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Uganda 2016 Day Twelve – Interesting New Experiences

Before I start talking about today, last night had a fine end. We came back from Tembo in the Land Cruiser and found three hippos in our garden. They soon moved on when they recognised that we were there, but it was a nice end to a good day.

We were up at 06.30 today as we had the long drive down to Bukorwe. Long-time readers of this blog will remember that Bukorwe is one of my least favourite drives: the marron road surface (although much improved) judders and throws your car about and the scenery is pretty much unchanging for most of the drive. We left the Mweya peninsula and had a real laugh with Jackie as she kept commenting on why Steve Peach talks so much, we dropped her off at Katunguru as she was going back to Kasese with Baby Joe. We then drove up to UWA headquarters and turned right on to the road down to Bukorwe. Although we encountered less than twenty vehicles over the course of our journey, it only takes one to injure or kill you and that nearly happened today.

I’m an experienced enough driver in Ugandan conditions to know when it is safe to put my foot down and when it isn’t and the road to Bukorwe is one of those roads where there is an optimum speed where you have control of your vehicle. If you drive too slow it’s like sitting on top of a pneumatic drill, if you drive too fast it’s like ice skating. To add to the fun, the road is very narrow in places with an extremely steep camber. About an hour into the drive I saw a vehicle haring towards me from the opposite direction. I immediately hit my breaks and slowed down to about 15 mph while moving as much as I could to the side of the roads. He obviously thought he could pass me at full tilt and at the last moment realised he couldn’t, slammed on his own breaks and slid across the road with no control. He must have missed me by millimetres! To say that I was angry was an understatement, but there was nothing I could do about it, the other driver had regained control of his car and sped off into the distance in a cloud of dust. The rest of our journey was uneventful!

When we arrived at Bukorwe Primary School, we were given a very warm welcome by Vicent, the twinning project co-ordinator and Posniano, the headteacher. Like Kafuro, they have recently received solar panels so they were keen to show them off to us. We also met the local priest who had come to the school to prepare the children for next Monday’s feast of the assumption, hear confessions, perform a couple of baptisms and then hold a mass for the whole school. Busy day then!

The children at Bukorwe are not as shy as those at Kafuro or as streetwise as their peers at Katunguru. They are, however, very curious about white people. All three of us had legions of children wanting to hold our hands and touch our skin. Many of the children wanted to play with Mrs Green’s hair. There was nothing untoward about this, they were just curious.

We passed on a package from Mrs Buckle at Clanfield and met with Albert, the community ranger, who is a very impressive young man. After taking more photos, we jumped in the car again and headed north as we had a second task we wanted to complete today.

Our second job was to visit the Tourist Information Centre at Katwe and pass on some information from Amy Peach about Geomission Uganda: a big project with the aim of boosting geological tourism in this part of Uganda at its heart. Steve had told us the approximate location of the tourist information Centre, but when we arrived at the village we immediately saw a sign to a tourist centre pointing us up the hill. Uncertain what to do, we decided to take this option and we soon ran into a group of school children who waved and shouted. What followed next was truly bizarre:

Me: Good afternoon, how are you?

Children: We are fine!

Me: Can you tell me the way to the tourist information centre?

Children: We go to school!

Me: (starting to get frustrated) Yes, well done! (pointing ahead) Is it this way?

Children: Yes!

Me: (Getting even more frustrated as Mrs Green and Henry are cracking up with laughter in the car. Pointing behind me) Is it this way?

Children: (with even bigger smiles on their faces) Yes! (Cue delirium in the car as Henry and Mrs Green fall about laughing)

Our route to the Tourist Information Centre included an encounter with a prisoner chain gang, a Ugandan Wildlife Institute Centre student who claimed to be from the Tourist Information Centre and finally a man who told us to ignore the student and told us the correct way. When we finally arrived, we were met by Ouma Robinson and we passed on the relevant messages from Steve and Amy Peach. Ouma offered us a free guided tour of the salt pans and a crater lake which is populated by pink flamingos.

The salt pans were absolutely fascinating and, although I’m no chemist, it was interesting to learn about the processes that take place to enable salt to be made commercially for sale. The salt is exported all over Africa and the workers can make fairly good money although there are some associated health risks. Close contact with salt means that wounds can be very difficult to heal and there can also be pregnancy problems. The Germans did actually build a salt processing factory, but used the wrong materials so it corroded. It now stands an empty useless shell. So much for German efficiency.

The flamingos were fascinating to see as they stood in a big group in the middle of the lake. They fly between Kenya and Uganda according to what food is available, but today they were just standing around (some on one leg) to conserve energy.

After the tour was over, we thanked Ouma and headed back to Mweya. As we had a couple of hours to spare and we hadn’t had lunch, we walked down to Tembo and bought a plate of chips to eat while we watched the animals in the Kazinga Channel below.

Tomorrow is our final day at Kafuro where we hope to have the cob oven finished as well as hand out letters and take class photos. We might also get a chance to see how the Kafuro bees are doing. From there we will move on to Katunguru Primary School for a visit before heading back to Mweya to pack. Although our trip isn’t over the Mweya leg is close to completion.


Uganda 2016 Day Nine – A successful meeting

Today was the first joint teachers and Community Conservation Rangers meeting at Hippo House. The main aim as far as I was concerned was to give the opportunity for teachers and rangers to find areas of commonality and plan assemblies, lessons or activities together so that they could work similarly to how Liss has worked with Steve Peach in the past and Joe Williams now.  It was my job to chair the meeting and facilitate the activities. Sixx CCRs plus the Community Warden, Olivia Birra, showed up along with seven teachers.

We were extremely fortunate that Charles Etoru, who co-founded the Twinning Project with Steve Peach, was in the area and had agreed to give a speech. He was inspirational and (better still) ended up staying the whole morning so he could work with the groups. We discussed friendship, communication, blogging, planning activities together and came up with a list of agreed actions which should allow everyone to move forward together. The Twinning Project also gave each school an amount of money to help them communicate through email and blogging with the incentive of more money being released if the Ugandan schools reached a target number of emails or blog posts by the end of October.

The meeting finished at 16.30 and we went to the safari hostel over the road for a couple of drinks to celebrate before going down to dinner at Tembo. Tomorrow we are visiting Kyambura Gorge and we have to be up at 05.30. As much as I’m looking forward to chimp tracking another early start is not high on my list of priorities.

Joe the Ranger’s final post from Uganda

So here on the shore of lake Victoria ends my adventure. I have had a wonderful and met many truly incredible people. The past day and half have involved me being shown some sites by the Rangers, and seeing some different areas. I visited the Rwenzori NP, I saw some ranger outposts, and of course and abundance of wildlife. I have had a truly remarkable stay here in Uganda and have learnt many things. I have to thank UWA and the staff of Queen Elizabeth NP, Bwindi Impenetrable NP, and all the friends who have helped me on this trip and who have made is so enjoyable and unforgettable. I’m sad to be leaving but I look forward to returning next year, and coming in to talk to you all about my time here next term! I’m now in Entebbe airport waiting for my first flight, I should be back on the U.K by half twelve tomorrow afternoon.


Footnote: Joe has arrived home safely!

Ranger Joe visits Bwindi

I’ve had my first day in Bwindi impenetrable national park. It is a glorious area of outstanding natural beauty, with green mountains covered in thick jungle. Monkeys, birds, snakes, elephants, and the wonderful mountain gorilla call this park home. I’m sat in a small hut in the tree tops watching the birds and listening to local music; it’s great here! Today, I was taken by one of the Rangers to visit the waterfalls and look for wildlife, I had an amazing time and even got to swim under a waterfall!


Ranger Joe’s weekend post from Uganda

I had an incredible day today with the law enforcement team! I saw a very different side to the work done by Rangers in this dangerous and exciting field. Protecting wildlife is what all Rangers work to do, but law enforcement do it in a very direct way- risking both injury and at times death to protect the incredible wildlife that resides in their park. Today we were out at first with the police tracking a suspected criminal who had tried to seek refuge in the park. And later we spent the rest of the day on the water, obtaining illegal fishing nets in an area where they are not allowed. At times we came ashore to check in the undergrowth for signs of illegal activity, this was very exciting as we were walking up and down hippo paths (and also a bit scary!) I’ve had a great day working with the Rangers who are among the bravest men and women I’ve ever met, their work is truly on nature’s front line.

Rangers collecting illegal fishing nets.

Rangers collecting illegal fishing nets.

Joe the Ranger visits Kafuro, Kyambura and Katunguru

I’ve had a wonderful day today visiting schools around QENP. I started in Kafuro and met with the energetic Yowasi. We spoke about the progress of the school and the enjoyment both the teachers and pupils get from the wonderful twinning project! Later we visited Kyaambura which has to have one of the best views from a school I’ve ever seen! The pupils were lovely and I spoke to them about being a ranger in the UK- I had to explain we don’t have anything quite as big as elephants or quite as dangerous as lions! But what we have we love and as a UK Rangers we want to protect. Finally I visited Katunguru who are twinned with Hart Plain, I was lucky to have a guided tour of the school and spoke with many of the pupils who were really lovely! I then returned to QENP on the back of a motorbike which was really fun! We saw some elephants and lots birds on the way back in.

Ranger Joe’s latest post from Uganda

Hi again everyone! I’ve had a couple of days of recovery on Mweya, but from the porch of Hippo House and on the walks to Tembo I’ve still enjoyed some wonderful wildlife, including elephants. The rangers kindly took me on a short bush walk as well which was fascinating.

Today I have been at UWA headquarters meeting with the two wardens in charge of law enforcement and community work. It’s been really interesting to hear from them about the conservation work they are doing in Queen Elizabeth National Park. I’ve been very lucky as over the next two weeks I will be working with them, visiting schools and other parks to learn more about the very important work they are doing and seeing what it means to be rangers in Uganda. I’m very excited!


Ranger Joe’s fourth post from Uganda

Hello again everyone I’ve had a wonderful day at Queen Elizabeth National Park today seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I’m now sat on the porch of Hippo House enjoying the last of the day’s sun as it sinks below the horizon. There are mouse birds, fire finches, sun birds, and weaver birds to name but a few busy catching some final insects and singing out the end of the day.

Today I was very lucky to join two rangers as they delivered a boat ride to tourists, I learnt a lot from them about the animals and  about the wonderful landscape, I also got some great pictures which I can’t wait to show you all! The rangers are very experienced at guiding and it was great to watch them as they did their thing, can’t wait for tomorrow! From Joe the ranger


Joe’s third post from Uganda

I am now finally back in my favourite place: Queen Elizabeth National Park! I have had a very long day of travelling setting off from Jinja at 7am and arriving at Queen at 6 55pm! Nearly twelve hours on the road, but what a beautiful journey it was. Rolling hills, tea, coffee and banana plantations, bright blue skies and smiling faces all the way. As we got closer to queen the rolling hills became towering mountains as we came very close to the Congo. When we arrived at queen I met up with Yowasi to give him the money raised by Liss for the solar panels at his school, he says a massive thank you to everyone! And as we drove deep into the park, towards the wonderful hippo house on the Mweyan peninsula I was really lucky to see elephant, hippo, buffalo, warthog and lots of different birds (including my favourite the bright yellow weaver bird!) all in about 40 minutes of driving! I’ll keep you all posted of my adventures around queen working with the Rangers and hopefully seeing lots of exciting things!

The view at Mweya yesterday

The view at Mweya yesterday

Ranger Joe’s second day in Uganda

Joe has sent the following message from Uganda:

Hi everyone! Just another short blog to let you guys know what I’m up to over here I Uganda, I had a great day today white water rafting along the Nile! The Rapids where amazing fun and I fell in a lot (which was sometimes a bit scary!) I saw some lovely birds along my travel down the Nile including cormorants and kingfishers. It’s was really beautiful and very exciting! I can’t wait to get down to queen, I’ll be leaving early tomorrow from Jinja to get there.

Joe has been staying with Raymond Engena, who wrote this:

The word “Culture” triggers different sentiments in different people.
To some, who want to run away, it is backwardness. Others take pride in it to show dominance and superiority of one culture over another. To me, culture is a very good mechanism for passing knowledge from one generation to another.

Take the Lango culture of ” maki welo Gweno”. (Giving a live chicken (not a roaster) to a visitor). A very simple expression of love and welcome. But more importantly a mechanism to keep each others memory alive, especially in those days when mobile telephone technology was still considered an impossibility.

It did not matter whether the visitor left the chicken behind or took it with them. The chicken remained a bond between them. It will lay eggs and hatch chicks. There will be talk of so and so’s chicken is laying eggs or has hatched so well. The visitor is therefore not forgotten.

So, Joe was wondering what to do with the chicken. Well, we will look after it. It will give us eggs and more chicks. But it will always be Joe’s chicken.

In short Joe will be remembered long after he has gone to learn how to be a good ex-citizen of the European Union.