When we set off from Kampala, it was with a bit of reservation. Our anxiety came from a combination of factors: the vast majority of the group had never been to Lira or heard anything exciting come out of there, save for Lira Lira; our number was only half of what we had grown accustomed to every time we go to hike a new destination. It was a relief then to see that we got off to a good start arriving at our destination at exactly midnight and pitching camp right before the rain set in. This may sound mundane until one reminds you that we have pitched tents at 6am before.
Come day break, the team was up early, boots on, heavy breakfast (that ever elusive cup of porridge finally made it to our camp breakfast menu) and out we went to conquer. The opening section of the hike was nothing to write home about. It was a 5km flat stretch of tarmac that would otherwise have fried our feet had it not been for the morning drizzle. Half way through this section, Ngeta and Akia hills began to show bits of themselves, enticing us to come ever closer. When we finally took a turn off the tarmac, the hike kicked into life. Akia was the first hill. All rock and broken earth. We worked our way rather quickly through the treacherous sections on this one. You could feel the experience of tougher climbs come to bear on this one. Quick photo moments and then off to take on Ngeta in the distance. And this is where the real fun began.
The crossing of the plain on the way from Akia to Ngeta turned out to be something else. Easy walking in the local communities slowly gave way to a swamp barricade. It felt like we had hit a brick wall. To make matters worse, the heavens opened up as we were weighing our options. But there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads to fortune. And ours was quite literally a flood. A flooded swamp! Our guide, having missed a shorter route earlier on, found us another one to make up for his error -if we were willing to get wet and dirty. Not a single complaint was heard as the platoon launched into almost waist-high swamp waters.
The futility of carrying our ponchos and wearing waterproof boots dawned on us then. One chap was seen grappling with an umbrella to cover his head and shoulders while wading through. There was the odd stumble here and a missed step there; a tumble into the water and some suspected sipping too but not a single soul could admit to it. And if you think we hated it, you couldn’t be more wrong. On the contrary, the mood became more cheerful. The closest we had come to experiencing anything like it was Mpanga forest. Cue Adele; we rolled in the deep with the swamp. If ever there was a moment we felt that this hike had our backs, this was it. By the time we completed the crossing, we had put in a decent shift sieving the swamp with half the sediment swept away in the fabric of our pants, the socks, boots, in the pockets, in our underwear, name it.
The trail led us back onto dry land -ok, not so dry as it was raining but still dry compared to the swamp- and then very quickly onto the limestone rock that forms Got Ngeta. Ngeta itself is slightly steep and provides a fair challenge hiking to the top. The reward is a sweeping view of the lush district of Lira. Like the rest of the northern region, the lay of the land is generally flat and spotted with a few rocky outcrops that jut out of the plains as hills. You can tell from the greenery all around that this is a fertile region. Cashew nuts, lapena (chick peas), boo (pronounced with an ‘o’ not a ‘u’ sound), otigo, okra, mangos, bananas, maize, soy beans, pumpkin, groundnuts all grow here.
After five-odd hours of hiking in wet conditions, we decided to call it a day and turn towards our campsite at the beautiful Brownstone Country Home. It is located in an environment with predominantly brown coloured stones. The County Home is located in the village “wigweng” which derives its name from the Lango language which means “on top of the stone”. This place thrives on organic farming with a 30-acre plantation comprising of mangoes, oranges, avocado, okra, boo, tangerines, pineapple, pawpaw, jackfruit, fish farming, bee keeping, name it. This is a place whose farm-to-fork meals are delightful to the palate. A stroll through the farm itself is therapy for the soul as one can enjoy fresh fruit and a breeze to die for.
This hike was well worth our time and served up some surprises. Damned if you missed it.