19-Dec-2007 -- Two weeks in smashing Uganda serves extremely well as a Christmas decompression break from life in the sometimes strained and conservative Middle East, and we had high hopes of picking up a Confluence first in this, arguably the most friendly and relaxed country in East Africa.
But confluence hunting here is not without its difficulties. Out of the 11 points unvisited before our trip, five lie in districts ravaged by perhaps the most vicious, deranged and unfathomable 'resistance' movement of modern times - the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) - and, as such, are currently out of bounds for the sensible traveller. And three or four of the remainder appear (from Google Earth and local maps) to be located deep in bush country. Which left just two obvious candidates for an attempt: 1N 33E and 1S 30E. We decided to go for the latter, largely because I fancied getting my first point in the Southern hemisphere and because it is located between two sites that we would be visiting anyway.
Western Uganda is traditionally where most tourists visit, on account of several national parks being located there. On the morning of 19 December, we left Kibale forest National Park, where we'd been tracking chimpanzees (with limited success, I have to admit) and set off for Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). Our visit to 1S 30E was planned for a few days later, so confluencing was far from our minds as we trundled along pot hole-filled roads and kept an eye out for passing wildlife. But just after we passed through the small town (and district capital) of Kasese, Claire decided that we should find out at what point the road would intersect with the equator. I thought it would be interesting to see whether the GPS would really switch between 0° N and 0° S in a state of confusion, as some equatorial confluence hunters have alleged.* So I added a waypoint to the GPS at the point where the road would cross 0deg of latitude; I then took a double take: this intersection was also at exactly 30° E longitude..! More than that, it was also apparently located at a major road junction. Surely there must be some mistake..?
Claire couldn't really argue against an impromptu CP visit, seeing as it looked like we would be driving straight through it anyway. So we counted down the kilometres, and then meters, as we approached the T-junction of the Fort Portal to Mbarara road and the road to the DRC border. Sure enough, we stopped about 50 meters south of the junction, and the GPS indicated that the Confluence was less than 100 m to the East, down a dusty little gravel path. This was such a bonus - our first equatorial point, and one we'd stumbled on completely by accident! I realised that it must have been done before, but I was still pretty chuffed about the whole thing.
Down the track lies a small ranger station for the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The neatly placed CP has the additional feature of being on the northern boundary of the Park, and hence is next to the first ranger station passed by Park visitors coming from the North. The station, sheltered by a large euphorbia tree, also appears to be the home of the ranger and his family. Around the back lies a small barrier, which we were given permission to walk past after being asked if we were 'doing research'. This takes one to about 20 m from the point, and it is then necessary to walk into some rather tall grass and bushes to get closer to the target. Not having a machete, I shamefully stopped at 13 m away to take the pictures. However, the GPS indicated that the target lay deeper in the foliage - and, according to my readings and photographs, the ranger station is not visible from the point. Rather, bush and grasses surround the observer, and a few power lines cross to the North and East.
We didn't linger, as we still had a difficult drive to finish in our hired Toyota Corolla (which we shamelessly used as a 4-WD throughout our trip, despite it only being a 2-WD and rather low to the ground), and paused only to thank the ranger and his family before walking back up the track and entering Queen Elizabeth National Park in search of elephants. On the way it dawned on me that this had been my 30th unique Confluence visit - a fact made more special for me by it being an equatorial point. The next step would be to try to bag one in the Southern hemisphere: the story continues at 1S 30E.
* It did!