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Sipi Falls: Part 1 Getting There

I decided to leave Bujagali Falls as originally planned when the night before I felt the local rodents had too intimate a knowledge with my banda.

Checking out was great because they actually take traveler’s checks, so I had a chance to dump a couple of those otherwise-worthless pieces of paper and got some US dollars in return! I followed the “its so easy” directions everyone gave me about taking the shuttle from Bujagali back to Jinja, a boda-boda (with my full baggage) to the bus park, and ask for the matatu to Mbale (pronounced “Bali” as in Bali, Indonesia).

All that worked very well and the bus park in Jinja was interesting. Matatus don’t leave at a given time, they just leave when they are full. As a reminder, a Matatu is a minibus or van that has been rigged to have 5 rows of seats (including the driver) and should in theory hold 12-14 people.

I contributed to the lets-leave-soon cause by purchasing two seats, one for me and one for my backpack. In Uganda you don’t really need to do that, as general theft and street crime is very small, but I still felt better doing it (and it cost around $5, a small price to pay for peace of mind).

The bus park not only has vendor stalls for all kinds of stuff (watches, fabric, food, drinks, candy, glasses, etc), but there are also vendors who walk around up to the matatus to sell you stuff. People were purchasing everything from cooked meat-on-a-stick to sodas and corn on the cob. Normally, it is advised against food from street vendors because of the high liklihood of getting dysentery. However, I need to take food with my a.m. malaria meds and hadn’t been able to get anything to that point. I decided the risk of dysentery less than not taking my meds (or taking them and then bringing them right back up if I don’t have food at the same time) So, I ate two samosas which were quite good and hoped for the best. In the end, no problems there.

We waited around 30 minutes before we were full and then took off. Overall the trip was fine though our row was bult for 3 a large woman and her ~5 year old kid took up a good portion of it. However, as I would later learn, that trip was down right luxurious in terms of personal space. There were several toddlers and babies so I finally got to make use of the stickers I had brought by giving a sheet to each. Moms were grateful and the kids were fascinated with them, but it was also sad. They really didn’t know what stickers were. they just stared at them as pretty pictures, without knowing they peel off and stick to things.

Eventually it took around 2-3 hours to get to Mbale (I was reading Maeve Binchy’s _Scarlet Feather_ which I picked up at the Bujagali Falls book exchange room) but when I told them I needed to get to the “Sipi Falls matatu” no one had any idea what I was talking about. The closest they could come up with was “central police station”. Eventually I dug out my Bradt guide and said I needed the route that went to Sipi Falls and then on to Kapchowara. OH Kapchowara!! Of course, why didn’t I say so! They all knew that! At this point I had a crowd of about 6 people around trying to help, which was cool.

But, but then, they were at the bus park in Mbale and apparently the Sipi Falls — I mean Kapchowara — matatu was at the other end of town. They took one look at me and my backpack and indicated that walking was not an option. they then called a boda-boda over to take me. Unfortunately, they called a bicycle boda-boda rather than a moped boda-boda, but I didn’t feel like I could refuse since they were all being so nice.

If you can envision this, I am sitting on a cushion behind a bike seat with my 30 lb packpack on my pack, my 5 lb daypack held in one hand and a shopping back with my large bottles of shampoo and conditioner (I take them everywhere with me, apparently) in the other. He starts to peddle and I feel SO BADLY for him, though in theory me and all my stuff probably came to around 150 lbs, and he probably regularly totes people around who weight that much. still it was a lot of dead weight… Two other guys come and start to push the bike up hill to give him some leverage. Once he gets over the crest it’s a fast downhill (me thinking, “I have a 30 lb bag on my back, a bag on each arm, no helmet, and he’s now going downhill as fast as he can. I am going to die.” Actually I DID think to myself “well snarky, you DID say you wanted adventure!”.

Well, he’s very nice and drives me to the Kapchowara matatu that is waiting to fill up. I’m about 20 feet away when the guy responsible for selling the seats say “come on, your friends are already here.” I look in the vehicle and see two Mzungus, so of course we must be friends!

Here I meet J and M, a dutch couple about my age (a rarity here) who fortuntely are staying at the same place that I am. J puts his backpack on top of the matatu so I let mine go as well figuring there is safety in numbers. It didn’t really matter as it began to rain on the trip and they moved them inside which was good. It turns out J lives in Kampala and works for a well-known tour company. M, his girlfriend who is a vet, just moved to Uganda, but she had been here before and was in fact very well-traveled and had been just about everywhere in the world.

The matatu filled up pretty quickly and was very full, but not to bursting or anything.

Five hours after I left Jinja, the matatu dropped us off on the road where the road up to our campsite, called “Crows Nest” was. It was beginning to rain a bit. There is actually a much nicer placed called Lacam Lodge I would have preferred to go to, but it was booked up. Crows Nest is a budget campsite, and was aptly named. you had to walk up and up and up to get to the reception area, and then it turns out we were given lodges at the very top of the property, so I had to hike up even more with my heavy pack to get to the cabin. At the time, i thought this was hard work. But then I learned that people from Sipi Falls are, in fact, part mountain goat and steep climbs mean nothing to them…

The three of us settle into our cabins which are next to each other. The view is SPECTACULAR.

Sipi Falls is a whole bunch of water falls going over a gorge, located up at a pretty steep elevation on Mt. Elgon, near the Kenya border. Most people speak swahili here (not true in much of Uganda) so it was nice to put that to use again.

We settle in and a little while later go down to the lodge where the view is equally good. We’re sitting around talking when the rain begins in earnest. the view, so spectacular a minute ago was GONE. It was just white torrential downpower. We were so high that we end up half in the clouds.

It turns out we’re all tired and go back to our rooms for a nap. I fortunately wake up around 7:30 and go down to the lodge. It turns out dinner is from 6-8 and even at 7:30 they’re like “oh, I don’t know if the chef is still here!”. I get the spaghetti. I also go out on the porch and run into an Irish couple I’d gone white water rafting with. they are the only other people at the lodge so far as we can all tell. We chat for a bit and then I decide I’m pooped and get a hurricane lamp to walk back to my room. I later learned that J and M slept until 8:30 or 9 and missed dinner entirely! There are not a lot of other options if you miss dinner. we learned to program our clocks by the kitchen hours!

Did I mention that their generator was out so no electricity? They hoped it would be temporary, but in fact it had been that way for 3 days and never got its power back the entire time I was there. You’d think this would be really frustrating, but in fact it wasn’t that bad. The cabin was small, so the hurricane lamp and my own flashlight were really ample. The cabin room was really clean, if spartan, consisting of a double bed with a big fat warm blanket (woo hoo, luxury!) a mosquito net over said bed, and a plastic chair. OUtside the cabin is a single chair and covered area from which to admire the view. Attached was its own “long drop” bathroom and shower, such as they were — which was’t much.

Anyway, after hanging my still-wet laundry up over the hurricane lamp (fear of fire high, fear of moldy clothes higher) I turn in around 8:30 and sleep very well.



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One Response to “Sipi Falls: Part 1 Getting There”

  1. Hi there

    i realise that this blog is a bit old now and i have no idea if you still check on comments etc but i am leaving for a 2 year trip from Cape Town to Sydney in October this year (2009). the first chunk of the trip is from Cape to Cairo which i have been reading you have done a proportional part of on your own adventures. I have toured africa before (zim, zam, botswana, Namibia) but there are vast areas such as Tanzania and Uganda that i have to go through which i am reading about on your blog. I wondered if you have time you might want to pass on any tips/advice etc on these countries as i will be passing through them on foot – which you seem to have done and the last time i visited the continent, the best advice came from people like you who had seen it all before.

    Any advice on transport, acommodation (read camping) etc will be much appreciated.

    rd@taylorandcompany.co.uk

    Richard (London)

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