Lyndsey here, the past week the three of us have been in the Rwenzori mountains in the far west of the country (8 hours by bus), this is the third largest mountain range in Africa and home to Mt Margarita the second highest in Uganda after Mt Elgon. We were there to do one of the smaller two day treks in the area - the big ones lasting up to 7 days cost a small fortune ($500 +), money I do not have at the moment! It is interesting that despite Uganda being a comparatively small country it has several different languages, the main language in Kampala area is Luganda and is spoken in many parts of the country, and I'm slowly getting to grip with the basics, however is Kasese (the nearest town to the Rwenzori) they speak another language all together - rather annoying when you try to bargin with boda drivers! The weather in the mountains is also very different from the rest of the country, where as sunshine is the predominant condition in most of Uganda, the mountains are comparatively cooler and often cloudy, much closer to England! The boda ride to the backpackers was pretty amazing, 12k of winding bumpy roads through the mountains to this little shack surrounded by rocks, goats and matooke plants, although hard work staying on with a heavy rucksack, it was great fun!
The following day we set of on our walk, our guide 'Bongo Man' was a real character, always carrying a small African drum on his rucksack where ever he went. He was a lovely chap and knew a huge amount about the local farming community etc. but after 4 years in the job we got the impression he was slightly fed up of it. We took with us two female porters who carried mine and Nicola's bags - Pieran insisted on carrying his own! I felt really guilty at first, but bongo man explained that it was better to take them with us as that way they were able to earn a wage where as they otherwise would not, and it did make our life a bit easier! The foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains are fascinating as they are covered in farms and many crops including coffee, matooke, sweet potato, cassava and yams. Tiny mud houses were scattered over the hillsides up to 500m apart, and the villages would farm at angles that I would simply slip down. They are a tough breed these mountain folk, a poor area, many families surviving on under $1 a day, but they were strong both mentally and physically - old women would regularly carry up to 70 kilo's on their back carrying wood or crops to the market in the valley, I have a huge amount of respect of these people.
Our trek took us up in to the foot hills to the top of a neighboring valley through some beautiful scenery, it felt both new and familiar, as I was use to the Lakeland mountains but these were very different - the last thing I expected was a primary school on the top! We reached our camp for the night mid afternoon, two small huts where the porters/bongo man would sleep then we pitched our tent on a flat area above. Bongo man then took us to the ridge looking over in to the next valley where the tropical forest started and up to the high mountains - it really was breath taking, completely and absolutely stunning, and I swore at that point I would return to climb them one day. That evening a cook prepared us a big meal of typical Uganda food (rice, sweet potato, yams and aubergine - no posho or beans!), it felt rather surreal eating a big cooked meal in the middle of the hills! After an interesting nights sleep and a breakfast of boiled eggs and bread we headed over the hill and back down to basecamp at the backpackers.
Later on in the afternoon we headed down to explore the valley, we found a stunning (but freezing cold!) river with mountain views and further down a natural hot spring a boda driver had tipped us off about. The boda there was pretty cool, boda's can normally carry up to two people, but we had persuaded this chap to take the three of us, a bit of a squish but great fun! After some initial awkwardness when the locals would not stop staring at us - it is very much a local bathing pool -we got it and it was just bliss to sit in the steaming hot water, a great way to end the day!
The following day Nicola and Pieran left on a coach for Kampala, Nicola wanted to get back to her school and see the kids again and Pieran followed. I was not ready to leave the mountains just yet so had decided to stay around for a few extra days… it was sad seeing them go, it was the first time we had separated in over 4 weeks! I returned to camp at 2 and relaxed with washing and books! The following day a went on a day walk with a very enthusiastic little guide named Amon - he said to mention to all my friends that if they ever go there they should ask for Amon and he would give them free accommodation and food at his! He was a genuinely lovely chap with a huge catalogue of stories about the area, people and plants and medicines that could be found there - these people are so resourceful, in the west we have lost all this knowledge, always turning to western doctors. He took me up high in to the mountains to where a waterfall came down through the tropical forest; it was a stunning sight, and lovely to see more of this beautiful area. That night I met a chap I'd previously met in Kampala who had done a longer trek in the mountains and we both traveled back today.
Final impressions of the mountains? A stunning mountain range and an area of outstanding natural beauty that needs to be preserved, however there are many major conflicts with the local community. Many people were kicked off the land when the park was created however there is no longer enough usable land left to provide an income for all the families, many people illegally enter protected areas to hunt or access medicinal trees and an armed guard is now in place. Projects have been set up to try and educate the villages about sustainable development and other ways to earn money but sometimes it feels like the advice is falling on deaf ears… there is still a lot of work still to be done in the area…