Travel: A Trip to Ssese Islands

This is the brief travel experience I had when I finally managed to visit an island for the first time in my life. For long, I have always read about all the Islands in Lake Victoria, the largest inland water body in Africa. This lake encompasses three East African countries namely; Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The world’s longest river, Nile flows from this lake.

I had always wished to visit these marvellous and scenic islands because many people who had visited them before always said a lot of interesting things about them like the evergreen tropical forests, beautiful beaches, Buganda’s (a tribe) cultural sites and nice weather.

 Ssese Islands as seen from the approaching ferry.

 

One Saturday morning I jumped on a Boda-boda (paid motorcycle) after agreeing with the rider to pay him Ugsh: 10,000/= fare for this 40 kilometres journey from Nyendo (a suburb in Masaka) to Bukakkata landing site from where I will board the MV Ssese ferry to Ssese islands. I was already excited knowing that this was going to be a truly exciting journey in my life.
The road to Bukakkata landing site.
The road from Nyendo to Bukakkata is a country marram road (not tarmacked) that can be a lot dusty in the dry season and wet in rainy seasons. The road is full of bumps, rain gutters and potholes. There wasn’t a lot of visible traffic on this very important route that connects the Islands to the rest of Uganda. After one and a half hours of a bumpy and rough ride, we managed to arrive at the landing site in time to board the ferry.
I proceeded to enter my details in the arrivals register then I was told the ferry is a public infrastructure meaning that no payment is collected to board it. Several cars were loaded, some were carrying passengers on the Masaka-Kalangala route, others carrying food produce like Matooke to the islands and boda-bodas.
Along the way, you’d often find cattle blocking the road.
Among the passengers were school children returning home from schools for holidays, traders, foreign and local tourists and ordinary people. I sat near the ferry’s boulders for a nice view of the lake along the way. The islands are visible from the mainland and crossing the stretch of the lake in-between takes approximately between 30-40 minutes.
The ferry crossing was a lively moment (It was my first time to board one) and I was always hoping for a safe arrival and return from the Islands. Thankfully, the weather was a little sunny with regular clouds intervals which made the whole journey very enjoyable!
After the ferry docked at the Island’s Bugoma landing site, we disembarked. Boda-bodas riders were calling out passengers to take them to Kalangala town which is the major urban centre of Ssese islands. The journey to Kalangala town takes one hour in a vehicle. I had nice views of the Islands’ natural landscape along the way. The beautiful scattered small islands, the beaches and the green hills.
Passengers boarding the MV Ssese at Bukakkata landing site
I was really surprised that the islands’ inhabitants had unlimited access to electricity. I knew later that this was made possible when we passed the Hybrid Solar generation plant that was installed a few months back to generate and supply electricity to the entire Island. There were a few houses with most of the land covered by natural rainforests and palm oil trees.
Kalangala town is located 60 kilometres south-west of Entebbe town, on the northern shore of Bugala island, the largest of the 88 Ssese islands in Lake Victoria. This is the commercial centre of all the islands where the central market and the district’s council offices are located. It has a population of about 68,000 people (2015 estimates). Four major economic activities are carried out in Ssese islands; Fishing, forestry, tourism and agriculture.
The place is unique with many nice beaches like Mirembe Resort and Palm Beach. Incredible hills that offer you nice views of other small islands and the lake. Tropical rainforests that are good for bird watching and nature walks. The island’s level of infrastructure development is still low, lack of paved roads, no piped water, poor transport means and many other challenges.
Approaching Ssese Islands at Bugoma landing site.
I had a stroll around the main town centre, walking into the central makeshift market, the town council offices and the shops along the town’s main road where several other high ranking government’s offices are located. A lot of projects during my time of visit were being undertaken like electricity power line extension and tarmacking of major roads.
I spent around two hours in Kalangala town because of its relative small urban centre and the fact that the ferry’s returning and final journey was at 5:00pm. I didn’t want to spend the night on the Island because I didn’t know anyone there and yet accommodation in lodges around the town was very costly. I truly wished I could spend the night, but couldn’t afford it, so I rushed to return back to Masaka.
Main shops in Kalangala Town
Main street, Kalangala Town.
Getting transport back to Bugoma landing site is really hard, Boda-bodas will charge you between UGX: 15,000 and 20,000 ($10-15) and vehicles going there are very scarce. I managed to get a pick-up truck that was taking passengers also to board the same ferry. We arrived a bit late when the ferry was just minutes away from making its final return to the mainland. I paid the driver UGX: 6,000 ($2) and then boarded the ferry.
It was sunset time and the views over the lake were truly incredible! The ferry was really full of happy people, their luggage and many vehicles. They were all returning to the mainland after a busy day in the Islands. I also managed to take nice shots of the sun’s rays kissing the lake’s surface that produced a brilliant pearls-like light that I couldn’t stop looking at!
As the sun was setting over the lake’s horizon, strong winds making big waves hit the lake and pushing the ferry side to side. The ferry’s captain was really smart and very skilled. He navigated through the stormy winds intelligently till we landed at the Bukakkata landing site.
This ferry is well fitted with floodlights, fire extinguishers, lifesaving jackets and buoys that are in handy in case of any trouble with the ferry while on its journeys. It was getting dark when I got a boda-boda back to Nyendo town. This was another one and a half hours bumpy and rough ride back home but the adventure I had engaged in was really a worthy one.
Fishing is the major economic activity in the islands.
A spectacular view of the sun-kissed waters near the islands.

 

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