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Mabamba Bay in November 2005

What about all these boats?



A day of birdwatcher-watching in Mabamba swamp southwest of Kampala, Uganda, 17 November 2005. We saw the Shoebill, and we saw the Kingfisher (photo left), as our guide paddled us out across the water-hyacinthy channels in a twelve-foot long canoe or piroguey sort of thing -- we saw the snakes, and we saw the other travelers, commuters perhaps, paddling their own way across the swamp. That's all here. But one question loomed larger than the rest:

What's the story with all these abandoned boats?

Here's our starting point at the edge of the protected area, with any number of mudworthy boats and their guides waiting for fares.

With our own rower, we're speedily off across the swamp, but soon we begin to notice . . .

. . . casualties.

Casualties nearly everywhere. Abandoned boats on the banks, up on the banksides, sometimes submerged at midstream. One hopes they weren't filled with birdwatchers when things went awry.

Many with water hyacinth growing out of them.

Some abandoned boats are barely visible; some, in the side channels, are not visible at all under the surface and have to be scraped over by vigorous poling.

Some of them look perfectly usable, or at least reparable, but nonetheless, here they are out in the middle of the swamp, abandoned.

Probably each of them has its own heart-rending story.

The prospective bridegroom, perhaps, paddling furiously to get to the wedding on time, when the boat suddenly springs a bad leak, and he heads for the bank, leaps out of it and throws the paddle away, and begins running along the bank of the channel, until huge snakes drag him down into the foetid mud, and he disappears there. Leaving the bride to believe for the next 60 years that he'd changed his mind about the wedding at the last minute. Something like that, perhaps.

A graveyard of piroguey-like things.

Update on that bride: In fact, she never gave up, and still stares out over the Mabamba swamp every evening, sure that someday he will come.

They look more like garden planters, in a way.

Old swamp boats returning to nature.

Water hyacinth taking over another swamp, and its abandoned boats.

Uganda 2005


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 15 December 2005, revised 21 June 2007, 20 July 2013.


Kampala, Uganda, in 2005