Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sipi Falls

From Mbale we took a matatu (a shared taxi minibus) to Sipi Falls, about an hours drive north. Sipi Falls is situated at the base of Mount Elgon, the second higest peak in Africa. We never actually got to see Elgon because it was shrouded in clouds the entire time we were there, but we did get to enjoy breathtaking views of the rushing waterfalls fed by its daily downpours and the lush green valley that lies beneath its shadow.
Sipi Falls is made up of a series of three tall waterfalls. We had a beautiful view of all three falls from our cabin at the Crow's Nest, but it was not until we took a hike to them that we could really appreciate their power and beauty.

The first waterfall we reached is the tallest and because the rainy season had started early, the water was surging through it. We tried to hike down to its base, but could only make it part of the way before the mist was too strong to continue. Soaking wet, we continued on to a cave filled with crystals and bats and headed up to the second fall. It cascaded down in a series of drops from the green pastures above, and you could walk behind the largest span into a man-made cave. The third waterfall was equally impressive - it was situated highest up on the mountainside and offered sweeping views of the valley below.

The hike took us through both rainforest and countryside, and gave us a glimpse into the lives of the local people who farm the slopes of the mountain. We got to see the mud huts in which they live, taste the ground nuts they were cultivating on the slopes, and even were able to watch a couple of young boys making banana beer. On the way back through town, we passed the local school, which was hosting a colorful music and dance contest. Everyone we met was very friendly, smiling and laughing when we greeted them in their local language. Even thought Sipi is clealry a poor rural area, it seems as if the people there have developed a locally sustainable existence that offers a sense of dignity and joy.
It was a wet and muddy adventure, and even though all of our clothes were stained with the bright red African earth, it was well worth it to experience this beautiful and magical place. A special thanks to Martin, our local guide on the hike.

On the way back to Mbale we experienced a record-setting matatu ride, with 22 humans and 3 chickens squeezed into what should have been a 14 passenger van. The chickens were shoved under the seat near my feet and one kept pecking at my ankle. I am not sure what was the most terrifying aspect of the ride!

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