Home Magazine Issues June 2012-July 2012 Travel Review : Canoe trekking at Lake Bunyonyi

Canoe trekking at Lake Bunyonyi

By Marcus and Kate Westberg

A wonderful way to experience Lake Bunyonyi, meaning “place of many little birds”, is to follow in the footsteps of the local people and jump into a dugout canoe. With its terraced hillsides and hidden coves, Lake Bunyonyi is a haven of tranquillity that provides the perfect place to relax and unwind. The lake lies in south-western Uganda, between Kisoro and Kabale and close to the border with Rwanda. It was formed when the original valley exit was blocked by volcanic eruptions, creating a freshwater paradise that is a pleasure to explore. Edirisa’s canoe trekking allowed us to discover some of the remoter parts of the Bunyonyi valley, home to the Bakiga and the Batwa “pygmies”.

2-day Lake Bunyonyi trek
We spent the first day leisurely paddling on the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi, sightseeing among its many islands. While we soaked up the stunning scenery, our Bakiga guide Owen told us the story of each island and the local legends of the lake. The Bakiga are hardworking people who cultivate their crops on the steep sides of the lake. Mudfish, yellowfish and crayfish are caught in the water, while beans, potatoes, sorghum, maize and bananas are grown in the fertile soil. As weisland-hopped across the lakewe went for a stroll through forest groves of eucalyptus full of birds and stopped for a light lunch in the shade of a tree overlooking the water.
We spent the night with a local Bakiga family on a lovely little farm with cows, goats, chickens and a banana plantation. Mama Bena, mother of a teacher at Edirisa Nursery School, welcomed us with open arms and a warm smile into her simple home. Our spacious tent was set up on a soft, grassy patch in the garden next to the family’s traditional thatch-roofed huts. As the sun set over the hills, Mama Bena prepared a hearty home-cooked meal of beef stew with rice, sweet potatoes and vegetables gathered from the garden. As darkness fell, we sat around the campfire and swapped stories under the stars before snuggling up in our tents for the night.

After a short paddle to the lakeside market town of Kyevuwe waved goodbye to our canoe boyand set off on a day of hill hiking. Before we started out we met the Batwawho showed us a foot-stamping traditional dance and taught us how to use a bow and arrow. The first part of the walk wound through cultivated fields and along the edge of a large papyrus swamp. We got a glimpse of daily farm life and saw women carrying baskets on their heads, babiesstrapped on their backs and garden hoes to work in the fields.Leaving the villages with their neat gardens behind us, we scrambled up a steep trail to our picnic lunch spot at the peak of the highest lakeside hill.

With its spectacular views across the lake and distant volcanoes, Karembe Hill was well worth the strenuousclimb.We shared our lunch with some local children who were herding their sheep and goats, then hiked across the hilltops and down to our waiting dugout canoe at the beginning of the Bufundi peninsula. Along the way we were entertained with another hip-shaking traditional dance, this time by the Bakiga. Our last stop for the day was a picturesque island where we enjoyed a refreshing dip in the lake before sitting down to a delicious dinner of freshly-caught crayfish. After the meal we were paddled back to the mainland and driven to the Home of Edirisa to get a good night’s sleep.
3-day Kabale-Kisoro trek
After an early breakfast at the Home of Edirisa we wandered through the lively backstreets of Kabale on our way to the lake. With the sun shining high above, we hiked along a ridge trail to a breathtakinglookout point on the Kyabahinga peninsula. We met a traditional healer who shared the secrets of herbal remedies,learned about the traditional beliefs of the Bakiga from a Rastafarian and sat with a local craft maker while she showed us how to weave handicrafts from local materials, such as papyrus and banana leaf.Along the way we had stunning views of the lake and the surroundingfarms and villages, schools and churcheson the steep slopes.

A peaceful paddle across to Habukomi, the island of the pelicans,carried us to our camping spot with another local Bakiga family. We sat by the water for some time watching out for birds commonly found around the water’s edge, including kingfishers, bee-eaters, weavers and, of course, pelicans. We cooled off with a sunset dip in the lake followed by a mouth-watering local mealof beef stew served with beans, sweet potatoes, cabbage, matoke(banana), ground nut and dodo (spinach). The lake looked peaceful but with surrounding high hills storms can develop very quickly and we just had time to dive into our sleeping bags before the rain poured down.

We woke to a sunny morning and left the lake behind to delve into the mystical depths of the Echuya Forest, once home to the forest-dwelling Batwa. Kanusu, our Batwa guide, told us all about the forest’s plants and animals as we walked along the Mulindi river valley. It was cool under the canopy as we passed through valley floor swamp, bamboo and evergreen forest, filled with a colourful array of birdlife. After crossing through the forest we had a picnic lunch overlooking Lakes Kayumbu and Chahafi. We camped for the night on the shores of Lake Kayumbu, crossing it by canoe early the next morning before embarking on the last hours of walking to reach Kisoro.

Canoe trekking with Edirisa was an amazing experience with its impressive mix of culture and adventure. Most interesting for us was being given a unique insight into the rustic rural lifestyle of the Bakiga and the Batwa. The unforgettably scenic views from the lakeside, forests and hilltops made the dugout canoeing and hill hiking even more enjoyable. The trip included everything, with all of our food, drinks, transport and accommodation taken care of so that we could rest and relax. Lake Bunyonyi and the warm-hearted, hospitable people who live around its shores are among our most treasured memories from our time in Uganda.

For more information please contact:
Edirisa Canoe Trekking
+256 75 2558 222
www.canoetrekking.com
The Home of Edirisa in Kabale

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