atmosphere, that is why you cannot hear any music,” says Boniface Nuwagaba, the proprietor. “You find a stressed person dashing to a noisy hangout which may be harmful to the situation because there is no peace of mind,” he adds.
There are well-furnished cottages whose bed are made of wood and papyrus furnishings with a nice view for watching monkeys that jump around especially in the morning hours, as well as a panoramic view of Mbarara town.
Activities to enjoy are rock climbing, and bird watching and gazing at Bururuma falls, and if you are daring enough, make friends with some of the monkeys.
Nuwagaba, hopes to extend the gardens to create space for activities like horse riding, goat racing and other outdoor activities.
“I wish organisations like UWA would partner with us, we can have another zoo in Uganda,” said Nuwagaba. Despite the spaciousness there are a few hiccups; there are no vehicles plying this route.
Food is also not readily available so you either pack some or endure for hours after placing an order.

Where is River Rwizi?
River Rwizi originates from the Buhweju hills in Buhweju district transcending through the districts of Bushenyi, Sheema, Mbarara, Isingiro, Kiruhura and Rakai and eventually pours its waters into Lake Victoria via a network of wetlands.

Tracing the Batwa in Semuliki Batwa 

King Geoffery Nzitu (R) and other members of the royal family preparing for the tour. PHOTOs by EMMANUEL AINEBYOONA 

In Summary
Though displaced from the forest, their natural habitat, the Batwa still observe and respect their culture
Dressed in their cultural regalia, bark cloth hats, feathered-spears, bowls and arrows in their hands, the Batwa cut the image of the forest people.
But for the changing times, the little people, as they prefer to be called, have since put up their settlements at the foot of Mountain Rwenzori and adapted to living alongside other tribes like the Bakonjo, Bamba, Banyabindi and Basongora.

The forest now remains a reminder of their past and a symbol of their rich heritage, one they proudly show off as tour guides along the Batwa track in Semuliki National Park where their king, Geoffery Nzitu, 45, leads the pack. Other members comprise of the prince, Wilson Kaita, and five others of the royal family. A recent visit with a team of other journalists led to a discovery of many interesting facts about the Batwa.

The new Batwa settlement is only separated from Semuliki National Park by the recently constructed Fort Portal-Bundibugyo highway. They were resettled by government and other development partners in early 2000.
We started with the Batwa track; a two-hour nature walk in the Semuliki forest that hosts the Semuliki River, which separates the park from the famous Ituri Forest on the Democratic Republic of Congo side.

After a 10-minute walk, we arrived at the Batwa kings’ burial grounds (Kaweelo), that also acts as a burial ground for all members of the royal family. A very tiny grass-thatched hut of about 50cm covers the deceased king’s grave.
“We come here for blessings when we have challenges like diseases,” says Kaita, before adding that the Batwa have reduced in number, following the outbreak of diseases like cholera, malaria and sleeping sickness that claimed their lives while still staying in the jungle. The Batwa population currently stands at less than 300 persons in the entire country, with others living in the Kigezi sub-region in south-western Uganda between Kabale and Kisoro districts. This makes them one of the most endangered human races on the African continent.

Still at the king’s grave, the Batwa show us some of their crafts like a small pot in the hut. The clay pot is used to keep offertory from the people who visit the site. Another craft was the three-holed smoking pipe.
“This pipe is used to smoke opium by the men for extra energies before they set off for hunting and doing other activities in the forest,” says King Nzitu, as he demonstrates with the pipe stuck onto his lips how they smoke it.
Our next tour was the medicinal track, a track within the thick forest where the Batwa get herbs to treat most diseases, including one that boosts men’s sexual capabilities, so we are told. While at the site, we are shown a tree that produces poisonous substances used on the spears to kill dangerous wild animals in case of an attack.

The group also reveals that the Batwa circumcise their male which as a symbol of strength and pride.
As we head to the king’s palace, we stop at a beehive that has some cultural significance to the Batwa. According to our guides, the hive serves as remedy to any possibility of bad luck for anyone in the Batwa community who commits murder. “When you kill someone and you rush to this point, you get cleansed. Prince Kaita explains that the killer uses the tool used in committing the crime to pierce the hive, causing the bees to sting his entire body as a ritual of requesting for forgiveness.

When the Batwa are mourning a loved one, they spend four days without bathing. “The family of the deceased is taken to the river for cleansing after four days,” observes Kaita.

As we get closer to the king’s palace, we come across the dancing place, which is demarcated into two zones, one for the males (Bengo) and the other for the females’ (Muleku).
At the males dancing place, the Batwa men play their music as they dance to the tunes and the females also dance their different cultural dances at an adjacent location.
“Young men who are looking for marriage partners come here to choose their suitors as the young girls dance,” says the king. The dance is known as Muredu. Batwa girls get married at 17-18 years.

The king’s palace is the symbol of the Batwa powers. A huge tall tree with roots protruding out of the ground forms the king and the queen’s seat. King Nzitu has three children with one wife, the queen. At this point, we are told that the Batwa don’t marry many wives.
“The ideal man marries one woman and at the extreme, they marry only two,” says King Nzitu.

While the king and his subjects were still living in the forest, the palace was heavily guarded by warriors with spears, bowls and arrows. The king’s subjects would come to the his palace for advice and for settlement of the family wrangles in their homes.
Most of the Batwa sites have been demarcated by the Semuliki National Park management with small signposts leading to the various locations along the foot path navigating the forest. The king’s palace is located deep in the forest.

Residents. Semuliki National Park, besides serving as home to the Batwa cultural sites, hosts the Sempaya Hot springs, the male (Bitente), female (Nyansimbi) and the son. The three hot springs excrete hot water from the inner earth crust. Water at the female hot spring boils at 103 degrees whereas, the one at male hot spring boils at 1O6 degrees. The park is also home to various tree types, butterfly and bird species considered to be endangered in most parts of Africa.

Charges. For a guided tour of the park, Ugandans pay Shs10,000 and non Ugandans part with $15 (about Shs38,000).

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Kampala’s oldest housethe century-old house in Kasubi. Its ceiling made of reeds.

The century-old house in Kasubi. Its ceiling made of reeds. PHOTOS BY HENRY LUBEGA 
In Summary
The house is very and was built before Mwanga became king of Buganda as Henry Lubega explores.
Other end of the tree lane is a huge compound with fermented millet spread out in the huge compound. Surrounded by wooden shacks on both sides, in the backyard is fermented sorghum spread out to dry.
Welcome to Bwanga house, Kabaka Mwanga’s first house before he became king of Buganda in 1884. Located in Zalwango Zone in Kasubi, off Hoima road, the house is part of the greater Kasubi Tombs site according to Musenero Mawejje, whose great grandfather was the chief brewer in the royal palace.
How it came to be
The 10-roomed house was built in late 1880s by youthful Mwanga, as his homestead. The first structure was grass- thatched. When he was crowned king in 1884 culture demanded that he builds a palace. He relocated to Masaja, where he built his first palace called Mukulutatamakaage(an elder of the home doesn’t abandon it). This palace did not last because he left it to build the present- day Twekobe in Mengo.
When he went to Masaja the house was left to the Basenero, the king’s brewers. During the turbulent times of his reign, he never returned to the place until when he died in exile. When it was decided that his remains be returned, the grass-thatched house, it was renovated in 1910 in preparation for the return of the body. The current structure (in picture) was completed in 1919. Since then, it was never renovated until after the return of Kabaka mutesa from exile in 1955, when the house was plastered, painted and the floor was cemented, on Mutesa’s order.
Musenero says the original palace sat on more than five acres of land but it has all been eaten up by development. The main compound is partly taken up by a car park; at the extreme end of the compound are public toilets and showers where one is charged Shs 200 and shs 500 for a shower. In the backyard, are other shanty structures with what used to be Mwanga’s private courtyard now a malwa preparation ground.
Due to its enormous size some rooms are rented out to other people, the verandah is now a tailoring workshop.
Unique architecture
This historic house was built with the Ganda version of a ceiling called okusisila. This was made of reed, palm poles or enkoma, and grass mixed with mud. Omumbejja Nandaula says, “with this kind of ceiling no heat can be felt from the roof.” It is also soundproof. The iron sheets that were put on in 1919 when its construction was completed have never been changed and none of them leaks either.”
Bwanga house has borne its fair share of the cost of Kampala’s changing face. Musenero says, “the road reserve meant for people to stand as the king passed by, is covered by new house structures and our rituals are no more.”

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Fort Patiko: A beauty born out of slave trade

The three stores built by Arab slave traders on Ocecu Hill, Fort Patiko. 
It was the 1800s. The Arabs, in their search for trading venues stumbled upon Ocecu Hill in present-day Gulu District.
Patiko is a beauty – mountains and hills grace her extensive vegetation. And she advantageously sits near Nimule, South Sudan and onwards to eastern Egypt, where the Arabs sold their merchandise.
The Arabs could not have found a better slave harbor and trade link. They descended upon Ocecu Hill and built three square-shaped huts to serve as stores for ammunition, ivory and foodstuff as well as hides and skins.
Slaves were a key trading item for the Arabs too and were captured from northern Uganda, Gondokoro in Sudan and other areas. Ocecu Hill became a sorting ground for slaves. Healthy-looking ones were forced to trek from Patiko, through Sudan across the Red Sea and sold in Egypt.
The journey to the slave markets was not easy. “The slaves were forced to carry looted millet, simsim, ammunition and ivory,” explains Constance Oneka who was in 2011 the caretaker of the site. Slaves who were too weak as a result of beatings and long treks were killed by firing squad or beheaded in the designated ‘execution slab/prosecution chamber’ on the hill. Barter trade was the major form of exchange. Traditional chiefs in Patiko supplied ivory to the Arabs in exchange for sukas, beads, guns and gun powder.
The Arabs turned Ocecu Hill into a trading centre and business boomed. However, when village raids intensified, fear, hunger and disease befell Patiko. Something had to be done. The then chief of Patiko – Rwot Kikwiyakare – organised the relocation of children, elders and the sick to a nearby mountain so that his people are not wiped away by slave trade.
Baker and the birth of Fort Patiko
That mountain, located about 2kms from Ocecu Hill, became known as Got Ajulu (Julu is Acholi for ‘nurture’, Got means mountain/hill). According to the Chief of Patiko, Rwot Jeremiah Muttu Bonojane, Rwot Kikwiyakare said to his people: “Let’s nurture (julu) our people so that our clan is not wiped away.” As a result, the mountain has since then been called Got Ajulu.
As Britain spread its colonial wings across Africa, quashing slave trade was one of their missions. Explorer Sir Samuel Baker was commissioned by the Queen of England to oversee that mission. Although Britain would colonise Uganda in 1894, by 1863, Sir Samuel Baker and the chief of Patiko - Rwot Kikwiyakare met and discussed the slave trade menace in the area.
In 1872, Baker returned from Egypt with Nubian soldiers, passed through Bunyoro to quash the Kabalega resistance against the British and headed to Patiko. He over-run the slave harbor, expelled about 250 Arabs and fortified the place. Fort Patiko, also known as Baker’s Fort Patiko, was born.
Located about 32 kilometers north of Gulu Town, the fort is enclosed by a 16 feet wide and 15 feet deep trench dug by slaves on the orders of the Arabs to avoid the escape of captives. The tourism site, located in Patiko Sub-county in Gulu District covers about 9.4 hectares.
It is neighboured by six hills - Ajulu, Ladwong, Akara, Abaka and Labworomor to the north and Kiju hill to the south.
In 2011 when I first visited the Fort, an oval-shaped, roofless hut with half of its wall crumbled down, stood at the entrance with two doors on either side. Small rocks pieced together with mud and cement, formed the wall of the hut which served as a gate.
Two years later, the hut is no more. Inside Fort Patiko lies well-trimmed grass, with a rectangular-shaped structure sitting on the left of the vast compound.
This small house used to be a reception and a registration room. But the roofless structure is now a haven to grass, insects and animal waste, despite its well-trimmed surroundings. On the right side of the compound sits an oval-shaped structure, built only almost two feet up. “It used to be the visitors’ waiting room,” says John Too, who says he was the Fort caretaker from 1976 to early 2000.
Sights to behold
Beyond the lush compound dotted with small, scattered, protruding rocks, sit three square-shaped and roofless huts that were used by Arabs to store their loot. Two years ago, one of the store walls had an inscription “Fatiko, 1872-88, founded by Sir Samuel Baker, occupied by Gordon and Emin”.
Mr Too says the name Patiko was misspelled by Baker, while writing the inscription. The metallic plate that bore the inscription is no more and according to Rwot Muttu, it was recently stolen. Next to the three huts stand a giant rock, about 150 high and is known as Baker’s leap/seat. It was on top of this rock, that the Arabs would sit to monitor any infiltration by their enemies to the area. Behind the three square-shaped huts is the execution slab and further left of the slab is a cave where slaves –destined for execution were ‘imprisoned’.
The ‘execution slab’ is dotted with dents which Mr Too says were caused by axes used to behead slaves. Dark spots, believed to be blood stains of slaves, can also be seen on the rock. Fort Patiko might have witnessed terror from Arab slave trade dealers, but the natural beauty of the place, rose above its dark history.

Management, maintenance woes cloud Fort Patiko
Fort Patiko could have risen above its dark history, but What remains to be seen, is what the government, which gazette the Fort as a government object in 1972, will do to milk its potential for area residents and the country.
Area residents think fencing off the area and placing its management with them, will ensure the protection and preservation of the Fort.

The chief of Patiko, Rwot Jeremiah Muttu Bonojane, who accuses the government of taking away management of the place from his people, says the area where Fort Patiko sits, was given to the Arabs by Rwot Kikwiyakare, his great great grandfather. “I don’t know why I should be wrangling with government over this place. Government said they can’t give it to me because they have a plan for it,” he explains.
He adds: “But I told them the people of Patiko want to manage the place in partnership with development partners.”
Fort Patiko, according to Rwot Muttu is currently managed by the Sub-county but he thinks a lot needs to be made better.
“There are no urinals, no toilets in the place. If I have life, I’ll change that place for the better in just five years,” he says, adding that Fort Patiko has been moving from the ministry of Tourism, Trade and now they understand it’s under Heritage and iniquities.

In a letter dated October 13, 2009, the Department of Museums and Monuments in the Ministry of Tourism and Industry, expressed concern over the decline in maintenance of Fort Patiko. “There are signs of degradation of the walls of key historic monumental structures (the granary, ivory and ammunition stores). The compound is bushy and the trench system is rundown and invisible,” the letter, addressed to the Gulu Chief Administrative Officer, reads in part.
The business community in Gulu has in the past requested the Ministry to be allowed to manage the fort. However, the ministry said after basic conservation work is complete, there could be a private-public partnership. “The immediate need of the site is opening the borders to establish the boundaries of the site, clearance of vegetation and grass cutting in the defensive ditch surrounding the camp…” the 2009 letter reads further.
“Removal of all anthills within the periphery, reconstruction of an attendant’s office, construction of a pit latrine and erection of enamel signposts in Gulu and on the main route to Patiko,” the letter, signed by Mwanje Nkaale Rose Ag Commissioner, Museums and Monuments, adds.
Even as the management hiccups for Fort Patiko get sorted out, local and foreign visitors have continued to troop the area to revel in its beauty and history.

Jinja: A place where adventure tourism comes to life on R. Nile

Nile Cruises are ideal on the flat waters of the river.
By Angela Nampewo
Even with Bujagali Falls gone, tourists enjoy boat cruises along the flat and calm waters of the River Nile.
It is the source of the Nile and some say, the source of adventure. With the long line of adventure activities on offer, there is enough evidence to support Jinja’s claim to adventure fame.
When you speak about adventure in Jinja, many will immediately think of white water rafting and they would be right. Rafting is probably Jinja’s oldest and widely advertised adventure sport. It dates back almost 20 years to the time when the Bujagali Falls, a series of cascading rapids, was still in place.
Even though the construction of the Bujagali Dam submerged some of the rapids on the rafting circuit, the sport is very much alive, thanks to the amazingly bouncy River Nile that has a string of rapids stretching for miles across Buikwe and Kayunga districts.
After the changes that have taken place on the section of the river between Owen Falls and Bujagali dams, tourism operators are thinking harder on how best to utilise the new expanse of flat water left behind after the flooding of Bujagali Falls.
It is this effort to make use of the flat water that has given rise to the Nile Cruise, a boating experience where tourists are treated to a two-hour ride on a 50-seater double-decker boat as they sip their drinks and watch the sunset.
Extreme sporting
For those more inclined to extreme sports, jet boating might appeal to your wild side. On the few jet boat rides I have taken, I have seen young and old people alike, screaming their lungs out as the boat captain swung the craft this way and that at alarming speeds, narrowly missing rocks. In fact a ride on the eight to ten-seater jet boats often feels like a series of near misses and head-on collisions with small river islands. You get to fly over water falls, spin around and splash but unlike a journey on the bus, there is no getting off before the journey is done.
If you like the feeling of falling out of the sky, sky-diving or however you prefer to describe free-fall, then bungee jumping is the thing for you. The bungee jump is quite literally a cliff-hanger because the platform is suspended over the edge of a cliff at the Adrift River camp near the bottom of Nile Resort Hotel gardens.
Even after the demise of Bujagali Falls, there is still plenty of adventure to be experienced in the area; including a ride on the all-terrain quad bike just like your favourite action movie heroes riding through the jungle.
There are kayaking schools that offer amateur lessons on how to paddle along in a kayak on the calm river waters; mountain biking through the villages neighbouring Bujagali and river boarding, among others.
Approximate cost of adventure in Jinja
Whitewater Rafting
Full Day Rafting – $125
Half Day Rafting - $115
Extreme Rafting - $145
2-Day Rafting - $250
Bungee Jump - $115
Raft / Bungee Combo
$195 – Full day rafting – can only be done over 2 days !
$185 – Half day rafting
Wild Nile Jet
Exploding up the Nile
$75 Adult / $50, Kid (under 12 years)
Ex Kampala, including lunch @ Wildwaters Lodge – $135 Adult / $105 Child under 12 years
Raft / Jet Combo
$180 – Full day rafting and a jet boat ride
$170 – Half day rafting and a jet boat ride
Full day rafting, bungee and jet-boat - $250
Half day rafting, bungee and jet-boat – $240
River and Lake Cruise
Nile sunset cruise – $45
Nile lunch cruise – $30

Tracing the other martyrs in history

Photo,By Ivan Okuda :From the day Jesus was crucified, Christian after Christian have been killed, some in the most brutal of ways. Their only crime being their faith and believing in it to the point of death. We trace a few Christians across historical time and geographical space whose death remains revered just like that of our own Uganda Martyrs.
The 108 Martyrs of World War II
German tyrant, Adolf Hitler’s terror outfit, the Nazi, it is estimated, claimed lives of more than 6.4 million people, some in concentration camps. Intoxicated with blood and power, Hitler went on a mission to extinguish the Polish people and Jews but 108 men and women stood their ground and died for their faith.
These were Roman Catholics from Poland at the peak of World War. The group, an online source says, “comprises three bishops, 52 priests, 26 members of male religious orders, three seminarians, eight female religious sisters and nine lay people.
There are two parishes named for the 108 Martyrs of World War II in Powiercie in Koło County, and in Malbork, Poland.” adds, “Their liturgical feast day is June 12. The 108 were beatified on June 13, 1999 by Pope John Paul II at Warsaw, Poland.”
Like all martyrs, this group of 108 did not have to commit any crime against the state of Germany or meddle in the bitter politics of the West and East at the time. Their only crime was belonging to their faith and it is what they died for. This particular group possibly only compares to the Uganda Martyrs in terms of international stature and fame basing on online search results and depth of attention across the world accorded to their liturgy day.
Andrew was one of the first disciples of Christ. He was previously a disciple of John. Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter. After the biblical record of Andrew’s life, he went on to preach around the Black Sea and was influential in starting several churches. He was the founder of the church in Byzantium or Constantinople.

Tradition says that Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross on the northern coast of Peloponnese. Early writings state that the cross was actually a Latin cross like the one Jesus was crucified upon. But the traditional story says that Andrew refused to be crucified in the same manner as Christ because he was not worthy.
The reformers
Their martyrdom remains a point of debate in as much as it raised controversy back in the day. These are men of the church who took a rather radical path, advocating for a paradigm shift in the catholic church, ancient Rome and dying for principles they held and considered dear to the growth of the church. They include Polycarp, Wycliffe and John Huss.

As with many people in the early centuries, Polycarp’s exact birth and death dates are not known. Even his date of martyrdom is disputed; though it was some time between 155 AD and 167 AD.

Polycarp was probably a disciple of the Apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John, the three Epistles of John and the book of Revelation. Polycarp may have been one of the chief people responsible for compiling the New Testament of the Bible that we have today.
Because of his refusal to burn incense to the Roman Emperor he was sentenced to burn at the stake. Tradition says that the flames did not kill him so he was stabbed to death.
Known as “The Morning Star of the Reformation”, John Wycliffe was a 14th century theologian. He is probably best remembered as a translator of scriptures. He believed that the Bible should be available to the people in their common tongue. He translated the Latin Vulgate into common English.

He was persecuted for his stand against Papal authority. While he was not burned at the stake as a martyr, his persecution extended beyond his death. His body was exhumed and burned along with many of his writings. The Anti-Wycliffe Statute of 1401 brought persecution to his followers and specifically addressed the fact that there should not be any translation of Scripture into English.
Simon Peter
Brought to Christ by his brother Andrew, Peter is known as the disciple who spoke often before he thought. After Christ’s death, Peter was the fiery preacher prominently seen in the first half of the book of Acts. He founded the church at Antioch and travelled preaching mainly to Jews about Jesus Christ.

Peter was martyred under Nero’s reign. He was killed in Rome around the years 64 to 67. Tradition holds that he was crucified upside down. Like Andrew, his brother, he is said to have refused to be crucified in the same manner as Christ because he was unworthy to be executed in the same way as the Lord.
Stephen is considered one of the first Christian martyrs after Christ himself.
Stephen was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, his words offended the listeners. They put together a council that brought false-witness to the things Stephen was saying (Acts 6:11-13). Stephen proclaimed that, “God’s own people were at fault for suppressing the prophets’ call to righteousness. They even killed the Holy One, Jesus Christ.”
Their reaction was to gnash on him with their teeth. They ran Stephen out of the city and stoned him. Yet, Stephen patiently accepted the persecution that was given to him. He asked the Lord not to hold them guilty who had stoned him. He essentially repeated Christ’s words on the cross.
The Scillitan Martyrs of North Africa
“I recognise not the empire of this world but rather do I serve that God whom no man hath seen, nor with these eyes can see,” is what one of these North African martyrs told the emperor right in the face when called upon to swear an oath.
These were a company of 12 North African Christians (seven men and five women) who were executed for their beliefs on July 17, 180. The martyrs take their name from Scilla (or Scillium), a town in Numidia.
The Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs are considered to be the earliest documents of the church of Africa. In their Acts, Speratus, their principal spokesman, wrote that they had lived, “a quiet and moral life, paying their dues and doing no wrong to their neighbors.” The martyrs were offered a thirty-day reprise to reconsider their decision, but they all refused. The fame of the martyrs led to the building of a basilica in their honor at Carthage, Tunisia.
 By Ivan Okuda