A three-hour sail across Lake Victoria is as much a relaxing expedition as it is a scary one. Along the way, a cool breeze will blow your stress away. If you are travelling by ferry, spare some time on the balconies and you will have a good view of the islands on Lake Victoria, birds taking a swim or perched on logs as well as the waves hitting the ferry.
Your writer, like many local tourists, was hydrophobic, but this is something that anybody can soon get over after two trips on the world’s third largest fresh water body.
There are two or more routes to the Kalangala Archipelago. You can use the ferry through Entebbe, at Nakiwogo.
This takes you three hours. It usually sets off at 8am and charges Shs10,000 for an ordinary ticket and Shs15,000 for VIP. Alternatively, one can pass through Masaka, at Bukakata landing site off Masaka Highway. The ferry here is free of charge. The first ferry takes off at 7am. The rest keep ferrying people every two hours till 7pm. From Bukakata to Kalangala is a 30-minute sail across the lake.
Regardless of how you get there, when you are finally at the island, you realise that the hassle was worth it. Kalangala opens up to a virgin rural look from a fishing village dotted with semi-permanent shelters. These are your welcome points to the archipelago, the first pointer of an untapped tourism destination.
Some of these shelters are people’s homes while others are restaurants, whose assimilation to the word restaurant is the fact that they too, serve something close to a meal made of fish, matooke and tea. If you are patient, you may have a more sophisticated meal at one of the decent facilities on the island.
Beauty in the jungle
Col Frank Kaka Bagyenda is one of the first people to have realised that Kalangala could become a tourist destination. This was in 1991 when Kalangala was no more than a thick forest where monkeys made merry. He was awed by the freshness, beauty and real country relaxation the island offers.
“When I told my friends I would be relocating to Kalangala, many laughed at me and some thought it was one of my crazy ideas,” the retired serviceman explains. He says he first visited the island while on assignment as a serving soldier.
This is the same story Ms Nnalongo Nakimbugwe, the proprietor of Islands Club, shares. “When my husband and I came here to buy land in 1994, I discouraged him but he convinced me and talked about the beauty of staying here. I grudgingly accepted. I was still an active nurse at the time,” she recalls.
“My wife asked me why I was even thinking of buying land in a place that had no electricity. She asked me how we were going to stay in the wild but as a man, I had already made up my mind to buy land here and went ahead to pay for it. I challenged myself to make something worthy of this investment,” Dr John Kaboggoza, director of Mirembe Resort Beach says.
Mr Mulindwa Bilimumaso, the proprietor of Pearl Gardens Beach Kalangala, says running a business on the island is costly because they have had to run on generator. There is a generator that is run by Kalangala District administration from 9am to midnight every day. “From then on, you have to switch on your private generator till morning and that is very expensive,” Mr Bilimumaso explains.
So much to offer
But this could soon be history. The government is extending electricity to Kalangala which is evident by the numerous electricity poles all over the place. Extending electricity will be a big step in not only improving business on the Island but also a good incentive for players to invest in vigorously marketing their facilities. But Kalangala is not a destination that will require so much drumming up.
It is beautiful in itself, though Bukasa seems to have developed faster than the surrounding islands. “Many of the islands around us are still under-developed. They are still traditionally fishing villages but we expect a general facelift now that we are going to have electricity,” Dr Kaboggoza says.
At his Mirembe Beach, you will pretty much find a quiet corner along the beach line with accommodation. It is a place, like most of the facilities there, where you can relax. There is hardly any pollution. The biggest of these relaxation places is Pearl Gardens Resort Beach.
It has a forest camping site as one of the attractions. You will also be able to take a forest walk.
You get to kick sand, enjoy simple talk over a campfire, relax in gardens or simply tour the island whose beauty has been accentuated by the green cover of palm trees. “We would like people to come around and have a weekend away from home,” Mr Bilimumaso says, adding: “The other challenge we are facing is the schedule of the ferry. If we can have two ferries, one taking people and the other bringing them at the same time in the morning. The same arrangement can be used for the evening schedule.” He calls on the government to help fix the transport challenge, a call that is re-echoed by different players at the island. “If someone is sure of transport in the morning or afternoon, we can host more visitors here,” Ms Nakimbugwe adds.