The impact of Kigyezi’s beauty on the spirits of a first-time visitor is always a joy to watch. Last December, our friend Akello Miriam Atoro travelled from Gulu to Kabale to visit us. It was her first encounter with the Kigyezi experience. Her exhaustion, after an overnight journey by bus, vanished the moment we headed into the high hills towards Mparo, Rukiga.
At the end of her four-day stay, Akello declared that she would return and, hopefully, settle in Kigyezi. She had already acquired a Kifumbira/Kinyarwanda name, Tumwizere, meaning “in Him we trust.” So, a place in the hills above Lake Bunyonyi awaits her. No turning back, Akello Tumwizere!
Lake Bunyonyi, a short drive from Kabale, is a gem that seems to be unknown to many Africans who travel for pleasure. I am a regular in the area and have seen very many European tourists enjoy the lake and its neighbourhood. Yet I rarely spot an African traveller. Much the pity, for the lake, with its 29 islands, and its surrounding hills and peninsulas, is the perfect retreat for refugees from Kampala’s madness.
There are lovely cottages and hotels, offering excellent lakeside accommodation, and much else that is very pleasing. The sonatas, symphonies and duets of the birds alone are worth the price of the visit.
Once one has made it to Bunyonyi, a two-hour drive further west is a must. The winding mountain road brings you to Kanaaba Gap, a natural viewing point from where you behold the majestic Muhabura, one of the Ibirunga (or Birunga), misnamed as “Virunga” by careless European adventurers, an error perpetuated by many Africans, including some natives of Kigyezi.
Muhabura (not “Muhavura”) and her sister volcanic mountains, and the nearby lakes from which they drink, make Bufumbira the most beautiful part of Kigyezi. Akello was especially lucky that during her visit, Ibirunga fully exposed themselves, emerging from behind the mist and clouds to showcase their beauty and mischievous silence. As we stood in awe close to their feet, Muhabura, Mugahinga and Sabinyo – the great trio that one sees easily from the Ugandan side – treated the visiting daughter of Acholi to a most royal welcome.
Akello’s escorts – my wife and I – were equally mesmerized by the terraced hills, the rugged and rocky mountains, the majestic Ibirunga, the boat-like valleys, and the great impenetrable forests, as though they were new to us.
Next time Akello visits, we shall take her north, to enjoy the rugged beauty of Kinkiizi, the great lake of Rwitanzigye, which the British named after one Edward, the plains and lowlands of Rujumbura, and the waterfall at Kisiizi. Here she will behold, with horror, the execution place where pregnant unmarried ladies were thrown over the falls, with guaranteed results upon hitting the bottom of the gorge. She will learn the story of how the macabre tradition came to a sudden end. That was less than 100 years ago.
Time allowing, we shall fit in gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest, and drop in for a visit with tree-climbing lions and other animals in the national park.
After a day of rest, we shall treat her to cultural and historical tours, in which she will discover the stories and way of life of the villages, hamlets and towns of Kigyezi. It is an inexhaustible list of opportunities, rewarding repeat visits with new discoveries.
For me, of course, I always look forward to the late nights and early mornings in the mountains, with a mist that creates a sense of mystery that takes me back to my childhood. Even today, the questions of decades ago return. What hides behind that mist? Will the Sun shine today? If so, when?
When Akello visited, I watched her reactions as the day progressed. Midmorning, when the Sun shed its shyness, breaking out with beautiful rays, revealing the rugged beauty in every direction, and the mountainside homesteads, her face lit up with a beautiful smile that was a perfect wordless advertisement.
Unfortunately, Kigyezi’s beauty is yet to be transformed into a source of wealth for the vast majority of its people. This is a matter that the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB) is eager to change. This year’s ICOB Annual Convention, which will be held in Vancouver, Canada from June 28 to July 2, will meet under the theme: “Unlocking Kigezi’s Tourism Potential.”
We are inviting people in the tourism industry, including representatives of Uganda’s ministry of tourism, wildlife and antiquities, to join us in Vancouver to share ideas and promote this important sector of our economy.
The goal is to target, educate and attract the Ugandan Diaspora to appreciate Kigyezi as a place to take their vacations before heading off to places like Dubai, Hawaii, Brunei or Malawi.
Our team in Vancouver, led by Bridget Nkojo, is putting together a program that will include networking opportunities with tourism experts in British Columbia. We shall examine best practices and learn how British Columbia, the most beautiful province in Canada, has turned its natural beauty and its history into a source of great wealth for her people. Our agenda is to develop strategies for turning Kigyezi’s tourism potential into reality, and its opportunities into cash and development.
To accommodate those who plan to attend the Rotary International meeting in Toronto in June, the Banyakigyezi Convention will begin the day after the Toronto gathering ends. Please visit www.abanyakigezi.net for details and give yourself a treat on the Pacific coast of Canada, including a visit to Victoria. You will be very glad you came.