Bulago Island is quite seductive
Saturday, December 06, 2003
The Monitor (Kampala, Uganda) by Chris Otim
Once, there existed an island in Lake Victoria, it was occupied by a few locals; had lots of forest cover, a few wild animals and had every look, to say the least of an African jungle.
Then a British veteran sailor, Tim Cooper and his intimate friend Alison bought the 500 acre Island in 1999 and had a vision; to transform it into a tropical paradise of sorts, with modern cottages, sand beaches and open grassland terrain.
This is Bulago Island.
It is located in Lake Victoria, about 30 km from Munyonyo, from where it can be accessed. It can also be reached from the shores of Lake Victoria in Entebbe and by air from any point in East Africa.
You could be flown to Bulago Island in a light aircraft from Entebbe airport to Bulago airfield, within 10 minutes, or you could get there by a motor launch (being picked up on a motor boat).
For starters, booking accommodation, transport to Bulago is done the sophisticated way - by telephone and e-mail.
You make appointments by calling Alison Porteous and she e-mails you an invoice, upon which you make payment. There after, she'll call and tell you where to wait and be picked up. The choice of travel is yours; either by aircraft or by speedboat.
Being a typical Ugandan, this type of arrangement at first sounded weird and there seemed a possibility of a rip-off.
Anyway, on November 22, I was stationed at Speke Resort Munyonyo at 5:00 p.m. having followed the correct procedures. I waited to be picked up.
But my fears were quickly calmed as a motorboat arrived shortly at the Munyonyo boat marina, with the crew asking for me. Sunday Lifestyle quickly set off for the Island.
The motorboat ride took about 50 minutes; quite intriguing and captivating. The high speed at which the boat was travelling made me cold. But there are plenty of things to watch, like locals fishing from their canoes, many miles away from land.
A return boat journey (to and from) the island costs $30 for an adult and $20 for a child.
Although the island is really big, only one quarter is used as a resort, some rich Kampalans have apparently bought off land and are constructing country homes there.
When I got to Bulago Island, its beauty struck me. I could not believe how this 'treasure island' had been kept a top secret in this country.
What you will see, at first sight, at Bulago will stun you. There are palm trees, golden sandy beaches and you won't believe, the sand beaches (imported and placed there of course) stretch a total distance of six kilometers on the island.
Then there are the lush lawns with natural trees and open grassland surrounding the beautiful cottages.
Bulago Island, unfortunately, has only six double cottages. Each side of the cottage has two beds, and a double decker bed; this implies that you can bring your family as well.
"We intend to keep it small and intimate, it's better that way," Alison Porteous, the manager, told Sunday Lifestyle.
The rooms are typically African, in a unique way, with a grass-thatched roof, wooden doors, beds and windows.
The toilets amazed me; can you believe that the seats are made of wood and that the toilets are stocked with several magazines, so you can read while...
However, the island lacks DStv in the rooms. First I was like - this is terrible, but after spending a few nights I realised, may be there is no need for TV at all. There are so many things that will keep you occupied.
One night's accommodation at Bulago will cost you $79, i.e. if you are there between Sunday and Thursday. The cost rises to $89 on Friday and Saturday; but assuming you are Ugandan.
Foreigners have to part with an extra $10.
Children below 14 years are charged $25 while infants can be booked free of charge.
This package of course includes a night in the luxury cottage, breakfast and a four-course set dinner.
I thought the dinner package was more than a bargain. It comes with starters, desert, beer, wine and whisky. And if you want, you can have a candle-lit dinner at night on the sand beaches while the water waves pour by.
If you are not interested in sleeping in the cottage, you can camp, but you have to be a member of the Lake Victoria sailing club.
During the day, I went water skiing and tubing on the lake. This costs $45 for a 30-minute session.
I had never tried it before, but when I did, it was so challenging. There are two ponies at the Island, with a 20 minutes ride costing $10.
But what would obviously appeal to many Ugandans are the fishing rides on the lake, during the day. You can choose to go fishing on a fast boat or on a canoe.
The difference lies in the costs. The former is $185 while the latter is $45.
Bulago is just four miles from Ngamba Island, which is home to the jewel in the crown of Uganda's wildlife, the Chimpanzee.
Meeting these primates that live in a habituated group must therefore be a remarkable experience. It takes about 20 minutes by motor launch to reach Ngamba Island from Bulago.
However Bulago is not completely uninhabited. There are some Ugandans who live at a certain corner of the Island.
There are also some wealthy Ugandans who bought land and are constructing country homes on the 'treasure island'.
They reportedly include Capt. Roy (Das Air cargo), Justice George Porter (of the Congo Commission) and his son Alex Porter (General Manager Garden City), John Kassami and Sylvia Owori.
Bulago is a great place, reminiscent of an island in the Caribbean, only that it is in Uganda. For about $210, one can have a weekend of uncluttered fun. And I guarantee you'll never forget the experience.
It is definitely one of the best places, in Uganda, to go for a holiday or honeymoon.