Previously on Wanale S01:
-Some chivalrous guy dropped a lass he was helping across a stream splash into the water,
-Bodies collapsed in thuds on the slippery trails,
-It was a mud bath by the time we arrived at the top of the ridge.
As we found out this time around, it would have been asking for too much to expect more of the same on the fomo trip to Wanale. First off, none of the incidents above came to repeat itself -thankfully. This hike more than anything showed that there is a growing thirst for these activity filled weekends as there were only two survivors from the previous foray in 2015. The other 33 hikers were hiking Wanale for the first time.
The bus trip out of Kampala went without incident, save for missing the closing time for road side sausages at Idudi. The route via Tororo a slightly longer one but worth the extra mileage when one is not keen on a bumpy ride along Tirinyi road. Time check: 1am, we roll into the Kakungulu Heritage camping grounds on the majestic Gangama hill. Tents are pitched, quick dinner for the hungry lot, no time for a bath (they don’t call it the outdoors for nothing) and then off to bed (sleeping bags, to be exact).
It was only the following morning that we got a chance to inspect our sleeping quarters. Kakungulu Safaris has done a brilliant job giving this place shape. One cannot wait to camp over in the new grounds when all is complete. The early risers managed to catch the sunrise and the commanding view over Mbale town itself. Then it struck us that we were camped at the burial site and home to Semei Kakungulu himself. How lucky. Anyone who is a History Channel buff would have been able to quickly discern the strategic advantage such high ground presented to a military man of Kakungulu’s stature. Anyway, ssi byebyatutwaalayo.
After a quick breakfast, regrettably without porridge on the menu, we set out to the starting point, received our instructions and off we bundled into the hills. The trail we took this time had so many boulders and caves that made for beautiful photography. There is eucalyptus at almost every little turn, hardly a stream to cross but we could see a series of waterfalls in the reaches farther above our heads as one went deeper into the ridge. The slopes are so fertile that they alone produce more than 80% of the food that feeds Mbale town and surrounding areas. And it is everything from sukuma wiki, ground nuts, matooke, irish potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cabbage and Arabica coffee
The slopes seemed to rise steeper the higher we went. We then came to a pass which we could only squeeze through by climbing a treacherous looking ladder. But first, we had to deal with a gang of machette-wielding boys demanding payment for maintaining the twig and log ladder. It is funny how the fiercest noise makers coil when you stand your ground and just as loudly remind them that they are probably not yet of circumcision age. This jab when applied with finesse yields impressive results. It is, however, doubtful whether it would be as efficacious in other parts of the country.
After the mini drama at the ladder, we made haste for a small pool of water fed by a gush in the river not far away at that point. A little ascent here, a descend there, a flat section like this then like that, then past the ant hill near the second house where we saw the tethered goat…. do you catch the drift? Something strange happens when you place water in the way of these hikers. It is almost as though a cloak of pretense is torn away as they jump for it like toddlers in a bath tub. But we had to cool down, massage aching feet, replenish lost energy and recharge for the next assault on the top of the ridge itself.
Then came the surprise. The head guide, having under estimated our resolve, maneuvered us into making a descent. Those who had been to the top before quickly detected this deceit but were too distracted to point it out. No body wanted to be the kid that raises a hand in class to ask the teacher a question after the lunch bell has gone. The way down was still not without its challenges as some could be seen hanging onto other bodies for leverage. By the time we returned to the road itself, nobody was in the mood to stop yet. And so the pick up transport was largely ignored as the majority elected to hoof it all the way back to camp.
Where the trail did not deliver distance, it gave us an education on the conflict between the Mt. Elgon Park and the surrounding communities. When stories go as far as mentioning loss of human life on both sides, it makes you think twice about that mini drama with the machette wielding kids. We could have been in more danger than we cared to realise, in hind sight.
When we were not worrying though, we found some time for a little sport of rock climbing and zip lining over Sipi Falls. All the brave souls having been accounted for, we hit the road back to the madness that is Kampala. Many thanks to Kakungulu Safaris for hosting us and making our weekend worth the journey. If you ever set your mind of hiking Wanale, Mt. Elgon or just about anything in the East, Stephen and Rachael are the go-to people.