Friday, March 25, 2011

Uganda - Friday March 11th - drive from Queen Elizabeth to Semuliki

Before setting off from Simba Lodge the next morning we needed to identify the 'all-night bird', a bird that had been calling, as far as we could tell, for a little over 36 hours now... turns out it was a Red-throated Cuckoo:


This prompted a walk-about the gardens and grounds of the lodge, adding Yellow-throated Tinkerbird:



And Black-lored Babbler:



Then it was time to head-off. We stopped en route to take a couple of scenery pictures, through the gathering gloom:





prompted by seeking a pair of Abdim's Stork landing by the roadside:



A brief stop in Fort Portal later we continued our journey to Semuliki, arriving mid-afternoon, and taking our packed lunch in a concrete hut construction at the park entry.

We recruited Elly (at this point we were about 9 miles from the Congo border), a guard with an AK47. As noted in a previous posting the guns are to deal with wild, charging buffalo, there are no security risks of note for tourists in Uganda, although a couple of nights later we saw a large army patrol returning from a night patrolling the border and there are military posts and camps dotted along the border.

We set off on a walk from the park entry, but it was amazingly hot, the gathering rain of the higher elevations long behind us as we walked in the Semuliki Forest, which is essentially the Congo Forest but within the border of Uganda. The heat of the day meant not many birds were about, but we were delighted to get really good views of a Narina Trogon, seen fleetingly at first, then after much 'fishing' it had popped up behind us:





We walked on to the 'female hot springs' - apparently called because the local tribal women use it as a spiritual place for cleansing, sacrifices, etc., and there's a male counterpart, but we didn't fancy extending the walk much further:



So we headed back on to the the Vanilla Hotel.

It's fair to say this is the place we were most worried about staying in, in Uganda. Trip Advisor reports show the place having no electricity, bed bugs, etc. We were actually moved to an alternative, the Rainbow Inn, but the manageress there wasn't prepared to provide any meals, so Harriet took the executive decision of moving us back to the Vanilla. What Trip Advisor doesn't tell you (but soon will) is that, along with the construction of a main road between Fort Portal and Semuliki, being undertaken by CICO (a Chinese construction company), something to do with oil finds in Albertine Rift and the general election just passed no doubt, they have also recently run electricity to the Semuliki region too. Not everyone has it of course but some towns do including the one with the Vanilla Hotel.

This has caused the problem that most concerned Harriet, noise, as the Hotel has a television set to blast-wave volumes and similar music facilities too. Harriet had had a number of conversations with the manageress in advance of our arrival so it actually worked out really well.
The food was excellent, the chef there one of the best (apart from Masindi, later) we encountered, his fresh tomato soup was awesome and his veggie curries properly spiced and full of flavour. The rooms are reasonably basic, two twins, but comfortable. There's a fan jerry-rigged into the one working socket, which we sacrificed for battery charging, and running water, cold only but running none-the-less. A cold shower when it's 35c or over is no bad thing so we were quite happy. Once we'd eaten drank our Nile Special (here only 2,500 USch or 62p a bottle) we went to bed and the telly was turned down. Result! A very early start to come then as we head into the forest proper...

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