Mt. Elgon, Jinja and Source of the Nile tour


It rained all night Wednesday. I had worked late and got to bed 
after a shower at 1:30 battling a couple of mosquitos, when the 
rain started. At some point the wind started to roar in an 
ascending pitch. I kept thinking it would die down but it just 
got stronger, until I was afraid the windows would burst. I put the
 blanket between my face and the right window, and faced a way 
from the left window. The rain poured off the roof. I My door was 
ajar when I got up even though I had left it clasped shut. When I 
got up at 8am, Larry said plans had changed and we were going to 
Mt. Elgon today instead of tomorrow, and the Lake Victoria islands
 trip would happen Sun. I asked if it was because of the weather 
and he said "yes." So we headed out for the longer trip to the 
Eastern side of Uganda in the safari truck, onto the best road I'd
 seen in Uganda, with lines on each side and down the middle, and 
shoulders. There were still many bicycles, and walkers on the side
 of the road. Many women were in beautiful dresses, some with the
 traditional butterfly sleeves, more so than usual, because of the
 Easter weekend holiday. We had Indian food in Mbale, at the foot
  • of the mountain, and picked up the guide, Amos.
We drove up the dirt mountain road with much bouncing, jostling 
and squeaking of the truck. We saw the mountain people who live 
there, who stared at us and sometimes waved. Goats, cows and sheep 
were by the road more often here than on the highway or in Kampala.
 Often they had a leg tied and would be at the end of the rope. We 
finally got to the Uganda Wildlife Authority at 4:30pm, signed in 
and started the hike. Larry did not come, but Ellenie joined us. 
Amos, who carried an AK47, kept saying we'd be back in an hour; our
 goal was to see some caves. Jim and Amos got well ahead of us on 
the steep uphill since I was weighted down with recording equipment
 and the African food I'd been eating since I got here. The first 
hour was mostly uphill, through rainforest, and passing through 
some farmland with cows and rows of crops planted. I was breathing
 fast and hard. It rained a little off and on, and thunder rolled 
occasionally. Rainforest! Pretty views of the valley, moutains and 
small farms. After a mostly flat area we climbed again, taking big 
steps over the boulders on the path. It got rougher, and even scary
 at times. Approaching a slanted rock wall I refused to go up it, 
as this had reached my climbing limits. I spent about 15 minutes 
stewing over it and arguing with Ellenie, who kept saying "you 
will go, and I will help you. I will be right behind you." She said
 later teh mountain people had removed some of the UWA's ladders 
that are usually in spots like this. Finally, since Amos and Jim 
were not coming back to see what happened, and I realized either 
I'd be left alone waiting for them while she told them I wasn't 
coming, or I'd have to climb it, I just decided to do it. It really
 was not hard, and she did tell me where to put hands and feet so 
I didn't slip. The main problem was when I grabbed thorny plants 
to hang onto instead of roots. I started to feel some confidence in
 her because she could be right under me, hanging on from some 
impossible place, making sure I, who was on the easiest path, made
 it.
We got to the cave, met Jim and Amos, and went inside. It went 
about 40 feet back in, and you could stand up in the end part after
 ducking through the entrance. Jim saw a bat. I took some flash 
pix, and so could see everyone briefly. There was only one oval 
light from the entrance in one direction. The reverberation on our 
voices was wonderful, prolonging the sound.
Going back over that scary place again I had Jim, Ellenie and Amos
 helping, which made it easy. We had to really move to get back 
before it was too late. It was almost dark when we reached the 
truck. I'd gotten a few recordings of birds and the mountain people playing drums and singing which we heard at the cave, in the distance. I was really excited to have conquered the fear of heights, at least in this one situation.
Jim had bought some staples for the mountain people on the way up,
 and we stopped and 3 of their homes to deliver the gifts. They 
invited us in, chatted for a few minutes. It wasn't so easy since 
the language was different, but I think they got the idea of what 
we were saying. They were very gracious. At first I was concerned 
this would seem condescending, but after doing it, found it to be 
wonderful. I could see what their lives were like, and they seemed
 to appreciate the gifts. The homes were made of clay  with tin or
 grass roof, with newspaper, often with President Mouseveni's face
 on the wall. Larry says this is wallpaper.
It was dark, but they have candles. I recorded some frogs near one
 of the homes that was next to a stream. 

We drove back down the difficult road in the dark, getting to Mbale
 late and looked for dinner. We ended up, dirty and tired, at a 
place that took forever, and confused our orders numerous times. 
At least we got to sit outside. The hotel Ridat was worse. I had 
no light in the bathroom, and there was no hot water. A guy 
replaced the bathroom light upon my request, with a disco black 
light from the attached club. At least 
the mosquito net was in good shape. Apparently this hotel had
 "gone down the tubes." This is the first time we had had a negative 
experience with either food or accomodation and we had some laughs 
about that and the dinner.  

The next day we had a decent breakfast at a very nice hotel in 
Tororo, after driving a couple of hours. The Rock Hotel where the 
government people stay. I had lionized potatoes (fried with egg). 
We headed southeast to the Kenya border and parked at Malaba, 
Uganda. We changed some money, and walked over the bridge of the 
Malaba River which delineates the border, to Malaba, Kenya. Cars, 
trucks, carts and bicycles with all kinds of products went over the
 bridge. I put away my camera when we saw the guards. We saw 
produce, and many other products being carried over. Several trucks
 carrying new cars crossed from Kenya to Uganda. Women in beautiful
 dresses and others crossed on foot. We shopped at the little 
tourist shops there and I found some colorful fabrics. We ate lunch
 at the mini-hotel (a restaurant) and I had chapati with rice and 
vegetables. It was pretty good. Then we came back over the river.
 There was a hippo in the river, but I missed it with my camera. 
I climbed under the bridge to record the birds, but it created 
such a ruckus with people being surprised to see a muzungu (white 
woman) under the bridge with recording equipment that I had to 
stop. We then drove west and north to Jinja.

Jinja is a beautiful city with nice gardens and buildings. Jim went
 shopping since he'd been here before, and I went on a boat ride 
on Lake Victoria/Nile River. This is the source of the Nile River,
 at Lake Victoria. Walking back up from the boat launch there was 
a statue of Ghandi, that people stood in line to photograph. The 
trees around the statue were full of monkeys with little human-like
 black faces and grey bodies. One jumped down and a guy was feeding
 him peanuts and playing with him, until the monkey stole the whole
 bag of peanuts. We stopped in a "bar" supposedly to recording 
them singing a drinking song, but they didn't. A bunch of people 
sat around a big bucket with beer (looked like mud to me) drinking 
out of long pink or green tubes. Next Larry took me to Bulimbaga  
Falls, while Jim stayed in a small village talking with people. 
These waterfalls are beautiful, and people go down them in short 
kayaks. I spent a while shooting video and recording the falls. 
Soon there will be a dam here and the falls will probably be gone. 
Larry got a very cool drum on this trip, with a python skin head, 
which I play sometimes. 

We drove back in a gorgeous sunset most of the way to Kampala, 
Saturday night. I recorded sounds in a town before Kampala, but 
unfortunately the batteries had run out and I could not record 
these rich pulsing traffic/club sounds.
The dinner and shower at the guesthouse were so welcome!

About marahelmuth

Composer / researcher specializing in computer music, professor at CCM, at the University of Cincinnati. Embarking on a trip to Uganda April 13, 2011. I will be working with Teach and Tour Sojourners, who arrange tours in the parks and reserves and lectures at universities. On the tours I'll be recording wildlife sound and video, to be used in future compositions.
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