Mabira Forest is one of the major tourist attractions in Uganda and one of the features that make the Pearl of Africa attractive. Titus Kakembo visited the forest and brings you the story.
When you drive through Mabira Forest on the Kampala -Jinja highway, all you see are trees. But turn off the road at Najjembe trading centre and you enter another world.
Here, trees give way to nature’s beauty — birds, orchids, butterflies and forest flowers, all of them patrolled by red-tailed monkeys.
The logical destination in this forest is the Rain Forest Lodge, a 20-minute-ride on a boda boda into the depth of Mabira Forest. I and my brother Freddie could not but marvel at the cool temperature and snaking lines of trees. It felt like nature’s air conditioner had been switched on.
“Very important people spend nights here,” John Magezi, the boda boda rider told me. “The Vice- President, Edward Ssekandi, also comes.We see diplomats, royals and other tourists coming here,” Magezi added.
At this point, it dawned on me that there is more to Mabira Forest’s 312sqkm green canopy than meets the eye.
The reception of RainForest Lodge was built using stones and wood
On arrival, a receptionist only identified as Ashraf greeted us and offered us small glasses of tropical fruit juice. At 8:00pm, our candle lit dinner was served and as we dined, we saw our shadows dancing on the walls whenever the wind blew the flame. The nightlife entertainment is something to relish.
The rarely-seen hyrax often switches on its deafening hoots after dusk. One time it is heard on the west, and another in the east. We pondered whether it was the same one that switched positions or it called and attracted a response from another.
I had carried my small radio and being an early riser, I was awake by 6:00am listening to BBC while taking a shower and bracing myself for the nature walk. The alarm clock here is the choir of birds, monkeys and all sorts of jungle life celebrating the breaking of dawn.
At 7:30am, there was a loud knock on the door and on opening, there stood a waiter. He had come to invite us for breakfast. The table was embellished with cornflakes, fruit salad, bacon, toasted bread, omelette and a strong brew of coffee — breakfast fit for kings. I feasted to my fill and got to understand why waistlines get bigger among the wellheeled folk.
By 8:30am, we were ready to walk through a forest that was gazetted way back in 1932. Among the 200 different tree species there, are some that are 300-500 years old.
“Unlike trees in winter-prone areas which stop growing in some seasons, the ones in Mabira Forest grow throughout their life,” Ephraim Kasozi, a guide, said, adding that some of the trees grow to heights above 130 feet.
Unfortunately, some are endangered because of their medicinal use as libido boosters, love potions and twin birth enhancers. A tree locally known as Mukuza nume, for instance, has a bitter bark and is famous for such purposes.
“Mukuza nume is biologically called citroposis. It is treasured in the entire Greatlakes region. It boosts potency. Herbalists from South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya come here to chop off the bark of the tree,” Kasozi said.
Unfortunately, the way we do it endangers the tree’s chances of continuing to germinate,” Kasozi lamented. “Former vice-president, Gilbert Bukenya, had promised to bring scholars to do research on the herb,” Kasozi said. He said Bukenya used to visit the forest to relieve himself from stress.
“I remember him saying a nature walk is better than going to the gym,” Kasozi said. Another crowd-puller herb is a love portion called Makaranga in Kiswahili. This one is popular with women who feel they are being cheated of tenderness, love and care by their spouses.
“You just break off a thorn and use it to brush your teeth while mumbling your love wishes,” explained Kasozi. “Then you turn the sharp side of the thorn to pick your teeth. Every prick you make, your target thinks about and cherishes you the more.”
Kasozi spiced his tale by claiming that the newlyweds who come here for their honeymoon always end up with twins, but he declined to name a few of them, saying it would be a breach of his professional ethics. I guess we will never verify the twins theory, then.
There was a variety of birds to see, including the Great Blue Turaco, Nahan’s Francolin, Papyrus Gonolek and the Black Hornbill. We were told, if lucky, one may see an impala or a bushbuck, but nothing like that happened.
The forest is also endowed with numerous streams slinking through, papyrus swamps and patches of grassland. In them are the red-tailed monkeys pulling faces or diving from one branch to the other with practiced expertise. Crickets continue to have singing competitions.
Depending on your chosen nature walk, you may bump into the 27 enclaves of human settlements encroaching on the forest since the 1970s. With a smile, I slogged through the thickets on my 45-minute nature walk and fell for the landscapes. The undergrowth is carpeted with green plants and dry brown leaves that give an artistic visual impression as the sun beams filter through the canopy.
In this kind of nature’s embrace, like me, you will not mind getting your feet wet. The more reason Mabira Forest is winning a stiff race with my favourite trails of soggy Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Kidepo Valley National Park.
Only here, gumboots, insect repellants and sun shades are optional for there are clear beaten trails within the forest. The forest’s name comes from the plural for the word forest in Luganda. One is called kibira, but because this combined several forests, it was called Mabira.
Being a catchment area between the River Nile and Sezibwa, Lake Victoria and Kyoga, this forest swallows lots of rain. “Between the 1970s and 1990s, the rains reduced but with climate change — they are now unpredictable,” said David Kaddu, an elder in Najjembe Market. Mabira Forest survived being given out for sugarcane growing and so we should treasure it.
HOW TO GET THERE
The turn is 30 minutes’ drive from Jinja and 45 to 60 minutes from Kampala, depending on the volume of traffic. There are many taxis and buses plying the route.
A boda boda charges sh1,500 to sh2,000 from the highway to the lodge. A three course lunch costs sh40,000. A guided nature walk is worth $10 (sh27,000). There are various options for accommodation, and you can call to book.
FACTS ABOUT MABIRA FOREST
- Mabira is located along the Jinja- Kampala highway
- It is a 45 to 60-minutes dive from Kampala depending on the volume of traffic.
- The forest has many trees that are used as herbs throughout Africa
- The forest is ever green all year round
- There was a variety of birds to see, including the Great Blue Turaco, Nahan’s Francolin, Papyrus Gonolek and the Black Hornbill
- Being a catchment area between the River Nile and Sezibwa, the forest swallows a lot of water