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After surviving my first public transportation ordeal with Robert to get to Fort Portal, I signed on to a couple of private full-day tours of the area. Very reasonably priced for a guide all to myself.

While hiking through the hills and banana fields in the “crater lakes” area near Fort Portal, my guide, Cletus, explained to me about the banana fields, which feel more like banana forests. In this area the locals grow very miniature bananas, different than the kind one eats. They use them to make a liquor with. After picking them while still green, the locals ripen them by steaming them over a smoldering fire covered in banana leaves. Then they mash them and add sorghum to ferment into the final product. I believe I tasted this or something very similar at the SAB brewery in South Africa, where they let us experience the traditional liquor; it smelled quite wretched but was surprisingly palatable … if one were terribly desperate. So my guide took me inside the house of someone who happened to be in his yard and was brewing this liquor. There were several drums of this stuff fermenting inside a mud hut, and it smelled exactly like the stuff in SAB. It was a purple chunky brew, bubbling away in some scavenged metal drums, which were uncovered -- to let the swarming flies add a little protein, I guess. The smell was very strong. My guide said that when a man comes to bring the bride price for a bride in this region, he must include along with livestock and other gifts, several large jerricans full of this liquor. It’s consumed in many traditional celebrations. Another day when I had a different guide, I asked him if he ever drank that liquor. He said yes, but it’s very strong, so he doesn’t drink much. “Do you like the flavor?” I asked. He shook his head and laughed. “No!”

Walking through banana fields near Fort Portal, Uganda.

Hut among the banana fields where the bananas are ripened by steaming them in the ground to make liquor. Fort Portal, Uganda.

Puppy dog outside a hut in the banana fields near Fort Portal, Uganda.

Robert told me about some of the customs of his tribe, and a baby naming ceremony involves the simple act of dropping 3 drops of this liquor into the baby’s mouth then proclaim the name. Then all the villagers gathered around to drink themselves a party.  A right of passage into manhood is also quite simple: a boy must carry a huge clay pot of the liquor to his father, who is seated some distance away from the “starting point,” and give him a drink, then carry the pot back. If you drop it then you are basically ridiculed, perhaps you will have another opportunity in the future.

A couple other random cultural components of his tribe: If a women gets pregnant out of wedlock, their custom is that this child is given to the grandparents to raise. My friend was raised according to this prescribed custom by an assortment of family members. His parents, who were married after he was conceived, were allowed to bring him up in infancy until the age of 5, but then he was given to his grandparents to raise, then circumstances gave him to an aunt and uncle for a few years, then he came back to his grandparents. A bit of a jumbled childhood. The prescription for two people being caught in the act of incest is for the villagers to lock them inside a thatched hut, pile grass all around it, light it on fire, then stand outside with canes to give the a beating when they finally run outside to escape the flames -- out of the fire and into the frying pan.

But anyway ... these banana forests lie in a region called the Crater Lakes, outside of Fort Portal. A series of lakes have filled in volcanic craters (hence the reasonable name of the region). The first photo below is the lake depicted on the 20 schilling note in Uganda. You can recognize the tall tree on the lower right on the bill. It's a very scenic area. 

Crater lake region of Fort Portal, Uganda. The crater lake shown on the 20 shilling note of Ugandan currency.

Crater lakes region of Fort Portal, Uganda.A home on the shore of a lake in the crater lakes region of Fort Portal, Uganda.

Church near Fort Portal, Uganda.While Cletus and I were walking through the fields in a valley, where they were growing Irish potatoes and peanuts and onions, we came across a small flock of gray crowned cranes! I couldn't believe it, this amazing bird just hangs out in the village fields. I had presumed they existed only in national parks now. But here they were free as a ... well, a bird. 

 

 

 

Wild gray crowned cranes walking through fields near Fort Portal, Uganda.

Gray crowned crane.Uganda.

Homemade pontoon boat near Fort Portal, Uganda.

Look closely at the boat above, if you didn't notice what an ingenious little bodge-job it is. A wooden box on the metal canisters to make a pontoon boat. People around here are perpetually inventive with their limited resources.

My day with Cletus through the crater lakes and banana fields also included a hike to a nice waterfall. It was a lovely day, all in all, though (a) I was a bit ill to my stomach, and (b) while Cletus was a nice guy, he asked me every few minutes if I was OK ... "how are you?" "are you good?" "are you OK?" ... and by the end of the day I just couldn't answer him anymore. He wasn't asking this on account of my illness because I didn't tell him I was sick; he was just asking to ask. Amusing, but eventually tiresome. But a minor point in an otherwise awesome day. 

 *

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