Week 3 – Earthquakes and Volcanoes
“I’ve always wanted to experience an earthquake” – be careful what you wish for!
My last week in Uganda began with a dramatic surprise! We were about to enjoy our usual breakfast at the hostel. The first plates were on the table and we were pouring drinks. The light aircraft had just landed on the airstrip and our watches had no long beeped at 9am. A sudden loud rubble echoed across Mweya. We all looked around at each other, bemused. Most of our gazes turned towards the airstrip, wondering if the plane had exploded. Then the ground began to shake. The plates and glasses rattled around, while the hostel patio roof swayed on it supports. Earthquake! Some of the team started to stand up, one dived under the tables, but nearly everyone looked at me. I told everyone to stay calm and not move. The shaking must have lasted no more than 20 seconds, but it was enough to startle us! None of the UK team had ever experienced an earthquake before.
While everyone gathered their bearing, I sat grinning, then ran back to the house to grab my tablet. I was desperate to know the details of the quake we had just felt. By the time I returned to the hostel, the team were looking a little less stunned! They were all laughing at Calum, who had dived under the table. I had to point out that he had done exactly the right thing, and would have been in the safest position if the shaking had been worse! A quick internet search of early reports suggested a magnitude 5.3 at 10km depth, below Lake Edward. The earthquake was most likely from a normal fault within the rift valley system. With a mixture of excitement and concern for any aftershocks, we continued with our work.
Through the earthquake drama, we prepared for the women of Mweya tea party. This event aimed to provide a forum for women working as rangers and staff for UWA, and the wives and children of rangers and staff, to discuss ideas, issues and possible solutions. The party was a success and everyone had a fantastic evening – particularly the children!
That evening we experienced several aftershocks. One shook the ground just as I was getting into my mosquito net for bed! Various team members appeared from their rooms, clearly worried. I don’t think my advice of ‘if it happens again, stay in bed and put your pillow over your head’ was well received. None of us slept particularly well with periodic rumbles echoing through the night!
We celebrated World Ranger Day with a spectacular event hosted by UWA. World Ranger Day celebrates the amazing work that rangers do, protecting the natural world, educating children and communities of the critical importance of wildlife and ensuring environmental sustainability (to name only a few of many duties they perform). The day also provides an opportunity to remember and honour rangers killed in the line of duty.
The crater drive is one of my favourite parts of Western Uganda. Dozens of volcanic craters, overlapping on the rift valley floor, with a winding road which allows visitors to enjoy the spectacular views. The craters in QENP are known as the Katwe craters or the Katwe-Kikorongo explosion craters, and are thought to have erupted between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Some of craters contain hot springs and a couple produce salts. On some days, you can smell the strong sent of sulphur as you pass by crater lakes Nyamanyuka, Murumuu and Kitagata. Driving the winding road through savanna and forest is magical. Dipping in and out of the craters and reaching magnificent viewpoints proves that volcanoes do not need to be active to display their raw beauty and power. My visit to these craters in 2013 and my return in 2015 were a huge influence in my love of volcanoes.
The morning we left Mweya was still and quiet. Some of staff and rangers got up early to see us off. We drove off the peninsular against a stunning East African sunrise. I admit, a few tears escaped my eyes. Leaving Mweya and all our friends always feels like leaving home! The adventure was not quite over though! We planned an overnight stop in Fort Portal, giving us a chance to explore the town. This also meant we could investigate another volcanic crater field on the rift valley floor. The Ndali Kasende Crater Field is a completely different landscape to the Katwe craters; well inhabited and vegetated. This sadly meant that there was very little rock exposure, but the views across the area where inspiring!
We also had the chance to visit Kibale National Park and catch up with some friends now working there. It was nice to explore a very different park! We spent a lovely night in Fort Portal, staying in a hostel with a beautiful view overlooking the town.
After a long journey across the country to Entebbe, all that was left to do was enjoy a final night at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. Sadly, I fell ill shortly before leaving the country, so left in a bit of a haze, not helped by an error with my return flight booking. Finally, I boarded by plane to Rwanda, then onward to London.
While parts of the trip were incredibly stressful, I have learnt a great deal and got to experience so many amazing moments. Thank you to everyone who worked hard to make this trip a success, and to the volunteers who continue to drive the Queen Elizabeth Parks Project forward.