Trip to Kisoro, The Batwa Trail Launch.

Another early day began at the UWA headquarters. I started out the morning June 6th having tea with warden Sunday before jumping in a UWA truck heading to Kisoro. There were about 10 of us in the back squeezed in like sardines. I was glad to see Olivia the community conservation warden as well as Joan, the office administrator. The journey was about five hours long on treacherous Ugandan roads through the mountains. Most of the land was for “digging” or agriculture but there were also a lot of pine trees. In Uganda they grow a lot of pine and eucalyptus for logging. The roadside sometimes reminds me of Northern California. It was a fun ride but I could see it being very difficult to take often since it is so bumpy and windy. We had some close calls on the steep and thin roads. We saw people trying to pull a truck with a rope back up the mountain. I thought this was ridiculous and that they should just remove it down to the lower part of the road. However, on our road trip back it was gone and the marks showed they must have actually pulled up of the side of the mountain!

Truck that was being pulled up the mountain side.

The journey is very high up and you can see the path the truck has taken with long dust trails. We stopped for lunch in Kabale and arrived in Kisoro before sun down. We ended up coincidentally staying in the same hotel as the other wardens.

Entering Kisoro on a market day.

We woke up the 7th to meet at 8:00am at the trailhead of Mgahinga National Park for The Batwa Trail Launch. There were many important people there like the honored guest of the day, the commissioner of tourism. The Minister of Tourism did not make it because he had just been swearing into office again the night before and it takes a whole day to travel from Kampala to Kisoro. The beginning of the hike we were greeted by many Batwa dancing.

At the trailhead with the Commissioner of Tourism and many officials.

Batwa welcoming us by dance at the beginning of the trail.

Press from Kampala filming Conservation Area Manager Pontious Ezuma, Batwa guide Steven, and other UWA staff.

There was always a UWA official translating and a lot of press throughout the day. I think most of the event was government officials, some NGO staff, researchers, and UWA staff. Our Batwa guide was Steven and he would periodically stop to give us breaks and discuss the life of the Batwa like the foods they ate and how they hunted. He pointed out a lot of medicinal plants like one similar to Viagra and a wild celery they eat just like the gorillas to alleviate diarrhea.

Wild celery that both Batwa and mountain gorillas use to alleviate diarrhea.

Steven stopping along the path to show us a plant commonly eaten by the Batwa. When someone asked to see the root he said it is too young to pull from the ground. His clothing is made of goat skin.

The Batwa showed us how they cook fish within these bamboo stalks over open fire within their straw huts.

They showed us where they sleep, worship, and forts their children would sleep in. They would keep their babies in a fort up away from predators with older children when they hunted. We saw a lot of buffalo feces. Mgahinga National Park has wild buffalo unlike Bwindi. Towards the end of the hike we were taken to the Batwa caves. The caves were great. We saw where the king sat and where boys were taught to fight.

More dancing taking place in Garama cave. In this large cave they would do much more than hide their kings.

Finally we came out from the trail at the UWA headquarters. We had lunch at Volcanoes resort and then attended the ceremony with the Batwa, Kisoro locals, UWA staff, and invited guests.

Beautiful view of our hike from Volcanoes Lodge.

The ceremony was wonderful with Batwa performances between speakers. We had dinner just before it poured down raining. I was disappointed that it rained because Anna from the International Gorilla Conservation Program in Kigali was unable to screen a video for the children. It reminded me of GAFI Great Ape Films Initiative.

Local children of Kisoro waiting for the ceremony to begin.

Children anxiously awaiting the film screening following the ceremony.

We then headed home and I squeezed in a truck with Dr. Benjamin and about 20 plus screaming Batwa. They are a lively bunch, very friendly and very loud. It was really fun and I have to say sharing a truck with them was just as much as the cultural experience as the day’s activities. I am so glad that I was invited to this event. It was such a great opportunity and very special. And I didn’t have to pay. They will be charging tourists 80 USD, 40 USD to UWA and 40 USD going directly to the Batwa people. It goes to the 34 guides and musicians and the larger Batwa community numbering about 1,500 people in Kisoro District. The Batwa Trail Launch was quite an experience filled with song and dance and signing of formal agreements to this not only being a successful tourism product but also a conservation and socioeconomic project that will raise awareness of the struggles of the Batwa people. The Batwa were evicted from their lands when national parks were gazetted, parks used for tourism.  This trail will be the first of its kind in Uganda to host cultural tourism within a national park.  Officials and NGO staff hope it will elevate Batwa opportunities both locally and regionally.

The next day I got to sleep in a little later to 9:00am then we slowly made our way back to Buhoma. We made several stops in addition to lunch in Kabale again. We bought tons of vegetables on the side of the road. I ate my first passion fruit which surprised me. So many times have I had the drink or a smoothie but today I learned the proper way to eat a passion fruit.

The trip was wonderful and a healthy break away from my study in Bwindi. It is not only important to soak up the natural sights and wildlife of Uganda but the people and cultures.

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