It was another early start. We were up at 05.20 ready to leave at 06.00 for Semuliki National Park. The park is located about 75 minutes north east of Fort Portal, so we were expecting a drive of over 4 hours to get there. Stu and his family were going to accompany us as was Jackie. Jackie’s old boss at Tembo Canteen, Patrick, is now the warden in charge at Semuliki and she hadn’t seen him for a year. Because there were 7 of us travelling, we were using Stu’s vehicle, a Toyota Hiace, and his driver, a very nice man named Habib.
The first part of the drive was pretty boring to be honest other than the fact that we saw a hyena by the side of the road, our second sighting of this trip. I tried to catch up on some blogging, but kept drifting into sleep. We stopped at Fort Portal to pick up a bit of food and drink before taking the turning towards Semuliki. This was now territory that I hadn’t been into before, so I started to take far more notice of the environment around me. At first nothing changed, but then suddenly we found ourselves at the top of a valley with some incredible views. We stopped to take some photos and then drove down to Semuliki – this would take about another 45 minutes. It was all downhill on a very windy road. We had one taste of the unpleasant side of Uganda when we were stopped by a traffic cop. The traffic police are notorious in Uganda for fining people indiscriminately or taking bribes. This policeman pointed out to Habib that he didn’t have any rear reflectors. When Stu and I appeared, he told us to go away saying it was none of our business. I then pointed out that the reflectors could be clearly seen on the rear of the van and drew his attention to them. He replied to Habib that they were in the wrong place, but we were told that we were free to go!
The rest of the journey was uneventful and we reached Semuliki with the sun coming out and the temperature soaring. Patrick was very pleased to see us and organised a walk for us to the hot springs while ensuring that there would be lunch ready for us when we got back. Patrick looked as if had lost twenty years since I had last seen him – he appeared fit and well. He told me that working at Tembo involved eighteen hour days all the time, so Semuliki was nowhere near as challenging in terms of his time although there were always issues to deal with.
We took a walk to the hot springs that are located in the park – there is a male spring and a female spring. Apparently, local tribes carry(ied) out rituals at the springs, and cooking was only allowed at the female spring. Needless to say it was very hot and there was a whiff of sulphur in the air. At this point, I’m not going to say any more about the springs because I carried out an experiment which I am going to share with Year 6 in January. Once this has been completed, I will share the film on the blog.
One of the things both Stu and I noticed was that the surroundings could have come straight out of a Vietnam war movie. We half expected an apache to come flying over the horizon and strafe us with bullets. We returned from the walk and ate a nice meal of goat stew, rice and vegetables that Patrick had organised for us. After that it was full speed ahead to return to Mweya in time for Jackie’s birthday party.
We made it back to Mweya by 19.45 and had an hour to freshen up for the bash at Tembo. When we got there, it had been decorated and tables set out for the party. Embarrassingly, we all had to sit at the top table with Jackie who looked resplendent in a red gown that could double up as a prom dress. The food was ace – barbecued goat and chicken with a selection of vegetables including IRISH potatoes. Next, there were a series of speeches as befits an event in Uganda. I had to make a speech, but Stu had warned me in advance that this was happening so I was reasonably well prepared. I actually thought that I gave a very good speech and I got a big round of applause, but the MC – one of the Tembo staff called Oratio (who was hilarious all night) got a big laugh when he said he hadn’t the faintest idea what I was going on about.
After Jackie had made her speech, the dancing started and we all joined in – there’s really no choice in Uganda. Even Stu took part, which is a first as every time that I’ve been with him in Uganda, he’s always conveniently disappeared once the dancing began. The dancing was still going when we left at 01.45 and apparently continued until after 03.00
Tomorrow is a cluster meeting for the Ugandan teachers at Hippo House.