Monday, 4 January 2016

Nurtured by Nature and Shaking Hands with Royalty ...Accidentally

When we returned back to Kampala from Jinja, we were pretty pooped. The few days we spent there were quite intense, but awesome. So, we were pretty tired when we made our way to the bus station the following morning on the way to Fort Portal. The good news, though, was that we didn’t have to worry about tickets not going through, because seats for each bus are sold on a first come, first serve basis with multiple departures a day. But the ease of obtaining our seats was not foreshadowing the trip ahead.

Before we departed, a woman with her children opted to sit in front of us. This wasn’t a big deal – in fact they were all pretty cute! One little guy, in particular, took quite a liking to us, and ended up on both Rachel’s lap and mine (but mostly Rachel’s).

But soon after we hit the road, we made a stop to pick up a group of young children – probably between the ages of 5 and 12 – who sat in the back row of seats directly behind us. We were kind of nervous about this, because they were unsupervised and we were concerned that they’d be a bit rowdy. It turns out they were incredibly well behaved. They even sang us a few songs with such tight harmonies it made my heart happy. But this happy heart faded soon after, when one of the little guys who ended up sitting on all three of us (because he was sitting in the aisle – along with several other passengers and their items!), panicked with an urgent need to relieve himself. It took Rachel and the woman sitting in front of us multiple attempts to get the attention of the conductor to stop the bus to allow him to get out. Once this happened, I turned around and asked the remainder of the group if they also had to go, and they all looked back at me and nervously shook their heads yes. Here these sweet, well-behaved children were too afraid to speak up and tell anyone that they had to use the bathroom. My heart was broken for the rest of the trip to Fort Portal, and remained with me pretty much the entire duration of our stay.

Anyway, it was freakin’ hot when we arrived. The sun was showering down on us, and I was not overly happy between the heat and the bus experience. BUT after a good meal, with lots of veggies and a cup of coffee, I was in a much better place, and we set off for Lake Nkuruba.

Arriving at the Lake Nkuruba Nature Reserve Community Campsite after a long and dusty boda drive (with one delightful boda driver!). We were greeting by a group of colobus monkeys – mostly black and white ones, but there were a few red ones, as well. After taking a few minutes to watch these little guys play, we made arrangements to take a quick hike up to what is known as Top of the World.

Top of the World gets its namesake because of what you’re able to see once you get there. We were escorted by a local guide named Good (because he was born on Good Friday). Rachel quizzed him on the snakes that are found in the area*. We basked in the beauty of the surrounding landscapes along the way and once we reached, which boasts views of up to five crater lakes if you happen to be there when it’s clear! I’m not sure we saw that many, but it was freakin’ beautiful up there!

A beautiful view along the way.
The entrance to Top of the World
Views from Top of the World 

Once we returned to the starting point, Aaron and Rachel opted to have Good take them down to see Lake Nkuruba. As my knee was bothering me, I decided to enjoy some water and just take in the beautiful views from where I sat. This also included entertainment provided by the colobus monkeys! My camera battery also died at this point, and I left my charger behind accidentally (…so I’m relying on Google for the pictures for the remainder of this post!).

The next day Aaron and Rachel made there way to the Rwenzori Mountains for a daylong hike. I, on the other hand, decided to have a quieter.

I made friends with, Richard, the boda driver from the night before and had arranged for him to pick me up shortly after 8am. After enjoying a good cup of coffee, I paid a visit to the Tooro Botanical Gardens.

A shot of Toro Botanical Gardens.
Photo Credit: Google Maps
When I first arrived at the Gardens, I was told I could wander freely. I was pretty excited about this until I reached a stretch of tall-ish grass approximately 30 seconds in and became irrationally afraid of getting bitten by a snake**. So, I essentially psyched myself from continuing on for about 15 minutes, when I saw a young sir walking towards me.

This turned out to be Sergio, a young chap who happened to be a tour guide for the Gardens. He peaked my interest, because he, at the ripe ‘ol age of 24, was super keen on botany and agriculture. SO, naturally I had to quiz him on why he was interested in this area. He informed me that his interest stemmed form his uncle who was quite the botanist in his village. When his uncle passed away, he decided to pursue this career path. I thought that was pretty cool!

Anyway, we took a stroll throughout the gardens for two hours, while Sergio told me all about the various plants, and put up with all of my 800 questions! Many of them boasted medicinal properties that cured a range of things from upset stomach to headaches to impotence to a variety of STIs. However my personal favourite plant, for which I cannot remember it’s local name, translates to the testicles, because when it bears fruit it looks like a set of testicles. Unfortunately, there were no fruit... because they haven’t dropped yet…

The next stop was to the Tooro Royal Palace. The Palace was built in 1963 atop quite the hill, which gives some pretty great views of the town below. The only thing you can do here is take a guided tour, which lasts about 20 minutes and doesn’t really leave the room you pay in. We did take a quick walk outside, where a group of young men exited the building. The guide passed along the info to this group of guys that I was Canadian, at which one of them stopped, shook my hand and welcomed me. I didn’t really think anything of it at first. But later on, when having dinner with Aaron and Rachel that evening, I wondered if I had met the King. …And it turns out, that’s exactly what happened! Leave it to me to not clue into whom I was in the presence of. So, no photographic evidence of this meeting, because of my camera not having juice in the battery, but it still makes for a great story!

The Palace
Photo Credit: Stuff by Duff
A view of Fort Portal from the Palace
Photo Credit: Tumblr
Another view from the top!
Photo Credit: Google Maps
The final stop was an unexpected hike just outside of Fort Portal. This was at the recommendation of Richard. Here I met with a guide named, Robert. He runs a tour company called, Kigere Tours & Safaris. He took me to see a waterfall, and to the top of a hill that allowed me to see three crater lakes  and another crater that was fully grown in! The latter was pretty awesome. I really wished I had had my camera with me at that point, because I can’t find any pictures of this crater that truly show the diversity of the plant life found within. It was pretty spectacular!

A screenshot of the grown-in crater
Photo Credit: Google Earth
The only picture I could find online of the crater.
Photo Credit: Google Maps
A screenshot of the three crater lakes visible from atop the hill.
Two of them kind of blend in, but they are there!
Photo Credit: Google Earth
The hill itself was a bit of a trek in some pretty intense afternoon heat, and my knee was feeling it by the time we reached the top. This gave us reason to plunk ourselves down for a few minutes and take in the sights! Robert and I had a really good chat, about a variety of topics! I also really appreciated his concern for my knee issues. A little pain the next day, but overall it was well worth it!

That evening – which happened to be New Years Eve – the three of us (Rachel, Aaron and I) grabbed a bite to eat, and then sleep-drunkenly hungout until midnight. That’s right – I made it to the late hour of midnight! But on the way to dinner we took different boda drivers than we were used to (i.e. not Richard). As a result, they arrived safely with two pretty good drivers. I, on the other hand, jumped on the boda that smelled like a welcomed scent of, what was at first, taco meat, but quickly transitioned to alcohol. Sometimes we make good life choices, sometimes we make bad ones; driving at night with a drunk boda driver was probably not one of my best! But alas I am safe and sound and back in Kampala, ready to start another week of work!

-the Orange Canadian

*…which excited her and terrified me!
**Thanks, Rachel! haha

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