Monday, June 7, 2010

Sipi Falls and Mount Wanale

Saturday, June 5, 2010

This weekend was a blast. After our amazing night out on Friday, we woke up bright and early Saturday morning to go to Sipi Falls (and I made us a delicious breakfast--eggs in a basket. It was the first filling breakfast we've had since we got here). Sipi Falls is a waterfall about an hours drive from Mbale that is part of the Elgon range. Its a very popular tourist destination, so naturally we had to check it out. The drive there was beautiful. As our van climbed the mountain, we could see all of Mbale town below us. Also, due to the amount of rain in the area, everything is green and lush. I took some pictures that don't do the scenery justice.

Once there, we took a short but strenuous hike to the lower falls. The ground was wet from the rains and the splash from the waterfall, which made hiking the steep slope more difficult. At the lower falls, we were standing about halfway between the ground and the head of the falls. All the people we passed on our way up were soaking wet, but we stayed behind the falls rather than going in front so the splash wasn't as strong and we didn't get too wet.

We then hiked to the upper falls. We crossed this rickety bridge on the edge of the mountain and I just kept picturing myself rolling over the edge. We also ran into some guys (mostly boys, but a few older ones too; one was wearing an Obama shirt) who live up there. They stand on the path and try to get people to hire them as guides. We said we didn't need their assistance, but they walked with us anyway. It was quite obnoxious because they were moving so quickly since they are accustomed to the terrain. We all felt pressured to move faster, which for me and Nrupa was bad news. We both ended up falling, and now I have a big bruise on my shin. And then, of course, when we were leaving they asked for money even though we said we didn't want their help.

After the slow journey down, we went to wash our feet and hands in a stream. As my luck would have it, my phone slipped out of my backpack into the rushing water. Thankfully I hadn't paid for it in the first place (thanks Julie) and didn't have much airtime left on it. We drove to one more spot just for another quick view of the falls, and then headed home (I was exhausted and slept the entire ride).

Back in Mbale, after I purchased a new phone (they really need to redo the cellphone industry in the US. It's so much better and less of a hassle here), Nrupa and I tasted our first street food. It's the first thing any health and/or guide book advise against, but it's so good! We got a Rolex, which is a chapati with fried egg. So delicious! Thankfully we just spilt one because it was so big. And neither of us got sick!

We spent the rest of the afternoon at a friend's house watching two of the worst movies I've ever seen. We were laughing the entire time even though they were "serious" films (though films is too artistic of a word for these atrocities). The first was Dear John. which we all knew was going to be bad but wanted to see anyway (at least I did). The other was selected by Allen, our Ugandan host. It was called Love Comes Softly and must have been the first movie Katherine Heigl ever did. The acting was so bad and the writing was terribly cheesy.

Nrupa an I finally left to go home around 7pm. We were on the other side of twon, so we caught a random boda back. He was the worst boda driver ever! Firstly, he was driving way to fast, especially given that it was a busy Saturday night. Secondly, he was swerving like crazy. All drivers swerve a bit to avoid the potholes, but this was extreme and exacerbated by the speed. Then, when we were about two blocks from home, we hit a huge pothole and tipped over with a car blaring it's horn behind us. We didn't fall all the way over and we were both mostly unscathed, but we were obviously upset. The driver of the car behind us said something (not in English) to our boda driver as he righted his bike, then he sat there waiting for us to get back on. Yeah right! We paid him (even though we shouldn't have) and then walked the rest of the way home with our flashlights in one hand and bug spray in the other to use as mase incase anyone threatened us. Thankfully we made it home safely. We has a quick dinner and went to bed early.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday morning we woke up even earlier than Saturday and prepared to hike Mount Wanale, a small peak that is part of the Elgon range. We took bodas to the start of the National Park, about 30 minutes up a steep, winding rocky road. I was holding on for dear life, especially after our experience from the night before. We reached as far as the bodas could go and began hiking to the rangers camp. I slipped in the mud about five minutes in, which was very foreshadowing of the remainder of the hike. After meeting with the rangers, the six of us set off with our guide (who carried and AK-47) and three of our boda drivers. We each had waking sticks that were prepared for us by a kids with a machete. He literally just hacked branches off trees and gave them to us.

Within another 10 minutes, I had fallen three more times and my shoes and pants (sorry Mom, they were actually your pants--though they're surprising clean now) were covered with mud. Despite my inability to walk, it was such a beautiful hike. At points it felt like we were forging the trail ourselves. About 45 minutes to an hour in, it started rain. At first it was refreshing, but it soon became very hard and cold and made the trail even worse.

At the summit, we reached a small cave where we took refuge from the rain for a little rest and some lunch. As we started descending, a thick fog overtook the mountain. I couldn't see more than 20 feet in front of my. The craziest part was that people live up there. We were walking through carrot and bean fields and passing small mud-walled houses with thatched roofs. I can't imagine living there. How do these people get basic necessities like flour that they can't grow. By the time we finished our hike, the six of us were ecstatic to be finished--I can't imagine living up there and having to walk that every couple of days. On the positive side, the ground is very fertile from the rain so I'm sure the crops are often good. Still, I couldn't help but wonder what makes someone decide to to live at the top of a mountain rather than closer to town, though i guess such a sentiment is applicable throughout the world, even in the US.

After another treacherous boda ride down the mountain during which my knuckles were white from gripping the bike (and for which my forearms are still sore), we made it home. Nrupa and I stripped in our back yard and washed our clothes as best we could in the spigot (thank goodness we have that spigot!). After our wonderfully warm showers (our poor UBC friends don't have water heaters. They may be getting a more "African" experience, but I'd rather have the water heater). We settled down for a relaxing afternoon of reading and napping before taking dinner at a local hotel. During dinner, the power kept flashing on and off. While it was off, we got an amazing view of the sky, unpolluted by light. It was so breathtaking and something rarely seen at home.

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