I just want to take a minute to say thank you once again to all of you who have been reading my blog! Many of you have been saying such kind things, and it really means a lot to me to have so much love and support. I really thought almost no one would read this blog (except maybe my parents and a few friends, occasionally, when they were bored), so it’s really astounding to me to have so many regular followers. And of course, it’s always nice to hear when new people have started reading!
Ok, as promised, I’m going to tell you all about my weekend at Sipi Falls, a place which I can only accurately describe as “magical” and “the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.” I am NOT exaggerating, as I hope you’ll see soon enough.
We arrived at the FSD office on Friday afternoon, for our final round of rabies shots and some catching up before our departure. It was great to see everyone and to hear about how all of the projects were going (well, as it turns out). Pretty much everyone is in the same boat as we are, in that things are going well, but because the community is pretty much self-sufficient at this point, there’s not much for them to do. Except for the UNC girls, that is. Their soap making project has been great so far, but as a result, they’ve been taking on additional projects to supplement it, so they have pretty much no free time. I can’t decide which situation is better. I suppose its good to have lots of down time to hang out and potentially explore the area, but you all know how I like to keep busy, and it’s been driving me kind of nuts to have so little to occupy my time. Plus, waiting around for Joseph sucks. Things haven’t gotten any easier. As always, I arrived at 9am today, and literally, he did not arrive until 5pm. Yes, he was 8 HOURS LATE for work, and I spent pretty much the entire day sitting in the office waiting for him. It’s a good thing our meeting took all of 2 minutes. At least there wasn’t much else I had to do (though I’d have preferred to wait around for him at home, where there’s more comfortable furniture).
We departed from Jinja at about 1:30, and spent about 3-4 hours in a coaster (a way less-high-tech version of a coach bus. Coasters > Mataatus). We passed through all of the towns the interns were staying in, and got to see some of their homes and regular hangout spots, which was really nice. We also drove through Mbale, where the famed (but really, only to us, not many people know about them) Abayudaya Jews apparently live. We didn’t see any of them, but we did pass a store with a Jewish star on it, so that was pretty cool. Proof that they exist, I suppose. On our drive, we got to see some really beautiful scenery, including a lovely view of an African sunset.
However, this was nothing compared to Sipi Falls itself. The landscape was absolutely incredible. Here’s the view from our hotel:
And the sunrise, which I woke up quite early to witness:
By the way, I’m listening to Neko Case right now, and looking through the pictures I took while “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” is playing has got me feeling particularly sentimental.
In case you’re wondering about the hotel itself, no, the conditions were not ideal. Not quite as bad as the Mbira Forest accommodations, though. I had my own bed, in a cabin with several others, like at Backpackers. There was no electricity in the cabin, and the toilets were pretty bad (there was a really weird, wooden one…the mouth of which looked like a vagina. And I know you’re probably thinking that’s just me because after directing The Vagina Monologues in 2011 I’m still kind of known as Geneseo’s resident vagina lady and therefore must see vaginas in everything, but I’m not the only one who thought so! It really was uncanny), and there was a piece of ancient chewed gum stuck to my mosquito net, but I’m pretty sure it was plugging up a hole, so it was kind of a good thing, ultimately. It was cold at night, but it’s much easier to warm yourself up than it is to cool yourself off at nighttime in Africa, so I didn’t really mind so much, and it was all completely worth it.
Now, to tour Sipi Falls, one is required to embark on a very intense, 3-5 hour hike, where one will encounter steep hills, rocks, mud, and any number of other obstacles. I was kind of dumb, and accidentally packed just my converses, as opposed to my other, more athletic sneakers (at least I had pants this time!). It might have made things slightly more difficult, but for the most part, I was totally fine. Before we embarked, the guides (Joseph and Moses—I knew I was in good hands!) assembled us to detail the journey. They said that they’d provide us with walking sticks if we’d like them. At first, I thought “No way! I don’t want everyone to think I’m a stupid tourist who can’t handle the wilderness.” But they said they strongly recommended the walking sticks—one of the guides even took one (I can’t remember which, but I’m going to selectively remember that it was Moses…because, come on…). Also, after thinking about it for another minute, I realized that, wait—walking sticks aren’t lame, they’re BADASS and would put me on par with magical wizards and forest-dwelling wise folk, so I took one. Also, I didn’t want to fall and break my ass or die. I can’t even begin to tell you how immensely helpful it was. I actually grew quite attached to it, and it was hard to let it go at the end of the hike.
Like I said, the hike was by no means easy. I got tired, sweaty, out of breath, and, above all, covered in dirt and mud. It’s Tuesday, and my thighs are still sore. But I’m proud of myself! I slipped many times, but almost always caught myself! I only fell once (well….ok, twice, but nobody saw me the first time, so shhh!). And even during most of the really difficult parts (uphill at least, downhill I wasn’t taking any chances so I went pretty slowly), I was keeping up with a lot of the more athletic members of the group, like the girls who have done outward bound type-programs (which, by the way, they were talking about on the hike. I was panting and thus refrained from joining in but listened attentively. They’re all totally badass.). I pushed myself physically, and I’m really glad for that. It’s worth the sore legs (which most of us have), and of course, the breathtaking views were well worth the hike. See for yourself:
The best part was the second big waterfall we got to stop at. We went really close to it, and even got to stand under it!
There was a pretty cool cave, as well.
And speaking of mythical creatures, The Mathematician even showed up! I couldn’t pass up that kind of golden opportunity to bring her out. It’s been awhile since she’s seen the light of day. She’s been pretty busy—lots of days to number, you know. (Please let someone from Currently Known As: be reading this. Otherwise I just look stupid and no one will think it’s funny).
A bunch of the interns even went into the waterfall (the part that wasn’t very strong). I would have gone, but I didn’t want to walk around in wet clothes, and I was a little worried about how much traction I’d have in my shoes (remember? I didn’t want to break my ass?). It looked like they had a lot of fun, though!
This is the waterfall that you can see from one of the first pictures, of the view from our hotel. That should give you an idea of how far we hiked.
Later that afternoon, we all hung out at the hotel, and I made a new friend, named Mark. He’s working in Kampala and is from Louisiana. He was such a bro, but a really good natured guy. It was fun swapping muzungu-in-Uganda stories with him, and hopefully we’ll keep in touch (he gave us his e-mail address) and swap tips on where to go in Kampala and Jinja, respectively!
The following morning, we all had a big group meeting, where we shared “roses and thorns” about our host families and organizations. It was nice to be able to connect with everyone and have some vocalized support from Jonan, Caroline, and all the others. Made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But it also made me realize how quickly time has passed—how much I’ve learned and grown since the first few days I arrived in Uganda. At the orientation, the Sipi Falls retreat felt impossibly far away, but now it’s over, and I can’t believe it! I have a feeling the next 3 weeks are going to fly by, and I’ll be home before we know it!