“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been before.” Diane Arbus
Two weekends ago, a group of us spent two days in Fort Portal, a town between Kasese and Kampala that I’ve probably passed through at least ten times now. It was about time to explore it! Not to mention, the cooler climate found there (higher elevation) was quite enticing…
Here are a few fun facts about the city of Fort Portal:
- The town was established and is named after Sir Gerald Porter, who was appointed as the British Special Commissioner to East Africa in 1892. He died two years later of typhoid fever in London.
- Fort Portal is about the 20th largest city in Uganda and has a population of ~47,000, as compared to Kampala with ~1.7 million (largest) and Kasese with ~75,000 (10th largest).
- The Toro Kingdom’s palace is rested upon a hill in Fort Portal. The current king was born in 1992 and crowned in 1995, making him a 3 ½ year old king and 12th ruler of the 180 year old kingdom. He is the world’s youngest ruling monarch with a full name of Rukirabasaija Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV, or King Oyo for short.
- Muamar Gaddafi had close ties to the royal family and was invited, as the “defender” of the kingdom, to King Oyo’s anniversary coronation celebration in 2001. Gaddafi even made donations to the Kingdom to help renovate the palace.
The bus ride to Fort Portal from Kasese is about two hours, just enough time for a good nap (since all moving vehicles put me immediately to sleep like a baby). After first arriving, we immediately headed to a restaurant popular among westerners: The Gardens. There, I had an AMAZING bacon cheeseburger, chips (French fries), and a vanilla milkshake. Wow! It was such a treat. There are no such things in Kasese, as you may guess.
With full tummies, we headed out to find a driver to take us to some waterfalls outside of the city. After a bump-tastic drive with 6 people packed in the car for an hour, we picked up a 7th passenger, a guide for the hike, making the last part of the drive extra cozy (if you’re wondering, two people shotgun and 4 in the back). The view on the drive was beautiful, passing several crater lakes and green forests. After parking and trekking perhaps a mile through fields of maize, extremely rural backyards of houses, and a sharp downhill, we arrived at the lovely Muhoma Falls where we spent some time frolicking in the water. To add an extra dose of adventure to the already muddy hike there, it started misting, then drizzling, then pouring, for our 30 minute walk back to the car. If we weren’t muddy enough, the car had lots of trouble on the roads so we had to get out and push the car past the tough spots several times.
But we made it! And it was a blast. Topped off with extra-long warm showers back at the hotel, it was a perfect afternoon. And since the weekend seemed to revolve around food, I can’t forget to mention the chicken stir fry I ordered for dinner that night at a bar. Not knowing what to expect, I was surprisingly delighted that it actually tasted like stir fry and was very tasty.
The next morning we stopped back at The Gardens, not able to resist returning back to their 6 page menu of specialty drinks and coffees (note the big smile as I drink my chai latte in photos below). Then, we walked up the hill to the palace that I mentioned earlier, and chatted with the guard for a bit, learning that the King was currently in London graduating from university.
What came next? Food of course. We wanted to try another well-known restaurant, Dutchess, famous for their pizza. I don’t think I’ve yet blogged about it, but my love for cheese goes largely neglected here in Uganda. Don’t get me wrong, I love local Ugandan dishes. But I could do with some more dairy in my life these days! So when we ordered pizza, I was pretty skeptical and thought it would taste like some of the other less-than-impressive cheese that I’ve tasted here. But words can’t even describe how satisfied our taste buds were with this delicacy! You can even watch them making the pizza right there in the brick oven. And I don’t think I’ve ever had such fresh pineapple on my Hawaiian pizza before.
Happy as could be, we had a nice stroll around the town, stopping in shops along the way, before we headed back to Kasese. It was a wonderful weekend get-a-way with some good friends. I think I will head back that way from time to time when I crave a little taste of home.
Next stop in a few weeks: Mbarara and the nearby Lake Mburo National Park.