By Ella

Our last days in Uganda were spent on the gorgeous Lake Bunyoni. One dala dala ride from SNEC and we were at Edirisa (“The Window” in Rakiga, the language of southern Uganda), a hostel right on the lake. A set of stairs carved into the dirt, and marked “Staff Only,” led us down to the hostel, which featured tents for us to share (and to continue sharing for the following three days), several small buildings including a reception, and two luxuries we hadn’t experienced in at least a week: seated toilets and hot water showers!

The next morning we set off on the lake in dugout canoes with guides. We canoed for some time before arriving at our first island, where we learned some of the history of the lake, which rests just near a volcano and has 29 islands. We visited Dr. Sharp’s island, where Dr. Sharp’s family lived while he founded a hospital for leprosy on a separate island. We also passed Punishment Island, the smallest island, a tiny patch of reeds, and a couple of ominous dead trees with perching birds with an even more dark purpose: unmarried pregnant women were left to die there (or be picked up by men too poor to pay for the process of marrying any other woman). The practice only stopped in the 1940’s.

Dark pasts aside, the canoeing was gorgeous and peaceful, for the most part. On one of the islands, the majority of the group took advantage of a rope swing; shouting, flailing, and doing backflips into the water. We continued on to Mama Bena’s.

Mama Bena’s was a small home on the lake where our guides took us next to set up camp for the night. We were treated to a delicious dinner and sorgum wine around the fire along with storytelling. One of our guides, Owen, eagerly requested Snow White, and we were all treated to a rather…interesting…rendition by Elle (however, afterward we all agreed that none of us could have done nearly that well, let alone any better).

The next morning was the trek—13 km over several mountains. Our trek started fairly easily, as we walked along and met up with a local indigenous group, where we bought wares, shot arrows, and listened to/watched a traditional song and dance. It was after this moment that the trek became hard. We hiked to the top of Karembe Hill (2487m/8130ft) and had our picnic there. The trek, while gorgeous, was certainly grueling for those of us less experienced trekkers. The hike back down led us to another small group of people, with whom we danced and sang and stomped up a lot of dust for about a half hour, before continuing on up our next hill. The entire trek was incredibly picturesque, although I, for one, was glad to be finished and enjoyed the peaceful canoe ride to Tom’s homestay. There we swam in the lake and enjoyed another delicious dinner (this time with a special treat: crayfish).

Our last full day in Uganda took us on a short walk around the island we had spent the night on, in which Tom told us about the island and some of its stories. Following that, we canoed to another island where we visited a small village on the river, where a woman named Anna taught us to make traditional bracelets from papyrus. We then stopped for lunch at a different resort on the lake: The Bird’s Nest, where we bought crafts and watched some incredible artists at work, before heading back to Edirisa, where we spent the night. The next morning we left for Rwanda, where we are currently, but I’ll leave that to Mali to tell you about.