Between Nov 17 and Dec 3, 2014, we volunteered at Healthy Child Uganda in Mbarara, and were tourists on weekends. Although we asked for alternatives to the usual tourist spots, all our inquiries directed us to the National Parks, which are indeed wonderful. Those we asked were clear – the infrastructure doesn’t exist to ‘go off the beaten’ track. Since work was intense, we took the easy route and went to the tourist places.
One Sunday, our hike in Queen Elizabeth National Park couldn’t happen and our guides had no backup plan to offer. Everyone we asked at our lodge or in the park suggested another game drive. Ho hum. I kept asking. One of the servers in the dining tent asked if we’d been to Twin Lakes and the Kichwamba Escarpment Community Tourism Initiative. We’d never heard of it. No one at the park had. With nothing else to do, we went.
The Kichwamba Escarpment Community Tourism Initiative was the highlight of our trip. The two-hour tour evolved into three hours and we were invited to stay for their lunch, which we shared village style. The sweeping vista from the rim of the escarpment was stunning and unlike other crater lakes we’d visited.
Our guides were village elders, we met the village chairman, the 82-year old elder who convenes the village peacemaking council, the village traditional healer, the teacher, families, the children followed us or waved shyly from their mother’s skirts … and on and on of wonderful and moving introductions, explanations and welcomes.
This is sustainable tourism and agriculture and traditional culture at its best. And no one we asked knew it existed. The entrance is unsigned and hard to find. Had we not called ahead to alert them to the make of our car and approximate time of arrival, we would still be looking. As it was, the elder, Hillary, stood at the entrance and phoned our driver’s cell when he saw us miss the turn.
After the tour, the elders took us into their ‘office’ and offered tea, plus small gifts of some of their fresh produce that we’d admired during the visit.
The cost was the equivalent of $10 US per person and we also added a donation to their village since everything in cash is put in the village common pot and shared among all. We also gave a gift to the lovely woman who invited us to share her families’ lunch although she didn’t ask for anything and welcomed us from her heart. As did they all.