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What To Do on Lake Mutanda, Kisoro, Uganda

Our blissful journey lasted only until we begun winding and turning like a snake navigating through sand. These meandering roads eventually revealed Kisoro town is nestled between the hills of South-western Uganda. The backdrop of Virunga ranges completes this rich natural tapestry. My initial itinerary involved a nature walk through Mt. Sabinyo gorge and the Batwa trail to see Garama cave, Batwa homesteads and also observe their way of life.

Instead, I visited Lake Mutanda. Lake Mutanda is approximately 22 square kilometres wide and 53 meters deep with 15 islands. The preeminent ones being Mutanda island, punishment island, and Skeleton island. Each island has a tale that once influenced the decisions people’s way. During these visits, I intend to discover the tale and see how the people have re-defined it as a form of progress and conservation of heritage and culture. I met Julius, my tour guide briefly in town before we took Boda-Bodas to Mutanda Eco-Community camp. The camp is located on the southern shores of Lake Mutanda and it is managed by Mgahinga Community Development Organisation (MCDO). MCDO is a community-based initiative dedicated to creating tourism opportunities that benefit the livelihood of the people in Kisoro. With three locals from the camp, we ventured further away from the camp on Lake Mutanda.

Figure 1: Python Peninsula

As we sailed along the serene waters of Lake Mutanda, we approached a huge peninsula slightly north from the camp. The peninsula has beautifully terraced slopes with a few houses decorating its slopes. It appeared unimposing for a ‘Python Peninsula.’ Julius mentioned that a recent Banana wilt bacterium had attacked the bananas in the area. Further, since pythons feed on banana stems, most of them were forced to seek food elsewhere. We were disappointed because we did not get to see any. Julius added that black Mamba snakes are also common along the shores and maybe, we might be able to spot one. Towering further left of the island is the punishment cliff. The cliff had similar atrocities as Kisiizi falls where pregnant unmarried Bafumbira girls were executed. Why it is so, the tour guide didn’t elaborate. Although, the Bafumbira have the same history as the Banyarwanda of Rwanda, there are a few similarities with the Bakiga. For example, they are also short and heavily built alike. So, one would allude to the similarity in punishments as the Bafumbira assimilating and adapting to the practice by the Bakiga. Up to this day, the cliff is a place of loss to many people that know the atrocities that befell their loved ones. Locals still view it as a cursed or damned place. As the cliff diminished in the distance, we passed by a few islands until we reached Mutanda Island.

Figure 2: Skeleton island
Figure 3: Human remains in the cave

Mutanda Island is a long stretch of land comprised of trees and shrubby vegetation. It was home to royal guards who secured the entrance to the skeleton island. As we sailed further North, we approached a huge rocky island covered in green climbing plants. On the island is a cave, its facade laced with ribbed bars and the entrance, a small wooden door. Julius told us that we had arrived at the skeleton island. In Bufumbira culture, the dead were not buried but rather brought to rest in the cave on the island. As we entered, we were hit by a pungent smell of putrefied hides and skin. A small rock that contained skeletons wrapped in a mat lay before us. Julius further told us that the dead bodies were either wrapped in mats or animal skin and then brought to be laid to rest in the cave. They also believed that if the dead are honoured, prosperity would be guaranteed. Being in the cave was daunting to say the least. It felt like stepping in a desolate darkness with the voices of the dead screaming for attention from all corners. Julius told us of a plan to renovate it, close it off with glass so that whoever views it from the lake catches a glimpse of what lays inside. The dead are honoured and the cave generates value as a cultural and historical site. After paying homage to the dead, we left the island and proceeded to the Punishment island.

Figure 4: Gahiza island, former punishment island

Punishment island, formerly known as the site where unmarried pregnant women and criminals were left to starve to death now boosts a resort, Gahiza Island Lodge. When at the skeleton island, we saw skeletons and bone remains of the dead, so we expected to find the same at the punishment island. The island no longer bares the signs of a former punishment site. It has amazing views of the Virunga ranges and the lake. Julius stated that the island was cleared of all the remains when the resort was constructed. The island name also changed to Gahiza in a bid to give it a new beginning. One full of adventure, discovery, and fun. However, should a place be fully stripped of its history so as to create new beginnings or should it build a richer and powerful story from what history offers? I think the lodge should sell its narrative as one of triumph and victory as was done at Kisiizi falls. So that people remember what took place but also find a new meaning in the place. In so doing, a new version of the story is told, one that transcends from darkness to light. The locals could also garner courage to visit the island if they see and know that the island has been re-defined and that it now signifies something different and encouraging. As we sailed away over the calm waters, I realised a need for the community to redefine the island but still tell the tales of the past so that we understand our history, learn from it, and craft a different tomorrow.

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Customer Reviews

Ngoni Safaris Uganda

Customer Reviews

Justo Nov 18, 2019

Safaribookings
I went on an 11 day safari visiting Kampala, Jinja, Lake Mburo NP, Bwindi NP, Queen Elizabeth NP and Kibale NP. Communications with Ngoni were prompt and easy from the start. As soon as I made my booking, Sedrick contacted me through WhatsApp and guided me through the rest of the process. Leading up to the tour he made sure I was well-prepared to begin. He was always very clear and friendly. Service was exceptional. I had the pleasure of going on this safari with three members of Ngoni's staff - Sedrick, Nelson and Joel. These guys made my comfort their priority from the moment we met. Whether it was checking if I was okay with the accommodations or making sure I always had a bottle of water, I always felt like I was being well taken care of. Nelson is an excellent guide. His knowledge about the flora and fauna of Uganda was extensive, always able to answer any questions I had and was eager to teach - it's obvious that he has a great love for his country and it's environment and is eager to share this love with his clients. My experience with Ngoni and Uganda surpassed all expectations I had. Absolutely amazing, and thanks to the guys at Ngoni it feels like a new home - can't wait to come back and visit. Webale, brothers!

Stephany Aug 13, 2019

https://www.safaribookings.com/operator/t17733
Sedrick was unique and stood out from the rest in the high quality communication he provided since the first inquiry. He called me to provide information about the itinerary and see if I had any questions even before booking the tour. We communicated through WhatsApp for any other questions that came to mind after that call. After picking me up from the airport, he and Pilot (additional tour guide) provided plenty of information about the country to give me some context and we started our long drive to the impenetrable forest. The food was delicious with many options; the accommodation was very clean with exceptional service; and the transportation from Entebbe to Bwindi park was very comfortable (although long). As a solo female traveler, both tour guides (Sedrick and Pilot) did an exceptional job at enduring I accomplished everything intended to in Uganda, and always made me feel safe. I highly recommend to book your safari with this company because the quality and professionalism will not let you down.

Shakira Dec 14, 2018

Ngoni safaris uganda is the best tour operator in Uganda. A few weeks back we traveled to Bwindi impenetrable with sedrick to explore the beauty that is Uganda. This company took care of us . with most comfortable car , Great guide .We highly recommend it to the next travelers

Winnie Dec 19, 2018

https://www.safaribookings.com/operator/t17733
I was going on a gorilla safari with my friend and this was going to be the first ever safari for the both of us. Luckily, the communication with the office was super easy and we got answers to all of the questions we needed. The driver / guide (Sedrick) was very professional and funny and made our time very pleasant. Also, he had a proper knowledge of the local area close to the Mgahinga national park and he promptly spoke some 7 languages which we thought was super positive. The safari was surely the highlight of out East African trip!

Ritah Jan 2, 2019

https://www.safaribookings.com/operator/t17733
My Team and I did a five day trip, including Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Murchison Falls and Kidepo. It was truly an incredible experience. Our guide, Sedrick, was knowledgeable, skilled in driving in some challenging settings and just plain fun to hang out with for five days. The lodging was perfect, especially Savannah Lodge. The tents and beds were high quality. The views were spectacular. Meals were delicious and varied. I recommend Ngoni safaris Uganda with all my heart and soul!

Pilot May 28, 2019

https://www.safaribookings.com/operator/t17733
Our six days trip was amazing. The driver/guide had an incredible knowledge of animal and bird-life and are so interesting to talk to. His driving skills through lashing rain and massive puddles was admirable! The cooks managed to produce varied and delicious meals from the kitchen, which we ate both at accommodation or roadside when we were travelling from one place to another . At all times we felt safe and well-looked after. All in all, an incredible experience, due not only to the abundance of wildlife we were lucky enough to see, but also to the great efforts put to have our Safari a better one . The safari was full of fun. Traveling with ngoni safaris is my life time memorable experience and I highly recommend it to travellers who would love to visit uganda or EastAfrica for holidays, vacations or Adventure.. Even five stars are too small .