Heading west out of Kampala you can’t go much beyond Fort Portal before entering DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and we passed many trucks on their way to the border. The road is generally good apart from the last stretch beyond Kyenjojo which is being improved; currently this means numerous traffic calming lumps across the surface and stretches of unmade or potholed road. This slows the journey a little.
The countryside is remarkably verdant and undulating. The ground rises to numerous hills, and dips to swampy areas in between. Around Mityana the soil seems particular suited to termites, the mounds of which fringe the road and dot the fields and hillsides.
From Mityana to Kyenjojo there were many inselbergs, or rocky outcrops forming hilltops, typical of rural scenery in large parts of Africa.
In between the hills there is sketchy agriculture; few large fields of identifiable crops, but rather patches of cultivation between swampy areas, trees, and remnants of forests. In large parts there are few tall trees, the only really old growth trees are in the gazetted forest reserves. In these you can see how the countryside used to look; tall canopy trees, overshadowing smaller trees and dense undergrowth. Pressure on these forests from demand for building materials, firewood and further cleared land for agriculture, means that they are rapidly being destroyed. From 1990 to 2009, nearly one third of the country’s forest was lost.¹
Traditional houses are constructed with a stick frame, in-filled with sticks then plastered with mud. Roofing is thatch of local vegetation. In villages the progress to higher income can be seen in housing. The first improvement is tarpaulin over the thatch and when income allows, a shiny corrugated steel roof. Next, bricks and mortar (or often, mortar and bricks) replace the ‘wattle and daub’ walls and finally concrete block houses with tiled roofs. Where the soil is suitable for brick making numerous kilns are seen beside the road, with piles of bricks nearby. These too, consume wood to fire the bricks.
In the hills before Fort Portal, a new landscape is revealed; more intensive use of land and more organised planting. This is an area of tea plantations. Tea replaced coffee in the 1930s when world coffee prices collapsed during the Great Depression. Many plantations were started by European settlers who came to the area after WWI.
Throughout Africa it impossible to travel by road without seeing extraordinary sights. We found ourselves following some travelling players, drumming up business in each village, and witnessed the stilt walker hitching a lift on the minibus between venues! (the cloudiness is caused by the black exhaust fumes!).
Other remarkable sights are the things you see carried on motor or push bikes. Below is a selection of relatively ordinary things – I never seem to have the camera to hand for the more amazing loads.
In roadside villages the most decorated houses are those decked out as advertising spaces for local products and often more than one of a type in a village!
Travelling on the main road is no bar to animal hazards.
After around five hours, we arrived in Fort Portal, a thriving town named after Sir Gerald Portal, Consul General of Zanzibar who formalised the protectorate status of Buganda in 1892, but never actually visited the town. The fort had been built (1891-3) to help protect the Toro kingdom from King Kabalega of Bunyoro, and was first called Fort Gerry – changed to Fort Portal in 1900.
The main road through town is named after Captain (later Lord) Lugard who built a line of forts to protect Toro and signed a treaty of friendship with Kasagema, whom he had installed on the Toro throne.
The most remarkable sight when entering Fort Portal is the backdrop of the Rwenzori mountains, even at the lower end of their range, looming up behind the town and stretching far to the south where they are snow capped. The highest peak in this part of the range is 3014m, while Fort Portal is 1525m. Exploring the area will have to wait for my next blog.