Cyclist on mission to visit 10 national parks in 90 days

Saturday May 15 2021
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Taima embarks on a journey to tour national parks in 90 days. PHOTO/ GEORGE KATONGOLE

By George Katongole

The German long-distance cyclist, Heinz Stücke, who made the world record for bicycle touring in 1995, is Innocent Taima’s role model. In a global journey spanning more than 50 years, Stücke travelled more than 600,000km by bicycle.

No wonder, Taima, 27,  an information technology professional and the chief executive officer of Taima Creatives,  sees himself in the eyes of Stücke. His three-month trek began on February 18. In 90 days, he planned to cover 2,740km across 93 districts, a journey that will make him tour 10 national parks within the country.

Taima planned to start his adventure from Kampala City and head west of Lake Mburo National Park.
From Lake Mburo to Mgahinga National Park, he would then head north to Bwindi National Park where he would connect to Queen Elizabeth National Park.

From here, his next destination would be Mt Rwenzori National Park. In the east, he plans to visit Kibale and Semuliki National Parks.  
From Semuliki, he trekked east to Murchison National Park and thereafter to Kidepo before connecting to Mt Elgon National Park and returned to Kampala on May 18. Taima’s goal is to explore Uganda’s tourist attractions at a pocket-friendly price. 
 
The wanderlust
Taima says it is cheaper to visit Uganda than most people imagine. “You must be willing to live like an ordinary person. I eat local food and get volunteer guides within the communities,” he says.

Taima’s daily budget is Shs25,000, but on some days, he spends  between Shs50,000 to Shs80,000 because he travels with his dog and the he does not get free food at the campsite. His adventure is sponsored by his savings and well-wishers.

“I stay in campsites most of the times. Sometimes proprietors of lodges and hotels offer me free accommodation. There is a time Amos Wekesa of Great Lakes Safaris offered me free accommodation during a four-day stay at Queen Elizabeth National Park. Rhouben Mwahulwa, the managing director Virina Gardens also accommodated me in Kasese for three days,” says Taima.  

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From this exploration, Taima plans to gather enough information to facilitate him to start his own tourism business. This adventure has taken him to different destinations and connected him to people he never imagined he would meet. Among the places he has been to, making it to Margherita Peak, his childhood dream destination, stands out.

“Conquering the heights was a triumphant moment for me. Magnificent views of forests, valleys and flora below my feet were fulfilling. My other favourites include tree climbing lions of Queen Elizabeth and the science behind the formations of Lake Katwe,” he says. 

Preparation
Before Taima embarks on any long journey, he undergoes training by riding 60km on murram roads everyday. Part of the preparations also involve losing excess weight and weighing the luggage to ensure it is light enough for the rider.

Unexpected return
Taima’s plan was to keep going until he broke his ribs in an accident in Mpigi District. As he rode down Katende hill, about 40km from Kampala, the joint of the trailer loosened, making him lose control of the bicycle. The bicycle pushed him in the middle of the road, narrowly surviving a head-on collision with a motorcycle. Because of panic, he hit a motorcycle that badly damaged his left ribs.

He did not feel instant pain or serious injuries until he felt a sudden loss of breath at 7:57pm. He called his family for rescue. The next morning, he sneaked out of the house to Kampala Hospital where X-ray results revealed he had two broken ribs and another bruised.

“The doctor told me I would need to rest for at least six weeks in order to give the ribs time to regenerate. I left the x-ray sheet on the doctor’s table because I was not ready to tell my family about this. I lost hope of returning to my trip because every movement I made was painful,” he narrates.  
Days later, Taima felt normal and on Saturday, he requested his family to drop him back in Mpigi so that he could resume the journey.  “I needed to hike Mt Rwenzori. But this was a very bad idea. At some point, I regretted not heeding to doctor’s advice,” he says.

Sleeping in the wild
Taima’s plans of a game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) got disrupted because of financial constraints. A tourist driver he engaged asked for Shs450,000 yet his budget was Shs300,000. 

But even after he agreed to pay, his vehicle broke down delaying his stay for another day. The reason he passed through Ishasha was to track tree-climbing lions. The hunt started at 6am and they went through the middle track and drove for 40 minutes until they arrived in a place with hundreds of fig trees.

“My eyes were waiting to see the big cats. We had an extra hour for the game drive. We finally came to a tree, where we were excited to meet three lions,” he recalls.  

For the first time, he had a night experience in the wild animals.
The camp in the middle of a national park was a night to remember.  While he had been wild camping, he had not camped inside a national park.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) offered four armed rangers to protect Taima in case wild animals attacked. “At one point I imagined an elephant pushing away my tent. I was awakened by the roaring lions at 2am. That night reminded me of the homeless people and the army’s sacrifice to protect people,” he recounts. 

The mystical challenge
Scaling Mt Rwenzori is never a mean feat. Having booked with Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS), he vowed to take the four-day challenge via the John Matte trail.

Although Taima was not a mountaineer, he was determined to get to the peak.  On March 26, the 34th day of the countrywide tour, Taima started his dream ascent.
He was assigned Denis and Jumadu as guides and Okello, a student from Uganda Hotel and Tourism Institute in Jinja, accompanied by five porters.
Due to excitement, he forgot to take breakfast, which came to haunt him moments after he started hiking. On the steeper trails, the sound of rivers and the beautiful scenery kept him alive until they arrived at their resting place at 3:30pm at Nyibataba camp.
Each day came with its own experience but the journey became tougher towards the end. “It was getting colder but I remembered how long I had waited for this moment. I decided that I was going until I reached the peak,” he recalls.

Taima and the team woke up at 1am, had breakfast and prepared for a 2am journey. The plan was to reach Margherita by 10am. “Even with a headlamp, I could not see anything more than two metres away because it was dark. At the plateau, my guides told me not to move until the rope straightened.  I lost sight of them but I followed the rope.”

“Please hold the rope tightly,” Denis repeated this statement often as we descended on a short metallic ladder and arrived at Ellena and Irene snowline trail junction. When we reached the base of the glacier, I was so excited,” he says.
It was coming at 7am and the sun had risen. The guide ordered Taima to wear his sunglasses. “We are approaching the glacier,” Denis said.

Made it at last
It took them two hours to reach the top of the glacier before taking the right turn through a very narrow passage with rocks and ice on the left and steep cliff on the right hand and arriving  at the third hand rope then to the ridge. 

“When I saw the white signpost reading welcome to Margherita, I felt like I had won a lottery. Nothing beats the feeling of standing at the tallest point in Uganda It took us one hour and thirty minutes from the top of the glacier to the peak,” he says. 

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Among the destinations he has been to, making it to Margherita Peak was a dream come true for Innocent Taima. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE

Because of the strong winds and extreme coldness, they used only eight minutes to take photos and left for Ellena Hut.
“I thought coming back would be a walkover but I was wrong. Ice had started melting so with each step I took, my shoes sunk inside, we arrived at Ellena at 2:15pm where we had lunch before checking in at John Matte at 7:30pm. The adventure took four days and five nights.

Sempaya wonders
The must-visit places, according to Taima, in Bundibugyo are the amazing Sempaya hot springs found in the Semliki National Park. The Sempaya hot springs are located approximately 2km apart. They are known as male and female springs.  According to the Bamaga people, one of the clans that live around the area, it is said that women who had gone to fetch firewood from the forest sighted a hairy man dressed in bark cloth with a spear and a dog moving in that location.

So they ran back to alert their husbands. The legend says, their husbands decided to give the man shelter and a wife. The man was named Biteete and his wife Nyansimbi.

Biteete continued hunting in the same forest but one day he left and never returned. A futile three-day search landed them on the spear at the current male hot spring. This is why the male hot spring, measuring 12m, is called Biteete hot spring.
On hearing the news, the wife also ran to the forest and never returned too. After three days, only her dress was found at the present-day female hot spring, hence the name Nyansimbi.

The hot spring boils up to 103 degrees and eggs can boil in about 10 minutes.  Until today, the Bamaga believe their female ancestors live beneath Nyansimbi hot spring while their male ancestors live at Biteete.
The place is a hub for traditional rituals among the locals who bathe from the hot springs to seek blessings while women seek fertility and safe delivery at the hot springs.

Dream
Taima has picked up new skills along the way. His bicycle has broken down several times and he has had to fix it all by himself. But at every tourist lodge or hotel, Taima seeks an opportunity to learn more about the art and operations in lodges. He is planning to buy land in Kamwenge District to set to build a camping site.

“Being new to the tourism sector, I am trying my best to meet as many experienced people in this field as I can,” he says. Taima documents his journey using his Facebook page Taima Concepts.

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Taima at Kibale National Park.

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Taima carries a tent, a blue notebook, phone, sleeping bag,  gum boots, rain gear and his dog on every trip. He says interracting with local people  helps a lot. Learn to greet in a local languages. Learn a thing or two about theculture of each area you visit. 

Key
Taima has learnt new skills along the way. His bicycle has broken down several times and he has had to fix it all by himself. But at every tourist lodge or hotel, Taima seeks an opportunity to learn more. He is planning to buy land in Kamwenge District to set to build a camping site. Being new to the tourism sector, he plans to meet as many experienced people in this field as he can. Taima documents his experience of every journey.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com 

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