Just south of Fort Portal, down a well signposted road we stayed at Kluges Guest Farm which was certainly far from the madding crowd. A peaceful rural setting with views of the distant Rwenzori mountains. We chose a concrete bungalow rather than glamping [a tent pitched under a permanent roof].
After a good breakfast we set off for the crater lakes, formed by volcanic activity in the area up to about 4,000 years ago. Now dormant, some names suggest that locals were around to see some activity; Kasensankarnaga = spewer of roasted material. The steep sided craters were formed by explosive eruptions which covered the area with ash and lava, providing fertile soils for current agriculture. The crater bottoms are full of water which creates wonderful reflections and is scenically beautiful.
One objective was to visit Ndali Lodge which had been recommended. The lodge was opened in 1996 by the son of the original settler, Major Trevor Price, who came to Uganda after WWI and established tea estates. His grandson and grandniece now run the lodge. We enjoyed a pot of the estate coffee on the veranda overlooking Lake Nyinambuga, a stunningly serene spot. Ndali estate also has a vanilla farm and factory.
We pottered around the lake district then on to Fort Portal via the Kibale road, which is another in the throws of improvement, which again means lots of ‘rumble strips’ across the carriageway to dissuade speeding – ignoring them is definitely bad for the suspension!
Beyond Fort Portal the road heads west then north to skirt the long spur of the Rwenzori mountains which points like a finger to Lake Albert. About 25kms along this road the Rift Valley escarpment intersects with the Rwenzoris and forms a spectacular plunging valley down to the rift floor. An excellent new road snakes around the curves of the mountains, which are cultivated to incredible heights on slopes of unbelievable steepness.
It was quite a ride, swinging around the buttresses down to the valley floor approximately 1000m below. Before the end of the mountain spur we saw an enticing sign indicating the ‘Old Road to Sempaya’, which is clearly shown on the maps, so we decided to be adventurous and head over the hills. All was well at the start of the track and as we gained elevation the grass became more abundant and the track became two wheel tracks. We persisted, but gradually the hillside to the left became a cliff, dropping stones and boulders on to the track and the other side, a steep drop away (the exact steepness of which I didn’t appreciate until I was on that side!). Eventually the grass was definitely taking over and we stopped at a slightly wider section to scout ahead. The two tracks became one uncertain track so we decided it was time to swallow our pride and turn around. It was on our return that I saw the steep drop which had been on the driver’s side!
Back on the new road we continued around the mountain until we could look over the Semiliki Valley towards the Blue Mountains (Monts Bleus) of DRC.
The Semiliki River exits the northern end of Lake Edward and snakes north-east, over the rift valley to Lake Albert. The first European to explore this area was Henry M Stanley on his Emin Pasha relief expedition in 1887 after he had struggled through the interminable, almost impenetrable Ituri forest. It was another piece of the puzzle of the drainage system of central African rivers and lakes which so fascinated the British explorers of the region but left the locals bemused; the river came and went, but they didn’t bother about where it came from or where it went to.
The Rwenzoris slope steeply down to the flat river plain and we were glad we had not persisted on our ‘old road’. We later spoke to others who had tried to ascend from this side, only to turn back after getting bogged in a stream.
The Semiliki National Park which abuts DRC is renowned for birding with species not seen elsewhere in Uganda, but not being such experts we did not pursue this. Nor did we visit the nearby hot springs, being too mean to pay a hefty US$25 per person National Park entrance fee, to see some geo-thermal activity, which we’ve seen elsewhere.
So, we made our way back to Fort Portal and our comfortable accommodation where, after a brief rainshower we explored the local forest to meet some local creatures; colobus monkeys. Interesting fact; colobus monkeys don’t have thumbs!
Their white-tipped tails were really remarkable, especially when they caught the sunlight. Behind the foliage you might make out one monkey which was stretched out along a branch being groomed – monkey spa treatment.
In the middle of the banana plantation we passed some domestic creatures rummaging in the undergrowth, before returning to the resort to prepare for a barbecue under the stars and beside a roaring camp fire.