In the Ugandan mountains, sits quiet Lake Bunyonyi – our home for the past 3 nights.
Approaching Lake Bunyonyi, towns all have signs for gorilla adventures, and it appears to be a popular base for tourists wanting to see the gorillas. But Lake Bunyonyi is a destination worth visiting all on its own.
We pulled up to our campsite on the first night and I was immediately struck by the beauty of the lake. We set up our tents right next to the water, and I was looking forward to spending a few nights in this location.
Once the camp was set up, the first thing on everyone’s agenda was to go swimming. Lake Bunyonyi is one of the only lakes safe for swimming. The only animals living in it are fish and otters. No hippos or crocodiles or other deadly creatures.
A sign by the dock boasts that Lake Bunyonyi is the deepest lake in Uganda, at 6500 feet deep. We were also told 900 meters. Either way, it’s deep. It’s the second deepest lake in Africa, with the deepest lake being in Tanzania.
The swimming area has platforms to jump off of, including one at the top of a tree that you need to climb if you want to jump off. On our last night, I did manage to reach the platform and take the leap, after backing down once, unsure of how to actually climb onto the platform.
After gorilla trekking, we had a free day in Lake Bunyonyi and a couple of options for activities to fill that day with. We could cross into Rwanda to go to the genocide museum, we could go see local villages around the lake, or we could stay at camp to swim and relax. The eight of us who tracked gorillas together all opted for seeing the villages.
Our guide, Fred, picked us up first thing in the morning to take us to the neighbouring villages. His company, Uganda Adventure, takes people on 1, 2, and 3 day canoe trips to the villages.
The canoes are quite literally hollowed out tree trunks. We paddled past a local market selling everything under the sun. Locals paddled to the market with goats and pigs aboard the canoes.
Then we paddled to an island, and climbed out of our canoes, heading up the steep embankment.
Our guide showed us the tree sap that is used like chewing gum and to cement teeth. We all tried it, and decided that it didn’t have much flavour but left a chalky coating in our mouths.
Then our guide showed us the sorghum plants. They’re kind of like barley, but filled with a milky substance that is dried and used as baby formula when babies can’t be breast fed. We all tasted the plant.
We then hiked up to a viewpoint and listened to Fred tell us stories of the islands in the lake. There are 29 islands in Lake Bunyonyi.
One of the islands is called Punishment Island. It was where women were sent to live (or die) as punishment for getting pregnant before marriage. It is a stark, barren island.
Another island was where twins were sent to die because they were believed to be a curse.
Our guide told us that this lake used to be a place of death, but those times are over and it is much better now.
A little girl from the village came and sat with us as we heard the stories. She borrowed our phones and cameras to take pictures and made sure to get into any photos we were taking. She was so sweet.
We then went to a local home to learn to make bracelets and to have a local lunch. Fred explained that the families all want to host us because of the money it brings in, but that he picks a family based on need.
We ate lunch at the home of a widow with ten children. She taught us about the crafts she learned to make in her women’s craft group, and we ate amazing Ugandan food. Most of us agreed that the best dish was the strange looking purple mixture of peanuts and spinach. It was so delicious.
We also tasted banana gin, which is used both as an alcoholic beverage and as a medicine. It was so strong, I have no doubt it could kill bacteria. We dipped pineapples in it – some sort of alcohol fondue.
After lunch, the village children showed us their songs and dances. They invited us to dance with them, and we all tried to at least somewhat follow along.
The children were amazing singers and dancers. One young girl kept the rhythm with a makeshift drum. We tried to come up with a song and dance to show the children in return, but none of us could remember the lyrics to the macarena.
From there we boarded a speed boat and toured the lake. We saw zebra and water buck grazing at the shores. We also saw the crested crane, Uganda’s national bird. It was chosen to be the national bird, because crested cranes are peaceful and don’t fight with one another.
We then visited a village of another UGanda tribe where we were taught to shoot archery. Here we learned about this tribe’s traditional hunting practices.
We asked Fred how often he takes groups out, thinking it would be daily, but right now he only has about one group per month. It was definitely a tour worth doing, though. We enjoyed the mixture of history and local culture. Plus, it was a great way to really see the lake.
I would have loved to have had more time in Lake Bunyonyi, but there were other places to see and not nearly enough time, and so our stay was only 3 nights and 2 days.
So far, it has been one of the highlights of the trip, and a place I’d love to return.