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Uganda: Pearl and Harmony of Africa
Uganda…the Pearl of Africa
Uganda…the Heart of Africa
These are two of the many names given to this small and incredible country in the middle of Africa that we are now going to explore with the words of Ivan D’Ambrosio.
Uganda is a country unbelievably green, unspoiled, friendly and magic.
Uganda contains half of Africa’s bird species, thousand of butterflies’ varieties with a multitude of colour and shape. There are lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, chimpanzees and the most marvellous of all animals: the Mountain Gorilla.
Everywhere one looks there is a panoramic scene: Rwenzori mountains, are not called by chance ”the mountains of the moon” for their beauty is truly ethereal , Murchison Falls, is a true natural wonder, Bujagali, where the Nile starts its 6 months journey to the Mediterranean sea.
Uganda is covered by amazing lakes; lake Bunyonyi, an enchanted place out of time, where traditional canoes are the only transport and secluded islands have boundless nature and small rural communities.
The cultural diversity here is impressive. Over 30 ethnic groups with 30 languages are commonly spoken all with there own culture and traditions.
A journey in Uganda is an emotional exploration into the heart of Africa, a magical experience, where everything from the smallest animal to each person is entwined together, part of the rhythm of Nature with her cycles, her harmony and balance.
Imagine now that you are the explorer of this adventure.
Your flight has just landed. After a long queue at the custom desk, your guide is waiting for you.
In the dust and chaos of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. Most of the roads, even in the town centre, are un-surfaced. People are at every corner, either selling something or just standing there, appearing to do nothing understandably logical. But after only 10 kilometres from Kampala, here it is: Africa’s kingdom.
The vegetation is gorgeous, everything is almost unreal. There are hundreds of small markets on the road, mini local communities, banana plantations, birds….
The variety of landscape in Uganda is impressive. In just a few kilometres, you can move from savannah, mountain forest to rain forest.
And it is exactly in this rain forest, that Semuliki National Park unfolds an incredible display of vegetation and where very unexpected hot springs are found with their unique colours forming a display in the mist of boiling water.
Uganda is the land of the rivers, lakes and waterfalls, as 30% of its landmass is covered by fresh water
Among the many lakes, lake Mutanda provides the most stunning views of water, mountains and nature. Lake Buyonyi gives the chance for an exploration in a traditional canoe to meet the locals who will dance and show happily their simple daily life. Lake Bunyonui is also the centre for a project of production of Artemesia, a natural remedy to cure malaria, which remains the major cause of death in Africa. Lake Bisina is a remote and unknown lake, covered in algae and water lilies, a truly magical place. Lake Albert will offer the chance to see the rare and fascinating shoebill, a bird that only exists here. Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, with over 80 islands forming the complex of the Ssese Islands, which offers a way to relax on a white sandy beach away from the noise of crowded tourist places.
Lake Victoria, is also the place of the source of the Nile, Bujagali falls and the world famous and most exciting water rafting experience anyone can have. It does not matter if it is your first time or your hundredth. One big wave down the grade 5 rapids (the highest you can do!) and you will be off the boat, a bigger wave and the boat will be up-side-down. There is no escape!
On a boat to the source of the Nile people can mentally review the steps of the explorers of the past.
“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”
“Yes”, said he, with a kind smile, lifting his cap slightly.
This is the very same conversation which took place in 1871 between Dr. Livingstone and Henry Stanley, two of the great explorers of East Africa during the second half of the 19th century.
The source of Nile is also the place for quad bike tours inside remote local villages to meet the locals and of course thousands of children that will greet your passage with a constant sound of “Jambo muzumgu” (Hello white person, in Swahili).
The modern activities of rafting and quad bike, mix perfectly with the oldest traditions. A local traditional doctor will tell about the origin of the universe and the causes of disease and show his rituals and sacred places. Mere superstition?
Traditional African Medicine is not just pure magic and certainly is not dying. About two thirds of the African population commonly use these remedies and they are now at the centre of international attention to recognise their therapeutic effect
Traditional African Medicine is at the very base of our roots and it is a vibrant mixture of real medical knowledge, great understanding of the human nature, and thousands of years of culture with its complex spirituality.
Among the many populations, the predominant are Bantu speaking groups, who are also the most modernised. But your attention will go to more traditional groups, like the Karamajong and the Batwa Forest people.
Towards the North-East you will encounter the Karamajong, they are a group of Nilotic origin whom are directly connected to the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania. They are among the few people in Africa who still use traditional clothes, still build their houses and villages as they were doing probably 5 century ago, they still retain the real African spirit with a very strong tribal identification. Entering one of their villages, which is extremely poor but full of pride and spending time with these people gives a profound sense of respect for their culture and heritage.
Moving west, towards the borders with Congo and Rwanda, you will encounter the Batwa Forest People, they are part of the ethnic group commonly called pygmies, but this is not a name they like. They like to be called just forest people. Into the forest they will show you a little of their incredible culture, probably the oldest culture in our world still in existence, possibly 10,000 years old. This way of life is quickly disappearing from progressive deforestation mismanaged conservation projects and politics, where the Batwa are not part of.
Other populations and other activities. In the Toro kingdom, one of the 4 kingdoms of the republic of Uganda, it is possible to meet representatives of the royal family and discover how they make perfumes and tools for the kings. At the same time you will meet the simple people who will show you how they make pans out of used parts of bicycles, how they brew local banana beer and how they perform their traditional dances.
Everywhere you can watch people performing their daily activities: the farmer and his cows with huge horns; people making bricks from simple soil; people at night who capture grasshoppers, that will be fried and sold; people cutting trees with tools that you cannot believe; people extracting oil from palm seeds, the old lady making marvellous terracotta pots with nothing but soil and her hands; the family who invites you for dinner… everything is a unique experience forgotten by us, the Muzungu, hundred years ago.
The Present and past in Uganda are all mixed together. Close to the very tiny Kumi town, an old guide will show you Nyero Rock Paintings. Old, mysterious paintings that clearly resemble European Neolithic forms of art. You cannot avoid thinking how modern and old still coexist here, with your guide, wearing old trousers, showing you the ancient paintings, and with his mobile phone in his pocket. There is no contrast or contradiction, all looks normal.
In the land of the fresh water, water falls contribute to the grandeur of nature in Uganda
Sipi falls are a series of three falls one above the other, in the middle of a thick mountain forest, densely inhabited by friendly local communities. It is impossible not to stop and stare at the rainbows forming regularly with the sunshine at the bottom of the falls.
Murchison Fall shows the magnificence and power of water. The beauty and strength of this unstoppable mass of water makes people hold their breath and contemplate. And the majestic sound of the water falling, will give you a sense of inner silence
Murchison Falls National Park is also the land where typical African animals can be seen in there natural environment . Buffaloes, elephants, giraffes roam all around this vast park. Many species of antelopes, smaller animals too shy to pose for a picture, hyenas, warthogs… It is an explosion of life. Plants, trees and animals, all there, all in perfect balance with Nature.
Even the terrible crocodiles here, at the meeting point of the Victoria and Albert Nile, seem in complete harmony with the stunning green and lively rivers and the complex ecosystem made up of hippos, birds of any kind, antelope and elephants.
There are no rhinos left in Uganda, one of the many consequences of the Amin’s dictatorships that ended at the beginning of the 80.
The times of Amin are one of the very unfortunate chapters of African recent history. Uganda, only now is recovering from the profound destruction caused in those years.
Clearly, the damage caused by Amin is not the only problem Uganda faces today: in certain areas, towards the border with Sudan, there are still situations of atrocity and violence, like the child-soldiers and the attacks of rebels at times even against humanitarian missions.
But the biggest problem of Uganda today, is not war or poverty, but corruption that does not allow the nation to progress and makes it increasingly dependent on international support.
Anyway, there are signals of hope that, if not too soon, at least sometime in the future, will help this country to shine. Among the many small and large initiatives, the Rhino Fund is reintroducing both black and white rhinos in Uganda. Paying a visit to the centre will allow you to understand more about the African ecosystem… and seeing the rhinos only a few metres from you in an open environment is a really exciting encounter.
Going towards South-West, Kibale National Park is the home of one of the highest concentration of primates in the world. The main attraction for a tourist is certainly trekking into the forest in search for chimpanzees. After a few hours of walking you will be 10 metres away from them. They will be cleaning each other relaxing, looking curiously, while you do not stop taking shots with your digital camera, What are they really thinking as you pretend to hide behind a tree and taking pictures at them?
Queen Elizabeth is another famous national park, known worldwide to be one of the only two areas inhabited by tree climbing lions.
It is a very strange and emotional sight. Lions are literally on the tree, above the car. One jump and they probably would get you. But nature is made of respect and rhythms. Lions climb trees when it is too hot, to have a chance to rest and refresh and when they already had their food. In nature predators do not kill if there is no a reason. A lion would not kill its pray, if he was not in need of food. A great lesson that humans have clearly forgotten.
And after watching all the other African animals, there is still one animal to encounter. Many people from all over the world come to Uganda only for this reason. It is the single most emotional, extraordinary, almost mystical experience in Africa: the Mountain Gorillas. It is impossible to describe it in words. You are left without speech at being in the presence of the gorillas and you will wonder more than once who is more human between us and them. Mountain Gorillas are a critically endangered species because of mankind. You will learn to appreciate their fragile eco-system and their way of life. Looking in their eyes, so incredibly human, of a humanity that we often lose in our daily lives. You will sit in the ground for a second, thinking who is really in the right place in this world, you or them?
And still thinking about the gorillas, to end a journey in the heart of Africa, deep in contact with the power of nature, you will climb Nyirangongo, an active volcano named in local language “the mother of the bad spirits” because with its regular eruptions, destroyed in the past and will destroy again and again in the future. One more reminder for mankind: we can destroy our environment, but at the end of all, nature will have the final word.
Climbing up to the summit is an exhausting experience, but when you have reached the summit there will be no memory about tiredness, cold and thirst. All your attention will be captured, to admire this primordial display of power: the boiling fires beneath you, these incredible columns of smoke, red lava and destruction.
Your journey in Uganda is over. The smiles of people who own nothing but their happiness, the look of a gorilla so perfectly part of his nature, the power and destruction of falling waters and boiling fires will have taught you a final lesson. Passing time, progress, wealth and the stress… this is our life, but, what can their meaning be here in this land in the heart of Africa?
Uganda, land of eyes – Rita De Santis
Eyes of children
for a sustainable future
Eyes of children
Eyes of women
for their pregnancy knowing,
wrapped in the colour
of their cloths
bright, almost holy.
Eyes of men
who are afraid
who even smile
Eyes of animals
to the rustling
of the ambush.
Eyes of gorillas
of a species,
and a distant
Eyes of the green
eyes of the water
is an ocean of eyes
It is our responsibility
not to take away
from those eyes
of a better world.
ZedAway ([http://zedaway.com;] [email protected]) the tour operator that offers tours in the nature and culture of Africa
Inns of Uganda
All Terrain Adventures
Chimps camp semuliki
Forest People Programme and Chris Kidd
But the biggest thanks goes to the local communities who taught us something of their thousand-years old cultures, who danced and sang for us and who sometimes made us smile for their behaviour so relaxed and distant from our daily life always under stress.
And the final and most sincere thanks goes to all the mountain gorillas, species on the edge of extinction because of mankind, whose look, so incredibly human, of a humanity that we men often have lost, let us think who we are and what we are doing on this planet.
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