Semuliki National Park, Uganda, Day 360


Sempaya hot springs, Semuliki National Park, Uganda, Africa

Karabole Tours in Fort Portal organize two activities for Christi and I, the first of which is a visit to Semuliki National Park. Although only given national park status in 1993, Semuliki Forest Reserve was created in 1932. The area actually had a high prevalence of African Sleeping Sickness and Yellow Fever and to eradicate these diseases, the local indigenous peoples were evicted from their traditional forest homes. This included the Batwa pygmies and with a bit of luck we will also visit this tribal grouping as part of our excursion. The main entrance to Semuliki National park is only 27 km from Fort Portal, but most of that distance is vertical – up and over the famous Rwenzori mountain range. This range is the highest in Africa at over 5,000m (16,400 feet), although the highest peak is Mt. Kilimanjaro. The Rwenzori mountains have one of those very cool sobriquets: The Mountains of the Moon, which is up there with The Lost City of the Incas for sheer charisma and sales appeal.  It is possible to trek through the mountain wilderness, but it is cold and wet. So the saying goes, the Rwenzori mountains are where Jesus came to learn how to walk on water! For the moment Christi and I content ourselves with a wide 3-hour detour, crossing The Mountains of the Moon at Buranga Pass.

The Buranga Pass offers views over the Semuliki River, which is the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire. Here’s a fast tangential fact for you, only Zaire, Haiti[both in 1974] and Brazil [2014] have conceded 5 goals in the first half of a match at the World Cup Finals!). For all the troubles in the DRC, the name Congo just sounds exotic and dangerous. If Christi and I had more time (apparently a year is just not long enough) may be we would ventured over the border. Having said that Semuliki National Park is the easternmost extent of the Great Ituri Forest of the Congo basin, so technically we are leaving East Africa and entering Central Africa. And the rainforest here is different; it is the loudest tract of jungle we have ever visited as a plethora of monkeys (including black and white and  red colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, and the gray-cheeked mangabey) swing through the canopy far above our heads. Moreover, who knew there was geothermal activity in the middle of Africa, yet the Sempaya hot springs and geysers are bubbling away quite happily; hot enough in fact to boil eggs and bake potatoes for lunch.

Another irresistible draw for me is the presence of a tribe of Batwa pygmies that had also been forced out of their traditional forest homeland and into the surrounding non-pygmy communities. Traditionally these people were hunter-gatherers, dependent on Semuliki forest for food, shelter, medicine and tools, although this is beginning to change as a result of interaction with other local tribes. Interracial marriage has become increasingly common and one slightly humorous result of these marriages is that the pygmies are becoming taller! The chief of the local Batwa pygmy tribe and his mum are, however, 100% pure and they are tiny little folks. For a fee they are happy to be photographed and I’m happy to oblige. One wonders how long it will be before the Batwa pygmies disappear into the history books. It’s been a great day in Central Africa.

Blog post by Roderick Phillips, author of Weary Heart – a gut-wrenching tale of love and test tubes.

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