Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Lost in nature’s richness at Kyambura

                                                  Kyambura Gorge

A bird that does not fly will never know where the millet is ready, goes a local saying. If you have not visited the Kyambura Gorge and Kazinga Channel in western Uganda, you do not know how much you are missing.  Lawrence braved the six-hour journey and long trek in the valley and gives you a feel of the memorable adventure.
Part of the gorge through which a river flows, It is one of the most beautiful scenes in Kyambura.
As an artist, I have always thought of a woman’s body as God’s most beautiful creation. But that was before last month when I joined seven tourists on a Uganda safari that turned out to be the most exhilarating adventure at Kyambura Gorge and the Kazinga Channel.
Both are situated in the western Rift Valley of Uganda, which stretches through Queen Elizabeth National Park. At these two spots, I got the real feel of perfection in beauty.
We took an exhausting six-hour drive from Kampala along the Bushenyi-Kasese highway under the scorching African sun. After that, nothing sounded so sweet and relieving like the sound of “we’re finally here!’ as said in the husky voice of Samuel, our driver, who also doubled as our guide. We were 38km away from the Congo border.
One after another, we stepped out of the tour taxi setting our feet on the rich soils of Kyambura that was densely covered by dark green grass. Naturally, it was not long before most of us punched the air in triumph as we were fuelled by the excitement of having arrived safe and sound.
Mysterious Kyambura Gorge
Suddenly, our attention was stolen by the roaring sound of a waterfall. However, it was confusing to discover that even with all-round turns of 180 degrees, our eyes could not see any falls. It then dawned on us that the roar was coming from a river down in Kyambura Gorge.
From what I saw, I can define a gorge as a sunken forest in a wide valley. In the particular case of Kyambura, the valley was 100 metres deep, the reason our eyes could not sight the waterfall we were hearing.
Being the coward I am, I kept my distance from the gorge’s elevated viewpoint which was situated on the edge of the land.
But I guess I have little regrets over this decision because those who dared to go there seemed to develop cold feet immediately. They deserted the place as soon as Bayer Anyesiga, the Kyambura guide who would take us for chimpanzee tracking, appeared.
Chimp tracking is one of those activities that Uganda is famous for and it was something I looked forward to doing.
However, the fact that Anyesiga armed himself with a panga before the tracking began almost made me reconsider trying it out. To me, this was a clear signal that ahead of us lay immense danger.
Luckily, 10 minutes into the tracking, I discovered that his only reason for carrying the panga was to trim off the branches of the wild thickets to open a path on our way into the dense forest.
That is when my speedily pounding heart normalised as I took a deep sigh. My gaze kept dropping on every tree branch we approached because my heart was quivering with immense anticipation.
To see the subtle primates, we calculatedly walked down the slippery slopes into the dense tropical rainforest that covers the gorge’s floor. Anyesiga advised us to resort to whispering if we found it impossible to keep mute because the primates often turn violent if their peace is disturbed with noise.
Save for the roar of Kyambura River and the tweeting of crickets, it was absolute silence down there, probably more silent than a grave.
When all my attention was inclined upwards, having heard the sound of a chimp, I felt a smooth creature as cold as a snake slither up my legs. In micro seconds, my knees began wobbling dangerously and I found myself yelling my grandmother’s name.
In a flash, I was already three feet up the huge mahogany tree before me, only to discover that it was a prank that Otim, another tourist, had pulled off.
He had come up with the brilliant idea of sliding a wet shoe lace around my legs and got the effect he was looking for.
Yes, I felt like sinking my fist into his head. In fact, I folded my fists like I was going to knock him down, but my fists just froze in space before I painfully chickened out because the chap was almost three times my height and weight.
Minutes after I had composed myself, the guide pointed us to a family of five chimps nestled in a tree branch about 180m from our track.
“That is Brutus, the leader of the chimps with his family,” Anyesiga explained. “They are part of over 25 chimpanzees that live here.”
It should not matter, but there was something about the way Brutus tilted his eyes sideways and flashed a smile at us that I found fascinating.
“Brutus, together with his team, prefers living in the corridors of the gorge in fear of being confronted by other wildlife like leopards and lions, which live on the Savanna grassland surrounding the gorge,” Anyesiga continued.
It soon dawned on me that there is a lot more to see in the gorge than just chimpanzees. Such included gigantic tropical trees, beautiful flowers, unique chains of spider webs, a variety of birds, colourful butterflies and different species of monkeys.
Fortunately, everything about the tracking was happening so fast. While I expected to spend hours walking and straining to see the chimps in vain, here I was getting a better feel of the forest with every tick of the clock.
I was also swept off my feet by the rays of sunlight that filtered through the forest canopy. In effect, my camera clicked more than once as it took pictures to retain memories of the visit to the unforgettable gorge.
Content with what we had witnessed, we soon found our way out of the forest and headed for our next destination — Kazinga Channel, a 30-minute drive away.
Kazinga Channel
After a brief by our guide, whose name I might have forgotten as soon as it was mentioned, the tour boat was ignited to flag off our trip along Kazinga Channel to the mouth of Lake Edward.
On the map of Uganda, Kazinga Channel is that thin strip of water that connects Lake Edward and Lake George. As the boat made its way through the tranquil channel, I climbed up the upper deck, joining nine tourists there to get a clearer view of the wildlife on either side of the boat.
Birds and game
We espied a kingfisher that had successfully hunted out a medium sized tilapia fish, which it swiftly ferried onto the nearest branch of a whistling acacia tree by the water banks.
What a pity it was to witness the helpless fish poked lifeless like it was its predator’s last meal for months.
Thankfully, it was not long before my spirits were fired up again upon the sight of elephants mating in the open as some white egrets kept flying above them. If my guess is right, they must have enjoyed every bit of the uncensored act by the elephants.
It was also a blessing to discover that while some tourists spend hours and hours peering in vain for game, we were fortunate to experience lots of wildlife after another, especially along the banks as the boat sailed on; all courtesy of the good schedule of the boat ride, which takes place at 5:00pm when most animals are relaxing by the banks as they enjoy the warmth of the golden brown sun as it buries itself in the horizon.
Some of the game to be seen here include water bucks, elephants, antelopes, a school of 12 hippos, crocodiles, birds and monkeys.
Like most of the bird lovers aboard, I cheered aloud as I relished over 150 bird species of 319 in the park. However, this excitement was soon tamed when an ugly black and white vulture flew slightly above my head and dropped its watery droppings on my nose.
Fellow tourists could not resist laughing at me and staring like I was another wildlife creature aboard the boat. Most annoying, some did not hesitate to click their cameras at me.
At the end of such a fulfilling exploratory day, nothing felt as good as devouring lunch at Simba Safari camp. We watched the calm waters of Lake George and listened to waves gently brush the branches of the trees surrounding the place
The icing on the cake was the different species of birds that soon conquered these trees and put up energetic aerobic performances as they whistled different sweet melodies that pierced my heart with the sharp end of their vocals.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Uganda backslides in global tourism ranking

A zebra at Lake Mburo National Park, Much as Uganda is endowed with unique tourism attractions, the industry is not bringing in as much revenue as it should.

The 2012 World Economic Forum survey ranks Uganda 116th out of 140 countries compared to 115th in 2011.
Despite receiving a number of international accolades in the past, Uganda slid a step back in the global travel and tourism ranking last year.
In assessing the attractiveness and competitiveness in the field of travel and tourism, the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2013 report released recently, ranked the country 116th out of 140 countries.
This compares with the 115 position the country attained in 2011. Although the industry’s ranking slipped, Uganda fetched $805 million (Shs2 trillion) last year, according to data from the tourism ministry, up from $662 million in 2010.
Uganda, according to the report, is a victim of negative perception on the part of potential tourists, who have concerns for their safety and security, which are critical factors that influence tourists’ choices of destinations.
On the issue of safety and security, Uganda attained a rating of 124, out of the assessed 140 countries.
Negative tourist perspectives tend to scare away tourists from choosing a country in question as a tourism destination.
The country also ranks poorly in health and sanitation where it is in the 125 position, prioritisation of the sector (109).
In the area of business environment and infrastructure, Uganda ranks 121, just like Tanzania, and below Kenya’s 105 and Rwanda’s 117 positions.
Under the human, cultural and natural resources parameter, Uganda ranks 77, just below Kenya’s and Tanzania’s 59 and 60th positions, respectively, but ahead of Rwanda’s 104 rank.
Global accolades
The poor ratings run counter to the various global recognitions that Uganda has received in the past one or so years, including being named the best tourism destination in 2012, voting Bwindi Impenetrable National park as Africa’s number one birding site, ranking Murchison FallsNational Park as the ninth place among the top 10 birding sites on the continent and Mt. Rwenzori among the top 15 hiking spots in the world.
The Uganda Tourism Board executive director Mr. Cuthbert Baguma, however, didn’t agree with the rankings, saying the report does not clearly indicate the parameters used to rank Uganda.
“Uganda has improved in many spheres, that’s why it has continued to receive global recognitions. Infrastructure and security have all improved so I don’t know what they are talking about,” Mr. Baguma told the Daily Monitor yesterday.
He added that Uganda received 1.2 million tourist arrivals last year.
Mr. Amos Wekesa, a player in the industry, however, attributed the negative security ranking to failure on the part of the relevant authorities to market the country’s tourism potential in order to improve its security perceptions in key source markets.
“If money is not injected to market the country, Uganda will always be poorly ranked,” Mr. Wekesa said.
Uganda, however, scores highly in the area of natural resources, ranking 25th, ahead of Kenya’s and Rwanda’s 14th and 61 positions but below Tanzania’s 4th ranking.