After several weeks of kicking around Marcy’s site, we decided to take a road trip towards the Kenyan boarder, and Mount Elgon, an ancient volcanic range. There are 3 cascading waterfalls in this area that cover about a mile called Sipi Falls. To access the area we needed to head back to Mbale and then head east for another 60K or so.
A few months earlier, Marcy had taken her mom to a cool little resort that is run by three Englishmen in Sipi. Marcy spoke highly of the area, and I was ready for the cool air of the high elevation, and excited to visit a resort.
We packed up light, and took the usual boda bike into Soroti, then hopped a bus to Mbale, about 2 hours south. From here we planned to catch a Matatu (van taxi) on to Sipi Falls.
As with most public transport in Uganda, a simple plan never ends up being so straight forward. From Mbale, heading towards Sipi, we where stuffed into a van with 20 other humans (van is designed to fit 9 passengers in the back) and driven 40K with about 15 stops on the way. Three quarters into the drive, the driver informed us that this was the end of the line, 20K short of our intended destination, even though the driver told us he would take us the entire way.
Furious, Marcy payed the driver half what we agreed, and with the magic of a veteran of Uganda, negotiated with the driver to find us a ride for the rest of the trip to Sipi. What we ended up with, was a large diesel industrial flat bed truck. The back was full of random items such as, produce, piping, and about 20 Ugandans standing, catching a ride as well. We were ushered into the front seats, agreed upon a price, and where off.
This was all well and good, until we hit the uphill climb at the base of Mount Elgon. The truck’s over taxed engine whined and sputtered as it struggled to climb. For over 20K we crawled at about 5 mph up a windy hill. I swear I could have walked faster.
From the road I could see two of the three water falls, and I grew more and more excited as we slowly approached Sipi. Finally, about 2 hours past our expected arrival time we walked into the excellent resort Sipi River Lodge.
The resort was tucked right next to the second waterfall, literally in the back yard. Each night I fell asleep to 200 foot falling water tumbling over the rock ledge. It was amazingw! We stayed in a really quaint hut with a thatch roof and a cool bed frame made of stone and mortar. Each night the only light we had was by lantern. This is the point that I decided to build a thatched roofed hut when I get back to the states.
The food was great, very English but well made. We ate with the other guests staying at the resort. The first night the only other people were an Indian / American couple that where visiting their daughter who was working for an NGO (non-governmental organization) in Kenya. It was very nice to talk to a family that had lived all over the world. There daughter grew up with the family in Thousand Oaks, California, outside of Los Angeles. It was interesting to see the emotions that the parents where going through having a daughter living in Africa. Concern, admiration, and anticipation of her homecoming seeped through most of the small talk that we shared. I remember having the thought that these emotions must be a universal throughout the world over when parents have a child living abroad in a far off, foreign place.
The next day, we woke, had breakfast that is included with the stay, and I loaded up my camera gear to head to the lower most, and largest water fall. Marcy wasn’t feeling well, so she decided to stay back. I was escorted to the club house to meet a guide that worked at the resort, and would take me to the falls.
We walked for about 45 minutes, through coffee plantations and a small village, where we had to pay the land owner to access the falls. Along the way, we stopped at a cave, and my guide, Tony took pictures of me. We walked almost entirely downhill to get to the falls, so I knew the walk back to the resort was not going to be fun in the midday sun.
Once back at the lodge, Mar and I ate lunch, and took a really nice siesta, during which the weather turned and some of the heaviest rainfall I have ever seen fell. Literal sheets poured across the property and we sat inside the hut with the door open enjoying the torrent.
The light outside turned a brilliant gold color after the rain storm, and I convinced Marcy to climb to the top of the falls in the back yard with me, even though she wasn’t feeling great. Climbing up was a little tricky. The track was steep and muddy. We had to cross two rickety bridges, and then stumbled across a local boy that insisted on guiding us even thought we told him ” no, we don’t need a guide”. (neither of us had any cash on hand)
We got to the top of the falls and where rewarded with a spectacular view of the river feeding the falls, and the view of the flat land to the west that stretched out like a sea into the horizon back towards Soroti. We could see the rain clouds dumping across the plains far in the distance.
After about 30 minutes of picture taking and observing, we crossed the river to start the decent back down to the resort which we could see right below us. As we headed off, a group of local boys warned us through charades and by pointing that the biting ants had been forced out of the ground by the rains and showed us a swarm on the ground. We stepped over them in a leap, letting our feet hit the ground around the ants only for an instant.
We scurried down the path on the opposite slope from which we came, which was steep, muddy, slippery and quite overgrown. Some how we where walking through a planted field and struggling to stay on the path along the steep incline. Right about this time, I got my first bite. Well up my pants, on my calf. Then another, higher up on my thigh. These medium sized red ants where using there large front talons to grip into my flesh, which hurt like hell. Then Marcy started getting bit. Her issue was more of a wardrobe concern as her tight jeans made accessing her calf and thighs nearly impossible.
We where on a muddy, slippery, tilled bean field 200 feet above our resort, next to a waterfall with ants in our pants. I kept getting visions of Marcy having to strip as the only means of relief from the ants, in front of a bunch of 12 year old Ugandan boys. It was a funny, then a nerve racking thought.
Somehow, we where both able to rid ourselves of the devil ants, and continued scrambling along the path to get out of the mud and wet. We took a wrong turn and ended up in a private residents back yard, having to jump down a muddy 10 foot cliff. Both of us where soaked and our hands and pants where smeared with dark read muddy earth. A man came out of the house, and we explained we were at the falls and ended up in his back yard. He was nice and opened the gate to his driveway which led us to the main road, and back to the resort.
The next day we packed up to head back to Soroti. The Indian family offered us a ride in there private hired car to Mbale, which Marcy and I excepted with great excitement. Once back in Mbale, we decided to go to a local hotel that had a pool that Marcy had been to before. Being able to swim in Uganda is a treat since all of the natural fresh water has a variety of bacteria that can kill you.
We hopped on 2 bodas and started to race down the crowded streets for the hotel. As we excited a round about, my driver veered close to the parked cars along the street and all at once I was jerked off the bike, landed on all four’s and slide across the dusty, asphalt road next to my driver and his 150cc motorcycle. I had a moment of terror as I looked at my elbows and saw blood, then felt the pain in my knees, immediately recognizing the shredded flesh numb feeling. I pulled my jeans up over my knee to reveal minor skin scrapes and nothing else. I was incredibly relived.
A crowd gathered around me and the driver and the ditched bike. I looked over and saw a large man getting out of a new white Toyota Tundra with a badly dented door. He had opened the door as we drove by, knocking my driver and I off the bike
Witnesses crowded around and yelled at the Toyota driver that it was his fault , and therefore his responsibility to take us to the hospital, which, after inspecting my road rashed elbows, I realized I did not need, nor wanted to experience. I assured all the men around me that I was fine, but that the Toyota driver should take my driver to the hospital, as he had a good gash on his fore arm. They told me that I should at least have the man at fault drive me and Marcy to our destination, which we both agreed would be a good idea.
It worked out that I was headed to a chlorinated pool, and after scrubbing and washing up in a shower I jumped into the pool to kill whatever else might be still alive in my minor wounds. It was very luck that I had put on jeans that morning, as I had been wearing a very light pair of hiking pants for most of the time in Uganda, which would have torn and left my knees exposed to the asphalt. There is something to be said for dumb luck.
We left Mbale and headed back to Soroti in a Matatu. By this point I was completely over public transport, and just wanted to be back at Marcy’s site with the sisters. This was by far my worst day in Africa.