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Mabira Forest Preserve

The first thing you notice when you pull into Najjembe is a swarm of blue vested men and women surrounding every matatu trying to sell drinks and snacks ranging from grilled bananas to the ubiquitous meat on a stick. As we twisted and contorted our way out of the minibus and onto the dusty road, we had bowls and sticks and bottles thrust into our face. I bought myself a large, grilled chicken breast and wing on a stick for about eighty cents because on one hand I felt a bit bad for these people who all sell the same things and whose job is to chase travelers when they stop for a few minutes and on the other I didn’t have breakfast and I needed a bit of fuel for the hike we had planned.

A break in the tree canopy.

This was our second attempt to reach Mabira. In our quest to avoid over done touristy resort spots we didn’t take the proper turn off the first trip and instead walked about five hours through the villages in the area after we realized our mistake and didn’t feel like doubling back. Now the plan was to follow the signs for ‘The Rainforest Lodge.’ There was one right in Najjembe where the matatus pick up and drop off passengers and another large one up the road pointing directly to the resort. Knowing this we intended to at least visit the lodge and ask them where to go.

Happily tramping up the hill munching on my delicious grilled chicken, we passed for the second time the school where dozens of students ignored their classes to stare at the mzungus through the windows. Up the hill in the blazing sun until we reached blessed shade where the forest proper began. Soon we hooked a left onto another with a large sign for the lodge urging us on. A bit more travel in some sort of fairy tale like setting; nice wide road, green trees and vegetation on all sides, butterflies flitting around left and right, and enough bird noises to make John Audobon proud then the immersion was temporarily spoiled by a gate with a guard who had a visitor book for us to sign in.

Up to the lodge we went. We stopped at the reception desk to ask for some information about the hiking we were looking for. The woman working the desk informed us that the trails were not marked and there were no guides available. We thanked her for her time, left to explore the rest of the resort compound, and immediately went to work on proving her wrong. We didn’t come a second time just to get shot down by some bogus reason as poor trails. We followed the paths down past the cabins where guests stay, and right past the sign pointing to the swimming pool and on our left was a little footpath leading away from the resort.

Figuring we’d either strike gold with a proper trail or have it peter off in a couple of meters leaving us no choice but to turn around (we’re persistent, not stupid) we ducked onto the path to see where it lead. Unsurprisingly it turned out to be a very nice trail. The trails in Mabira near the Rainforest Lodge are well defined and maintained and even though the receptionist claimed they weren’t marked, there were blue ribbons tied to many trees, especially where the trail changed directions to prevent tourists from wandering off into the sea of green never to be seen again. After a couple hours of hiking we came to the conclusion that all the trails lead somewhere, either back to a different part of the resort or to the road leading down to Najjembe. So getting lost was not a major concern allowing us to truly enjoy the jungle.

Make no mistake, Mabira is the jungle. We visited primarily to see some monkeys and were not dissapointed. For most of the time we were there we could hear evidence of them, rustling of trees and general hooting, but it was a couple of hours before we could properly spot a pair. They are quick dashing through the canopy overhead along the branches, blink and you miss them. Wildlife photographers just got a whole lot more respect in my mind. Not only is the window for viewing so short, there are trees and all sorts of others plants between you and the subject that just make it difficult to see anything. So more power to them for making it work.

Again, make no mistake, Mabira is the jungle. If we found out the fun way with the monkeys, we found out the hard way with ants that climbed into our shoes and up our pants and starting biting us. Those little buggers can sting. And they don’t stop either. They keep gnawing at the same spot until you tear them off physically. I had one of them going to town on my inner thigh. I couldn’t roll up my pants high enough to reach it and couldn’t grab it through the pant fabric. So I did what any rational human being would do, dropped trou in the middle of the Ugandan jungle to teach the bastard some manners. I decided I need to buy a pair of boots from one of the second hand shops here. I like my normal running shoes for every day use, but I plan on spending more time visiting jungle parks and preserves. With a pair of boots I’ll be able to blouse my pants
like a paratrooper from Easy Company to keep bugs from crawling up my legs. It’s that or use bug repellent, but that’s cheating in my opinion.

Mabira is easy to get to. Leaving from Jinja the matatu ride was less than two dollars and only took about thirty minutes if heading towards Kampala. Let the conductor know that
you want off at Najjembe and the driver will stop for you. Follow the signs up to the Rainforest Lodge and check out the trails. So easy to access that it makes a really convenient day hike out of Jinja, we left Jinja around 10:30 and returned in time for dinner. If you want to make a proper trip out of it, there are two lodging options, the Rainforest Lodge which is pricy to the tune of almost two hundred dollars a night and the Little Kingston Campsite is aimed at budget travellers.

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