Uganda - Magical Mountain Gorillas and more! Part two - Buhoma Village

June 05, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Buhoma Village in the foothills of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Our "home" during our stay in Buhoma was the lovely Mahogany Springs Lodge. The “rooms” at Mahogany Springs were more like little houses, very sympathetically done with local materials so they blend in well to the natural surroundings. They are also comfortable and well equipped and they look out over the valley and up to the forest that begins on the slopes on the other side of the valley. From our balcony we could see the local village and school in the distance, some small houses and tea and banana plantations and everyday life going on – people working in the fields, herding cattle and goats and children coming home from school and going to play down in the river that traverses the valley floor and marks the border of the lodge grounds. The owners of this lodge have made this an amazing place; planting flowering trees, shrubs and plants to attract birds and wildlife, resulting in an incredible array of wild visitors, even the gorillas come down from the mountains at times and a call to the rangers is needed to return them home! Also throughout the lodge grounds fruit and vegetables are grown which you later see on your plate! Loved it! The food was simple but hearty and good and the local coffee and tea was excellent!

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Our "room" at Mahogany Springs, more like a little house.

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The pathway between the little houses with the view out over the farm land to the beginning of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park on the hillside.

Life Safari Blog-75Life Safari Blog-75 The balcony and view from our little house.

Life Safari Blog-81Life Safari Blog-81 Children walking back from the school in Buhoma village.

Life Safari Blog-68Life Safari Blog-68 A stunning Blue-headed Sunbird on one of the flowering plants in the beautiful gardens at Mahogany Springs.

As soon as we arrived we talked to the lodge staff about the local area and what we could do before the main event (gorilla tracking!) planned for the day after. Some of the local villagers have enterprisingly organised with the local lodges to give local walking tours of the village and surrounding countryside and farming land. So we headed off with a lovely young man from the village and wandered the hills and valleys of the surrounding area for the next few hours, chatting and learning about every day life in the village while we went. We saw banana plantations and were offered banana wine and gin… it was delicious, if strong! Goats, cattle and sheep wandered about often with children looking over them. The animals looked happy and in good condition.

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The trail to Buhoma Village.

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Life Safari Blog-34Life Safari Blog-34 Trying the local banana wine and gin!

Life Safari Blog-37Life Safari Blog-37 A little goat peers out at us as we pass by.

Life Safari Blog-38Life Safari Blog-38 Mud Brick Kiln.

Life Safari Blog-39Life Safari Blog-39 Drying Millet and Corn in the village on hessian mats.

Life Safari Blog-40Life Safari Blog-40 Millet drying in the sunshine.

Life Safari Blog-42Life Safari Blog-42 The local school.

Life Safari Blog-44Life Safari Blog-44 A little boy plays in the village.

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The locals transporting goods along the main road of the village.

Life Safari Blog-46Life Safari Blog-46 Drying coffee beans in front of the village houses.

Life Safari Blog-47Life Safari Blog-47 The main street.

Life Safari Blog-49Life Safari Blog-49 Cattle graze peacefully near the village with children watching over them and playing by the river.

Life Safari Blog-50Life Safari Blog-50 The river.

Life Safari Blog-51Life Safari Blog-51 The local cattle.

On our exploration of the local area we also met the Batwa people (also known as Pygmies) who used to live in the forest but now live on the village edges after being forcibly removed from the forests by the government once the forest was made a national parks This was a rather sad experience as it seems that these once self sufficient and proud people now live in squalid camps dressed in rags and perform for tourists to get a little money to sustain them. There were reportedly some benefits offered to the Batwa in return for them relocating, such as access to medical care, resources and education but these benefits were not readily apparent except for the fact that the younger generations appeared much taller and larger than the older Batwa. So it seems that there may have been at least some beneficial effects of the changes on nutrition, health and growth of the younger generation. All in all though it was sad to see these people reduced to their current state. It was also a good lesson in the problems that may occur when people must be relocated from areas that become national parks and are no longer allowed to continue their traditional lifestyle utilizing the natural resources that formed the basis of their existence. These situations are always more complex than they seem on first thought and deserve careful consideration and planning to try and get the best outcome for humans, wildlife and wild places.

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One of the Batwa in his house. 

In addition, we went to visit the local orphanage, having brought with us gifts for the children such as writing materials and balls to play with. The children were adorable and so friendly. They were very pleased with their gifts and intrigued by the Australian animal photos and information we had also brought for them. It is a very sad thing to see so many children orphaned and in need of help. The majority are AIDs orphans, this really brings home how much of a problem this terrible disease is.

There are signs of the ingenuity of the people here such as little huts with generators for charging mobile phones….. It was incredible to see so many people with smart phones in a place with no electricity! Also incredible to find that there was internet and wi-fi freely available in most places we visited in Uganda! There was a small but bustling souvenir industry going on with locals carving wood into gorillas, tribal symbols, people etc and selling as souvenirs to tourists. I hope that the wood being used was sustainably sourced, this was my only concern and I was unable to verify if this was the case. People were friendly but not insistent on you buying things as can be the uncomfortable case in some places.

Power was just coming to this village, they were putting up the power poles when we were there (by hand I might add with no machinery!).  A sign of the prosperity bought by the gorilla tourism.

Overall it was a very interesting and enlightening experience to visit the local village and meet the local people. They are, in general, an incredibly positive and happy group of people, especially considering the immense suffering their people and country have endured and in many cases are still enduring. Things may seem superficially much improved but the truth is that underlying this the country has been ruled with an iron fist by the same party and leader as for the last 30 odd years, an example being the recent laws passed making being homosexual illegal and punishable by a life sentence and even years in prison for anyone who counsels or reaches out to gays and lesbians. See more about the tumultuous and sad history of Uganda here.

We were very happy to find that the locals really saw the benefit of the gorillas and the tourists coming to see them. Much credit needs to be given to the local tourism operators employ locals, give back to the local community and make sure the local people directly benefit from tourism to the area. Although this is a very important and sensible approach to sustainable tourism it sadly does not commonly happen.  In a situation like that we saw in Bwindi where it seems to be working well the locals are invested in conserving the wildlife and habitat as they see the direct benefit to their community. Where this does not happen there is resentment of the tourism operators and human-animal conflict fuelled by the fact that the locals see only the losses caused by wildlife entering community areas (which becomes more and more common, and in fact vital to the animals’ survival) to raid crops and livestock. 

Every place I visit teaches me so much, particularly about human-animal conflict, conservation and how very complex the situation is and consequently so difficult to implement successful solutions. It is very encouraging to see successful management that benefits wildlife and local people.


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