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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Uganda: Bat caves and waterfalls

Katie and I just returned safe and sound to Kampala after two nights in Sipi Falls. The journey began on Thursday afternoon, with an advisory warning from the desk at the Sheraton that we were getting started too late in the afternoon...and that we most definitely shouldn't make the trip from Mbale up to Sipi if it was past 6 p.m. when we arrived.

We made our way to the Old Taxi Park in Kampala, which is a treat in and of itself. It's a sunken parking lot completely jam-packed with buses, matatu van taxis, bodas, and vendors. When you want to get somewhere, you just find a matatu headed in that direction, pile in, and wait for it to fill up while vendors shove any and all goods in your face, from the practical (water, food) to the absurd (used scrunchies, fake rolexes, misc pieces of plastic junk). The matatus themselves are made for about 14 passengers...we had at least 18 in ours. As usual, I spent the ride in and out of consciousness. We arrived in Mbale around 7 p.m., and (against the Sheraton's advice) followed some Ugandans that were headed to Sipi...and piled into another jam-packed matatu. I dozed for a few minutes and woke up in total darkness - we were heading up Mt. Elgon -- Sipi is situated on the slopes of this enormous extinct volcano. The road was so steep and dangerous, I was glad for the darkness. In the meantime, the Ugandans were telling us about how muzungus (white people) had just died in a traffic accident on this road, and kept reiterating how taxis "turn into aeroplanes" on this one hairpin turn. We made it to Sipi safely, but in total darkness and with no clue where Crow's Nest was (our destination) or whether or not they even had a cabin for us. Luckily one of the locals took us to the gate and there was one cabin left just for us.

The next morning I awoke to roosters (my favorite wake up call - definitely not) and stepped out of our cabin to stretch --- we could see the falls right off our porch. AMAZING. I drew a picture. We spent the day with Malishe, a local guide who took us on a 4.5 hour circuit hike of the three falls. The first (and the most commonly photographed) is 97 meters. The second is smaller and the third is 78 meters. The scenery was bucolic and the hiking exhausting, and we were completely covered in mud by the end. Due to my spill on the metro escalators in DC last year, I now have this intense fear of slipping down steep surfaces --- not helpful when hiking on muddy slopes. At one point I "butt-climbed" down some rocks...I ended up with a butt and feet completely covered in mud by the end of the day. During our hike, a group of tiny kids started chasing us yelling "muzungu!" and "something!" Later on in the hike one got the idea to make fart noises and we were soon chased by a huge herd of kids and a cacophony of farts. Needless to say, Katie and I were hysterical and may or may not have made fart noises back at them.

After hiking past the first waterfall and bat cave, we were persuaded by some villagers to taste the "local brew" - a corn maize, yeast and water concoction served in rusty tin cans (see photo at left). It tasted a bit like when you burp and get a little vomit in your mouth. Actually that's exactly what it tasted like.

We also went into a bat cave - this was my first real spelunking adventure. It reeked of ammonia from all of the bat dung. The creepy part was when we got into this open area and you can see thousands of orange eyes staring at you from the ceiling... and tall people in caves does not really work so well.

So yes, Sipi was great - the food, relaxation, hiking, waterfalls, sunsets, sunrises, all of it. After looking at a map, I realized that I have now covered the furthest points west (Fort Portal) and east (Mbale/Sipi) of Uganda. I've almost reached Sudan (about two hours north of Gulu)...and I have yet to travel down to Lake Bunyoni, on the Rwandan border.

Katie and I claimed shotgun on our matatu rides back to Kampala today, and as a result my left arm has a glorious trucker tan (I'm talking 3 shades darker than the right arm). We just booked our room at the Embassy Hotel in Kabalagala for the week (it's semi-close to Namuwongo, where we'll be spending a lot of time). I can't believe there are only 6 days until I come back to the US!!!

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