Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mihingo / Mburo

Once upon a time, two brothers lived in a large and deep valley. Their names were Kigarama and Mburo. They farmed the land and lived happily there for a time. One night Kigarama had a dream, a dream not to be ignored. He dreamt of great danger and when he woke, he told his brother that must leave the valley and move into the hills. But Mburo loved the valley and he did not believe what his brother told him. Mburo stayed; Kigarama climbed the hills and made a home there. Then the rains came. It rained and rained and filled the valley floor. Mburo drowned in the lake, while Kigarama watched from the hills. Today the lake is named after Mburo, the hills after Kigarama.

To break up the trip back to Kampala after gorilla tracking, we stopped at Lake Mburo National Park for the night and stayed at Mihingo Lodge.

Mihingo is a beautiful lodge built into the side of a rocky hill. Ten permanent tented rooms overlook the park and a watering hole at which impala gather to drink. The food is fantastic, the view stunning, the pool a really lovely place to spend an early evening with a beer and the sunset.

I was totally impressed with the two managers, a young British couple named Dom and Kate, who have been running the lodge for the past nine months. Kate teaches literacy courses in the nearby village and raises money through the sales of honey and locally made crafts, the proceeds of which goes to specific projects that benefit the community. Most recently they sent a young girl to Kampala for an operation to fix her cleft palate. Dom has resuscitated the Leopard Research Project. The money he raises from massages at the lodge all goes toward buying cattle to replace those which leopards kill when they stray beyond the boundaries of the park. Farmers normally retaliate by poisoning the dead cattle meat in order to kill the leopard when it comes back to feed on it. A replacement cattle from the Leopard Research Project stop them from doing this. The more I talked to Dom and Kate about their good deeds, the more I kept thinking, are these people for real? How can two people be so good? And run a really amazing lodge?

Lake Mburo is the closest national park to Kampala – about a 4-hour drive – and it is one of only three places in Uganda to see Burchell’s zebra (the others being the much less accessible Kidepo (near Sudan) and Pian-Upe (near Mt. Elgon)) and the only place to see impala, for which Kampala was named.

The park also has buffalo, warthogs, vervet monkeys, hippos, waterbuck, topi, baboon—all of which we saw—as well as crocodile, leopard, hyena, eland, and a few other types of antelope, which we didn’t see.

On an early morning boat ride, we watched fish eagles high in the trees, kingfishers on branches sticking out of the water, and the African finfoot skirting the water’s edge.

I would have liked to stay longer poking around in the park, and another night at Mihingo, but we were due back in Kampala that evening, with a flight to Tanzania the following morning.

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