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Yet, I promised to do Sipi justice.

The glow from the Coal drew my attention from Jennifer Makumbi’s The First Woman. Sparks ignited familiar memories. I smiled. Pondered. Then suddenly felt nostalgic for Sipi. Sipi Falls.

***

June 3rd, 2022 fell on a Friday. It was tempting to utilize the long weekend for the much needed nap. However, my love for adventure lured me to check out the Eastern side of Uganda.

“Sipi! Here I come.” I announced as I threw my arms towards the sky.

As cities faded into countryside, we reached the foot of Mount Elgon. The roar of overwhelmed engines filled the air. Fresh air choked on fumes from burning diesel. The truck ahead hardly climbed.

In our Van, the track by B2C boomed, “Gwe wekka, anzijudde mu mutwe. Mu kifuba, mu mutima, mu magumba.” The blast from the music and mimicry competed with the engine. The raucous competition continued. Halfway the hill, Muko – our driver – decided to overtake the struggling truck. The hill was steep. Muko pressed the full length of the pedal. We caught up with the truck.

Jambo” Muko shouted.

The truck driver smiled at Muko. He slowed down. Leaned on the left before he signaled for us to pass. Muko overtook. The hill grew steeper. The engine roared. Agonised. Then suddenly stopped! Muko writhed as he swayed the Van off the road.

The truck driver caught up with us. He peered and giggled. When the hill leveled, he sped off. Muko underestimated the terrain. We watched the truck disappear into the valley.

We disembarked and walked straight to taking pictures. We stood. Jumped. Sat on the grey tarmac. Dashing off at the sound of fast approaching vehicles.

We strolled back and forth. Admired nature. Across the road, the rocky hills rose above one another. The furthest, higher than the nearest. Homesteads scattered at the foothills. On the other side, a grass-thatched hut with a mad-wall finishing was obscured by banana plants. The reed frame popped at one edge.

The Van engine had heated up. Muko and the Help sprang about. Added water. No sign of recovery.

Dusk was fast approaching. We decided to continue by Boda-Boda. The thought was thrilling. Sipi Falls was calling. The weather was tepid. The Boda-Boda speed just convenient for an in-depth view of the scenery. The breeze smelled fresh. The tarmac clean. As we wound through the hills, Sipi Falls started to shyly peep through the moving hills. The Falls were a silver band against a greenish-brown background, which connected the clouds above and the rocky hills beneath.

The tarmac, behind us, snaked its way through the hills. It formed a sharp curve, then went into a switch back between hills. Another sharp curve. Then came back.

Sipi Falls welcomed us with a cool breeze. Tongues of sunlight permeated Sipi’s forest just to lick at our foreheads. Closer, the Sipi Falls were magnificent. They dropped easily from the giant rock many metres above into the rocky ground below. They gushed and roared as if forced out of their source. Then snaked through the thickets knowingly as if thirsty to reach their destination.

“Wow.” I whispered. Drew in the breeze. Then rushed to take pictures. Under the falls. In the cave. I just couldn’t get enough.

“This is just the first level,” the tour guide announced smiling at my satisfaction. The thought of hiking higher was as exhausting as it was exciting. I hiked anyway. The ascent was steeper. The ladders makeshift. Scanty vegetation covered the rocks.

Amidst pauses and long breathes that interrupted hiking; we were prized with the next level. The real Sipi Falls, if you asked me.

Unlike the previous level, these Falls poured underground into a ‘pocket‘ – a basin-like feature, extending into a cave. Huge rocks guarded the pocket. Leaving just the opening above for the falls to pour and slits in-between for tourists to maneuver into the pocket. The rocks were skimpily dressed in slimy patches. Some with lichen. They were ice cold. My bare-feet felt numb.

Up, on the giant rock, a naughty male waterfall diverged from its mother. The urge so intense. He confidently projected his discharge into the shrub towards the road. His stream perpendicular to mother stream. He was clad in a magnificent tot rainbow. Mother Sipi, on the other hand, vigorously squirted downhill into the pocket.

I descended the rocks, into the pocket. The pocket, clogged with mist, was half dark. The mist glittered from partial sunlight. The lower I went, the cooler it became. “Is it the lower or the higher you go?!” I internally debated the adage until I felt confused.

The pocket equated to a fridge. The water was icy. I suddenly felt chilly. Voices, in the pocket, were like echoes in the jungle. I sucked in the sights. A frigid prickle nudged at my lungs. Warm mist rushed out when I finally exhaled.

Back on the road, resident teenagers directed tourists to posture with Sipi for pictures. Tourists postured to drink with their mouth from ‘son’ Sipi. Others carried on their head their cupped palms as ‘mother’ Sipi poured in. I joined in. Put my right leg forward. The left, slightly behind. Bent somewhat backwards. Faced up. Mouth opened rather wide. ‘Mother’ Sipi poured in and a snap shot was taken.

I bought pieces of Coal mined from Mount Elgon. Souvenir. It was sunset when we left for Jinja.

***

I pondered on. Oblivious of the glowing Coal. I imagined the third level of Sipi that time denied us a chance to explore. My mind lingered between the fertility of my experience with Sipi versus what I researched prior to the trip. Compared. Contrasted. Compared. Sipi was understated. I chuckled at the innocent shallowness of my ‘pre-trip’ findings. And right there, it dawned on me. No words can describe nature’s magnificence! You’ve got to just experience it. Yet, subconsciously, I promised to do Sipi Falls justice. The ember sparked. I smiled.

I flipped a page of The First Woman.

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