I think I have found heaven and its name is Lake Bunyoni. To be more specific, it is one of 29 islands in the lake and is called Bushara Island. How to describe an island in the middle of a lake, small enough to walk around and never be lost, yet big enough to be completely alone? There is something nostalgic about being on a lake with docks that harks back to summers in Canada; but this was most certainly Africa, from the sounds of the drums, to the Crested Cranes, the cows and goats, the electric green Chameleon and the song like quality of the local language.
It is a dusty and very bumpy 8 hour drive ( 11 hours if one of your party loses her clutch ) but it is worth every minute of the drive. The name Bunyoni means lake of little birds and I now see bird watchers and their little binoculars in a whole new light. I am not going to suddenly start pulling out notebooks and frantically writing down the name of birds, but I am amazed. Birds are twitchy, nervous, skittish creatures, always looking around for the next crumb or the bird round the corner who might come by to swipe it. I have never appreciated their sudden movements, finding them a little too startled for me. Yet, lying still on a deck chair in the sun, in front of my safari tent, it was hard to read with all the bird drama going on around me. Diving and swooping they were possessive of their branches and I noticed that they never hop in a straight line. I had to go all the way to Bushara to sit and really look at birds.
We slept in permanent tent structures and lived without electricity, hot water or flushing loos for 4 days, and it was quite magical. You could feel your pulse dropping as the birds called and the drums from the lake beat an invitation to church. We ate by candle light, walked back to our tents with torches and zipped ourselves up for the night. We travelled to other islands in a dug out canoe, carved from one of the tall Eucalyptus trees that cover the island. It was chilly, which came as a welcome change after the heat of Kampala and it was bliss to wrap up in a sweater and sit beside the fire place in the evening. The thick black night offered us a theatre of star gazing and the mornings arrived with an orchestra of bird song.
I did not see our children. We travelled there with two other families and the mix of children was perfect. Throw a few younger boys into the mix and the girls shake off their pubescent concerns and turn into rope swinging Tom Boys. They ate together, slept in facing tents, swam together, and generally ran all over the island with joyous abandon. There is little opportunity in Kampala to walk freely, let alone run wild, so this was a chance for children to live for a few days in a strange kind of kid heaven. Wrapped up in an idyllic state of perfect childhood they managed to spend days together, problem solve together and despite the lack of lashings of ginger beer bare a close resemblance to the Famous Five.
We took two trips to other islands, one to explore a former leper colony, now a secondary day and boarding school, and the other to hike to the top of a peak to gasp at the 360 degree view of the lake. We also had the chance to walk around Mukoni Village. The life of an African child is one of joy and barefoot freedom, and we were followed all the way back to our canoe by 6 children singing, skipping and laughing. They had quite special names, a case of an English word turned into an African name. Gift, Grace, Secret, Marvelous, Innocence, Adamson, and Frank ( whose parents must have found such names inappropriate for a young boy.) The children proudly sang us an English song they had learnt in school, happy to show off their English to the Mzungus. ( white people.) Dressed in torn, muddy clothes they sucked sugar cane with the widest of smiles. Joy and openness ran across their faces. They must be aware that once they grow up a life of hard work awaits.
It was hard to leave the island. I cannot think of anyone we know who would not find it a magical place. I know we will return.