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Published: June 29th 2009
South of Fort Portal lies a region of crater lakes formed in the distant past. It's supposedly a pleasant area to hang out in hence - since I'm all about hanging out - it has some appeal. As I am breakfasting in Fort Portal I meet a pair of young Aussies who are doing a Cape Town to Cairo trip. They are heading to my own intended destination, Lake Nkuruba, so we agree to share transport there.
Our accommodation choice is, of course, the sole offering from the WLP. I'd stumbled across some forum threads stating that a rival camp next door with a very similar name has been "stealing" customers by bribing the taxi drivers in Fort Portal to bring them to the wrong site. The owner of this rival camp claims that his profits go towards an orphanage but it seems like they actually make their way into his back pocket. I make this distinction clear to our taxi driver and we are delivered to the correct address.
The camp is at the more basic end of the spectrum, with electricity solely for powering the restaurant lights in the evening. The outdoor shower is literally a bucket
affair (see photos) for which it's possible to request hot water. The small kitchen has little in the way of facilities and we have to order our meals well in advance with a requested serving time. You would not want to set your watch by this.
However the staff are friendly and eager to please, the food is tasty and comes in large quantities, and the general atmosphere is restful in the extreme. The lake is just a couple of hundred metres away, and its peaceful shores are the perfect location for some unconstructive idling. I lounge on a rock, seeing malachite kingfishers diving into the breeze-ruffled waters for their breakfast. A great blue turaco - one of Uganda's signature birds - swoops from tree to tree followed by its mate, though neither land for long enough for me to be able to take a decent photo. The sudden bending and springing of tree boughs on the opposite side of the lake indicates monkeys at play, crashing through the canopy.
However you don't need to move from the camp to be overdosed with wildlife. A large group of mongooses dashes across the open grass one morning as I
sit reading (the only non-Readers Digest book in the library apart from some reference work on the Ashes is an Elizabeth Peters, fittingly one of her Africa-based offerings and an undemanding read). The staff warn us about the safari ants that have established a main thoroughfare across the path leading to the toilets. Various colourful birds flit between the pink and yellow flowers that dot the grass.
The stars, though, are the monkeys that are present in the morning and evening, nibbling on the fruits of various trees when the sun is low in the sky. I see red colobus, black and white monkeys (how they escaped being called blue-balled monkeys I do not know), and - my personal favourites - black colobus. The latter are predominantly black but with white fringes of fur on their backs and a white tuft at the end of their long tails. They are very cute indeed. I spend several hours watching their antics, which involve sitting in the branches watching the world go by, fetching and eating fruit in a peculiarly human fashion, having the occasional relieving scratch, and leaping from tree to tree with astonishing agility. The young ones are not
quite as habituated to humans, and I see large round eyes staring at me, one of their close cousins, from the protective arms of their mothers.
I do a guided walk with the young Aussies to a place called the Top of the World (though there appear to be at least two sites with that name in the region). We reach it via a winding route that also takes in several more crater lakes. The landscape is green, hilly, and with isolated pockets of Friesian cows - it could almost be England, though the lake areas remind me more of Bariloche. The fields of banana trees, chillis, and coffee plants tell me that I am definitely not in either of those locations. It's surprisingly hot and sunny, given the coolness of the camp, and my dislike of sunscreen leaves me with a sock burn line on my calves.
The camp is small but there are even fewer guests. The sole long-termer is a seemingly embittered woman who is working nearby. One of the first sentences out of her mouth is that she thinks English girls are self-centred and high maintenance, which is a promising start, but it soon
Lake Nkuruba Community Campsite
becomes clear that she is overfull of negativity, not to mention swear words. Though it's refreshing to not have to hear the "My time in Africa has changed my life" BS spouted by many of the volunteers I've met, she's at the other extreme and has little good to say about Ugandans. She mentions Ugandan men's supposed propensity for "pocketing", i.e. playing with their junk through their trousers, though I can't say I've noticed this habit.
I get on much better with Sonja, an American woman on a month's holiday to East Africa. She is some sort of lab technician, a job that has enabled her to have stints in Antarctica (including at the South Pole) and Greenland. I'm jealous beyond words, but it's a relief - and something of a novelty - to be meeting someone my own age rather than the predominantly younger crowd I've encountered until now. She has also travelled extensively in South America so we have plenty to chat about. Both being AD fans also helps. That evening, it tips down in Biblical fashion to the point where we can hardly hear ourselves speak.
Sonya's intended route for the next few days is
Lake Nkuruba Community Campsite
the same as mine, so we head back to Fort Portal together and make plans to head south. Dull but possibly useful info
i. The camp said a special hire (i.e. private) taxi from Fort Portal should be USh25,000 but we got one for USh15,000 - I think because the driver was desperate. A shared taxi would normally take 6 people at USh3,000 each, so USh18,000 is probably a price to keep everyone happy. Boda bodas are apparently USh5,000 but the road isn't great so it would be an uncomfortable ride, even more so if you have luggage.
ii. The correct phone number for the site is 0773 266 067 - ask for Patrick. The number in the WLP is wrong, as is the one I was given by Kabarole Tours in Fort Portal (who seem to be affiliated with the dastardly Enfuzi camp, which does have much more advertising around Fort Portal).
iii. Make sure you end up at Lake Nkuruba Community Campsite (it has yellow and blue gates so you can't miss it), and NOT the one with Enfuzi in the name.
iv. A banda costs USh16,000.
v. I would highly recommend the sweet potatoes, beans and
gnut sauce. The fruit salad at breakfast contains pineapple, banana and passionfruit - none of this watermelon-heavy bollocks that places often try to pass off as a fruit salad.
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