Fort Portal and Crater Lakes: Stories

A slow, suspicious transformation has, as of this weekend, become complete: I am officially outdoorsy.

I promise, I promise that one of these days I’ll talk about my dailies, my internship, living in Kampala, but things have reached a comfortable medium where it feels more like, who wants to hear about me staying late at work today, or playing with the neighborhood kids, or going to a craft market and not buying a thing when I can talk about climbing a mountain! And another mountain! And hiking so far into the foothills of the Rwenzori that I had no idea where we were! Or hiking the Rwenzori by moonlight – sorry no pictures.  By that point I was so tired, and in so much pain that all I could focus on was telling myself, one-foot-next-foot-one-foot-next-foot…  And what follows is very much an Aishwarya-style, long-winded set of details about my Fort Portal trip.

Despite the many, many mishaps, I’ll admit: Fort Portal was my idea.  I’m not sure when I decided I wanted to go there, but I added it to my “Uganda Bucket” list, hastily threw together an itinerary with some friends, booked a post bus, and left early, early Saturday morning.  The beautiful thing about the post bus (a bus operated by the post office, think Chinatown bus but post offices not Chinese restaurants) is that it leaves precisely on time.  The bad thing about the post bus (other than taking 2 hours longer), is that it leaves precisely on time.  Staying out until 5 a.m. and then catching a bus that left at 7 a.m. was NOT an A+ life decision, but so it happened.  I made that bus.  Others didn’t.  But we arrived in Fort Portal, engaged in my very first act of bribery (paying the driver of a shared taxi a little extra to drive us to our destination with only 5 passengers in a 5 passenger car, instead of waiting for 2 extras) and dragged our tired, dehydrated selves up to the campsite.

We stayed in a banda on the edge of Lake Nkuruba, one of the few crater lakes confirmed as Bilharzia-free, and despite the many, many problems with our campsite, ended up having a lovely Saturday afternoon, hiking up to the “Top of the World,” a spot in the hills where we had a fantastic view of many of lakes in the Crater lake region, the Rwenzori Mountains (purple shadows on the horizon, mostly), and a hideous resort-in-the-making.  My travel buddies were fantastic company: we all collectively moo’d at the cows, bleated at the goats, and gleefully befriended every farm animal we passed.  Afterwards, we went swimming in Lake Nkuruba – yes look at me I’m swimming (bottom left photo, right-hand floating head).

Clockwise from top left: cows on the mountain trail, our “spaghetti & tomato sauce” dinner, swimming in Lake Nkuruba, and hot springs.

Okay fine I was only half swimming.  I had a floaty board thing which is shoved under the water.  But the lake was deep, the water cold, and the hike down to the lake steep.  It took a lot of coaxing and courage to even GET me in the lake, I wasn’t about to let go of my floaty.  Besides, our delightful dinner that evening consisted of nothing more than ketchup and overcooked spaghetti.  I wish I was kidding. By the time the three of us shared one small, lukewarm bucket of water for washing our faces, my companions and I gave up on bathing the entire weekend and began planning our scathing reviews of the campsite on Tripadvisor.  It’s not up yet.  Just wait.

We awoke the next morning to find that in the evening, one of the campsite staff had used Nishana and Norma’s phones to send text messages to his paramour.  What followed, however, was easily one of the best mornings I’ve had.  Mahoma Falls easily made the entire trip.  The journey itself was an experience: after a long boda ride through the GORGEOUS countryside, we trekked down, taking a shortcut through several farms.  Little children ran up to us, asking “how are you!” and trying to touch us.  Actually the touching was kind of strange; one kid ran out from under a banana tree, and, snot dripping down his face, grabbed my hand with both of his tiny ones.  He looked delighted.  I was afraid he’d use my hand to wipe his nose, as children are inclined to do. But luckily, no such thing, and we continued our journey, passing cows, goats, pigs, peanuts plants, potato and cassava fields, banana trees, etc.

From left: Norma & Nishana at the lake, flora at the lake, me climbing up a steel hill, Mahoma waterfall.

The falls… well the falls were beautiful.  Swimming in the falls was even better.  The pressure of the falling water on my back massaged away every last grain of tension, built up over two years of law school.  The water was REALLY cold, but I climbed up the rocks next to the waterfall and found myself a sunny spot to become lizard-like and warm up.  Actually that’s a lie, I spent most of the climb dancing around, posing for Norma (who stayed below due to ankle trouble) and yelling things like, “OMGWE’REINUGANDAAAA AHHH.”  Just to be clear, I wasn’t the only one cheering and bopping like an idiot.  It’s just that I’m the only one who stepped on a bee on the way back down (where the yelling became something more like, “OW OW OW [——] OW OW OWOW.”) I had never been stung before, and it felt like… it felt like someone was slowly pushing a large needle up through the bottom of my foot.

Luckily, I’m not allergic to bees, and after I waited a few minutes and decided that I wasn’t going to die after all, we climbed back down, climbed back up, rode back to the campsite, and went about the rest of our day.  Which was… aggravating.  Long story somewhat short, I learned many lessons in patience, frustration-management, perseverance and yoga-breathing.  Then we hiked for what seemed like forever, but was only 2 hours, to hot springs in the middle of nowhere.  I couldn’t tell you what they’re called, it wasn’t Sempaya, it wasn’t your traditional hot springs.  It was two hours hiking deep into the foothills of the Rwenzori, through villages and forests, over rocks and streams.  On the way, we passed through an inter-village “disagreement” on the verge of bursting into a full-fledge brawl, some gorgeous views, and many. many. cows.  There was an awkward moment where each of us was pinned in between two cow bums, and I prayed to several gods that neither of those cows should choose to defecate in that moment.

See that? I faced THREE significant fears in one weekend: bee stings, drowning and cows.

The hike back was brutal.  It was long, both uphill and downhill over difficult terrain, and we were racing the sun.

Ultimately, the sun won, and we traveled the rest of the way by moonlight.

Were the hot springs worth it? I don’t know. I screamed a few times when a snake crossed my path and when a spider appeared above my head.  But it was a fun weekend, and in spite of everything, I’ll go ahead and say this was a very, very good idea.

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One comment

  1. Aw, this is an awesome story ruch! I’m glad it was worth it 🙂

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