Thumper…

April 23, 2014

Awake to Sipi

It was Day 1 at Sipi (30/5/13) – and well, the only day!

It was a lovely morning and if you were really quiet, you could just hear the faint roar of the water falling. Quite nice to wake up to.

On the agenda today was to see at least 2 of the 3 falls that make up the Sipi falls. There are 3 levels and it would make sense to call them upper, lower and middle, but apparently that’s not what they’re called. According to our guide, they are Sipi 1, 2 and 3, where 1 can be either top or bottom, depending on whether you’re looking up or down!

Picturesque middle falls

Picturesque middle falls

Our understanding was that you can’t actually see any of the falls without a guide. Perhaps that’s a good idea, but wow, here in Aus, that’s a totally foreign concept. At best we have tracks built and marked out with information paper or boards to look at. At worst, you use local knowledge. We actually headed back down to Sip Falls Lodge and hired a guide there. It was about the closest to the middle water fall and we could just see some lovely green lawn through the gates!

The scenic grounds of Sipi River Lodge

The scenic grounds of Sipi River Lodge

The worker at the gate was also gets a big shout out. There was no power at The Crows Nest and Mike’s phone had gone flat. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem except that today was his wedding anniversary and with his wife back in Australia, a call was expected. A quick* discussion with him and the problem was solved. After our tours to the falls, Mike picked up his now charged phone and made that all important call!

Happy Anniversary Dear

Happy Anniversary Dear

Our young guide was quite good and spoke english reasonably well. That was a good thing for us and for Juliet, who still hadn’t found anybody who could speak her Lugandan dialect! Sipi River Lodge has some excellent gardens and surrounds. It really is a lovely place to sit back, relax and spend some time in and is right on the river. The walk to the middle falls is only about 10 minutes and is really easy. You can hear the roar of the water as you approach and it’s amazing that such a small river can make such a loud noise. You can walk right behind the middle fall here and you will get wet from the spray. I walked out to a couple of rocks nearby to see the falls from a different angle, but the water was like heavy rain and I ended up drenched, seeing nothing. At least I was nice and cool though. You can explore the little cave behind the falls, a cool dry place, but there’s not a lot to it.

In the spray

In the spray

From the middle falls, we headed back to the Lodge, then across the road through the police and school grounds to the path for the lower falls. It happened to be a break from school when we went through, so we got mobbed by the kids. It was a great place to stop, you could see for miles, as well as see the river winding its way through the valley. The valley is heavily farmed and workers have utilised most available space, including on the steep cliffs surrounding the falls where there are plenty of banana trees. You could also get an appreciation for how high we were and I must admit I wasn’t really looking forward to the walk back up the hill. However, there was a surprise in store that meant I avoided most of that.

Looking out over the valley

Looking out over the valley

Our guide had been talking about some “steps”. Rounding a corner the path abruptly disappeared. The explanation for the steps soon followed and going down as far as we could see was a nice ladder. It would have to have been at least 50-60m high, and struck fear into the heart of Juliet who was not so good with heights! The guide suggested going down backwards, but forwards it was for all of us. Not sure why you would go backwards for that actually. Juliet went pretty slowly, but with a bit of encouragement she made it down praise God. The last part was a short walk through the banana plants and lush undergrowth, each step bringing us closer to the roar of the falling water. The spray from the 100m fall provided a nice cooling mist from the heat. It’s a pretty awesome sight watching water fall that far on to rocks below.

Lower falls

Lower falls

The hike back up the cliff was pretty good and we went back to Sipi Lodge Resort and spent some time wandering around the gardens. The gardens are really well kept and it really is an oasis and a place to retreat. We ate a very nice lunch there and enjoyed some chocolate (no ice cream) before heading back to Mbale and the Visitors Inn. It started to rain on the way back and unfortunately we passed a few vehicles coming the other way right about where the puddles were. Our white car ended up a little less than white, but this time Mike had enough sense to keep his window up!

Not too bad...

Not too bad…

* Mike’s version of quick took at least 15 mins and involved many life stories! Juliet and I had long vanished.

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April 22, 2014

Mbale to Sipi

Filed under: Trips,Uganda — pearsey @ 12:05 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Next day, our destination was Sipi, via the Mt Elgon area, an area where Mike had done quite a bit of ministry. Mike thought it would be a great idea to drive toward Mt Elgon and have breakfast up the mountain overlooking some of the great scenery. It all sounded fine in theory, but by the time we did stop, it was no longer breakfast time! The road from Mbale to Mt Elgon starts off sealed, but quickly turns to dirt. Initially it’s two lanes of dirt road (ie one lane each direction), but that quickly narrows to a wideish single lane in most places. At one point we were stopped by a police road block. They pulled us over and were having a bit of a chat when a cheeky boda boda rider tried to ride through. The cops yelled out to him, waved us through and pulled him over. He was still being a little smart, so the policeman reached over, turned off his bike and grabbed the key. That soon wiped the grin off his face, while it was all we could do to hold the laughter in til we were far enough away… Later on another policeman stopped us to ask for a lift. Our car was fairly full and we weren’t going his way, but at least he was nice about it (many aren’t).

An abandoned piece of heavy machinery half way up

An abandoned piece of heavy machinery half way up

Mt Elgon is high, and the drive through the maize fields is soon replaced by a view overlooking the surrounding area, gradually getting higher and being able to see further as you go up. We eventually did stop for breakfast, the locals enjoyed the show and we enjoyed the view. It’s surprising how many cars actually go past and how many banana bunches are shipped out of the area. Plenty of trucks loaded to overflowing with bananas, or matooke as it’s called there, were headed down the mountain, for sale mainly in Kampala.

One of the many trucks on the mountain

One of the many trucks on the mountain

One of the villages half way up the mountain was having it’s weekly market. There were people everywhere, the road just disappeared into a sea of people. But like Moses and the red sea, the people parted, all be it slowly, so that we could eventually creep through.

Market ahead

Market ahead

Another obstacle on the road was young boys (early teens) out to make a few shillings. They would put tree branches on the road, or a rope across the road and expect you to pay for them to remove them. It’s illegal, but they still do it and although many do pay, we refused to. One young boy started particularly digging his heels in, absolutely refusing to move them until we paid. No worries, we soon sorted him out as we picked up the phone to call our friend the policeman from just down the road. A glare and a sullen look followed and he slowly moved toward his branches and dragged them far enough away for us to pass.

Further along, appearing out of nowhere, is a semi gorge/cave type area, where the road passes through, almost like a tunnel. We stopped here and spent some time exploring. The walls dripped with water dribbling down the side, the plants hung down, flowing toward the road, also providing a path for the water to dribble down. In some places the water was a small water fall and the whole area was lovely and cool. Drive around the next hairpin bend and you’d never know it was there, the top is covered in vegetation and appears no different to the rest of the mountain. It was in this gorge area that a cry rings out “Pastor Mike, is that you”? And what do you know, along comes somebody that Mike had ministered to on one of his trips up the mountain. He was quite a way from home, especially when he was only walking, but it just proves that you never know when you’ll run into somebody you know.

Approaching the gorge

Approaching the gorge

We were reaching the top of the mountain when we met with another road block. You could see the boys eyes light up. We fixed them by doing a u-turn and heading back down. We were about to head back down anyway, so nothing was lost.

There are plenty of places to pull over on the side of the road, each providing another scenic view point. It was a case of count the waterfalls, as there were so many that you could see in the distance wherever you looked. I’m sure Mike and Juliet got sick of me saying “Is that the main Sipi fall” each time I saw something vaguely similar! At one of these vantage points on the way down we met some young boys. One was very shy and would only poke his head out from bushes. The other came a bit closer and got rather interested in what we were eating. We gave him a biscuit and the other boy came out a bit further. We offered him a biscuit and he came out. We got a few words out of both of them, but they didn’t know a lot of english and none of us spoke their dialect. Ah, food, the way to break down any barriers.

The view at breakfast

The view at breakfast

On the road up to Sipi, we stopped at another little water fall type area. Such a a nice waterfall so close to the road, this one being more of a water stream than a vertical one. A few young boys were herding their cattle and I do admit, much to my amusement, they took the cattle straight up the side of the rocky mountain, I guess heading to the stream up the top. I thought it was only goats that went up mountains like that, but apparently not.

The cows head up

The cows head up

We made it to Sipi township, eventually found a place to have lunch (quite good), then headed off to find a place to stay. Everyone is happy to stand on the road and direct you to their resort, but we settled on The Crows Nest. Although it had great views, we got the impression that we were more an inconvenience to them than a welcome guest, but never mind. The food was cheap and there was lots of it for just the three of us, although it was nothing special (and just for the record, I am travelling with one Ugandan and somebody who’s lived there for 5 or 6 years, so they know what to expect food wise). After the night before at the Visitors Inn in Mbale, we probably had higher expectations that weren’t quite met given the price we paid to stay here. It’s quite cool up that way at night, so thankfully I still had my jumper at that point in time! We each got a hurricane lamp so we could navigate around the place and light our cabins at night. But, what it lacked in facilities, it more than made up for with the view. You could pay more, but you wouldn’t get such a great view at some of the other places.

Sipi Falls - 3 levels

Sipi Falls – 3 levels, the view from The Crows nest

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