The Banamasaka of Ndegeya

By on August 23, 2021

For so many years, I’ve thought of Masaka as a place where the most radicalised yet arrogant Baganda emerge. I don’t even know why or how this bogus stereotype came about but whenever anyone mentioned something unflattering or unkind about Baganda, my mind quickly dashed off to Masaka. 

Worse still, every time a funny meme of a Muganda living large or being extravagant with life drops on the internet, the world instantly assumes they are from Masaka. Most times when a Muganda bumps into chunks of money, they are bound to live a life that borders on comedy, and oftentimes these people are referred to as Banamasaka, even if they aren’t always from Masaka. Buganda has well over 26 districts but for some reason, Masaka takes quite a beating on the internet in terms of any shots or stray bullets that might be directed at Baganda.

Over the weekend, I joined the guys from Mountain Slayers for a weekend visit to a nice little place in Masaka – Camp Ndegeya. I’ve been to Masaka several times, as have many people. But like most of those people, Masaka is simply a brief stop-over on the way to or from other parts of the country. Very few people have offered great reason for visiting Masaka apart from the occasional bar hopping where you’d start your Friday afternoon at Fat Boys Kisementi and end up at Club Ambience in Masaka on Saturday night. Other than that, the momentary stopover at the Equator or Masaka Gallery is really just a brief Photo op enroute to other places. 

As such, spending a night or two in Masaka has never really been on the cards for many people, myself inclusive. And when I heard that my good friends, the Mountain Slayers were heading to Masaka for a weekend, I figured this was an opportunity to join them and see something about Masaka that I had never experienced.

The Mountain Slayers are a bunch of adventurous folks whose every breath hinges on traveling, seeing places, being out in the wild, and ‘slaying mountains’. By the time I was penning down this Blog on Monday night, I was reliably informed that these superhumans had ‘slain’ nearly 40 Mountains over a 6 year period. Every now and again they interject the ridiculously strenious hikes with easier less taxing events like walks or get-togethers but overall, the goal is to get people out of homes and bars and up onto mountains.

Before I even proceed, allow me to make it categorically clear that I’ve never had an interest in hiking mountains, climbing hills, or mounting any sort of physical feature that is not a woman. And don’t get me wrong – I love to travel and explore the world. I love to see the beauty and splendour that is in this world. And more often than not, I am away from the city experiencing the country and basically opening more chapters of the beauty that is Uganda. It is just that I have a reservation that borders on fear when it comes to the business of hiking. I’m not good with heights; in fact, I am terrible with heights so much that in my entire life, I don’t remember ever taking the top bunker of a double-decker bed. 

Imagine hiking Mountains with such gorgeous MSU ladies. Tempting, very tempting. But over my dead body!

I refuse to blame my innate fear of hiking on my place of origin; Serere – possibly the flattest place on this earth. I also refuse to blame it on the numerous movies that succeed in making mountain hiking seem like a flirtation with death. It might be that I’m just a wussy waiting to be pushed against the wall in a life or death situation before I can hike or it might be that my Guardian Angel is protecting me from hiking because she (Yes my guardian Angel is a woman) is aware that I should have no business flirting with death.

That being said, I find myself occasionally sneaking into some of the Mountain Slayer events that don’t have strenious hiking, rigorous hill climbing, or physical activity of any kind. The slayers are a very welcoming group of people and when they are not living life on the edge (of mountains), they are a great group of people to hang with. Therefore joining them to check out Camp Ndegeya was always going to be a great idea.

Hanging with these folks is quite rewarding

Camp Ndegeya is about 6 or 7 kms from Masaka Town. It is located in a little village called ‘Ndegeya’. The locals tell the rather sad story that in the past, weaver birds (known in Luganda as Ndegeya) were native to this place but slowly started migrating due to urbanisation and constant deforestation.

Welcome home 

One of the natives of this little village had a son who had an interesting dream. The son, Collin Sekajugo, had always dreamt that his father’s home village, Ndegeya, could be transformed into an arts and community tourism destination within Masaka. As a lover of the arts, he found himself creating several artistic items to display in the area. The idea was to create some kind of sculpture park that could also double as a campsite. And in 2012 he dug deep, closed his eyes, and used his life savings to buy the land around the hill. He immediately started working on his dream of creating Camp Ndegeya. According to him, Camp Ndegeya would act as the magnet to attract tourists to the then impoverished Ndegeya village. 

As is the case with places that are artistic, Camp Ndegeya soon started to attract expatriates and creatives looking to get away from the colourless hustle and bustle of Kampala and find a place where they could either express their artistry or just be one with nature in an artistic setting. 

The sights of the Camp tell the story of undeniable artistry

When we arrived at Camp Ndegeya on Friday evening, I could immediately tell that any lover of art would find this place irresistible. The setup of the Campsite is very artistic with a stony feel. Camp Ndegeya sits at 360 degrees on a very lush and gorgeous beautiful hill, surrounded by trees. Anyone looking to get out of town and commune with nature while embracing the role that art plays in improving the lives of people in Ndegeya Village will find this place real heaven. 

It’s no surprise it is called a Sculpture Park

While speaking to Collin, the proprietor of Camp Ndegeya, I got the sense that ultimately, the plan is to have community development at the top of his agenda. And this is why the natives are a big part of the blood that flows through the veins of the Campsite. On several occasions, Collin has been involved in painting the houses in the Village and taking visitors to Camp Ndegeya on a tour around the village through a very wonderful biking experience. In fact, if you visit the campsite on specific weekends, you could bump into the Weaver Birds Arts Foundation holding their quarterly Arts Camp. And you might be lucky enough to ride with local cyclists who take part in the Tour Weaver Bird competition. As a result of all this community involvement, the natives now look at Camp Ndegeya as their precious little gem and they will most likely smile and wave when you pass by them as you head up to the Camp. 

Camp Ndegeya has a fully-fledged kitchen with a chef and several helpers who are always at one’s beck and call. There is also provision for folks who might want to cook for themselves – something many visitors quite fancy.

The rooms are outstandingly artistic and amazingly comfortable at the same time. The family cottage in which a few friends and I slept told the story of a cozy little cottage fitted with neat bathrooms, running water connected to a water heater, clean toilets, two lovely bedrooms, and a nice living area with art pieces, sculptures, and pieces of art positioned strategically to make you feel like you’re sleeping in an artist’s temple. 

On the right is the family cottage where I slept

This is what the family cottage looks like on the inside – an Artist’s dream.

The doors on the left and right lead to bedrooms and the one in the middle leads to the bathroom area

And in case you’d rather camp, there is a wonderful camping area

The campsite also has a swimming pool which looks rather picturesque and will add to the serenity of one’s getaway.  In addition, Ndegeya Campsite is not far from Masaka Town which has several interesting places like Lake Nabugabo which is under an hour away with three beaches. Nabugabo Sand Beach is the most popular of the beaches with various fun activities including donkey riding, swimming and volleyball among others.

Whether you are chilling by the campfire at Camp Ndegeya, biking around the village or just enjoying a walk through the forested hill, you are likely to head back to Kampala thinking two things; first of all, Banamasaka are actually very friendly and cool people and secondly, that Uganda has tiny little gems spread across it that need to be discovered and shown to the world.

A brief stop-over with my crew at Jalia City on the Masaka-Mbarara Highway 

By the time we were leaving on Sunday, I felt a pang of sadness, not just because the Mountain Slayers and I were heading back to the godforsaken city but because we were living Camp Ndegeya behind – we were leaving the beautiful peaceful and serene campsite behind.

Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground. – Judith Thurman

Bernard Ewalu Olupot
a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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