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Notes on the Geography of Uganda: Port Bell

Port Bell, named for Hesketh Bell, Governor of Uganda from 1907 to 1910, was developed as an alternative to Entebbe. Instead of travelling 20 miles by ricksha to Kampala, passengers arriving by ferry from Port Florence (now Kisumu) could travel a mere five. With the opening of an all-rail route from Mombasa to Kampala in 1931, however, Port Bell began a long decline, as did the ferries.

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Uganda: Port Bell picture 1

We're standing on an out-of-commission lake ferry. Good thing, too, otherwise there might be a good splash.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 2

Here's the view in the other direction. Presumably the ship would normally have docked in the other direction so rail cars could roll onto the deck.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 3

We're looking from the deck of the same ship toward a neighbor that is still in service and is loading up with cottonseed bound for Mwanza, on the Tanzania side of the lake.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 4

This, too, is a rail ferry in theory, but trucks in fact back onto the deck and are manually unloaded. Look back at the previous picture and you can see that they've loaded the thing to the proverbial gunnels. (OK, purists. You win: gunwales.)

Uganda: Port Bell picture 5

Yup, cottonseed.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 6

Make out the words? The rusty sign reads "Port Bell Pier." You have to admit that corrugated sheet metal is a thing of wonder, if not beauty.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 7

We're retreated a bit. Think that's a mud flat? Don't step on it: you'll go right through. It's a mat of decayed water hyacinth. It wasn't here a month ago, but a steady wind blew it against the shore.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 8

Another view. What to do about it?

Uganda: Port Bell picture 9

Here's your answer: an aquatic weed harvester, resting for the moment but girding its loins for the task.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 10

A market that usually gets its stock of produce from nearby islands is for the moment forced to rely on trucks. Why? Because the hyacinth makes it impossible for canoes to land.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 11

Papaya, bananas, sweet potatoes--and lots of firewood.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 12

No split logs here.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 13

A one-man load.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 14

An alternative fuel.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 15

Funny thing is, Port Bell once had a taste of glamor, because from 1931 until 1951 the flying boats of Imperial Airways, a BA predecessor, stopped here on their London-to-Cape Town service. The schedule was simple: you could board the planes on Monday and Friday, either way: the next stops were Khartoum or Kisumu, depending on whether you were headed north or south.

The planes were a jolt for old timers, who remembered taking six months for a journey that now took four days, but airfares weren't cheap: London to Entebbe was 105 pounds, about twice the cheapest ticket on Union Castle liners to Mombasa. Four days, you say? That's because passengers on the flying boats stopped every night. Where to stay at Entebbe? Here's the answer: the Silver Springs Hotel, about three miles inland. It's still in business.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 16

It was probably built just for those passengers, and it still has a bit of style.

Uganda: Port Bell picture 17


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