By Taiko Lemayian
KECOBAT Director Mr. Taiko Lemayian visited Uganda from the 18th – 26th October 2015 for a meeting with the Uganda Community Tourism Association (UCOTA) in Kampala, Uganda. The main objective of the visit was to participate in a four day training facilitated by Fredskorpset (FK) to orientate Tanzania Association for Cultural Tourism Organizers team to FK and to draw modalities for renewal of an expanded tripartite partnership between community tourism practitioners in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The secondary objective for the Uganda visit was to benchmark Kenya’s Community Based Tourism Businesses/Enterprises with those of Uganda.
UCOTA were represented by Madam Helen Lubowa UCOTA’s Executive Director and Jennifer Magala UCOTA’s Administrator while TACTO was represented by Freddy Masawe (Executive Director) and Edith Shoo (Treasurer). TACTO (http://www.tactotanzania.org) is non-government organization in Tanzania which works to foster good working relationships of cultural groups dealing in cultural tourism or similar activities in Tanzania in order to empower them to transform the lives of their families through the development of sustainable micro-enterprises in the way of cultural tourism products for sale to tourist.
After the FK Training, Taiko had a opportunity of visiting a number of community based tourism initiatives in the western part of Uganda in order to bench mark them with the Kenya’s Community Based Tourism businesses and draw opportunities for sharing skills and experiences. Some of the projects visited were:
We set-off from Kampala on 24th October 2015 in a rather wet morning; we headed to Entebbe to pick Mr. Thore Anton Bredeveien of FK who was joining us for the excursion. Our driver was Isa and Lubega Paul Muwonge of UCOTA was to chaperon us around. We had a long but pleasant ride and had to stop at Mubende Town in Central Region for a breather after having driven roughly for 230KM. Our next stop was Fort Portal town in the Torro Kingdom where we had our late afternoon lunch in a cosy restaurant called Garden Restaurant.
We set off again for Bigodi village that is situated 40 Km away in the highlands of western Uganda. The comfort of tarmac road ended a after a Kilometre from Fort Portal when we branched off to take Kamwenge road. This road was fairly smooth and it took us through lushly green undulating hills and valleys that were covered with tea plantations. Halfway through our ride, we encountered lots of earth works in preparation for the tarmacking of the road. The road become extremely wet and muddy because of the evening showers. Vehicles we sliding and swinging while others were pushes. Young men from the villages around were making briskly business pushing vehicles for a fee. We were lucky to have made it through the bad stretch of the road without many hitches. After doing close to 30 Km, we entered Kibale National Park. There were no gates and we made through the parks smooth road after the sun had set. We encountered a new tarmac a few km before reaching Bigodi village. We were taken straight to Tinka’s homestay where we spend a memorable evening.
Tinka's house is newly built and should be considered comfortable even by western standards. Our rooms were self contained and the beds were comfortable and had mosquito nets. There weren't any running water in the room at that time but that wasn't really a problem. All the traditional delicious food was prepared by Tinka's daughter and well presented besides a traditional kitchen besides the main one story house.
A variety of traditional foodstuffs ware served and we had to sit on traditional schools. The layout of the tables and presentation of the meals under the stars amid African night melodies from the wild crickets and distance frogs was excellent
We had a very interesting story telling and folk dances from the family. Tinka our host unfortunately did not arrive till much later after we had retired to sleep. We has not as fortunate as we were. He way delayed by trucks were stuck in mad that had blocked the way. Tinka was there in the morning though to join us for breakfast.
The Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary
The Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary, located in the Magombe wetland and is operated by the Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED), a registered community based organization (CBO) with over 80 fee-paying members. The Sanctuary office is located at the edge of Bigodi trading center. Most of the proceeds accrued from the wetland is used to support Bigodi Secondary School and numerous related community projects.
The Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary features 8 primate species, including black and white colobus, red colobus, mangabey, red tail, vervet, and L’Hoest. Other wetlands mammals include baboons, sitatunga (an increasingly endangered swamp antelope), bush pigs, civet cats, mongooses, bush bucks and an occasional chimpanzee. The swamp has over 200 species of birds with the great blue turaco, being the favourite bird for visitors. Also frequently seen are varieties of papyrus gonoleks, hornbills, waxbills, weavers, cuckoos, kingfishers, flycatchers, and a host of many, many more. There are plenty of trees, shrubs, ferns etc in the forest to be encountered in the walk. Visitors have to be accompanied by a trained Sanctuary guide to visit the wetland.
After visiting Bigodi Wetland Sanctuaries office and paying the sanctuary fees, we were introduced to our guide who gave us a brief to prepare us on what lays ahead of us. We were provided with gum boots because we were venturing into a swamp.
The walk took close to four hours of an exciting walk. The wetland has a raised board walk in soggy and watery sports with a raised observatory midway that gives you a canopy view of the swamp. We also ventured on the open areas outside the sanctuary boundary in order to sport birds that love the open areas.
We sported over 50 species in the walk and our guide was spot on. He was knew all the birds by their calling and appearance. He educated us on behaviour, character and local tales associated to different species of birds. We were not so lucky with primates. We only saw plenty of red Columbus monkeys that were highly habituated. We also spotted a red tail that was deep in the dense swampy vegetation. I was anxious to spot the blue toraco and was about to lose hope before the graceful birds appeared just before returning to the Bigodi office; call it saving the best for last.
After having had our lunch in Fort Portal, we set off towards Kasese and stopped over in Rubona to visit Rubona Basket Weavers Association (RUBAWA) and Bunyangabu Beekeepers Cooperative. Below is a small profile of these institutions;
Rubona Basket Weavers Association (RUBAWA)
Rubona Basket Weavers Association (RUBAWA) are located 20 km south of Fort Portal along Kasese on the Fort Portal-Kasese road. RUBAWA is made up of a group of 200 women trained and dedicated to weaving basket using naturally dyed raffia to make baskets of all sizes, which are then sold to international markets. The project is wholly owned and run by the local women and the income accrued directly goes to the local household women o meet their basic needs
Being on a tourist route, the group offers training lessons to tourist on basket making and they have a shop that acts as an outlet for their beautiful wares. We had an opportunity to visit the shop and talk to one of the members of the group. Our group were shown the raw raffia and different plants in the shops backyard that were are used to make natural dyes. We purchased a number of beautiful, mats and baskets before crossing over to visit Bunyangabu Beekeepers Cooperative 50 meters away.
Bunyangabu Beekeepers Cooperative
Bunyangabu Beekeepers Cooperative (BBC) is a very successful community organization involved in bee keeping and honey processing. BBC has an apiary that is located about 300 meters from the honey outlet shop which also doubles as a honey processing factory, store and training and demonstration centre. The apiary is well stocked with all types of bee-hives ranging from traditional to modern ones.
BBC shop stocks bottles of pure honey, beeswax candles in a variety of designs, and propolis tinctures in small bottles for sale. BBC runs meetings and workshops for beekeepers from all over East Africa; beekeepers from the community get free trainings that help with their crops and health, and teach them about the multiple benefits of bees. Every workshop is paired with an HIV/AIDS awareness training to curb infection rates among community members.
We had an opportunity to be taken round the processing plant and got a talk on how the cooperative works. We certainly bought lots of bee products to sample them later.
After setting off we set off for about 20 Km before turning off the road near Bkenda Power station and headed to Ruboni Community Camp where we rested for the evening.
Ruboni Community Camp
Ruboni Community Camp is situated on the foothills of Rwenzori at the village of Ruboni. The community camp offers guests nestles on a picturesque slopes of a hill affording visitors a breathtaking view of the Ruwenzori Mountains from the comfort of their own rooms or at the clubhouse which doubles as a restaurant. The camp has a small water stream/canal that crosses the camp in front of the self contained bandas offering a melodious soothing sound as is flows bye. The establishment cascades up the hill with the clubhouse and cabin houses and hostel on the upper level.
Ruboni Community Camp offers a number of activities that we were able to enjoy on our last day after having has a sumptuous dinner and slept on cosy mosquito net covered beds. These activities include a village walk that affords visitors an opportunity to see and experience Ruboni’s traditional village life and see homestead, craft demonstrations and cultural performances. A hill climb/hike to the top of the adjacent hill that rewards visitors a perfect view of Margarita snow capped peak that is Africa's 3rd highest mountain. Nature walk, a walk in the forest, bird Watching experience to see Rwenzori turacos among other birds or the camp can organise for visitor’s excursions to the Ruwenzori through routes/circuits of their choice. Never miss an opportunity to see the three honed chameleons that are endemic to the area or visit the hot water springs when you visit.
We had an opportunity to visit Ruwenzori Mountain National Park’s gate and had a lecture on the park and its attractions, Community’s black smith, a community story teller, women weavers’ workshop and lastly had an excellent Agrotourism experience by visiting a farm that had a variety of crops and fruit trees. We ate lots of fruits before bidding our guide and the community member’s farewell and leaving for Kampala.