Escape from Fort Portal to NATURE up close and personal! 8/13-8-16
Since it was time to leave Kampala and the car we wanted to rent was not available (yes, we were considering braving the roads and traffic here!!), we needed to figure out a bus and a destination. With two weeks to go until we trek with the big boys, we chose to check out Fort Portal based on advice from a Colorado couple we met in Lamu. It seemed like an easy bus ride at only “four hours,” and it was available anytime we wanted to leave. This turned out to be complete bull, as we waited for three hours for the bus to fill up enough for it to leave the station, then it took about six hours to reach Fort P. Sadly enough, this was not our worst bus experience in Africa (more on that later).
Of course, it was dark when we arrived, which is not so fun when you are lugging around a 50 lb target on your back that screams foreigner. We scrambled to find a place to sleep that was not too expensive and we wouldn’t have to squat over a hole to use the bathroom. We settled in to a nice place and Elizabeth talked them down on the price a few bucks (We are getting good at bargaining! Think that will work at home?) Happy with a semi-hot shower and Ramen noodles, we were treated with the worst horror movie ever created on the one English language station (thankfully I can’t even remember the name!)
After a visit to the grocery store (Snickers, fried peas, peanuts, stale white bread for PB&J sandwiches and corn nuts are our go to staples), ATM, and Internet cafe the next day, we jumped a shared taxi to one of the Crater Lakes. We found a nice lakefront room…and a couple who had the car we tried to rent (we were bummed we didn’t arrange one when they said it is awesome. Next trip!) We dropped off our bags and got directions for a “self guided” tour around the lake. Seems simple enough, right? The directions went something like, “Go down the street, look for a kind of road and take a left, go down a hill, over a river, up and down a hill, cross river number two, then look for an easy to miss path on the left, then look for a blue roof…etc.”
And so we were off, bound to get a bit lost! After the first river, we heard this scramble coming from the bush when a monkey shot across the road. I jokingly asked Elizabeth “Why did the monkey cross the road?” The answer supplied itself when a pack of dogs came out chasing it! I told Elizabeth to grab a stick just in case…which is her go to move anyway when she is scared, regardless of what. The dogs were in a losing battle to catch the monkey, and seeing them so wild and in hunting mode was pretty scary considering we had decided to forego the “recommended” $800 rabies shot at Denver Health before we left. After the inevitable wrong turn, a young girl said she would be happy to help us if I would be happy to check my pocket for a bit of cash. 1000 shillings later (about 40 cents) we now had a self-appointed guide. Her name was Annette and she was very proud to show us off to her neighbors (something tells me that we are not the only muzungus that get lost around this lake…she was a pro at almost suckering us out of more money!) She was super friendly and helpful, and she was more than excited to do a photo shoot with us (she insisted on the poses…really!) She led us back to the main road, where Kibale National Park headquarters just happened to be.
We took this as a sign and stopped in to ask about chimpanzee trekking. Thirty minutes later, we had a chimp adventure arranged for the following day and reservations to stay in the treehouse (yes, I said a treehouse) at the Kibale Primate Lodge. We finished our lake walk with the same stupid smiles we started with:) Later that night, I had the unfortunate experience of whipping Elizabeth’s smile right off the face of the earth as I cleaned her gnarled toe she got from tripping over her own feet in Kampala with an alcohol swab. She CLAIMS it was the most pain she has ever felt, but I am not sure she would have made it home with that toe if I hadn’t intervened…so when you read this, you’re welcome, honey.
We woke up to a beautiful lake and some coffee (The coffee, by the way, is always instant crap, I think Starbucks must buy up the good stuff and leave them with Nes-crap-é. Clever, right?!) We packed up and set out for a 10km walk down the road to our treehouse. Beautiful and green, we passed tea farms and found ourselves enter a thickening forest. Baboons started to come out of the trees, and to our surprise, they were not the least bit scared of us. Of course Elizabeth grabbed a stick, and while she looked like a complete moron, I felt bad for giving her some crap when a guide later told us that was actually a good idea. We continued on the last 2km to see a few other types of monkeys flying thought the tree tops. ONLY IN AFRICA, RIGHT?!
Our treehouse was AMAZING (even considering what it boasted in “adventure,” it lacked in amenities…think bats flying in and out, bugs and a bucket) We were informed we had a strict 7:30 curfew, when armed guards would escort us back because of the possibility of encountering an elephant. We thought it was a little farfetched and unnecessary…until that night. Up in our treehouse, we heard lots of grunting, growling and BIG trees cracking, VERY close to us. All of the sudden, our place was surrounded by elephants! Although it’s apparently rare to see them, we spotted seven of them outside our door and at the bottom of the staircase, including bulls and babies. I felt like staying up all night to try and spot them (there is a reason Elizabeth calls me Adventure Boy), but with an early morning of chimp trekking on the horizon, we called it a night and listened to the elephants’ sounds from our bunk beds.
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