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Published: November 5th 2013
We accidentally crossed the wrong border on our way into Uganda (or perhaps the correct one didn’t actually exist outside the map, its debatable) so ended up taking a slightly indirect route. In the first big city we came to, sat at a food stall table, we opened up the Lonely Planet (self consciously, because it’s a bit Gap Year and we like to think we’re cooler than that) in order to pick our next destination. It was in completely the opposite direction to where we were heading, but we were totally sold on the description. Lake Bunyonyi. The name means many tiny birds. Lonely Planet (book of lies) states that it’s the prettiest of the crater lakes in Northern Uganda… 27 islands, misty sunrises over the water. We reckoned we could just about make it there before dark.
On the way to an ATM before setting off again, we wandered round a corner to find a huge crowd of people watching some guys thoroughly kicking the shit out of some other guy. Without any discussion, we all turned and walked off in the opposite direction. Five doctors. Back home I struggle to imagine a scenario in which I’d walk
away from an injured person, but here you absolutely can not just wander into a situation you don’t understand. Pick your battles. I haven’t felt unsafe anywhere I’ve been so far, just aware that being different automatically attracts a lot of attention and so requires a degree of extra care. There have been hints at the potential for violence, in the form of armed guards at every bank or big hotel, warnings not to walk around at night, other people on the course being mugged (but not hurt) by men with machetes. This is the only time I’ve seen that implicit threat made real.
For once, the lake was exactly as the guidebook promised. I loved it instantly, it felt completely serene compared to the noise and dirt and hassle on the road. Steep green hills striped with wonky crop terraces curve down to the water, which reflects a slightly rippled mirror image of everything above. We stayed two nights in slightly odd constructions consisting of a safari tent on a high wooden platform, almost like a treehouse, looking over gardens sloping down to the shore.
Obviously, we rented two dugout canoes and set off to explore the
various islands. Half an hour later we still hadn’t made it anywhere near the first one, having spent much of that time paddling furiously around in ever widening circles. Our boat, basically, was shit. There were four of us, two in each canoe, and the other canoe was beating mine by miles. The damn thing was tilted to one side and almost impossible to control, but the others were convinced that we were blaming the boat for our own rowing ineptitude. We did eventually make it to an island, and it was then that I realised how sunburned I was. White girl, on a boat, on a lake, on Doxycycline, on the equator, at midday, with no sunscreen on. You don’t need a medical degree to predict the inevitable outcome of that scenario. I spend the next week peeling layers of skin off my nose. We climbed up a little hill and ate honey sandwiches (unpasturised, so as to add botulism to the list of exotic diseases we’ve given ourselves) before getting back in the canoes to find our way home. I insist on swapping boats with the other two, just out of spite. It was decided that whoever is
back last buys the beers.
Now, I’m not quite sure at exactly what point it stopped being funny. But eventually we realised that our friends in the Shit Boat had disappeared completely. In fact, the last I saw they seemed to have given up rowing and were drifting around in sad helpless little circles. Our speed having much improved now we were in an actual functional boat, we made it back to the hostel in good time. We were feeling pretty smug about our victory, though when the other boat failed to turn up we had to concede that if we were ever going to receive our prize of beers we would have to ensure the other two made it back alive. To this end, some of the staff from the hostel were dispatched on a speed boat rescue mission. The others would contest that no rescue mission was necessary and they were merely taking the scenic route. Anyway, the most important thing is that we totally won.
The water in the lake looked very inviting, but we’d spent too long in a paracitology lab by this point to chance it. Surmising from the pretty looking reeds lining
the shore that the lake is probably absolutely brimming with schisto, we decided to visit the posh hotel next door and pay to use the pool. The place was gorgeous, and the pool was surprisingly cold. 18 degrees, the waiter informed us, looking at us as if we should be sectioned for even contemplating it. After we’d swum a few lengths, someone noticed a live tadpole in the pool. And then another one. Odd. A few minutes later, I spotted something that looked suspiciously like a snail. At this point I began to suspect that the lake water and the pool water might be one and the same. Oh well. I’ve made a mental note to take some Praziquantel in 6 weeks time.
The restaurant at posh hotel (called The Birdsnest) turned out to serve incredible European food, so we temporarily abandoned our policy of spending no more than £2 a meal in favour of indulgence and red wine and an amazing sunset view of the lake. We stayed longer than we meant to and walked back in total darkness, no torches, just fireflies and lightning.
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