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Mt. Rwenzori of Uganda tours: The Gorilla Mountains of the moon

Fort Portal at the foot of Mt. Rwenzori is a one–Street Town that resembles any other small town of East Africa.

Maps are wonderful things. The smaller the tourist guidebook or atlas, or even one drawn across the bar counter, the greater the inclination to go and see a place. Everything looks so close. At that point everything vanishes from the mind, and the brain goes into auto-pilot. Images of vast savannahs and things all new to see paint the mind’s eye and with tinted glasses we hit the road. I felt all powerful.

You can only go to Kampala so many times and not see the rest of Uganda. Like I said ATMS are wonderful things. I got some money in seconds from the smart Cosmo shopping mall. The garden city. UGSh 100,000 seemed like a lot of money and I hit the road.

I chose the route from the tattered little tourist book. The Rwenzori, the fabled mountains of the moon, popped out. I’d do that; take a nice bus ride along the mountains of the moon where gorillas and chimps still find a home in the equatorial rainforest of Africa.

Two hundred kilometers away lay fort portal on the foothills of Rwenzoris; my first stop. Uganda is a well watered country. You see that driving almost from anywhere. Roads pass through lush, green swamps of papyrus.

Indigenous forests of incredibly tall trees bracket the roads and they are matoke fields all over. Uganda and matoke are inseparable. Thick green banana clusters fill the roadside markets .Men on bicycle and pickups ferry them up and down the roads, and nobody can go hungry in Uganda. It’s the fertile land- “the pearl of Africa.”

As we approached fort portal the town on the slopes of the mighty Rwenzori Mountains, it was pouring like skies had burst open. Heavy clouds hung over the horizon. Riffle in hand a statue of sir Gerald portal stood guard over the township he founded over a century ago.

“Over there, behind the clouds, “she replied looking in the direction of the Mt. Rwenzori. Needless to say, all I saw was a white sky. Remarkably, there were two banks in town, just not my bank. But the only tourist-class hotel was fully booked. But there was nothing to worry about. The king’s palace sat perched on the hill-top, a circular structure built by Libyan strongman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. King Oyo Nyimba KabambaIguru Ukiidi IV of the world’s youngest monarch. Now 14, he was only three years old when he succeeded his father who died of a road accident in 1995.

The rain subsides and Mutesi suggests a drive to the Tooro Botanical gardens on the outskirts of town, where project manager Samwel gives the spiel. “The objective of the botanical is to conserve the Albertine Rift species and at the time sensitize the public to the uses of the plants and how to derive sustainable income from them, “he says.

I realize that I am close to the Albertine Rift valley, which is part of the Great Rift valley and home to some of the most unusual and endemic species of flora and fauna. “The Rwenzori is heavily forested and it’s in our interest to protect it because it’s a very good source of honey, “says Patrick of Kabarole Bee-keepers Association. Everybody’s got something to say about the mountains.

It’s getting late and I haven’t a glimpse of the mountains yet, even though everybody says they are there. Mutesi suggest that we drive to Sebitoli Forest camp.10 Kilometers from fort portal. Its a beautiful forest surrounded by tea plantations and in the bitter sweet-cold of a finishing day, monkeys fill the thick canopy of the upper branches.” Can you tell the three species up there?” asks Tumusiine. He offers to take us for a walk in the forest in search of chimps the following morning I have to decline because he doesn’t accept credit cards. So it’s back to town to the pearl Guesthouse, which offers” peaceful accommodation” on the main street opposite the expensive hotel.

I finally had to cut short my trip and head back as I faced my worst fear of running out of money. The exchange rate played a trick on me this time and I promised myself that next time it would be different.

How to get to Mt. Rwenzori in Uganda.

Your tour operator will organize either a die-hard camping adventure or a softer roomed accommodation in Fort Portal. This is the base town where you can launch your escapades into the Mt. Rwenzori forest. Gorilla trackers will have to do advance booking preferably 3months or more in advance. The reason is that gorilla safaris are highly controlled to limit the impact on the very endangered species in Uganda. Sometimes the gorilla tracking is booked for over a year due to limitation in numbers they put for each tracking party. For more information on Gorilla and chimp tracking contact your operator.

About the Author: Robert is a tour consultant in Kenya and has planned business and vacation safaris for over 10,000 tourists in the East African region. He is a tour operation- major and involved in National tourism policy development in Kenya.

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