Every morning at Mweya the whole team would have breakfast together at the canteen opposite Hippo House. The canteen has tables under at canopied roof so that you are shaded from the sun while you eat, but no windows and only a low wall so that we could watch the passing wildlife from our table. Often the families of warthogs would chase each other playfully between the trees, making us laugh at their antics.
Beside the canteen is the Mweya airstrip where a small fixed wing aircraft lands each day from Entebbe bringing holiday makers and safari goers to the luxury Safari Lodge nearby. I say ‘airstrip’ but it really more closely resembles a long, flat bit of grass. Each morning our conversation would be interrupted by the loud buzz of the aircraft engine as it passed overhead and then turned to make the landing.
On one particular morning – Sunday 30th July- instead of the sound of aircraft engines we heard something quite different; something that made us look at each other with expressions of alarm and confusion. Everything seemed to go into slow motion and I remember thinking to myself;’What on Earth is that? Not an aircraft coming in to land? No! Not a herd of rampaging elephants? No!’ I looked at my fruit salad on the table before me and it was rattling like crazy. The bottles of coke in the refrigerator behind the counter were clinking and bashing against each other like nobody’s business!
Meanwhile, Calum, one of our team mates, who has travelled the world extensively and had worked out what was going on far faster than the rest of us dummies, had realised the danger and was trying, very wisely, to get under the table!
The only other person who knew faster than the rest of us what was happening was Amy Peach. The most enormous smile spread over her face like she had been given the best and most amazing present, and she said:’Don’t worry everyone- it’s an earthquake!’
By this time it (the earthquake) was over. Calum, somewhat shamefacedly, came out from under the table.
Let me explain to you about Amy. Amy Peach, daughter of Mr and Mrs Peach, (Head Ranger at QECP and Head Cook at CJS respectively) is now 22 years old. When Amy was 7 years old she was a pupil at Clanfield Junior School just like all of you, and when she was in year 5, I (Mrs Buckle) was her teacher. Now that Amy is 22 she has just completed a degree from the University of Plymouth in geology. For this, I don’t mind telling you, she gained a ‘first’ which is the best kind of degree that you can get! Geology is the study of the physical earth, what it is made of and how it came to be like it is. This includes the study of earthquakes and volcanoes which is more precisely known as ‘vulcanology’. This is what Amy is interested in so no wonder she was excited to be experiencing an earthquake!
We all went back to Hippo House and Amy quickly contacted her geologist friends around the world to find out the facts about the earthquake we had just felt.
She discovered that seismologists (people who measure earthquakes) had given it a reading of 5.3 on the Richter Scale, and that its epicentre was found to be 15km out and 10km down underneath Lake Edward- the lake right next to Mweya in the Queen Elizabeth National Park!
Now although we were all surprised, and a little more than excited if truth be told, it is not really surprising that an earthquake should happen here. The fact is that this part of Uganda sits on something known as the Albertine Rift Valley, a fault or crack in the Earth’s surface if you like, that occasionally moves and shifts as it settles.
This is a very simple diagram of how the land has fallen between two fault lines to form the valley. In this particular case the mountains on the left are the Rwenzoris of Uganda, and the high ground on the right is the escarpment that we can see rising up to Kyambura.
The whole area is dotted with extinct volcano craters, some of which have become lakes, some of which support the most amazing flora and fauna, and some of which are barren. They really are amazing to see. Thousands of years ago this would have been a very interesting but dangerous place to be with all these volcanoes blowing their tops! Now, it’s both very interesting and a beautiful landscape.