About Me

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I teach abroad and continue to pursue the life I was given as if it was my last. Many people think it is. In my spare time, I enjoy lapping up ice cream, reading spy novels, and euthanizing manta rays.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sipi Falls

I drove to the eastern flank of Uganda Saturday, amid one of the heaviest storms in recent memory. Recent being a subjective term based on how much of one's memory can be recollected. I remember moments from Monday Night Football in 1984 vividly but can't remember what I taught four days ago. Anyway, I was driving...

Driving in Uganda is half pinball half Frogger and 90 percent lunacy. You take your eyes off the road for one second to look at your phone, check the odometer, flick an ant off your knee or wave at a small boy running after you and you might kill someone. Like the boy. It's that fluid. Potholes spring up like minefields in a 1980s arcade game. Bogeys are everywhere. Everywhere. It's pure lunacy.

Once I got through Jinja and quit the main thoroughfare to Kenya the tarmac road turned quiet. I got stopped at two checkpoints. "What are you carrying in your boot, sir?"
"I'm not wearing..."
Oh, The British-English thing. Boot, bonnet....trunk, hood.
"Just camping stuff and clothes."
I was waved on both times.

A few miles beyond Mbale I was stopped by a third copper, a female in white uniform. "I go to Tororo. Can you take me please?"
"Why not?"
"I just...can't."

I was half-waiting to be sweet-talked, half-waiting to be arrested. In the end, "Safe Journey" was all she uttered before I tore off down the road.

The escarpment up to Sipi village is really breathtaking. You can practically see across half of the country from the promontory in town. All of Karamojoland, Lake Kyoga. It's a gorgeous spot.

I did three hikes in two days. The first was the three-waterfall tour that everyone does, starting from the highest falls and descending to the 100 meter drop nearest to the campground. This was arranged within minutes of parking, setting up my tent, stove, and gear, and eating my peanut butter sandwich I'd been eyeing all morning.

The sky was a combination of blues, grays, charcoals and whites all weekend. Storms were either lurking or in process. But besides a half-hour squall Saturday afternoon I never got trapped in a tricky predicament.

I love camping. I had a spot all to myself next to two uninhabited cabins and a latrine. A rock hyrax (I know...what the hell is that?) crept and climbed the nearby trees overlooking the campground and valley below. I had a wonderful view of the 100 meter waterfall across the ridge. I was able to cook, eat, and sleep in absolute peace. Thunderstorms doused my tarp both nights but I never felt a drop. There is something wonderful about setting all that up yourself and being self-sufficient. If I could learn to sleep on a 24" wide mat I'd be set.

Sunday I drove 6 kilometers across Sipi, past a coffee plantation, village huts, women and children hauling firewood and selling coffee beans, up to the turn off for Mount Elgon National Park, where 6 more treacherous kilometers of off-road driving awaited me. And terrorized me.

The minute I turned on to the muddy slop, I saw a 8 wheeler descending a steeply graded slope in neutral, slipping backwards. What have I got myself into? If I thought tarmac driving was tough, I was in for a real shock. Those 6 km took me 35 minutes. I was in 1st gear, in 4wd, negotiating rock, mud and puddles with screaming toddlers chasing after me. I could not concentrate long enough to wave at them. I slipped and slid, fish-tailing across the muddy, shaded parts of the tract, up swales, clutching the brake with utter fear coursing through my veins. My pulsating veins. Seeing the trailhead and park's gate was a very welcomed relief.

I had a private guide for the 7 km hike through the Cherbonet Falls. However, the views inside the park were meager compared to the hikes around the falls themselves. Nevertheless the work out and forest were beautiful, green; from a distance we spotted a couple of hornbills and blue monkeys too. In fact, the most exciting moment of the hike was seeing a local man flee from us at breakneck speed through foliage and descending grade that seemed suicidal.
"What was that?" I asked David.
"Villager. He is here on the wrong day to collect resources."
"Wrong day?"
"Villagers are allowed to take wood and bark on Tuesdays and Fridays. Today is Sunday."

I went down to the bottom of the falls Sunday afternoon, avoiding about 32 children asking me for money and  - when refused - they followed me anyway. The sun came out just as the mist from the falls' lower pool came into view, making for a really nice rainbow for about three minutes.

I drove back Monday morning, passing all police check-points with flying colors. Such pride having my papers in order.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for once again sharing your adventures, Matt. Driving in Uganda, good for you but yikes, huge props to you for that!
    Your Sipi story brings back memories, although I only did the first hike you spoke of…I came within 10 feet of a green mamba while there, they blend right in to the foliage. A local guy who was with us had to kill it with a big stick. After that experience I'd now be too chicken to camp out there. I would have much rather seen a blue monkey!