Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sikia Uhuru - Safari ya Bukoba

Two weekends ago, we went to Bukoba, a town right on the coast of Lake Victoria. Spring break! Kind of. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Kayanga, mostly on a bumpy, jostling dirt road. When I first saw Lake Victoria, it looked like the ocean, that’s how big it is. The only thing is, you can’t swim. There’s a disease called bilharzia (or shistosomiasis) that freshwater snails carry where the parasite burrows into your skin and matures into a worm inside the tissue of your organs. Fun stuff like that. But it was still gorgeous and our guest house was right on the water. We hung out on the beach and had delicious vegetable curry for lunch before heading down the road to meet our tour company. It really felt like vacation, the fact that we were tourists hiring a company to show us around. There isn’t too much tourism home in Kayanga…

Sunrise over Lake Victoria

With our guides, we headed up into the hills that encircled the lake. We stopped at a few viewpoints and walked down to some cliffs that overlooked the lake. It didn’t feel like Tanzania. There were rolling green hills full of grazing cattle and big grey boulders freckling the landscape. From there, we continued further inland to a pine forest. It almost looked like West Virginia, or Maryland because of the trees and the ferns. We made our way to a cave hidden in the woods where leaders used to sleep during the war. Which war and when, I don’t remember. (Great story, I know.) It wasn’t too big a cave, but it was FULL of bats. You couldn’t stand up straight anywhere, 1. because the roof of the cave was low but 2. because you didn’t want to get bats in your hair. As we passed through, they started flying around us. I’ve never seen bats THAT close. After we left the cave, we took a short walk to a beautiful waterfall nearby. It was fed by a creek and surrounded by dense greenery. And we could swim! The water was cold but so refreshing, and we spent a couple hours exploring the waterfall and swimming in the pool below. It was a perfect afternoon. Before heading back to our guest house, we drove to a remote beach where fishermen were pulling in their nets for the day. By the time we settled in for the night, we were all exhausted and couldn’t believed we’d been in Kayanga that very same morning.

View from the cliffs

 Joyce and I in the Waterfall

The whole group! (Mrs. Entratter -- Danny says hi!)

Heading into the cave

 So many bats...

 The Perfect Storm

My umbrella

Saturday, we each headed into town by ourselves. Caitlin set up a photo challenge/reflection for which we had to take a picture that represented each of 10 different statements, questions, or quotes. I took the next 2.5 hours exploring Bukoba town and avoiding taking pictures. I tried to take most of my pictures away from all the people, because it made me a little uncomfortable to be snapping shots of everyone. That night, we took the 2 hours before our food arrived at dinner (almost enough time for a real-time play by play of our time in town) to share our pictures with everyone else. Joyce won the competition and received the glamorous prize of 2 chocolate bars and a kitenge of her choice.

Saturday afternoon, we drove inland again, saw some rock paintings, and had a traditional kihaya lunch. The trip to the kihaya farm was a little cheesy, but it was worth it when a more-than-tipsy woman showed up to dance with us and demanded that John take her as his wife. When Kara stepped in and informed her that “sorry, he is already married to me,” it didn’t both her. She would gladly be his second wife.

That night after dinner, we got drinks and sat out on the beach playing cards. We walked down to a bonfire on the beach to talk for a while, practicing our Swahili, before going out to Lina’s night club. It was a fun night—lots of bongo flava music and dancing. My going out outfit: a long flowy skirt, baggy shirt, and a flannel tied around my waste. Gotta keep it classy.

The next morning, Sunday, we met on the beach to take a boat to the island off the shore. The plan was to ride to the island, see the burial grounds of ancient kings in the side of the island, and hike to the tope of the island for the view. This is not what happened. Here is the actual story:

As the boat approached to pick us up, so did the storm clouds. We all climbed into the wooden fishing boat, with a motor though luckily, and the wind picked up. There was a wall of churning black clouds sitting right over the island and heading our way, but of course that didn’t stop us. We headed out, nonetheless, with dry clothes, dry phones, and dry bags. About 10 minutes into our ride it started raining, and the wind created splashing waves that turned into giant crashing waves. The water poured over the sides of the boat, into our laps and faces. By now it was pouring, and I was laughing so so hard. The situation was ridiculous. The lake water was EVERYWHERE. We wouldn’t have been wetter had we swam to the island. And we’d been scared to put our toes in the water the day before, for fear of snails. Soon, everyone, led mainly by Kara, began belting out songs. The performance featured, “The sun will come out tomorrow,” “What do you do with a drunken sailor,” “Sit down you’re rocking the boat,” “It’s raining men,” “Hakuna Matata,” and other such songs, except many words were changed to apply each song to our current situation.

Things that I learned on the boat ride:
1.     Kara is almost as bad a singer as I am.
2.     Not many things rhyme with Shistosomiasis OR Bilharzia

When we arrived at the island, 20 minutes later, we headed straight up the path to seek shelter in a little wooden house with a tin roof. The girls sang and danced around, in attempts to get warm while the boys worked out. Seriously. Someone showed up with a makeshift barbell made out of a stick and two buckets of hardened concrete on either side. I thought we were supposed to be breaking down gender stereotypes here...but we were cold, so I guess whatever works.

Once the rain let up a little, we made a fire outside behind the house. By the time we got warm and dry(er), it was time to head back. We missed the ancient burial sights and the view from the top of the island, but I think we definitely came back with a better story.

We headed home to Kayanga that afternoon. We saw a bunch of monkeys on the side of the road during the trip which was pretty neat. Our trip to Bukoba marked the halfway point of our time in Kayanga. From today (March 27), we only have 29 days left before we begin our trip across TZ, eventually ending in Dar es Salaam. The time is flying.


  1. Yaa flannel! Everything sounds awesome over there, keep having a great time!

  2. Would you add your bat photo as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist (www.inaturalist.org/projects/afribats)? AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

    If you decide to join, please locate your picture on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

    If you release your image under a compatible creative commons license (eol.org/info/eol_licensing_policy) we will also share it with the Encyclopedia of Life (eol.org) once the identification has been confirmed. EOL needs photos like this to illustrate species pages and build educational games about bats.

    Many thanks!