Male and female hot springs of Sempaya
Friday April 20 2012
I had lost count of the number of winding turns we had taken. Neither could I tell how far we had travelled. The only important thing was that I enjoyed every minute of the drive as we snaked our way up the rising Mt Rwenzori escarpment to Sempaya Hot Springs.
The Sempaya Hot Springs consist of steamy water jetting out of the ground with a strong pungent smell of hydrogen sulphide, boiling at 103 degrees Celsius.
Travelling along this escarpment from Toro Kingdom offers fascinating views. The undulating green mountain ranges offer a most beautiful sight.
On the slopes, local farmers make good use of fertile agricultural land, but houses “hanging” on the precipice send a chill down one’s spine.
Farther down the escarpment, the road emerges on to a gentle slope leading us into the Rift Valley.
The greenery is behind us now as nature introduces us to cactus, shrubs and real heat.
It is amazing how, in a space of a few minutes, you can go from one set of climatic conditions to another. The sun was fierce as we came to a stop.
On both sides of the road, layers of rocks were piled up, measuring about 30 metres high.
Nathan Namukoye, geologist, said, they used to trek the wilderness in search of rocks to test for minerals, oil or gas. That has been eased now with the construction of a new road.
I preferred the old road though. I used it in the past and it offered the most spectacular view from the top.
I saw steam rising from several vents, leaving a colourful crust. A few metres away, the Semliki river, which rises on the mountains, meanders away to pour its water into Lake Albert.
Finally, we were at Sempaya Hot Springs. It is located in the Semliki National Park at the easternmost limit of the great Ituri Forest of Congo basin.
It is the only game park in Uganda composed of lowland tropical forest teeming with wildlife.
It lies on the Uganda-DRC border and provides lots of activities for a traveller: Nature walks, bird watching and a host of game animals.
However, the hot springs are the unique feature of the park. Sempaya is the most famous hot spring in Uganda.
There are two hot springs in the park: Sempaya which locals call Nyasimbi — the female spring.
Culturally, the Bamanga people hold the spring sacred. They believe the gods are female and annually hold celebrations to appease them.
Pregnant women pray for ease of delivery while those who are yet to bear children pray for fertility.
“The women believe their female ancestors stay in the hot springs, so they worship and offer sacrifice. Coins are thrown into the spring and animals slaughtered,” said our guide, Patrick Mutabazi.
Next to the female hot spring is the male, Mumbuga, which is associated with wealth. There men perform rituals annually to appease the gods.
To the visitors, the hot spring is a must see. Indeed, most tourists to the Semliki include the hot springs in their itinerary.
The springs are useful learning laboratory for researchers.
The wildlife, like buffalo, visit the springs to lick salt deposits while the birds are attracted to the wetland that surrounds the springs.
Some people believe the salty water can treat skin problems and use it as such.
However, there are fears that these historically important sites serving different interested groups of people and animals could be no more as the government targets the area for geothermal hydropower generation owing to the high geothermal gradient.