Uganda Conservation Foundation

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A One Horse Town Without A Horse

The last time I visited Kisoro was 1994.  A time when Rwanda was in the aftermath of genocide, Bwindi really was considered the 'impenetrable forest' and Kisoro really was a one horse town without a horse.  As a result the only feasible place to track the gorillas was Jomba, 10 km across the DR Congo border, or Zaire as it was known then. 

As we could not take the trucks into Zaire we were left with no alternative but to hike the 10 kms to the parks office and base camp.  With an absolute minimum of two nights away from the truck and not much on the other side it also meant taking everything we would need with us. Tents, sleep gear, food & cooking equipment all had to be carried the 10kms. 

It was not until 1997 free primary education was available in Uganda so it was not hard to find enough young boys to help carry the gear.  In fact as soon as an overland truck pulled into town they were there en masse and had even formed their own little mafia that imposed a roster system to ensure everyone got a fair chance of earning some money and that the tourists paid the going price. I am happy to say that many of the leaders of that little mafia are now successful businessmen in the tourism industry.

One porter for every client was needed to carry all the food and equipment.  Most clients then hired their own porter to carry their personal bag. Regardless of what you advised there was always someone who hired the smallest, cutest boy, who would predictably and very quickly complain of fatigue from the weight of his burden and the client would end up carrying the bag themselves. Of course that did not stop him tagging along the whole way expecting to still get paid. He was cute after all !!

As a result of the genocide in Rwanda thousands of people had fled into Zaire and it was not far into the hike that the makeshift refugee camps began to appear.  The image of a group mzungu tourists walking through refugee camps for the soul purpose of going to track the gorillas, at the cost of what was even then considered a lot of money, may seem to some to some reckless, uncaring and even dangerous, but you had to be there. 

With an average group of 15 clients and two porters per client we were already a sight to behold and with each km we walked more and more kids joined the procession.  People laughed, pointed and waved, and the word 'jambo' would echo in our ears for most of the journey.  It was like the circus was coming through town, only to be repeated again a few days later in the opposite direction. 

On that last trip to Jomba a very concerned welcoming committee awaited our return at the border, apparently our truck had been broken into the night before. In 1994 there were no ipods, ipads or androids and we were still playing cassettes on the truck stereo, so as I knew all my clients had their cameras and passports with them and that their money was in the safe, I was not too concerned. A few things had been stolen, a pair of sunglasses, a couple of walkman cassette players but nothing that would greatly affect anyone's further travels. 

As is still today in many African countries, soda's and beers come in refillable glass bottles and without empties it was very hard to buy full bottles. One of the prized beers on the overland circuit was a beer called Primus, only available to us in Rwanda and Zaire.  Primus bottles are big, 720 ml as compared to the average 500 ml bottle in the rest of East Africa and so the bottles were useless to us anywhere else.  But still we would carry one or two crates of empties up and down East & Southern Africa waiting for the opportunity to use them. I had refilled our bottles just before heading off to Joma but on inspection, they too were gone. 

In the interest of deterring future similar crimes and assisting my clients with their insurance claims, I headed off to the police station to report the stolen items. The police seemed disinterested, the drudgery of paperwork all too much, that was until I mentioned the Primus and then everything changed. Suddenly they were all paying attention and they were up and ready to search for the culprits. "The thieves have stolen the Primus and we know how to find them !"  They cried. "How?" I asked. "We will search for the people who are very drunk !" Fair enough !!

We left Kisoro early the next morning so I never did find out whether the police were successful in finding the thieves.  Nor did I find out whether their intention was to catch and arrest them or help them get rid of the evidence! :-)                  

1 comment:

  1. Nice post and quite interesting post! It seems that you have an exciting and fun time during your visit and people welcomed you well. I felt like having a trip with you while reading your post.