Around Kabale (Uganda): Lake Bunyonyi, Punishment Island, Smiths, Healers, Pygmies and many other interesting encounters

This day became perhaps one of the most memorable in our African trip. After crossing the border between Rwanda and Uganda we got to Kabale and planned a one-day guided trip on the hilly part of Western Uganda towards lake Bunyonyi. On the same day without planning it, we also went to see Pygmies by the motorboat.


The guided tour was supposed to start at 8 AM and we were trying really hard to get breakfast on time, so that to start on time too. As usually, we forgot about the African life principle pole-pole which translates from Swahili as ‘no hurry’. It was 1.5 hour later than planned that we started with the guide named Monday and our new acquaintance Vu Hien who was working in Nairobi and travelling around during her vacation. The excursion started with the local pub where we were offered some homemade beer. This beer is made from sorghum which is dried under the sun; after many manipulations, it becomes a porridge and then the beer is made out of porridge. There is also another kind of beer available, with honey added for the strength.
African homemade beer

Ugandan home made beer

Then we went through the city market.
Kabale market

Then Monday showed the artificial lake Mgorogoza at Katuno road to us: the lake is named after the initiator of its creation. When the lake was made for the first time, it dried out fast; then the workers cleaned all the dirt and put bricks on the bottom of the lake. The workers accused of minor crimes (fights, thefts) were hired for that. By the way, as Monday told, there is no capital punishment in Uganda.
This water is now used for drinking, cooking and other home needs.

Local taxi: all the bicycles have plates (the way we on the cars) as well as the seat for the client of the taxi.

Little by little we started to ascend the hills through the villages. We passed the church and the nuns’ graveyard.
African monastery


As Monday told, it is very important for the Ugandan to be buried at home, in particular, in his house garden. That is why the corpses are often transported through the whole country or even from other countries. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to identify some people found dead, especially if this happens far from their home. Then the identifying features of the dead are described on the radio and newspapers so that to find his or her relatives who would take the corpse back home. In the meanwhile, the body is kept in the fridge, and in case the relatives do not show up, the corpse is buried at the state graveyard. Yet, this has bad consequences both for the dead and for the family that failed to find the body: the malevolent spirit will start visiting them, knocking the doors, disturbing in all the possible ways, and even beating them. In this case they either have to rebury the corpse or contact the healer, who would leave a special cure on the grave which must help. On the whole, as Monday confessed, the belief into curses and malevolent spirits is very strong in Uganda (as it is in Tanzania). You may suffer from some disease without knowing that you were cursed several years before.
Talking about it, we were walking further through the gardens and plantations.
Tea plantation

For a short period of time we were accompanied by the mother with two kids.
African kids


The village pub:
Ugandian pub

The smith.

Then we came to visit the smith, who allowed us to make as many pictures as needed. The smith learned this skill from his father seeing from the early childhood that job brings money essential for the survival. He has been working since 1961; he was 66 when we were visiting him. He mainly makes the window bars; some children from the village come to help and learn from him. This day the children were much more interested in the white visitors though.
African smith

Ugandan smith

Ugandan kids

Lake Bunyonyi.

After the pleasant conversation, the smith suddenly announced that we have to pay 10000 shillings (about 3 euros) each for the photos. That was unexpected especially after his initial words, and we left. We were climbing the hill for quite a while before reaching the top to enjoy the view of Lake Bunyonyi.
Lake Bunyonyi


Lake Bunyonyi

Then we were climbing down the hill together with the local kids.
Kabale hills

The village healer.

The next stop was the house of the village healer. Unfortunately, he had died not long before our visit (it is said that he died at the age of 95) from Malaria. That is why his wife was telling about his healing practices to us, showing the bag of the tools he used for healing too. For instance, he used the horn when his client was cursed: he stuffed the horn with herbs so that to summon the sick person’s ancestor spirit for help. With the help of calabash they also summon the ancestors’ spirits to understand: who was the one who imposed the curse?
Ugandan healer

Another tool for summoning the spirits is a mask.
Healers tools

The healer’s widow told us that due to the lack of doctors in the countryside, the state started to give licenses to the healers and in many villages they replace real doctors.
The healer’s great-grandsons:
Kabale-24IMG_1942Ugandan kids


One of the sons of the healer is an artist and a designer which you may guess by the corner with his work, arranged by his mother.
Kabale healer

Then we went down to the lake where the resort was being built. At that point of time you could stay in the tent under the roof – 10 dollars per person.
Stay at Bunyonyi

African fisherman

Pygmies tribe.

Monday told that we could make a deal with a motor boat driver to go and see Pygmies for additional fee. This sounded exciting, so we bargained till 70000 shillings with the boat driver on the phone and went to the Pygmy island in the lake. It took quite a while to get there, along various other islands. One of them was once inhabited by lepers, as Seili island in Finland.
Rent a boat Bunyonyi

Transport in Uganda


Bunyonyi Tour

We also stopped at the punishment island: this was only 50 years ago that the parents were bringing their daughters here in case the daughters got pregnant before marriage; they were left here to die. In the best case scenario a boyfriend saved such a girl. Some women who had been at the island are still living.
punishment island

The only tree at the island is swarmed with birds all over, and the island smells with manure. It is well and naturally fertilized.
punishment island

Finally, we reached the Pygmy island where the Pygmy kids immediately came to meet us.
Pygmy island

To reach the village we had to climb up the hill, while the children were jumping around as if the mountain goats trying to initiate communication. Some of them who were older (13-year old Sonya and 14-year old Moses) spoke quite good English, trying to break our hearts with a well-rehearsed conversation. The rest of the kids confined themselves to the phrase “Give me your money”. The story of Pygmies living in this village is quite sad: some rich European decided to resettle the tribe from the forest, where they had lived and hunted, to the hills to built a school and make the education accessible for the children. He reached his aim, since the children are indeed good at asking for money in English and they speak English better than some of their coevals in Europe.
Pygmy school

Pygmy kids

Pygmy kids

Ugandan kids

Yet, they have nothing to eat. They do not own the land on the hills, so they cannot plant anything; in addition, they simply do not know how to plant. Once a week they take their boats to get to the nearby island for the market day: they dance there to earn at least some money. This and any other income should be shared with the head of the tribe who, in turn, drinks most of the money away. The huts stand next to the begging children trying to sell their handmade dolls constantly asking “Can you leave this for me?”, “Do you have anything you may leave for me?”, “Do you have anything in your bag?”, “Can you leave this hoodie for me?”… The story is sad similarly to the whole situation with the children in Africa.
The hut of the head of the tribe where he lives with four kids:
Pygmy hut

Pygmy house inside

The view of the village and other huts:
Pygmy village

Pygmy tribe

This boy must have got the comb from some visitor:
Pygmy kids

The parents who are still kids:
Pygmy family

By the way, these Pygmies are not so small here since they have been mixing with other tribes.
All of a sudden, the rain started, it got dark, and we understood that this was time to leave. We were descending the hill, although because of the rain it became extremely slippery, wet, and cold. The same children helped us to get down; they were amazingly strong and supported us in the most complicated places.
Pygmy kids

Then we were riding the boat under the rain and thunderstorm for about two hours
Back to Cabale

Contacts and travel info. Where to stay, how to get, guided tours.

When arriving we were picked up by the car; if we understood it correctly, this was the boss of Monday. Coming back to the hostel, we found out that the personnel took away our boots and socks to save them from the rain. We are very thankful the hostel personnel: Jessica who worked at the reception and Monday. By the way, they also may organize the trip from Kabale to Kigali (if you move from Uganda to Rwanda) with the post car, on every working day (we are not sure about the weekends; the departure is at 7-8 AM and at that moment of time the ride cost 35000. We had covered the same distance, but from Kigali to Kabale for about 25000, but had to change many modes of transport for that). For this and other services contact Kabale backpackers guesthouse or write to Monday: mondaywic@yahoo.com

Our excursion cost 266000 shillings for three people (the price depends on the size of the group), they also have some other excursion routs as well as bicycle tours. It is great that we got a good travel companion, Vu Hien with us. Some of the photos presented here were made by her.
Coming back, we learned that there is no hot water in our hostel, but after everything we had seen on this day the hot water seemed to be luxury, as it was with the flash toilet we saw after a week in Pamir mountains. By the way, our trip to Pygmies happened on the New Year eve, and we celebrated the New Year in the capital of Uganda, Kampala!

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