Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Frog In The Bog and Other Stories

So, our holiday last week saw us cross Kampala in our little white car and head out west on the Fort Portal road.

Our guidebook told us the road was really good up until Mubende, a town roughly halfway between Kampala and Fort Portal, whereafter it became so bad, the town was nicknamed Fort Pothole.

Of course, the guide being a few years out of date, the road West of Mubende is now smooth as silk, with a camber that's pleasing to the soul.

It's the 160km stretch to get there from Kampala that's now falling apart.

Never mind, the Nissan, because it's so small, has some advantage in it's ability to swerve around holes and fit through ever decreasing narrow passages of tarmac sandwiched between the encroaching corrugations, rocks and dust of the earth either side. But we know if we misjudge a hole we're going to come off a lot worse than our fellow road users in their Toyota pick-ups and Landrovers.

We eventually passed Mubende at around lunchtime and pulled over on a side track of long grasses to have a 'comfort break'. A swift and subtle pee in between the tall grasses and the natural alcove created by opening both left-hand side doors of the car at the same time. Veterans of many old banger rallies through Africa, I know how to relieve myself quickly and discretely.

(And a quick pee in the bush is always preferable to one in the stinky, mosquito ridden long drops you find round the back of Africa's village highway fuel stations.)

We were both eating our pack lunch when it quickly became apparent that the overgrown track we were parked on was a major pedestrian cut through to some un-seen village.

And everyone who had to pass up the track seemed to favour the side of the car where I had just left a small puddle. In this searing heat there is no way it would be mistaken for rain. And what's more, most people were barely shod. One old lady was barefoot.

Horrified, we had to jump up and block their path, motioning them round the other side of the vehicle to keep my shameful secret, and to keep their feet dry...

After lunch, the wide shoulder of the road ahead urging us on to Fort Portal, we made good time and hit the town at around 3pm.

Little more than one main street connected by a couple of roundabouts, Fort Portal is small but compact. With unpredictable weather. It lies at about 1500m altitude, at the feet of the Rwenzoris, which you can see on a clear day.

It was not a clear day. The blistering heat of our lunchtime stop had gone, the temperature dropping about ten degrees in the space of ten kilometres. The Rwenzoris where hidden behind black clouds sat on the horizon and the wind was cold enough to make us wind up our windows. I burrowed in my bag for a fleece - the first time ever I've had to wear one in Uganda.

As we took the Kamwenge road south towards the Kasenda crater lake cluster, the rain started. The road was unsealed, and our windscreen wipers were short of useless, so we made extremely slow progress as we peered to see the holes. Taxis and bodas sped past us, hooting and flashing their lights.

Never mind we thought. We'll have a suspension system tomorrow - they won't.

An hour later and we made it to CVK - our first stop of the trip. A budget traveller's hangout perched on the steep banks of a crater lake, overhung with lush, dense tropical forest and alive with frogs, birds and monkeys. In fact, CVK is on Lake Nyabikere - which means Lake of Frogs. You could certainly hear them, and it wasn't even dark yet.

The place seemed deserted. We were shown to our room by a single member of staff. To get there we slid down some steep, moss-covered steps - a lawsuit waiting to happen - fearing we'd end up in the lake if we mis-judged things. We left our things in the room and went to take a seat on the main verandah, feeling like we were the only people there.

But we were wrong. Within half an hour, an Israeli couple turned up. They recognised us as had been staying at Red Chilli only a few days before. Then a girl joined their table. It was dark by now and we couldn't see her face - but her voice sounded familiar. When she popped over to confirm it was us we realised she was a regular guest at Red Chilli - a dutch woman who would stay at ours in between research trips to 'her village'. Which turned out to be a village a few miles down the road from where we were staying.

So there we were, listening to the frogs croak and the rain drum on the roof, on holiday 300 miles from home, talking to the only other three guests in the hotel who were three people who knew us from Kampala, one of whom was trying to persuade us to adopt an abandoned puppy she'd found...

We then met the owner of CVK - a lovely woman called Pelusi. Her husband was or is the head of Agricultural studies at Makarere University and set up a field station out here for research. It was then that they saw the potential to build a community tourism based site on the edge of the crater lake. The water pumps they have installed pump water from the lake to the site, and also to the village down the road. The crafts for sale come from the local basket makers and carvers, and there are other projects they are involved in which are inherently community focused. They have planted lots of fruit trees in amongst the tropical forest on their lake shore which has attracted all sorts of monkeys and birds back to the area, including the odd family of chimps. The place has a great soul to it, but we got the sense Pelusi and her husband were ready to retire. They're certainly looking for a Manager to run the place, if anyone out there's interested.

Later that night, after the torrential storms had finished (this week I heard of an overland truck crew I know who had to abandon setting up camp down the road in Queen Elizabeth National Park that night because the hailstorms were too ferocious...), we disappeared to our room. I popped to the en suite bathroom quickly, only flicking the light on at the last minute before I was about to plant myself on the loo.

But before I did I noticed we had a surprise visitor. It seems water was not the only thing pumped up from the lake that night. I was eye to eye (and almost cheek to cheek) with a long legged black lake frog.

We stared at eachother for a moment and with a sudden plop, he disappeared round the U bend.

What to do? I couldn't go to the loo, knowing he was around the bend in the pipe. But I couldn't fish him out as he was hiding around the bend. R and I figured that a quick flush would hopefully see him back somewhere, if not where he originally came from. It was only once we'd flushed that we realised, like every other sewage system in Uganda, this pipe probably led to a soak pit.

Poor Froggie...

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