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The joys, pains of journeying to a hidden island on a shaky wooden boat

People being transported using wooden boats.(PML Daily PHOTO)

BWONDHA – It is a bright morning in Bwondha landing site on the shores of Lake Victoria. I am heading to Dolwe Island, eastwards, on a three to four hour journey by boat to physically view and touch the rock art and paintings done about 300 to 500 years ago by the early inhabitants of the 4.7 square mile Island famous for the most artistic rock formations.

Golofa that looks like a storied building, Ndege in shape of a plane, Singiro, Bukangawa and Mwango portray the natural beauty of rock art in pictures. The Island is not only a place for business where professionals like medics and tycoons in the fishing industry have invested but also a mixture of nationalities, 60% of the population being the Ja Luo from Kenya and the rest Ugandans. A 51-year-oldfisherman, Richard Ssebaduka from Jinja district grew from employing one to 200 fishermen to operate his 30 motorised boats using about 1,800 standard nets to fish about 100 kilograms of fish a day for export.

Dolwe is a sub county of about 35,000 people with the most tourist attractions in Busoga region though their only means of transport is by boat.

The buzz in action shows that the sailors are running out of time to sail away to a little known treasure island on the world’s second largest fresh water lake. Time is of essence else the weather changes and the waves become too big for the sailor to continue the journey.

One could use a police sub marine boat or the light fibre boats but many islanders prefer the wooden boat. The wooden boats are made from the island using imported timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo since neither Uganda nor Kenya has timber required to make the boats.

The locals are used to the situation.

Transport from the landing site is Shs10,000/=. It is cheaper and the speed is less scary compared to the fibre boat that takes only an hour from the landing site to the Island.

“Whoever does not enter will [have to] wait for us again tomorrow,” shouts the sailor in Lusoga, the predominant language in the region. I, like the other passengers waited to be carried to the boat at a fee of Shs1,000. A Luganda–speaking female passenger complained about the Shs1,000 fees for a distance that she said was worth only Shs500.

Another woman speaking a mixture of Lugbara and Kiswahili was on phone and I managed to tap a bit of her conversation. She was speaking to a business partner in Arua district in West Nile, and the language was such a challenge, hence the mixture.

Meanwhile, the conductor loaded two more 20litre cans of fuel on to the blue and white painted boat with dark brown flowery curtains and an iron sheet roof.

The fuel is a surplus to run the engine through a three to four hour cruise from Bwondha landing site in Mayuge district to Dolwe Island in Namayingo district. No filling points exist once off the shore since the boat makes a stopover only at Masolya Island.

The breeze felt cool on my skin, so I wore a jacket. Standing at the shore with my backpack, I watched as countless boys days ululated in excitement as they carried passengers onto the already packed 50-seater wooden boat. A young boy approached and asked to carry me to the boat so that I do not step in the water. I looked at him and wondered whether he would have to hold his neck as he grabs my butt to carry me to the boat.

The shore has no gangway to the docked boat. A fat woman wearing a short green dress nearly slipped as she was bundled on the boat, I smiled at the thought of seeing her fall into the water and the boy mistook my expression for accepting his offer. Before I knew it, he had carried me to the boat.

The muscular men carry more passengers but the younger boys have to negotiate with clients who don’t trust the youngsters to deliver them safely to the boat.

In the boat are chair-like and bench seats. I chose to sit at the extreme end to my left. Another woman sat behind me with her man. She immediately put her head on his lap fearing to gaze at the water. She must have had a phobia for she vomited through the journey.

“Can you imagine we trust this piece of wood with our lives on these waves?” A man dressed in neatly pressed blue jean trousers and an equally neat shirt wondered to himself as his neighbor turned to look at him with a twisted smile that faded away fast.

The man operates a clinic on the Island. I had a passenger call him ‘Musawo’ loosely translated for medical worker as he signalled for his supplies of assorted drugs packed in an old mineral water box to be placed in a safe position.

Children wailed as the engine revved, propelling the pieces of wood forward. The boat went silent, safe for the sounds of the engine as we headed into the deep of Lake Victoria.

We watched birds of different spices freely fly over the waters.

Further north, a fisherman cast his net on the lake as a much younger boy rowed the canoe. Fishing is a major economic activity here.

The waves were calm so the sailor beamed, on a bad day, he would be warning the travellers and instructing them to wear the orange life jackets provided for all passengers except children whose sizes are not available on the boat.

The waters seemed to be touching the clouds as the boat moved further.

Conversation returned to the boat when a man in his 30s turned on his hand size radio. A female presenter who spoke in Luganda and English thrilled passengers with her sarcasm about married women who do not care about their hygiene after giving birth.

That became the topic for discussion on the boat.

After about one and a half hours, the boat approached Masolya Island, the last of the seven islands of Mayuge, where we found fishermen arranging their nets as women washed clothes by the shores. That was the only stopover we had before continuing to Dolwe, the land of wonders.

The boat slowed down since the waves were beginning to swell. The sun scotched those seated on the left side of the boat. I lowered the curtain and took a nap as conversations continued in languages I do not understand.

The Musawo seated next to me awoke me to a beautiful rock standing in the middle of the water and further on was a fleet of boats of all colours and fishermen arranging nets. He pointed to another rock on my right, a pile of rocks upon each other in different shapes and sizes. “That is Golofa. It inhabits most of the gods of this Island,” he said.

Musawo’s name is John Tumusiime. He has lived on the Island for two years providing private health services to the islanders. “I do not know much about these rocks but all I know is that God created them and many more are that side as you enter the island.”

Tumusiime spoke English with a heavy Kinyankore accent. He offered to guide me to the local leaders of the sub-county including the leaders of the gods of the Island who live in the rocks.

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