Monday, 20 July 2009

Punishment Island

For this post, I managed to find what is seemingly the only computer in Kabale with working internet. I feel lucky to have gotten my turn. Nonetheless, the backpackers starting impatiently at me from the bench to my left have convinced me to keep this post short.

I've been in Kabale (and environs) for about a day now. I have accomplished three main activities during this time:
- be cold
- canoe around a lake
- visit a Bakiga museum

The being cold thing really caught me off guard. I was sitting on the roof deck of my hostel last night drinking a beer and sharing travel stories with other backpackers. It was *not* warm. I had on my hoodie, a grey shirty-jacket thing, jeans and shoes and I was still freezing. If I had to guess, I would say it was about 50s (F) or low 10s (C). I've really never seen temperatures like that before on this continent, and it's not like it's winter -- we're just barely over the equator.

I visited Lake Bunyoni today, supposedly Uganda's deepest lake. Incredibly beautiful place -- it has dozens of islands and inlets and is surrounded by rich farmland. The farms are built on man-made terraces built into the sides of the steep hills that surround the lake. From the lake shore, the terraces give the appearance of thousands of tiny patches of land each growing different products. The water is cold and relatively clean (it may even be bilharzia-free, although I didn't feel like exposing my ears to find out).

One of the big activities at Bunyoni is to rent a traditional dugout canoe and visit the islands on the lake. I was by myself, but I figured I could get around fairly easily. I am a Chief Scout, after all; I should be able to outperform a bunch of tourists. But it turns out that a dugout canoe is way harder to use than the standard birch-bark or fiberclass canoe pioneered in Canada. Without a keel, the dugout canoe really just slides around on the water and catches the wind unless you go against the wind head-on. About two hours out, I realized why most of the other tourists had rented larger, motorized boats to explore.

I did make it out to a few islands right in the center of the lake. The most interesting one was Punishment Island, a swampy, small island where villagers of generations past would take unwed pregnant women to die. Actually, it wasn't all that bad -- the women also had the choice of being tied up to a tree and eaten by animals, or of being shoved off a giant cliff onto rocks. Punishment Island was probably the option of choice is those situations. My rump was starting to feel a bit punished itself by the end of the trip; four hours sitting on a wooden plank ain't fun.

I took a motorbike back to town after the lake and visited the cultural museum at my hostel. The museum is basically a tiny room inside the building, inside of which they've built a (fake) shrine, a (fake) homestead, and a (fake) latrine. The idea was to recreate a traditional village from the Bakiga (bah-CHEE-gah) people indigenous to this area. Rather than give you a blow-by-blow of the experience, here are the key takeaways:
- Bakigas don't like pygmies, because the Bakigas think they're lazy and steal animals and beer
- Witch doctors/medicine men just trick people into thinking they actually do something. Most of the time they just get drunk on the beer that patients bring to appease the gods
- The prize livestock used to sleep in the master bedroom underneath the bed of the mother and father of the family. This was to prevent theft by pygmies (supposedly).

The other backpackers are now foaming at the mouth. Will write more from Kigali.


  1. Personally, I'd go with the cliff option. But that's just me.