Lord of the Rings in Uganda

18 12 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 9.27.08-9.28.08

We generally ignore the Lonely Planet descriptions of cities and towns. It seems that every place they describe is the most beautiful place in the country. The towns usually don’t live up to their hype. But after ten months of traveling, they finally got one right. Our guide book described Lake Bunyonyi in southeastern Uganda as a scene out of Lord of the Rings. Green rolling hills surround the lake, which is dotted with small islands.


We almost didn’t make it to Bunyonyi. It would have taken us two days of travel to get from Bwindi National Park to the lake. But we met an Irish couple, Brian and Deiredre, on their honeymoon who were also visiting the lake in their hired car.

They offered to give us a lift and confirmed our belief that the Irish are the nicest travelers in the world. A ride that would have taken us two days on public transportation only took us six hours. As it turns out Brian and Deirdre both compete in triathlons, so I asked them about their competitions and missed being able to consistently work out.

We spent two days exploring the lake. We hiked up one of the many green hills surrounding the lake and were rewarded by fantastic panoramic views. Today most of the islands exist off tourism and non profit projects. Some of the islands have interesting histories. Bwama island was formerly a leper colony.


The smallest island on the lake is still known as Punishment Island. Until the early 1900’s unwed women who found themsevles pregnant would be left on the island to starve to death as their punishment. This horrible custom was accompanied by another interesting situation. In most African tribes, the men must pay the father for the right to marry their daughter. But if a man was too poor to pay the bride price, he could canoe out to the island, rescue the girl, and have a bride (and child) for free.

After our visit to Bunyonyi, we decided to head to Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, where we were planning to visit the Ssese Islands. We bought a bus ticket to the town where we could catch a ferry to the islands. After 8 hours on a bus, I kept wondering why we hadn’t arrived at our stop. Chris asked the person sitting next to us how much longer until  our stop and we found out that we had passed it an hour before. Most small African towns do not have signs stating the name of the town. I am convinced that the bus didn’t actually stop where we were supposed to get off. If it did stop then I am convinced I did not want to get off in that town. Since it was night we decided not to get off in a random town to try and backtrack.  As we rode back to Kampala, the final destination of the bus, I was reminded that no matter how well you plan your itinerary, you never know what you’re going to end up  seeing.