#20 Chimpanzees in the rainforest and Lake Bunyonyi

#20 Chimpanzees in the rainforest and Lake Bunyonyi

 « From 31st of Mai to 7th of June »

Kalinzu rainforest

Western Uganda is very wild. In the south, the savannah gives way to tropical forests. Forests that extend all the way to Congo via Rwanda. Today we are going to the Kalinzu forest and its research center on endemic animals.

Arrived at the camping of the center, we take advantage of our free afternoon to work a little. Tonight, we release our 16th article, we still need to edit our pictures and to put them online. Very quickly, the weather changes. We are at the end of the rainy season. In this humid region, it rains almost every day. That’s why the vegetation is so green and lush. We pack up our things quickly to settle in Uyo. Our small cocoon protects us from all the bad weather. 

In the early morning, the sun has replaced the rain. The leaves of the trees that surround us are still wet and the earth is damp. The day starts well. We meet Nicolas, our guide for the hike. This walk is a little bit special. We hope to see chimpanzees. Three families live in the forest of Kalinzu. Always on the move, they are not easy to follow. We cross our fingers to meet one or two specimens. Once the instructions are given, we enter the dense forest. Still wet, the ground is slippery, we have to be careful. However, it is not easy to concentrate on your feet when the forest is so beautiful. It has innumerable varieties of plants, large trees in which are entangled lianas and climbing plants. A few rays of sunlight shine through the thick foliage making the drops of water on the leaves shine. A fairytale-like atmosphere emerges. In this sunny morning, colors are vivid, offering a great declination of green, but also yellow and red with the blooming flowers.

After one hour of walking, we hear several cries. No doubt, they come from chimps. We leave the main trail, to go deeper into the forest. We discover a beautiful spectacle. We first see two chimpanzees in a tree. Then, a third and a fourth appear. Some are resting, others are swinging from branch to branch looking for fruits. All remain perched high in the canopy. We twist our necks in the hope of seeing them come down and join us on the ground but unfortunately they decided otherwise.

Lake Bunyonyi 

Our last destination of the country is the lake Bunyonyi. Formed by 3 arms, the lake is full of islands. It is difficult to imagine that its depths sink 900 meters below the surface of the water.

We have an appointment with Kagi in Kabale, the last big town before the lake. We contacted him on behalf of Roukia, his companion. From our first days in Uganda we had met him at the camp at Sipi Falls (cf. Article 18 Along the water in Uganda: from Sipi Falls to the source of the Nile)

She and Kagi own a piece of land on a hill by Lake Bunyonyi. The perfect place to host us, she said. After working in London, they both came back home. The hustle and bustle of the city and the individualism was too much for them. Here, they defend the environment through “The Fig Tree”. Their main fight is the preservation of ancestral trees, such as the African fig tree. Once considered sacred, these trees, sometimes centuries old, are too often cut down. The reasons are multiple, charcoal for fire, urbanization, etc… It is on the hilly track leading to the lake that Kagi started to tell us this story.

When we arrive at our destination, Kagi gets out of the van to open the gate for us. Beyond, a steep slope leads to the garden. The ground is in slope, we park Uyo on the terraced part of the garden. In the extension, an outdoor kitchen has been built with recycled materials. At the end a brick house, rudimentary, shelters a room and a shower with bucket. There is no running water. The toilets are dry. Rainwater is collected from the corners of the roofs. As for running water, you have to walk a bit to fill up cans in a fresh water point of the village. The garden is well maintained, very green, with flowers and trees. It is Dany who takes care of it. He has lived here for 7 years and maintain the plot. A path through their land goes down to the lake. It is a small edible forest. We find matooke banana trees, passion fruits, tomato trees, yam, dodo and other leafy plants. We discover a new fruit, the avocado cucumber. This fruit grows on a tree. It is shaped like an avocado but has a taste and texture close to that of a cucumber. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

We are less than ten minutes walk from the heart of the village. There are not many stores in this small town center. We notice the sign MoreenFashion written with paint on a piece of wood. It is a sewing workshop. Moreen is the only seamstress, but she is accompanied by several women. Apart from the one who takes care of our order, the others seem to be there to participate in the discussions and gossip. In the store, we spot a few dresses but none of them look like the one Laurène wants. With some pictures and a lot of gestures, I try to explain what I want. Not simple… I begin to doubt, the style of dress I want is not common and Moreen does not speak English. I take a pen and a pencil to draw the dress and immediately her eyes light up. She understood. She starts to take my measurements and confirms that it is good. Not much more reassured, I leave the fabric in the hope that two hours later this one is not spoiled on an importable dress. Finally the result is there. I am delighted!

Back at Kagi, he introduces us to his friend Johnson. He works in tourism for the community. He suggests a day trip by boat to discover Lake Bunyonyi and meet the Pygmies who live on another shore.

An encounter with the Pygmies of Uganda

The Pygmies are one of the last tribes of hunter-gatherers still alive today. Unfortunately, they no longer have the opportunity to live according to their culture and are gradually loosing their extensive knowledge of the forest. Indeed, twenty years ago, the government expelled them from the forest, now classified as a national park. The motivations being the protection of the forest and the gorilla population. An easy solution to develop a lucrative tourism. A 3 hour permit to see the gorillas costs 700€ per person. Deprived of their natural habitat, the Pygmies had to change their way of life and learn to live in a sedentary way. They have built houses, learned to grow food and raise livestock.

We had the chance to talk with the village elder who lived this brutal transition. She deplores the disappearance of their knowledge about the plants of the forest. Far from the forest, transmitting to the young generations has become complicated… She also remembers the beginnings of sedentary life. She had a lot of trouble sleeping when the rain ricocheted on the tin roof of her new house. Nevertheless, they are happy to have access to the education system and are also enjoying their new life.

On the way back, Jonson invites us to his place for dinner. He lives opposite side of our shore, only five minutes by boat. We accept with great pleasure and meet at the port at 7:30 pm. We are welcomed by Jonson and his wife. She cooked us mashed Matooke banana and a delicious sauce with small eggplants and peanuts. Everything comes from their garden. Like most of the country, each family has a small plot of land to grow fruits and vegetables to feed the family. There are many red beans, bananas (mostly matooke) and small yellow eggplants bitter than ours.

The next day, to see the lake from a new perspective, we take the kayak out. During our stay in Kampala with Isaac (cf. Episode 18 I Wage Farm – Empowering Women with a Profitable Business Model), he had advised us to visit an island lodge. It is held by Silas a friend of his. We paddle five kilometers to see if they serve the famous crayfish of the lake for the dinner. 

An hour later, we share a plate of fried crayfish abdomen. Full of energy, we set off again on the lake. A few paddle strokes later, we meet a fisherman. He proudly shows us his crayfish traps. They are wicker baskets with a conical entrance that the crayfish can only cross in one direction. We buy about fifty of them still alive, to cook this evening. 

By kayak we can get very close to the birds without scared them. The smooth water splits their silhouette like a mirror. In the swamps, we come across a pair of royal cranes. It is the symbol of Uganda. We find it drawn in the center of their national flag 🇺🇬.

So well installed and welcomed, we spent a week by the lake.
We have been in June for a week, and in Uganda for a month. It is time for us to go to Rwanda. Kigali, the capital, is less than 3 hours away.

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