Why I fell in love with Fort Portal

Fort Portal Uganda Trip

My husband surprised me by swooping me away to Fort Portal for my birthday this year. We packed up three bags of pancakes (the Ugandan version) and hit the road. I was tickled pink to see that my husband had ordered around 100+ pancakes in advance. At the time, I thought maybe we were going all the way back to America by land and sea with the number of pancakes we were saddled with. One thing was for certain, we would not be going hungry.

When I think of Kampala, I think of chaos. Of course, Kampala is many other things, but for this anxiety-prone sister, living in the unpredictable capital is full of anxiety-inducing triggers. I could physically feel the tension in my body leave the further we got from the city.

It was actually chilly outside, but we didn’t care. We drove with the windows down, the wind blowing my hair into a tangled mess while inhaling the fresh air. My head was on a swivel as I drank in the rows of tea leaves and animals hanging out on the side of the road.

This guy was a whole mood.

Animals seen near Fort Portal, Uganda

The breathtaking tea fields gave way to more congested roads as we entered the bustling city center of Fort Portal. It took us about 20 minutes of off-roading but we arrived at our final destination – Kyaninga Royal Cottages.

In full disclosure, I was a bit bummed at first. A dreary rain had started and our room smelled a bit like a damp, dark basement. Plus, the one thing I always look forward to when traveling is an enclosed hot and steamy shower. As it turns out, we just had a showerhead on the wall and soon discovered the hot water was nonexistent.

Eco-friendly operations sound great until you are shivering under a stream of cold water because the solar-powered panels are malfunctioning. 

I had slept very little the night before due to the excitement of the days ahead and decided to let the rain lull me to sleep. Apparently, I hadn’t stuffed myself with quite enough pancakes and was greeted by a grumbling stomach when I woke up.

A staff member came to take our order and I beamed with delight when she told me that they only had local food. 

Matooke for me, please. And lots of sauce! 

She brought our dinner with a side of African tea. It ended up being the best sauce I had ever tasted. The level of service and food alone was starting to win me over. I couldn’t wait to see what the next day held.

I rose from bed early because I wanted to get a good look at our view. 

Grabbing our porch chair, I dragged it to the wooden perch that overlooked the crater lake and plopped myself down. I sat stunned by the beauty before me, a hill’s crystal clear reflection in the water.

After a moment, I decided I should check on my husband and make sure he didn’t miss out. As I walked back to our room, the hotel staff member approached me and asked, “This other couple would like to have breakfast together. Is that okay?”

A big grin broke out across my face. “That would be great!”

We gathered together for breakfast and a breathtaking view and began chatting about places we’ve visited and adventures that are still on our bucket list. As the monkeys began to gather around us, our new friends busted out the bananas to make sure they had a good breakfast too.

Breakfast with a view

Loaded up with a delicious breakfast, my husband asked our new friends if they wanted to join us for our excursions for the day and they both were up for the adventure!

After a brief setback of locking our keys in the car, we grabbed all our belongings and set out for the hot springs. Before leaving town, we met up with a few of Ashiram’s friends that lived in the area and could guide us to the hot springs. 

Maybe any normal person wouldn’t have preferred to spend their birthday with strangers, but it really enriched the entire experience. 

I wish I could transport you all to Fort Portal. The drive to Semuliki National Park made my eyes go wild. I wanted to stare at the hills until I knew for certain the images would be ingrained in my mind.

When someone tells me to find my happy place, this would be the image I would conjure up. 

We made a short trek into the forest to visit the hot springs. It was pretty intriguing to hear that people still do a variety of rituals and sacrifices to their gods at the hot springs. We were able to drop a few eggs in the boiling hot water, let them cook for ten minutes, and then enjoy a snack right then and there.

It could have been the hunger, but this was the best hard-boiled egg I ever had.

We even had a troop of visitors trail in behind us. 

Moms are always the heroes.

That evening we shared a candlelight dinner with our neighbors as we talked about relationship issues and how to be better partners to our loved ones. 

During our time together the wife shared, “I prayed for other people to show up here because it was lonely. You all are an answer to that prayer.” Not only did we show up, but out of the six rooms at this venue we were direct neighbors, making it even easier to engage in conversation

Her words really stuck with me as I allowed them to sink into my Spirit. WE were the ANSWER to her prayers?

I easily become so obsessed with God answering my long list of concerns and requests that I never really think about how I could be the answer to a prayer being uttered by someone else.

Instead of asking God to answer my prayers, I wonder what would happen if I spent more of my time asking God how I can be the answer to another person’s prayer?

I believe if I replace my frequent “help me” with a little more “send me” my heart, perspective, and walk with Jesus would be radically transformed.

I would give this birthday a 10/10. 

One thing I truly found remarkable about the lodge where we stayed was the communal breakfast. The next morning we had lawyers staying at the lodge who joined us for breakfast. It’s in these moments I notice such a contrast between Uganda and America. Americans lean more toward an individualistic lifestyle while in Uganda we are more communal. Some of my American friends would be uncomfortable sharing breakfast with strangers and opt for a private breakfast with their family instead.

Sometimes I wonder how Uganda is shaping me without knowing it. I’ve been here for four years. Will I be dramatically different after living here for 20 years?

The next day we gathered the same crew and headed to the Amabeere Caves. Since the time we arrived in Fort Portal, I continued to tell my husband, “I can’t leave without hiking up a hill.” The thing I didn’t realize is how out-of-shape I’ve gotten since living here. The Tiffany that ran a half marathon must have stayed in America because the Tiffany I’m stuck with was out of breath after thirty seconds climbing up the hill. 

Me smiling because I am super happy this isn’t a video where you can see me huffing and puffing.

After pretending to ‘take in the view’ about five different times on my way up, I finally made it to the top legs and lungs still intact. The climb is always worth the view. I wanted to immediately move and plant my tiny home on top of this hill and be greeted by panoramic views every morning. The guide noticed how I kept *almost* falling on my way up the hill so he held my hand all the way down. Yes. I, Tiffany Kavuma, a grown woman needed a man to hold my hand so that I didn’t tumble forward like Humpty Dumpty.

Life’s greatest adventure partner.

You would think my birthday weekend couldn’t get any better, but we saw horses on our way back from the hill. Horses are not super common in Uganda, so whenever I see them I turn into the ecstatic seven-year-old Tiffany who took riding lessons on a paint horse named Oreo.

That night as we made the long, bumpy drive back to our lodge, it began to hit me that our time in Fort Portal was coming to a close. After showering, I went back out to my wooden ledge to take it all in and try to devise a plan for permanently moving here. 

A picture of me pondering how I can move to Fort Portal permanently.

I craned my eyes toward the sky and stared at the starry night until my neck hurt. I had never seen stars this vivid and bright, away from the pollution of the city. 

Shot on an iPhone and you can still see the stars

The next morning we woke up early to leave as we wanted to make a pit stop in Hoima before heading to Kampala. 

I stood mesmerized by the morning calls of the black-and-white colobus monkeys as my husband tried to usher me to the car.

Our lovely host at the lodge packed breakfast and juice for our journey home. As we pulled out of the lodge, I lost it. The beauty was on the verge of being unbearable. Overwhelmed, my tears did all the talking.

  • I cried over the stars dancing and twinkling against the night sky
  • I cried over the hill’s crystal clear reflection in a crater lake
  • I cried over the monkeys leaping from branch to branch
  • I cried over the rising and setting of the amber sun
  • I cried over the kindness of strangers 

Until we reached the main road, I let the tears flow. We’re talking about shedding the same amount of tears as when I left my family and friends to first come to Uganda. That’s some serious sorrow. There’s no doubt I left a part of my heart in Fort Portal.

Want to read more about our travels? Check out Marriage is for keeps: Lessons from Cape Town

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