Thursday, July 9, 2015

Hiking Uganda's Waterfalls

I absolutely love hiking. When Caitlin and I first got married she would get so annoyed that I tried to make her trek up mountains on the weekends. Now she really enjoys it (who wouldn't) and I can't get enough. So while I was in Uganda, I spent some time hiking to different waterfalls. I already blogged about my first trip to Sipi Falls, but in this blog there will be pictures from our trip up Mount Wanale and my second trip to Sipi. 
We hiked Mount Wanale on a Saturday morning with our guard, David, as our guide. He had invited a handful of people to join us, but in the end only one showed up on time. Some others called when we were already on our way up the mountain, but David was not interested on running on Ugandan time.

We could see Mount Wanale from our house, and the road we lived on was named after it. During the dry season there was barely a waterfall trickling down the mountain, but since the rainy season had started just a few weeks before our hike, we had a fairly decent waterfall. 
We decided to walk from our house rather than taking bodas, and that seemed like a really good idea at the time. David said the hike was quick and would only take an hour... ha! We took a lot longer. It took us an hour just to get to the base of the hike from our house. Maybe we are slow walkers, or maybe our Ugandan friend didn't really have the same concept of time that we did. 
The day we hiked was beautiful. It started off fairly cool so we weren't melting, and the hike wasn't too difficult. It was steep, and we were panting and sweating, but it wasn't anything super difficult. One of my favorite things about the hike, however, was how we were all sweaty and took breaks during our jaunt up the mountain, and Ugandans would stroll past us with bunches of bananas on their heads, or hoes and machetes across their back and they wouldn't even be breathing heavy. This was just their walk to work, and here we mzungus are doing it for fun and exercise. We always get strange looks as we go hiking, even though all Ugandans know that mzungus like to hike. 
Sometimes where we were hiking didn't even look like a trail. Actually, at one point in time we were followed by a cute little girl who didn't speak any English. She originally hid from us, then started following us like a shadow, and then started leading us. But then we realized we were going in the completely wrong direction, so we abandoned her on the side of the mountain and started trekking off in the other direction. Don't worry though, she wasn't in the mood to be left behind, so she kept following us. 
Once we got to the top we had a great view. We could see all of Mbale and out into the countryside. I couldn't believe how high the mountain got so quickly. It is about 7,600 feet above sea level at the top of the mountain, which sounds absolutely crazy. We climbed about 4,000 feet (according to Wikipedia, which is usually the source of all knowledge found in this blog). Wow.
At the top we snapped a few pictures with our group, and in the one on the left, we had a complete stranger join us for the picture. Not sure why he thought we would want a picture with him, but I thought I would include it here for the memory. 

We didn't take the same route down, but went through more farm paths, but these ones had some great handmade ladders and bridges that added to the ambiance of East Africa. Before we were even half way down the mountain it started thundering. David got worried and started trotting down ahead of us. We weren't as quick footed and eventually had to stop because it started POURING rain. I don't know if you've been to any tropical locations, but the Oregon rain from my childhood is not the same as tropical rain. It is completely clear up until 20 minutes before the downpour, and then you are instantly drenched. We found a cave to seclude ourselves in and tried to outlast the rain. Unfortunately, we didn't have the stamina to stand in a small crevice for very long, so we opted to get soaked and continued down the mountain. 
Once we got to the bottom the rain stopped (of course) and we had to finish the walk home soaking wet (which maybe rainwater is better than sweat...). We did grab some snacks at the base of the mountain from a couple of stands. We got bananas and some great cassava flour/banana treats that we were unable to find in that same form for a long time. And then we walked home, disgustingly muddy, but super happy to have gotten out in nature and hike to the top of a waterfall. 

The next weekend, Carley and I went out to Sipi Falls, which is about an hour north of Mbale. We took a private taxi that was arranged by our friend Saleh, who owns the hostel Casa del Turista in Mbale. We left early in the morning because we did not want a repeat of the previous weekends hike in a rainstorm. 
When we got up to the waterfalls (there are three of them) our guide and driver took us to the waterfalls in the car, rather than having us hike to each of them (although we did hike between #3 and #2). I was so bummed. The first time I went we spent 4 hours hiking, and we shaved off two hours of that by driving to the top instead. Anyway, even with the driving, the waterfalls were spectacular. We were able to go from the top down and see the second waterfall gushing water. There was a lot more this time since it had been raining. 
We really wanted to see all the waterfalls, but we also wanted to stay dry. As we drove to the third waterfall, our guide informed us that we would not be able to go all the way down since it had been raining and that makes the mountainside more prone to mudslides. I was so sad. That waterfall had been my favorite part of the previous trip. We walked down to the edge and peered down the trail that we would have hiked down. About that time the clouds started rolling in and we realized that we were going to get wet if we stayed at the waterfalls much longer. 
So, we got into the car and rode back to Mbale. We talked to our driver and our guide about the banana/cassava treats we had the previous week and they tried to track them down based off our description. They came back with some crunchy version (our previous ones were chewy) which we graciously accepted, although we never ate them all. And we were home by noon and stayed dry as we traveled in our private taxi. 

There is something beautiful about the Ugandan countryside. The red earth (which turns into the worst type of mud that never leaves the bottom of your shoes) and the green foliage make for a beautiful backdrop. If I could go back to east Africa I would do the trip as a loop around Lake Victoria and visit Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi - that way I can see all the beautiful nature east Africa has to offer. 

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