Chameleon Hill Lodge, Lake Mutanda
Perched high atop a hill, overlooking Lake Mutanda in South Western Uganda, is Chameleon Hill Lodge. There are just so many aspects of this amazing place that make it one of a kind. The quirky, colourful architecture, the spectacular scenery and the friendly, welcoming staff; the local experiences, the food, and the mishmash of pets, are just a few that will be forever imprinted in our minds. Then there is the pure majesty of it all, and the fact that we got to experience this little slice of paradise. To be honest, we are still feeling slightly overwhelmed.
“THE GLADDEST MOMENT IN HUMAN LIFE, METHINKS, IS DEPARTURE INTO UNKNOWN LANDS” – SIR RICHARD BURTON
You may ask how we found ourselves at Chameleon Hill Lodge? Well, it’s a twofold story. Firstly, we have to thank Sir Richard Burton. Yes, you read correctly. Well not HIM to be exact, as we all know he is no longer with us, but it was one of his quotes that lured us into Doris’ stand at the World Travel Market in Cape Town a few months ago. So we like to think of him as the catalyst in making this all happen.
Secondly, and MOST importantly, if it was not for Doris Meixner and her wonderful staff, we would never have had this amazing opportunity. There are not enough words to say “thank you” for the most unbelievable eight days. I believe our eternal wanderlust quest led us to you at just the right time. Thank you for putting your trust in us to document your world. We really hope that our images live up to your expectations and that they are able to immortalize the beautiful spaces and relationships you have created.
After two wonderful days in Kigali, we took the public bus to Musanze and from there a local taxi to the border town of Cyanika. We literally crossed countries on foot. After passing through no man’s land (I really thought this was only something in the movies), we were in beautiful Uganda.
The drive from Kisoro to Chameleon Hill Lodge, hugging the edge of Lake Mutando, with the ever changing backdrop of the Virunga volcanic range is nothing short of spectacular. The lodge’s distinctive brightly coloured towers come into sight as you as you round the last few bends on the twisty gravel road. Coming down the set of steps that takes you to reception, and looking at the beautifully tended garden and entrance, you know this place must be pure magic.
We were given such a fabulous welcome, and from that moment on, we literally felt like VIP’s. After receiving a refresher towel and glass of local passion fruit juice out on the deck, we got our first chance to take in the view over the lake. One word springs to mind. Mesmerizing. And indeed we probably found ourselves gawking at this view another hundred times in the week we spent there, yet we never tired of it. Different times of day bring a different look, as does the weather, but one thing remains constant, it’s always beautiful!
The buildings of Chameleon Hill Lodge themselves are an architectural gem. Imagine a colourful fairytale castle with sweeping vistas in every direction. Unique, quirky, and colourful. One thing for sure is that this is a one of a kind lodge.
The gardens of Chameleon Hill Lodge are spectacular, and so meticulously tended by the friendly staff. They are comprised of well thought out pathways and steps and it’s possible to explore the grounds at your own pace. Retainer walls and garden edges are cleverly built using resources from the environment such as volcanic stone. Beautiful indigenous plants, hedges and trees abound, and if you keep a watchful eye, colourful creatures come out to bask in the sunshine from time to time. The best time of day to wander about the lodge gardens is in the early morning after breakfast. The sunlight seems to filter through the foliage making everything look extra pretty and colourful.
“The longer we spent at Chameleon Hill Lodge, the more those colourful structures became part of our being, and the more its people and animals crept into our hearts.”
It’s very hard to condense eight days of shooting into a single blog post. We wish we could share every single image, but it’s simply not possible. We’ve decided on two installments. The first will showcase the lodge itself, and the second will highlight some of the activities in and around the lodge. We’ll steer clear from too many facts and info. Instead, we hope that we are able to bring this special place that is Chameleon Hill Lodge to life through our imagery.
Accommodation at Chameleon Hill is comprised of ten unique chalets. If you were wondering about the name “Chameleon Hill,” this should at least give you a little clue. Each of the units is painted in its own distinctive colour. They all boast handcrafted furnishing, and are beautifully decorated with African artworks and traditional fabric. The best part though is that each unit has its own little private patio leading out onto a unique garden. It’s a peaceful place to take in the views over the lake, or simply to marvel at the bird life.
THE MAIN BUILDING
The hub of Chameleon Hill lodge is up at the main building. From around mid-afternoon this is the place to be. Preferably out on the deck with some kind of beverage in hand. From your elevated vantage point you get to feast your eyes on the free show that the sky and lake put on for you. In the week that we were there, no two days were the same.
The lounge is another great place to while away free time. On chillier nights, the fire is lit and it’s a cozy place to socialize with fellow travelers. There is also a wonderful collection of books and in the exchange library and a few board games to keep you busy.
You won’t be inside for very long before the wonderful smells emitting from the kitchen start to tantalize your taste buds.
Mealtimes at Chameleon Hill Lodge are an absolute treat. How lucky were we to get a sneak peek into kitchen life? They always say that the kitchen is the heart of any home. If Chameleon Hill Lodge is your home away from home for a few nights, then this could not be more accurate. Chef Moses and Chef Eric’s gastronomical playground at Chameleon Hill is a happy place. It often rings out with laughter. Here, these two whip up fantastic dishes, mostly using fresh ingredients, either from the garden or sourced locally from the community. Everyone lends a helping hand when it comes to the preparation and serving. The food here is as colourful as the buildings.
A lovely quote by Deepak Chopra comes to mind:
“Fill your plate with the colours of the rainbow. What pleases the eye, pleases the body as a whole.”
Imagine the best bread you’ve ever eaten, multiply that by at least ten and you will get an idea of what the home-made bread is like at Chameleon Hill. It’s baked in a traditional outdoor wood fired oven.
One of the other more traditional meals we had the opportunity of partaking in was the tilapia steamed in banana leaves.
Dinner is served at seven bells every evening in the cozy dining room. You can keep an eye on the menu which changes daily. This usually get’s updated at around lunch time every day. Some of our favourite meals were the cauliflower soup, the spicy vegetable curry as well as the chicken kebabs. Oh, and then let’s just take a moment to pay tribute to the banana pie and the homemade strawberry ice cream. Be warned, if it happens to be your birthday while you are here, you are in for a special treat!
Doris highly values her staff and she loves her animals dearly. What a gorgeous bunch they all are. We loved getting to know everyone (both two legged and four legged) in our time at Chameleon Hill Lodge. Each of them is special in their own way.
THE ANIMALS OF CHAMELEON HILL
We’re busy eating our lunch when suddenly a voice comes over the walkie talkie. “Spensa, please can I have a cheese and tomato sandwich. Oh, and a chicken breast for Larry.” Larry is a blind doggy from Kampala. His owners relocated, and it totally broke Doris’ heart. She specially had him brought to Chameleon Hill, and now he is part of her rescue family (which is growing by the day, we might add.)
It’s not just Larry that gets special treatment though. All of Doris’ animals are loved and treasured by staff and guests alike.
THE FOREST COTTAGE
Doris’ personality is as colourful as her surroundings. She has created her eclectic dwelling, The Forest Cottage just below the lodge. She shares this with her ever growing family of fur children. There’s also additional space, adjacent to her home for a few more guests should the lodge be fully booked.
There are just so many little quirks, features and stories about every aspect of this gorgeous home that are truly special – just like Doris.
A VISIT FROM THE FISHING COMMUNITY
Doris has been working hard in assisting the local fishing community to adopt a mindset that will lead to more sustainable fishing practices. Charles, the general manager is her right hand man and spokesperson when it comes to meetings with the community. It’s an opportunity to exchange views and address any concerns. During one of these get together, it’s also an opportunity for Doris to give back to the community. This is done in the form of donations. What a priceless experience being able to document these interactions.