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Rheana's Travels

Sipi Falls

USA | Monday, 6 September 2010 | Views [263]

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We wrote this blog together, after we had an incredible experience taking a spur-of-the-moment trip to Sipi Falls last week.

Sipi Falls is about 5 hrs away (approximately northeast from Kampala) up in the mountains, high enough to produce some of the world’s greatest coffee. There is also a series of 3 gorgeous waterfalls, which makes it a great place to go and visit in Uganda. One of our favorite things about it though was the lack of other tourists we saw, so we really felt like we got out of the city and into “real Africa”.

To get there we travelled to Taxi park, which is still one of the craziest environments we’ve ever experienced… SO many people packed in to not very much space. There are no scheduled bus times, the taxis (15 passenger vans) leave whenever they fill up. We then drove to Mbale (4 hrs) where we caught a minivan to Sipi Falls (45 min). 

There’s not really any way we can give the trip justice, because it was really quite incredible. We were able to get out of both Kampala and Jinja and really see the countryside, which is what we’d both been wanting. We came here with the picture painted in our heads of Uganda being like the Sahara and The Lion King, but it’s much different in reality. For one thing, it’s the end of the wet season here, so everything is very very green. It’s a different type of trees and bushes, but there is a sense of the familiar in having so much lushness around.

The four hr trip to Mbale was an adventure all in itself… even “rest stops”. About an hour into our trip the bus pulled over on the side of the road in front of a bunch of fruit and vegetable stands and we were immediately swarmed by about 20 people selling chicken and beef on a stick and fried bananas. Literally, they open the windows for you, and four or five people shove multiple sticks of chicken in your face. Of course we bought some, and it tasted like chicken and cow. The problem was then we had these foot long sticks and chicken bone we didn’t know what to do with. Sadly enough we followed everybody else’s example, and either put it on the floor or tossed it out the window.

When we got to Mbale we had no idea where we should get off, and where to catch the ride to Sipi Falls. The taxi pulled over at one point and many of the people got out… so we followed. Mbale is a fairly large city, but the distance from Kampala means there’s not very many Mzungus. We were immediately swarmed by people wanting to know where we were going, and telling us to jump into taxis or onto bodas, but we just said “no thank you” and kept walking. Someone pointed us in the right direction, and we found the minivan headed to the falls.

We climbed into the 7 passanger mini van exclaiming “these seats are quite comfortable!” Little did we know we would soon have 16 people in the van. Picture Jamie crammed against the window with her arms in the fetal position, and seatbelt jamming up her. Rheana was intertwined with a woman dressed in African clothing, and this poor woman had a man basically laying on top of her. We must not forget to mention that this man was a 40 yr old one-legged narcoleptic captain, dressed in his army attire. The conversation with this man started out with him asking where we were from, before asking us what our favorite American food was. The questions continued on for 30 minutes before we got to the question, said loud enough for the entire van to hear, “do you circumcise in the US?” This made Jamie laugh out loud before realizing her response was inappropriate. Rheana took the question in all seriousness, and told him it depends, before going into more detail. It was quite the ride. Although the drive was fairly long, and a little uncomfortable, we enjoyed getting to see so much more of Africa. Even after four hours of driving and seeing the same sort of things, we were still commenting on how we were amazed at life here in general.

We should also mention we left Embale with only 15 passengers, and literally thought we could not fit anything else in the van. About half way, we pulled to the side of the road, for reasons unknown. The driver got out, opened the trunk door and started rearranging everything. A man then jumped into the back. The only way he could fit was to stand bent over with his chest on top of the food and our backpacks. This caused Rheana to laugh inappropriately, before he moved stuff around to get more comfortable. He was able to sit down by the end.

We knew we were going to stay the night at a hostel called “Crow’s Nest”, so after and hour drive we had the driver pull over and drop us off. A local guy, Marcus, was there waiting (not for just for us, but mzungu showing up to stay the night). He showed us our way and when he found out that we wanted to hike and repel down the waterfall he said he’d be our guide and meet us in the morning at 8 to take off. We got a key to our room, a lantern, and ordered some spaghetti for dinner. The night went well and we woke up at 7 the next morning to a beautiful view of the valley and falls from our balcony.

Our guide met us after breakfast (and coffee!) and we took off. We decided to go on the long hike which was described as the whole shebang with all three waterfalls, which would take 3-4 hours. Our hike took us through the village right off the main road, but the huts were never-ending. We walked on different trails, through coffee tree forests, and even through the “yards” of the huts. Some of the first 45 minutes was flat, but mostly uphill. Let’s just say we were a little out of breath and sweating before we made it to the first waterfall. Once we got there we didn’t have to worry about sweating anymore because we got soaked. Marcus said he’d stay behind with our backpack and camera because of how it was practically raining (but really just the spray from the waterfall) within 75 yards of the fall. We walked up closer and it was incredible- we just laughed in amazement… and got soaking wet within seconds, still over 15 yards away from the actual waterfall. On the walk back down the hill Jamie slipped and ended up in the mud. Let’s just say we all got a good laugh out of it.

As we walked towards the second waterfall we continued to see more of people’s lives in the villages; there were huts surrounded by fields of corn, cabbage, banana trees, coffee, and other things we didn’t recognize. Children we’re playing in the fields unsupervised or even working themselves. It was neat just getting a taste of what life is like away from the influence of the city.

After 2 hours or so we arrived at the final waterfall, where we were going to repel. As soon as we saw it, both of our hearts were absolutely pounding and adrenaline rushing through us. Two men met us there with all of the gear and they started setting up, while we went pee in the bushes so we wouldn’t pee our pants in the air J. After everything was set up, Marcus went down first with our backpack and one of our cameras, covered in a giant coat so they wouldn’t get wet. Once he was at the bottom, it was Jamie’s turn. As they harnessed her in they explained what she was supposed to do. It fairly foreign to her, not to mention, scary with being 300ft in the air, suspended from two ropes. According to Jamie, “I was so nervous. They were telling me to do certain things with my legs and feet, but I wasn’t getting enough slack in the rope so I couldn’t. You know me, I started to get frustrated, and that mixed with my nervousness brought out a feeling I had never experienced. I felt like I was about to slip and face plant, before taking a ride down the waterfall. I eventually got it, and once I was off the edge, I was totally fine. It was an incredible view and just crazy being so small in comparison to everything around me.” Then it was Rheana’s turn- “watching Jamie go made it easier on me because I got to see how the logistics of it worked. I could see how they were not giving her enough slack, so I made sure I asked for enough. I also made sure that I did not look down until I was about 5 feet down and I had figured out what I was doing. Once I did look around I just marveled at the view. Everything was just gorgeous and I sung my way down to the bottom.”

After we were done we started the journey back up the other side of the valley. It was a steep hike, and made us appreciate the hard work that these people put in just to get around or to get food home. Four or five kids carrying water jugs and bundles of bananas walked behind us, making us feel extremely out of shape.

We got back to Crow’s Nest by 1, decided not to spend the night in Sipi, and instead ride back to Jinja. We showered to get all the mud off of us, and Marcus took us down to the main road to help us get a ride to Mbale. After only a couple minutes Marcus flagged down a big truck carrying cases of empty beer bottles and told us to hop in. The two men who were sitting in the passenger seat jumped on top of the crates, although we said we wanted to ride on top, and we jumped in the cab.

In Mbale we caught another taxi to Jinja, where we spent the night. We got to Jinja after dark, and hired a boda-boda to take us to the hostel. We soon found out that the boda had no headlight, but the blinkers seemed to work just fine. It then started raining, and the driver got a little lost, but both commented on how this is traveling without set plans, and we love it.

The next morning we made our way to the bus station, and finished our trip off with another taxi ride. While on the ride we realized how many random things we had seen throughout the course of the trip that were special to Africa, that we never want to forget. One thing that we feel like we need to point out is that the chickens here are either drugged or mentally disabled. When we pulled over at various stops people would come over to sell live chickens. If someone in the taxi bought one they’d simply grab onto the chicken’s bound feet, pull them in through the window, and stuff them under the seat. We wouldn’t hear from the chicken for the rest of the ride. Not only were they in the taxis but they were also tied onto the roof racks. Sad.

Anyways, this trip to Sipi Falls was incredible in that not only did we repel down a 300 foot waterfall, but we also got to see the countryside, experience some on-the-go traveling, and realize how well we travel together.


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