My journey to Rwenzori: How it all started.

Photo by: Laker Winfred L: A view of the snow Rwenzori mountain.

These past weeks, I have been in a floating state of sorts. In a daze. I had no balance whatsoever. No feeling. Nothing. I was like a cloud not sure of where to let loose its drops, because, even I cannot believe I actually hiked to the highest point in Uganda! Margherita peak! 16,763 ft. Yes, that! I was 5,103m above sea level!

I don’t know what took me to Rwenzori. I don’t know. I guess it was pure adventure, a whole lot of curiosity, a dare from a friend who thought I couldn’t (which annoyed me tremendously by the way) and a great deal of stubbornness. Remotely, I wanted to prove a point to myself. Test my lungs! Figure out whether I was healthy. And, I also didn’t know I was subconsciously walking into what I had parroted about doing years back.

It’s time to write about that experience, now that my face is done peeling from the frost bite. The chilly numbness in my fingers are gone. My toes feel normal. My nostrils are not two cold hollow dry holes in my nasal cavity anymore, and my gait is back. The mountain did things to me. Some were crazy awesome and some were mighty awful. The awful were those mentioned above.

I will tell you this, the surreal and amazing feeling of reaching Margherita peak on Rwenzori mountains, returning home, safe, intact, and sound minded, is unbelievably exhilarating! For me, it was, and still is a priceless feeling. Nothing can replace it. Not now. Not yet. Not ever I think.

My knees are still a little whacked and beat but they will soon be normal. I feel it in my bones!

I dream about the mountains in the night still. It has happened more than once since we returned. I guess it stays with you, the mountains. It keeps reminding you of when you met. How you broke boundaries. Climbed boulders. When you bonded through every footstep, sweat, energy, tears, thought and might. Even in your sleep the mountains will remind you of its majestic presence and the time you met. It’s like a great version of first love. A love that cannot be changed or untamed. Love requited.

They say the mountains we hike treat each of us different. Some people come back unamused. Some come back wanting nothing to do with hikes, mountains or anything hills. Some come back questioning their sanity while others come back hankering for more mountains. I came back questioning my sanity and wanting more of these mountain hiking madness.

Our trip started way before. We did not start on the 25th of February 2021. No. It started sometime in December of 2020 with endurance walks. Walks ranging from 5km to 45km and more on certain days.

After pulling through to safety from a very emotionally and physically draining illness during mid November to mid December 2020, I told myself I was going to do a lot of things as soon as I got a clean bill of health. Hiking Rwenzori was going to be one of those insane things I do in the first quarter of 2021. 2020 was stolen from me, so, I wasn’t letting 2021 be taken too! I promised to check things off my invisible list.

While still on sick leave, lying about and minding my business, I saw a Facebook post on Tulambule (a group about travel in Uganda ) and a link for anyone interested in hiking Rwenzori to join. Those who wanted to go on the next hike could join. Well, my crazy had come early! I got myself into the WhatsApp group. A move I normally wouldn’t dare to pull! Not with fraudsters and sometimes weird stuff going on in the cyber space. But, heck, I joined.

Soon I realized the group was legit and the happenings there resonated with my new mantra. I latched myself to it. I remained there. I didn’t “Left the group“.

At the time, there was already a team in the mountains and the group was rife with excitement. Communication wasn’t coming through given the lack of network up there in the mountains. So we were down here, rolling in group tension, a frenzy of sorts, mixed with anxiety and awe. I was petrified too. Afraid. Frightened of the decision I was about to make.

I read every post, followed every link shared and internalized every detail put on the group. I mean, I had the time, battery percentage, data, and the curiosity. And yes, my nosiness motivated me in some strange way to stick around and get informed.

Soon I was in a pendulum of sorts, suspended between the crippling decision to go and not to go, to go and not to go, and cold paralyzing fear. A big giant finger of fear kept poking me and asking me what I really was thinking about wanting to go. That’s not a great space to be in. I was more terrified of falling off some cliff while hiking than getting myself there and enjoying the scenery. Funny how fear is the first thing we think of when we make a decision to do something out of our regular routine.

So to share some of my tension, I sold the idea of going for the hike with a friend and soon we were planning about the trip. We ditched the idea of travelling down south by road and focused on Rwenzori. Still I had my reservations.

Here’s my journey to Rwenzori. I will be writing about our day to day trek and what not in the subsequent posts.

By Laker Winfred L

The curious things in a bus at Namayiba bus terminal

Overview picture of Namayiba bus terminal. Online picture

“Soda, water, soda, water?”

“Power bank, headphones, memoli

“Sista? Breakfasti?”

“Chips, river, chips, river?”

“Buksi, buksi blaaza? Buksi sista?”

Those are bus hawkers moving through the bus isle and shoving their wares at you. It comes in various degrees. Some overtly intrusive. Some overtly aggressive. And some, simply annoying.

I decided to observe and talk back. When you do, they eventually leave you alone.

There’s a preacher in between all this, singing some old Anglican hymn and waving something that looks like a Bible in the air. His English isn’t comprehensible. The words, unbalanced, lazily but quickly fall out. One has to pick them and put them together to understand. I wonder why he can’t use Kiswahili or Luganda.

His clothes don’t fit well. Shirt is white and folded on the sleeves. It’s the kind that has seen days and days of constant hand washing. His trouser, worn like a mom jeans, is a faded shade of beige tending to cream. It is ill fitting. But does it matter anyways?

“Abatembeyi! Time! Time!” yells the conductress as she squeezes through. She’s called Aisha. I heard the guy at the front yelling her name. Another called from outside and she responded. Now we all know her as Aisha.

She is moving up and down the isle. Rearranging people. Moving a certain person from the back to the front. From left to right another. Front to back a mother with her toddler.

3 young people are arguing with 3 foreign nationals. Their seat numbers are messed up. English is limited on both ends. Aisha sways through and relocates the visitors to their rightful seat. This rearrangement continues some more.

Some people aren’t too happy about what Aisha is doing. But it’s her job to make sure we are in our paid for seats. And she does this with a certain degree of swift annoying attitude. Again, her job.

Someone walks in with his chicken. For Easter I guess. Shouldn’t chicken be coming from the country side instead? Last I checked, chicken was coming from Kamdini into the city for such days. Then again, didn’t they say change is coming? This is it I guess. Chicken moving in the reverse, city to the village. Sorry I digress.

There’s a sumbusa guy who is squeezing through. The little boy behind tells his mom he wants some. She’s adamant. Says the things have no meat inside. The boy insists. She buys. Minutes later she is laughing hard saying she told him the samosas had no fillings. Yes, here we call samosas “sumbusas”

“Kekyi, biscuit, kekyi biscuit?”

“Openni shoes? Slippers sista?”

“Berlts, ties, perfumes. Berlts brother?”
In all this the preacher is introducing himself. He is saying something about being married. Children. Educating them. Respecting parents. Honouring parents. And the lot. He is giving us the yardstick of societal acceptance in these parts. In his trade.

Nobody is paying attention, he is being pushed on the side from time to time but he goes on anyway. He says his prayers and hardly audible 3 Amens and a handclap comes through. He takes his leave. Perhaps his luck will be in the next bus.

It’s raw chaos ‘pon raw chaos! I am enjoying it. Weird!

Then we have another guy talking about some Community Based Organisation he runs. He is one of the miracle stories told in buses. He is telling us his life journey. His testimony. I don’t know what to make of it. Again, we get another dose of societal expectations. Marriage. Children. Beautiful ones he adds. It’s a selling point for these preachers I think.

And as expected, we will be inclined to give something when he is done talking. He completes his story and says a prayer for us. A few 1000 notes are quietly passed to him. He says a number of “God bless yous” equivalent to the number of notes.

Aisha is coming through, again. She’s kicking all the hawkers now. The preacher is out. And, the CBO guy too gets booted.

It’s a sign. A good sign. We are finally setting off! She says “Muzeeyi tugende!” And we take off. Off the chaos that happens in a bus at Namayiba bus terminal.

Happy Easter holidays!

By Laker Winfred L

The Suitors

By Laker Winfred L

Dear Adaa,

How are the heavens?! Are you soaring on them clouds? Are you and Kwara still a couple? Or do the rules of earthly marriages don’t work up there? Is heaven really like they preach about down here below? Do you guys sloth about all day with no chores, no bills and no pains but endless singing of hallelujahs?

Do you see Kwara or you have no memory of him whatsoever? I do hope you see him. I do hope you remember him. Even in heaven, I do believe he still needs you. I hope there’s no smoking up there too, I still worry about his lungs. And I hope he is not getting into trouble with the cherubs in charge of music, choreography and dance. I know his earth dance moves were wanting while he lived here down below. You were never amused by his failure to dance well.

Sometime this year, we had the courtship ritual, again. This was the most emotional time for me Maa. There were a number of suitors. I wrote Kwara about it. Knowing him, I am sure he didn’t update you. He was probably too busy in some heavenly kafunda drinking illegal potent heavenly gin with his buddies.

You should know, a groom was chosen for me after the courtship ritual came to a close. They, our elders, are yet to crown the one whose proposal I must accept. It’s some 40 something sunsets away from now. Before I accept my reality, and settle into this marriage, I should have you know about the suitors that never made it and the one that did.

So here we go!

One was young. Very young. He had just got out of school. He courted me with a megaphone. He used to stick his index finger in the air with such youthful gusto while saying oyeeeeeee during the dance! That was supposedly his motto. You should have seen how we all caught on this oyeeeeee excitement! We used it even where it wasn’t relevant! He smiled a lot too. A wide smile. Sometimes he smiled too much, but, I loved that about him. He brought youthful zing, lots of melodrama and humor into the race for my hand.

No one in our lands had ever done what he did to court me! No one!  He drew my attention when he ran like a lajwar, a youthful gazelle, to present his courtship agenda to the elders. He made sure I knew about him. He made sure I saw him. My brothers  treated him with bits and pieces of disrespect. They thought he was not good enough for me. That he was too young. That he would turn me into a cougar. That the faraway lands would laugh at us! Imagine! Isn’t age just a number Grandma? Just digits?

Anyway, once he got really, really angry with my brothers and he literally sat down in the middle of the village path! I was happy to see he had some rage bone in him! Shouldn’t a woman know how her suitor looks like when angry, drunk or constipated? What do you say, grandma? Would he have defended me from the prying cougar call-outs of my future in-laws and enemies? Enough about this guy!

There was a woman! Yes! A woman! The only woman in the race to court me! She has the most amazing eyes. Bright. Big. Unsunny eyes. They’re serious eyes. They’re bold eyes. The kind you cannot look into for long when telling a lie. Sometimes I think I was afraid of her. She looks imposing. She dresses up well. If she were to lead a nation, she would lead it with a firm hand. She spoke with a certain rare and mysterious boldness. My worries and fears aside, I liked that she planted herself amongst the men in the race for my gorgeous hand. She didn’t go through though. I still like her. I still follow on the talk concerning her. Maybe she will serve in the village council or something in the future. Maybe some day she will rule and lead our people. Who knows!

Another suitor, whose name I forget, used to move around the village square at awkward hours and in the strangest of ways. Sometimes he pursued me while on a bicycle. Sometimes he talked to me while in the rear end of his car; it’s boot open like the guys stealthily selling uncertified herbal remedies on the streets. I don’t know why he did that. But he was in the race for my hand.

Why he was in the courtship race I don’t know. I didn’t get it even. He seemed too unserious. I wondered whether he would put food on the table. Whether kwa ukweli he could hold the kweri dyang, the ox-plough appropriately and keep the oxen in line when the rains came. Would he be able to successfully plough my father’s simsim garden? Only the gods know! The elders turned him away. They said they didn’t want unserious sons-in-law.

There was one curious suitor, the oldest in the race. He has been courting me for 3 solid decennium. He wont relent. He owns a bus. Loves sunflower yellow and said he would drive me into the future. He brought me bright yellow things, bright yellow roses, bright yellow dresses, bright anything yellow and all. He promised me an expanse of bright yellow banana plantations.

I worried whether obe twero gwoka. Whether obe rii. I worried if he had the energy for a young bride like me. How long would he keep me happy? The roses and things yellow, would they keep coming? I thought he would retire from the courtship ritual this time round since he has been in it too long but he did not.

The elders insisted he plays too. My brothers gave him regal treatment. They never dared to even touch the air surrounding the space engulfing him. They went the extra mile to make sure his courting route was as clean and smooth like the bottom of a newborn baby. I  saw a lot of dongo wang ogwal when it came to him. He won. He has my hand now. He got the vote. The numbers.

I have put my worries in the hands of the gods. Let them deal with the issues I see in this marriage. It’s their doing. Have God above know too. That this marriage has been laid into His most powerful hands as well.

Bright, no, smart, was another suitor. He used to be in our legion of warriors. A general, they call him. He is humble too. Can’t insult an annoying fly. He can’t call a roach for what it is. I worried because the clansmen didn’t seem to understand intelligent people. They still don’t.

I worried they would not give him the dowry assessment, yet I was in awe of his intelligence! I loved the contents of his brain Maa-Madit! I also worried that my clansmen would pay him no mind. They said intelligent people cannot survive on our lands. That its too tough and he is not assertive enough. Alas, he didn’t make it! He lost! They confirmed my fears and gave him the wrong date to pick his assessment. He came two days late.

There was a second warrior  too. I have not seen him lately. He walked about with this arrogant pride. He was tall and bold. He had this curious shade of attitude. Once the palace guards angered him and he spewed strong Kiswahili words I couldn’t understand along their way.

I liked the attitude. It’s a sign he could stand up for me.  The clansmen ignored him the entire courtship time. And he wouldn’t talk to them either. He wouldn’t even listen to our la go-between, our la oo. What could I do? He wouldn’t speak up for me  so the elders let him go! I too let him go!

There is a man from the upper side of the Nile. A fine man! Oh you should have heard him speak leb loka! His Luganda is impeccable. You should hear him speak his English. It is superb. The words stride off his tongue like the Hollywood stars walk the red carpet. His humor is amazing too. Laughter is good for every marriage, no? I still like to listen to him whenever he speaks in the village square. And no, I am not looking for trouble.

His tongue, this Nilotic! Oh Mama!  His tongue is sharper than a butcher’s knife and spares no one! He carried along this strange hoe during the courtship dance. I feared the idea of a hoe. Shouldn’t we have moved on to the Massey Ferguson tractors the white man speaks of?  Just one hoe would not sustain us. Laughter is great but it cannot fill our bellies like kwonbel does. So, I let the elders decide! They turned him away too!

Did I tell you about the one who is a preacher of the white man’s religion? He is not only knowledgeable in the Mzungu‘s God but also spoke with the utmost kindness in his speeches. He mentioned God here and he mentioned God there as he courted me. He talked about integrity and all those values we learn at the village church. Isn’t that what every woman wants, Grandma? A kind man? A man who knows God, fears God and values His ways? I didn’t hear from him towards the end though. He left the courtship trail without telling me.

The village scribes were silent on his goings and comings too. I had no information whatsoever. Shall a woman accept a marriage proposal when a man rations himself this much at the beginning of courtship? Should I have sought him out? Tell me, Grandma. What sign would you have given me? He ghosted me. So I said no.

Another suitor came from the rich oil lands of the west. Lands whose hills are lined with miles and miles of lash green tea plantations. The kind of tea plantations that look like the Creator planted Himself and sprinkled with an extra dash of hallelujah freshness. His voice is thick and sharp. He speaks the English language like he was born in the belly of outside countries. He is bold too. My brothers didn’t seem to mind him.

This one loves the Lord too, a whole lot. I had seen him in the past do crazy things in relation to this mar, this love for the Good Lord. Should it have been a yes for him? Or you wouldn’t have approved? Tell me?!

Ah! There was my roaring suitor too! He lives, breathes and loves blue! My favorite color! When my brothers took his shoes at the first courtship initiation dance, he decided he would court me barefoot. Can you believe that?! He went into the books of history of our beautiful lands for running for my hand without his fine pair of black shoes!

Every ordinary day he spoke to me in a normal tone. But whenever he held a microphone! Haaah! Iyee keni! Maa, he would roooaaar! He would really bworo mapaaaat. The preachers of the white man’s religion on our streets and sidewalks have got nothing on him. His baritone was heavy, slow, husky, and lazy. It’s was his unique trait.

My brothers treated him badly though. He was beaten and sprayed with kalara madwong it was heartbreaking. Once he was sprayed so bad he looked white and pale like a night-runner, a latal, caught by dawn right in the middle of the market square. He didn’t get my hand though. My concern is, will he get his shoes back now that the race is over? What do you see from up there? He should get his shoes back at least.

And finally there was the one that sings. The one that promised me a thousand vibrant sunsets! He croons so well. He is gifted with the spirit of musicality. He is lanky. He is tall. Walks with a bounce. Wears fine nice fitting clothes, and came with an umbrella. He said I shouldn’t worry about the rains ahead. Said he had come to bring change and keep me warm. To protect me from the harsh rains of singleton that had been hitting my roof.

This guy literally came out of no where Grandma! Nowhere! If my brothers had not maltreated him, I wouldn’t have noticed him. I wouldn’t have paid him any curiosity. He caused quite a stir Daada na. He was like a worrying whirlwind, swirling constantly in the horizon and threatening the children and chickens in a homestead.

My brothers took a bad liking to him like too much white ants to the belly. They beat him. They accused him. They blocked him. They arrested him. They chased him. His entourage paid too; dearly.They were taken to the village jela. Some lost limbs. Some lost lives. Some did not return.

Him and the barefoot suitor experienced a whole lot of bad in the hands of my brothers. From kalara, sleeping along the village paths, being diverted to remote routes to caution from the council elders. But he soldiered on. He continued to sing! But he didn’t make it! The clansmen did otherwise.

I asked grandfather who to vote for. But I guess he was too busy hanging out, he forgot to send me a heavenly sign. I should have asked you. You always had the answers. I now need help with how to bring our marriage to fruition. Send me signs. Send me good vibes. Send me some halleluiahs!

If you are not too busy up there, please do watch our initiation ceremony. There will be good food and sugar free juice I suppose. I promise not to be a drunken wife.

An ki mar,

Your Granddaughter.

Kampala traffic jam & the village food queue

By Laker Winfred L

Some drivers in the Kampala jam remind one of the food queue at a church function in the village. There’s always that one person, that person ahead of you. That one person that is oblivious of the people behind him.

7 pm Traffic along Lugogo bypass Kampala

He is mostly laid back. The kind that is not-bothered-by-many-things laid back, including food queuing time.

He is annoyingly super chill and always amazingly reluctant to close the gap between him and the person closer to the serving point.

He doesn’t look hungry. Doesn’t look Christian enough even. And doesn’t look like he was invited. He’s not even in the ushers’ group. Not in the choir. Not in “The fathers of hope group” and not in the Elders’ group.

He will totally ignore the gap ahead and faithfully engage the person behind him in conversation. He’s Brother Kasto. You don’t know why they call him that. No one in church has ever read that name out of the Book of God. Kasto is annoying.

Why? Because he is not bothered that he’s holding the people behind him and slowly destroying your chances of getting those giant pieces of meat or even a ka small piece of chicken. Gweno.

And he doesn’t know how cool it is to eat chicken at a village gala. Gweno, chicken is like high table stuff in village gatherings. Staple. Stuff that is served to the lucky few. The lucky few that don’t eat any form of beef from four legged animals.

You are mad, impatient and worried your chances to high table stuff is dwindling, so, you murmur in the Christian kind of way, and while at it, Kasto catches you giving him the bad eye. He hears your honk. He turns around and starts to move forward.

And just when he’s about to close the gap, Mego Balbina from Mothers’ union comes through with a bunch of pale looking hungry kids from the Sunday school. The kind of kids whose parents don’t attend church. Kids whose parents couldn’t care less about what time they return home as long as they’re at church.

These kids are the kind of kids who have smeared themselves hapzardly with Vaseline.They sang so well earlier and everyone was so happy. So they’re allowed to jump the queue. Plus Jesus said to love them kids, so you chill. The kids get their food and Mego Balbina leads them off towards the green giant tamarind tree.

Kasto finally moves, washes the tips of his long fingers like he is not interested in the food, and before he can pick a plate, Sister Lapolo from choir comes breezing through like a lost Nile gazelle and fixes herself in front of Kasto. She’s good at such functions. She likes to be useful and has this busy frame.

She’s kind with super long arms and hands that can carry three fully loaded plates on each at the same time. Those plastic plates that are usually heaped with dangerously big pieces of meat atop half cooked rice, brown looking giant beans on the side and chunks of half cooked cabbage, the village size of cabbage and posho. Also the meat pieces are not those tiny annoying pieces of meat you town people serve at your functions.

Sister Lapolo gets her six plates and rushes off to the tent of the Elderly Mothers of Jerusalem. The EMJ members are not the kind that have the energy or the time to line up for food. They’re mostly octogenarian, silver haired, have their walking sticks with them at all times and will use it to shoo chicken, the village dog or a stubborn child.

They command respect and will order anyone around, including the reverend. They sit about with this pissed off look on their faces at most times. So you let Lapolo serve them. Of course you are already worried because the chicken is almost over.

You’re seeing one miserable piece lying in a thin film of orange-yellowish soup. The rice is over and the beans are, well, almost done too. You pray that Kasto points at the meat sauce pan but waah! The angels aren’t listening, so Kasto takes the chicken. The last piece of chicken.

You finally reach the service point and not only are the service people out of plates but out of chicken, meat, rice and the chunky cabbage. They tell you to wait while they bring more plates. 5 minutes later, the plates arrive, but rice is done. Sweet potatoes are done. The Irish potatoes are done and the kalo is done.

You can’t refuse the beans because your grandmother is a member of the Elderly Mothers of Jerusalem and she’s closely watching your every move, the pissed off look plastered and curious glare temporarily glued on her beautiful old face. So you wait. You’re mad. But you wait your turn. I mean, your grandmother is watching.

Kasto is that car owner whose car is lower than yours. The guy who’s always leaving a huge gap between him and the car ahead. Space that can fit 3 more cars.

He lets through a bunch of drivers and then, just when you’re about to do your crossing, the man in white lifts his right hand and blows the darn whistle! Kasto is the other side and you are forced to wait for another 39 minutes while he breezes off to the tent!

Traffic along Port Bell Rd on the morning of “Corruption walk day” in downtown Kampala

Sometimes you just have to humour yourself through these things of traffic on Kampala roads. It’s therapeutic.

Day 5 at Rwenzori: Summit to Margherita peak!

Photo by Laker Winfred L: Some of the view below as you return downwards from Margherita peak

By Laker Winfred L

Our climb to the Promised land was an estimate of  3.8km and could have taken anything from 6 hours onwards. The distance from Irene Lakes to the peak, you should know, is shorter with less rope manenos compared the Camp Elena route. So we were in luck!

Our ETA at the peak was 2pm. Don’t fool yourself; we didn’t get there at that time! If the weather was friendly, they said we would stay at the peak from 15 to 20 minutes give or take; this happened.

Advise to work as an expedition team was drummed into us as the hands of a traditional bul drummer would hit the village drum when calling for an urgent clan meeting. Ni since we had decided to come for the trip as a team, competing against each other would expose us to unexpected circumstances like accidents. They even mentioned landing in something called a crevice!

You know how some people “bees” carried away by the urge to win? They discouraged us from those; from feeding that sort of spirit. So I said to myself “Aaaaaaa ku. Mot mot ocero munu poto. I will be slow but sure. I will crawl to the top ka odoko rach” If push came to shove, I would wobble up if I had to.

“No medals but certificates are going to be given at the end” they drummed some more. It was more like saying “Calm down, drop your urban-lugezigezi here in one of these 2 dark minuscule lakes and enjoy the experience. Y’all can get them back on your way down the mountain”. Okay, I just added the urban-lugegezi thing for effect.

The use of crampons and other tools never used in my life before were mentioned too. The things would definitely slow us down given that some of us had not used them before. I don’t think anyone on our team had used them anyways, except for the tour guides.

And of course the usual “listen to your guides” sermon was preached. They promised  that new vocabularies would be added to our word collection as soon as we reached the snowline. Imagine they hoarded these words for the next day! Letting me know some new things would have  reduced ko on the tension in my belly as I went to bed that night.

It was also predicted that coming back to Irene Lakes was expected to be easy except for some participants. Yes, they called us participants….like we used to be called in those pre-pandemic workshops where you sat all day listening to a consultant and ate mandazis and sumbusas while sipping tea from tiny cups every evening, until you traveled back to your upcountry nook.

We were certainly going to have some knee problems. Yeah, the tour guides are fine Prophets of knee issues too!

Also, the downward journey to Omuihembe was calculated on the Rwenzori calc and found to be an approximation of 4 hours; all factors remaining constant.

Now when people say “all factors remaining constant” just know your plans are already in shambles. Your expectations are being managed by sugar layering it with 4 words like those scientists who eurekad that sucrose lining over quinine. Thing is still bitter on the inside FYI, much as it fights malaria.

The guides made us believe that on our way back we would merely beep Irene Lakes, kiss it good-bye, and be on our merry way down to Omuihembe. No. Rwenzori is no place that takes beeps or merry ways.

Heck, I don’t even remember blowing a nice tired sayonara kiss at this beast of a beauty when I reached the UWA main gate on my way back. All I was thinking about was a long hot nice shower, no darn sleeping bag, and a night with my limbs scattered all over a bed!

Esuieleadu X.IV . How he managed to even pose and have his photos taken here beats me!

Ok, back to the real story!

By bedtime on the eve of summit day, not only was I scared sick but I was feeling weak, my appetite a whack, and my mood a thin fragile existence ready to snap.

Sleep was hard to come by. I was anxious. I was tense. It was cold. It was scary. It was dark!

That night we entered our sleeping bags already dressed up for the summit. If going to bed in our shoes was a possibility I would have done so. I just wanted to save every ounce of my energy!

You can imagine the discomfort of trying to sleep in all those layers of clothing. I felt like some sad piece of ringo turkey restricted by-not-so-green-veggies and rolled up into a bad moody sandwich.

Like that wasn’t bad enough, my enemies, if there are any, had worked hard that night to take revenge on me and my sleep. Whatever libations they threw to their gods that night, they must have done it while crawling backwards; their ashy pale bottoms upward, chests to the ground, and heads stiffly tilted to the side; because it did work.

Nino orweny calo cente De la Rue! Sleep eluded me like money when you need it the most! I couldn’t sleep. I mean how do you sleep when you are all wrapped up like a human sandwich anyways?

But God is a Good God. He made the haters of my peaceful sleep fall backwards and I finally got sleep. It was this sweet-sweet sleep; the kind you don’t want to be disturbed because it took long a cajole for it to come.

And so it was, that when I found my spot on the mattress, the sleeping bag finally agreeing with my Mucwini limbs, and I was about to start cozying up with the arms of warmth  that the alarm went off. It was time to wake up! Damn!

It was 2:30am and breakfast was ready. I think I may have cursed or something before wrangling myself out of the sleeping bag, and tent to go brush my teeth. Yes, that one I did faithfully but not the showers. Nobody takes baths in the mountains!

I put on my first pair of socks, added on those big light green buveeras on each foot. You know, the kind your Mama Mbooga gives you when you have bought a big cluster of bogoya, eggplants, buuga, and sukumawiki from her stall and she is in quite a chirpy mood. Yes, those polythene bags. I then wore another pair of socks on top, and pushed my feet into my hiking boots.

I took a while to get out of the tent, all the while muttering cursings at the shoes, socks, the cold, and nothing in particular. I was feeling weak and my appetite was gone! Again, the enemies of my progress wouldn’t let me prosper with food as well and had succeeded in keeping my appetite hostage at Omuihembe camp.

I lagged behind with breakfast. The Chef thought I wasn’t going to eat. I somehow struggled and managed to get the cold millet porridge down my belly. The rest jammed, much as I tried.

So in the midst of the dark early morning of 2nd March 2021, wrapped in layers of warm clothing, headlamps perched on our foreheads, armed with ice axes, crampons, harnesses around our waists and thighs, our day packs, hydration bladders, and our courage, we set off  for one of the greatest and craziest things I have done in my life.

Twas dark dark dark! The kind of dark that would make you run away from your own  wucu wucu sound before anything else. I believe the mzungu calls it pitch dark. We put ourselves into the solid reason for going to the mountains and walked on; in a single file towards our dream, to Margherita.

All I could see were the lights from the person ahead; William, who kept on darting about  like an excited rabbit buck; and making everything else look like a breeze playfully tagging at the clouds on the side of the mountain. Those guides aren’t human! Hehe!

He would hurriedly go well ahead of us, then rap something fast in Rukonzo to Herbert the guide behind me, then the rest of guides would talk fast some more, and we would be told to follow in a certain direction.

We kept doing this routine for a while. Deep within I knew it was a brilliant idea moving at this time of the night because no sane person would go up these rocks in the brightness of the day.

We walked past the sign going to the summit point from Camp Elena. Apparently it is not so close to summit point from where we had come.

We continued up the mountain in the dark for some more time. I remember going over rocks, some slippery, and some not so slippery and using my headlamp to sometimes see what I was walking over.

At some point we reached an incline. After one of the hikers at the front took a while to get up a boulder because it was one heck of a climb, ropes are introduced. We finally got to know what the harnesses we had been carrying for the past days were for! Heeeeiiii!

This point of the ropes was new. My very first mountain rope encounter. Very testing moment. I wished at this point that I had gone to Muyenga to do some practice on rock climbing using the ropes before bringing my round forehead to these mountains!

This rope thing ojone, you would reach that ka part where you are suspended in space and have to trust the guide behind you and the one above. Those people we see on TV lied. That thing is not as easy as the one we see them do in movies!

We eventually let go of the ropes. Ok, we successfully went over that annoying boulder using the ropes and walked a little more.

Along the way, before we took a break, I slid, lost balance and was headed for a backward fall, but in a split second the guide above had grabbed my hand and the one behind had held my jacket from below.

When I was helped up, I asked for a minute. I just sat there, on the rock I had been hoisted onto. That is when I really wanted to cry, ate cry in Acholi not those things of crying in leb-munu! I wanted to wail in real mother tongue not English!

Photo by Esuieleadu X.IV: Greyness & a plan of ice!

For the first time I wanted to end my hike here and go back home to safety; to my normal routine and old ways!

As I tried to muster the courage to let the words out, I looked at William who was up with me and Herbert who was down below.

Herbert’s expression was a very clear “Don’t you dare” while William’s was “Don’t you even think about it. Not today Ma’am. Hapana!”  I wasn’t hurt. Heck I didn’t even fall! It was fright playing its card very smartly!

We had been told that William had joked with the previous group that after going past the junction coming through from Elena, if someone said they wanted to go back at that point, he would get odoo and just tengo kom whoever it was for balo cawa pa dano.

I used the minute I asked for not to catch my breath but rather to rethink my life choices, question my state of mind on my decision to go to the mountain and asked God to let me summit without falling off in the space below.

I got up and fixed my attitude. I mean what sense would it have made to head back after reaching here anyways? I would never have forgiven myself considering I wasn’t even injured. It was just fear rearing its ugly head in my business.

After my sad attempt at being melodramatic, we set off. We walked some more and then took a break and had time to gain some strength, drink from our hydration bladders, do susu, and then continued on.

We reached the snow line eventually. The snow! Turns out you don’t have to go to outside countries to the far lands of the Mzungu to experience snow! All you have to do is get your bottom to Rwenzori!

  Photo by Esuieleadu X.IV:  See all the grey and mistiness of the place?!

Because it was the dry season, it was more of ice at the beginning than snow or glaciers if you like. The view ahead of us was all grey, mist filled, and icy.

We were split into two groups and told we would be joined to each other by rope. We were also finally shown what the use of the ice axes were and the new words finally mentioned!

We wore the crampons and as we struggled to balance and walk on them, we were shown how to use them. Papa the tour guide and total expert showed us how it’s done!

He was there stepping on the ice with this vigor like a supple 18 year old yet the guy is 60 something! He did it in this rapid intense dance-like thing on the glacier and several tiny splinters of ice were scattering around his feet as a result. If skating were a thing in the Rwenzoris, Papa would be the forever champion in Uganda! See how we have missed gold medals?! Hmmmm.

After the crampons were properly secured to our hiking shoes, we got connected from one person to the other using rope. I was in the last group and second last from behind.

  Photo by Esuieleadu X.IV: Ice-cave like thingy along the way

Now, the crampons are no easy thing. It cramps your pace! Digging into the ice with them are not a simple thing.

In the snow however, though not easy was interesting. As we walked on, I kept feeling like I was walking on this layer of frozen sugar crystals and with every step in the snow I would hear this slow crunchy sound coming from my feet up to my ears. The mountain was making me hear things. Strange things.

  Photo by Esuieleadu X.IV : One of the crevices 

I was struggling at this point. When we came upon our first crevice, all I could see was  something like a crack the gods had left on the icy grounds as they played sword or as they were fighting wars to save our lands from great evil.

I tried to look down naye all I could see was an endless pit of ice. I delicately placed my Luo foot one after the other and continued on. The last thing I wanted was falling into a crevice and getting sliced by those sharp icy needle like things below!

We went past some more crevices as my tired feet sank into lots of snow and sometimes walked unsurely on the glaciers. We kept yelling “crevice” every time we saw one so that the person right behind you would be made aware and relay the same message to the person after them. We also were asked to say “Zero” in case we wanted a break. And boy did I take many of those of zero breaks! Eeeeissssh!

During a zero moment, we were advised to rest in a lunge position but not just stand there fwaa like you are waiting for a taxi at your village stage.

Photo by Esuieleadu X.IV

We eventually reached a point and we were asked to wear our snow glasses. It was super bright. Funny how one minute we were in this gray space of snow and ice and then suddenly it was super bright! The sun was up and it was crazy bright. It was white all over and after some distance we reached a space where above us was bare rock after bare rock.

Photo by Esuieleadu X.IV : Space where we ditched the crampons

After going past a space that had a dangerously deep crevice on the side, we reached a spot that had a rock plate pushed up high to the right and a nasty looking steep slope ahead to the left.

We climbed a little along the rock plate and  were told to be ready to ditch the crampons.

When Herbert asked me to move a little down towards the slope, I imagined myself just sliding downwards to my earthly end at this tender age and told him I wasn’t comfortable. So I was made to climb a little up and move towards the team ahead of us in some space between rocks.

We all collected ourselves in this space between the rocks and left our crampons and ice axes behind as we continued to more rope!

This time the rope thing was even more insane ojone! There was William in front telling you to trust him and pull the one side of the rope from him and not try to swing your legs towards the rocks for support while Herbert was pulling the other side from behind you down. And this time it was in broad day light! Yesu!

I was constantly worried about the strength of the rope as they kept saying “Very good. No, don’t try stepping on the rocks. No no no no! Do like this. Yes! Ok pull the one on your hand. Ok release the red rope. Release. It is ok! You wont fall!” Trust is tested to the core here!

Boy was I glad when I was done with the rope business!

There was some more climbing, just a little more. We got a little higher, walked a little more while complaining about how we were not reaching and then sauntering ahead we saw it! The summit point! There it was! That beautiful white sign post with those bright blue letters on was right there in the bright bright afternoon!

It was 12:30pm! We were panting but did a mad rush for the sign post amidst a keyboard of victory shouts! And we got there! First, second, third, and I lost count once I get myself up there!

It’s beautiful! It’s bright! It’s epic! The sun is up! Bits of snow are on the 4 sign posts. The other side is Congo they say. We are excited! We are exhausted! We are exhilarated! We are breathing hard! We are shouting amidst the winds! We are above the clouds; literally, metaphorically!

We are champions! Our lives wont be the same! We and Margherita are marked for life!

Down the peak I saw planes of snow all around and the rest were bright beautiful white clouds beckoning the winds into a raspy flow against the humanoids that had just rose up to the skies at Margherita!

The feeling is epic up there!

Nothing can explain the feeling! No amount of words can. We took pictures and cheered our last warrior who had gotten injured along the way onwards.

She joined us! We absorbed the moment, the air, the view, and the victory!

There were tears of joy! Tears of victory! Tears of achievement! Tears of just tears!

This is the moment I expected to cry but the tears bailed on me. I was surprised I was not crying. Instead I was numb to the core!

15 to 20 minutes later we started back down. This time sliding down pretty much to where we had left our crampons and other day trek belongings. We did more ropes backwards and the whole thing was not as dramatic as it was going up.

We got back to the crampons, the ropes and more ropes then the snow. The trip down to the snowline was not fun. I lost my cool several times. The icy terrain was not an exciting experience for me.

I wasn’t moving in sync with the hikers I was sharing rope with. And I was pissed about this. I felt like I was being dragged downwards. Speed ne onongo dok tek tutwal. It felt like we were dancing to one Bob Marley reggae song except the people at the front were dancing Lingala moves and me, I was doing slow dance; those squeeze things to the song. In the process I snapped at the one person who was trying to show me the easiest way to get down! When I arrived down at Irene Lakes I had to apologize!

We reached the snowline eventually and I was happy there were no crampons.

Finally I could walk like a normal person and not a pretend penguin in Uganda! I was also tired of walking like a mugole as Herbert had advised to walk on the snow. If walking down the isle is like that, then me I will do mine dancing or running. I just need to convince Min Laker.

We found the chefs and the other guides that didn’t go with us to the peak waiting for us at the snowline.

The walk back to Irene Lakes had a lot of hand holding and literally sliding down the rocks on 5WD or sliding down using your bottom while engaging all your four limbs if you like.

We reached camp eventually, spent, but a bouquet of achievers! We all summited! All 8 of us! Epic!

We spent the night at Irene Lakes. We could not proceed to Omuihembe as earlier planned. The Rwenzori calc had messed up the numbers! It did not have battery!

So, day 4 was the culmination of it all; the challenge, the beauty, the mysticism, the summit. Nothing prepares you for that experience! It’s when you get there that it strikes you.

I felt different. I was not the same person that had gone up hours ago! Neither was I the person that had left Kampala days before! I was a true summiter!

That night, as the Rwenzori gods brought back my zizz crystals from my supposed enemies and sleep started to sneak up on me, turning my eyelids into this heavy form, it finally dawned on me why Rwenzori is a hidden treasure and a mystical challenge.

You had to give it your strength, courage and emotions for you to enjoy its beauty. You had to allow it to level up with you; else poteya just! No courage no summit! That’s it!

Photo by Laker Winfred L: One of the sign posts at Margherita

Day 4 at Rwenzori: Irene Lakes campsite

By Laker Winfred L

Day 4 of our stay in the mountains fell on the first day of March 2021. A slightly sunny day. We left camp Omuihembe at about 10:40am for Irene Lakes campsite. I was happy the guides had settled on taking us to Irene Lakes instead of Camp Elena.

Path leading out of Omuihembe to Lake Bujuko & the giant groundsels

The stories I had heard about Camp Elena before leaving Kampala were that this place was horrible in terms of discomfort and the cold. The running joke in our Hikers’ club was that the cabin there was as small as a dog kennel, and that the washrooms were located at a place that would discourage you from the business of going to ease yourself. Basically ceto i coron to poo would be a hustle.

The route to Camp Elena is also way longer and treacherous to the summit point than through Irene Lakes. However, Elena beats Irene Lakes by having a cabin for the hikers unlike Irene Lakes that did not have anything but a small cabin that the Chefs used to store our supplies.

At the aforementioned time, we set off for the boardwalks towards Lake Bujuko. This lake is a magnificent setting between the Stanley, Speke, and Baker ranges. On Stanley range is where the beautiful Margherita peak sits at 5,109m ASL. That is where we were headed!

We came upon our first set of bog serving for the day at the end of the boardwalks. This part had knee length clumps of not-so-green-not-so-grey grass growing almost half a meter or so apart from each other; all spread out up to the bottom of the ranges.

The ground was filled with dark sediment with sprinkled with and sometimes splashes of tiny glittery sand here and there; as if at that time the Creator was in a humorous mood.

This portion of ground didn’t look harmless until you tried to place your walking stick in it. Deep stuff it was! Stuff that would take in half of your gumboots.

As we moved closer to the lake there was a stretch that resembled the shores of marshy lands on our left. It was this nice patch of utterly bright green grass culms laid out like a soggy carpet upon which a giant beast had rested the previous night.

Jethro, our guide immediately told me to walk fast, and try not to put my feet firmly on the wet beautiful grass. Kumbe its beauty and carpetiness is a trap below which sits water! He said I would sink if I did walk like it was solid ground.

So I started to lay my foot ever so lightly on the grass as though I were some unique light weight bird. I walked like a lagweno kulu would walk atop the waters of Kulu Olee in Mucwini. Some of those warm blooded vertebrates can run in a frenzy after a dragon fly or whatever strange creature it is they chase on water like gravity non-existent! Things walk on water with their long skinny legs like the Lord Himself did! Except of course I can’t tell whether the Lord had long legs or not. The good book does not mention that.

Anyways, after the soggy grass, we proceeded in an arc past Lake Bujuko. The Acholi would say gooro ne agoora, and reached more bogs. Here, we did some stretching out walks. You had to step on one large clump of grass after the another, taking your foot as far as you could get it, to avoid the bogs in between.

Once in a while you would grab on a handful of grass culms for support as you extended or jumped to the next spot; all the while balancing yourself, emotions, backpack, and curiosity whilst using your walking stick to poke the ground for caution.

The bogs behind us, we entered into an area covered with an expanse of moors. As we walked in this space, you could hear water flowing from various underground creeks. They sounded like a cacophony of symphonies as they flowed through the hollow underground tunnels along their journey to the lake. It was strange, chill, and euphoric.

We were deep in the valley with the 3 cloud covered mountain ranges looking down on us from either side. The weather was much colder at this point as compared to the last camps we were at. The sun was barely there but it was a bright day still.

After the moorland, we started to ascend; and with it came the opportunity to see Camp Bujuko with its structures in the valley to our left. It was refreshing to see a sign of life on the other side.

After the break we set off and encountered some very breath taking water fall as we trekked on. It became eminent here that we were now climbing up, just like day one except this one didn’t have any vegetation to lull our fears. You could see the valley below and the rocks above to counter.

There were lots of everlasting flowers, giant groundsel, giant lobelia, and more boggy Afro-alpine moorlands in the middle of the valley, and up above as we climbed higher and higher.

Farther up there was very little vegetation except for grass, a few everlasting plants scattered here and there, and rocks! When we reached the Irene junction, we headed out inwards for about 30 minutes, and then took a break.

Everlasting flowers

As we climbed ahead, we entered into a forest of giant groundsels. We were going over fallen ones, under some, and astride others as we walked on.

As we entered farther, below I could see the wavy silver glimmer of Lake Bujuko in a distance wishing us luck on this insane adventure!

And as soon as we got underneath the towers of groundsels, there were birds! Imagine sunbirds in the most ironic of places! I mean, there is no sun here but they were all over the groundsels; gently chirping away as they happily flew from one groundsel to the other; with their deep almost blue-green color blending so naturally with the brown and green of the environment.

Jetro promptly educated me that they were called Rwenzori double collared sunbirds. Why they were there at that particular time; beats me. But if I were a rare bird, that’s where I would go to brood or mate without the interference of humans and their curious ways.

As the music of the sunbirds faded, we trekked on and soon we could see clouds and the forest of giant groundsels way below us. The view up here was amazing, breathtaking, and the air ever so fresh.

Moss covered rocks

The vegetation started to thin out as we went on. Soon I started to see ground plants with bright yellow flowers, and rocks covered in strange orange moss. On another stretch there were rocks covered in thick layers of deep brown, dirty lime green, and dark brown moss. It started to feel really dark too yet it was just 2pm!

The cold got real and I had to wear another jacket on top of what I was wearing. The modus operandi of going up also changed. I had to engage all my 4 limbs in climbing. A little farther on fours and I saw a smooth trail of smoke coming from the side of the mountain.

Irene Lakes campsite as we approach it from above

Kumbe we approached camp from a higher end of the mountain range. To get to it we had to slide back a little lower. At this point I didn’t have anything to lose. If getting to camp meant doing a belly roll like a toddler afraid to crawl or like a worm, I would have done just that. So slide down I did and reached camp.

So there we were! A few hours from the highest point in Uganda in the thick of the mountains! And, it had no life in place just rocks, rocks, rocks, moss, and a few misplaced stunted groundsels here, and there.

Time of arrival was 2:33pm under 4 hours of walking.

Of course upon arrival Chef Karim and his team brought tea, some mushroom soup which was cold before I could even start with it.

Our fire at Irene Lakes

As was the custom, a fire was made for us. It attempted to rain which was more like a drizzle of snow really. The guides put some 3 tiny pieces of meat on stick, stuck it by the fire, and sprinkled some raw salt on one of the burning logs. This was done to ward off the rain. Whether this is legit or not, I don’t know, but it did work, and soon the rain was gone.

We were the only living creatures plus a lone eagle that kept hovering by until the darkness sent it to its nest. We sat by the fire which was bringing out more smoke than heat but we stayed all the same.

The tension in all 8 of us was evident. Once in a while each of us would break off into a phase of silence as the rest chatted along. Some people sat, while others just lay on the rocks pensive. One of us, however managed to still dance on the rocks.

Mountain ranges as viewed from Irene Lakes

Irene lakes campsite is like a desert on a mountain. Hardly any vegetation, two mysteriously looking lakes, oddly quiet, mountain ranges all around, and clouds below. You have to be there to know the feeling wek iniang kit pinye maber.

Here is also where altitude sickness kicked in for me. I couldn’t locate my taste buds; they had decided to remain at camp Omuihembe, and my temper was at boiling point. I kept quiet for the most part, and only spoke when I had to; so I would not take out on anyone.

I felt weak, anxious, confused, and cold, yet I was equally thrilled about the next few hours. We were under 24 hours from summitting! We were about to go down in the books of history!

Dinner of veggies and spaghettis

After our meal, we listened to some good music until the boombox went out of power, and there was no way of charging. So we started on organic kaboozi without any music but our voices, and laughter.

A while after, it became dark. We got our daily briefing. And decided to turn in early. We had to, because our set off time for Margherita was 3am. So going bed early was inevitable.

As I went to bed, the feeling was surreal, and untamed. I was terrified but equally thrilled at the crazy feat I was about to achieve. A lot of people will not get it, but the friends I had been with these past few days and myself knew that we were about to make history for ourselves, family trees, our clans, and whoever cared!

One of the lakes at Irene

Day 3 at Rwenzori: Bigo to Omuihembe camp

Sign post as you exit Bigo camp

Your third attempt at something is bound to be way better than when you started off. 3 is a number of good fortune of sorts; and so was my third day at Rwenzori.

But before I tell you about the greatness of day 3, let me rant about day 2 night manenos; which were aplenty. One, there was no way I could shower because of the cold.

I dislike dirt but hate the cold at another level. So I held my peace and stayed away from a bath. A few nights without a shower would not taint my entire earthly existence and ruin my chances at heaven.

There would be plenty of warm showers when I got back home. I stuck to using the wipes which came in handy even though using the wipes was a struggle still. They were cold to the skin. If I had a way of avoiding them, I would have.

The night at Bigo was a lot colder than the night at Nyabithaba given that we had gone a lot higher in altitude. It was also the most uncomfortable for me because the spot where our tent was set up wasn’t entirely flat.

Next morning I was hurting on the sides as a result of sleeping on unleveled ground.

I also hated the discomfort of being in a sleeping bag! You cannot toss your limbs in abandon as you sleep in those confining contraptions. I had to lie in this position like a newly eloped girl in my village would sit during meal times with all this care and stuff; in an effort to impress the in-laws.

I was very glad when the early hours of the morning came and I started to hear activity from the support team going on outside.

I got out of bed at 6am to go for that mandatory early morning choo visit (which was also another level of struggle by the way. That department had also jammed to operate) and never returned to the tent and cold sleeping bag.

After the #2 struggles in the latrine, I went straight to the fireplace outside the tent, stoked the leftover embers and bits of wood from the previous night’s fire, brought it back to life, and sat by it.

I was later on joined by one of my roomies. Our guide Jethro was amused to find the two of us by the fire that early and more so when we told him our night’s ordeal.

He said we should layer up before going to bed until we leave the high grounds for base camp. He advised that the higher we went, the more the layering should be at bedtime. We all wondered why it had never occurred to us to doodo bongo!

As the rest joined us by the fire, we saw a bit of snow on the grass. The guides said snow used to fall in plenty in the wet season at this camp about 15 years ago; however that was no longer the case given the vagaries of climate change.

Soon the camp was fully awake and the day’s morning hustle and bustle routine was in full swing. Chef Karim and his team brought us hot porridge, French toast, hot water, and other condiments for breakfast.

See the “Promised land” up there!

By 9:50 am we set off. Much as the distance was merely an approximation of 7 km or so compared to our previous two treks, we set off early. We needed to reach early to allow our bodies acclimatize to the high altitude conditions in preparation for summit day.

The sun was up pretty much the entire journey to Omuihembe. We were walking through this path with mountain ranges lined on both sides and could see the snowline leading to Margherita peak right ahead of us while we were on the boardwalks.

Giant lobelia rosettes within the Afro-Alpine bogs

The species of plants here were also countable with the majority being the African heather trees (which look like a skinnier version of the Christmas tree and have yellow flowers) on the sides of the mountains, the lobelias doted here and there, a mass of Everlasting flower plants and another kind of shrub that looks like a cousin of the marijuana plant.

After about an hour plus of trekking on seemingly flat footing yet ascending, we reached another section of boardwalks. The thing about these boardwalks is that you go over them in measured steps like a mugole. Any slight misstep could get your foot held up in between the empty rows.

I liked the fact that you did not have to worry about the bogs while on the board walks. All you had to do was enjoy the music the soles of your gumboots made with the wood.

You should know, from Nyabithaba to Bigo to Omuihembe, and to Irene Lakes, we wore only gumboots given the bogs and wet patches along the trails.

End of the boardwalk as you approach Omuihembe camp

By 11:40am we were at the end of the boardwalk. Immediately after which is a small stream, which I am told in the rainy season is a full blown crazy river.

We took our first break of the day here. There was this nice lush green carpet of grass by the river bank where we sat. We had our day’s snacks, filled up our hydration bladders, took pictures, and set off.

This time round it was no fancy boardwalk trek. It was a journey up the sides of the mountain. It was one of those areas where you see the first person in the queue way above you slip through cracks on the mountain side and disappear into the clouds. After a while you would also find yourself looking at the clouds floating down below.

We kept going through these spaces between the mountain side like John Rambo, hoisting ourselves over rocks, getting a hand or two from the guides and going through more shady spaces in the rocks.

After another hour plus, we had the porters who had earlier on whizzed past coming back towards us. This was always a good sign. It meant camp was “nearby”

The giant Lobelia deckeru in its infancy

They came and relieved us of some of our bags and started to climb back upwards. As we saw them disappear into the mountain sides above us and enter the clouds, again; we soldiered on.

After going through a number of shrubs and sliding in between rocks I came face to face with a wide open space covered in moores. Then I saw the typical green wooden cabins, the tents, and we had arrived at Omuihembe. Time check was just 14:31 hours.

The rocks surrounding Omuihembe camp & Everlasting plants in the foreground
Our tent at Omuihembe camp

The journey to this place was much shorter and we arrived way earlier than I had anticipated.

There was something about this place. All around was on moor ‘pon moor, shrubs of Everlasting flowers, scattered seemingly dead but alive giant lobelias here and there and mountain ranges on both sides covered in shades of brown, almost maroon and dirty lime green moss.

The Everlasting flowers are a curious plant. They close up in the night or when it is cold and as soon as the sun comes up, they open up. Jethro said that that was the reason they last for more than 50 years. I also noticed the leaves had a lot less green in them as we went up the mountain compared to those I saw at Bigo camp.

We got set up in our respective tents, unpacked and changed into warm clothing. Pretty much the same routine every time we arrived at a new camp.

Stretch of water flowing to Lake Bujuku. See the boardwalk on the side?

We had lunch and went out to see Lake Bujuku which is less than a kilometer’s walk through some shrubs.

After going over a section of boardwalk, we came face to face with the beauty that Lake Bujuku is. There it was, ahead, its side lined up by dots of generations of lobelias; from old brown rosettes, young, fresh green to mature ones and giant groundsels.

The amazingly beautiful Lake Bujuko

This lake’s waters give off this wavy chill and gothic mountain vibe. There is this icy dark mystery about it. It reminded me the movie “Water horse: Legend of the deep” directed by Jay Russell. The guides said it is too cold for any creature to want to live in it and that they had never seen any fish in there. You know what though? Me thinks there’s a creature in there!

We returned from Lake Bujuku and with nothing else to do at about 16:00hrs, a fire was made for us as the temperature had suddenly lowered and we gathered around it.

Fire built for us at Omuihembe camp

The fire decided it was not going to light up properly, either because of the wood, its attitude or the altitude and kept spewing out smoke instead of flames.

Though we were constantly doused in the annoying smoke, we kept by the fire and engaged in banter and shared some light moments from the journey so far. Dancing lessons were also given to some 4 members of the group as we waited for nightfall.

The clouds kept shifting on the mountain ranges on either side as we sat by the fire. They looked so near and yet unreachable. The feeling that you could touch the sky here was almost palpable.

After dinner, we had the day’s brief which outlined the itinerary for the next day’s adventure, feedback from the day’s trip, and the next menu.

As we continued with our banter by the fire, there was this creepy sounding creature making noises simultaneously on either sides of the mountains. It almost sounded like a giant eagle’s whistle but with a deeper hoarse tone.

The guides told us they were mountain hyraxes. My search on google showed pictures of anyeri or the grasscutter-like mammal. It looks like a chubbier third arm cousin of the squirrel but with the size of a rabbit with a head that carries the most beautiful ears and eyes. The noise they make doesn’t sound that cool though.

The cold eventually sent out its mean chilly breath and we decided to turn in.

Since layering had been preached to us in the morning, I did it to the max. And as the wails of the hyraxes kept coming through, it became distant and eventually I was soaring on the wings of sleep.

It is at Omuihembe that I had the best night’s sleep during the hike.

Bot lit (A poem)

By Laker Winfred L

They say leave the men alone
Kong iywer manok
Take a break
Keep your knees together
Coo abar wic
Men come like a gigantic headache, a continuous migraine
He is not different from the others
Laco ni maro mon tutwal
He is a player
He loves too many women
He is Casanova all the way through to Casablanca
They’re from the same fabric
The same tailor crafted them
They’re all fundis of things
They’re like the neighborhood tailor
They’re like the automobile mechanic
They’re like the lying carpenter and electrician combined
They’re are not crafted to spin the truth
Wek coo dong
Wek cwar mon alwak

Leave the communal husband alone
Leave these issues of men
They have hurt you enough
They have beat you enough
They have played you enough
They have cheated on you enough
They will cheat again
He will bring another after you
Obe nywari like the rest
You won’t be the last they say
Oromo dong they say
Bed gang kany
No one will chase you from this homestead
Your brothers are too busy drinking and wasting away they won’t help
Your uncles are busy with their second wives going on the third
Your sisters too are suffering in silence
Your mother owns this place through pain
Stay at your parents’ home they say
There is your hut, heal in it they preach
Your father is too old to chastise an abusive man and help in laro lok
Stay here, bed gang kany
You are safe here
Bed gang kany in this homestead
Wabe gwoki maber they say
We will take great care of you, better than that man
But they forget one thing
A woman has needs a father cannot give
A woman has needs a mother’s love cannot give
A woman has needs a sibling’s love cannot fulfill
It’s the warmth of a man, like the smooth warmth coming from fine lit charcoal heat on a cold cold evening delicately soothing the heels
The need to feel his breath in the wee hours of the morning
Before the dawn cracks its drowsy eyes to life
Before the last cock crows and hops off the mango tree
A woman needs to be held tightly and sometimes reassuringly
In the dawn, ku gweno is when you know
ni bot lit
That being a singleton is cold and brutal in the wee hours of the day
That the warmth of a man is not nothing but lots of things
Something that makes you glow brighter than a thousand fireflies and the sun combined in the noon day
Pien i ada, truthfully, we all need cam kwaro
We all need yweyo cet gweno in the dawn
We need that morning warm breeze of love sliding down love’s path
Bot lit kugweno ojowa
Being solo in the wee hours of the dawn is a shrill, cold pain to the heart, soul and to the heart, soul and bone
A woman needs a defender
A woman needs a provider
A woman needs a father to her children
A woman needs a confidant
A woman needs a listener
A woman needs a companion
However accomplished, intelligent and put together
She still needs him
Sometimes she will choose what we don’t see good for her
What she sees in his eyes we don’t see
What she hears in his voice we don’t hear
What she feels in his touch we don’t feel
What she needs from him we don’t know
What she loves about him only she knows
She’s the one that sees the mystical being that he is
She alone knows what augmented powers her prince welds
And she takes him in much to our chagrin
Accepts him publicly whilst the world criticizes in religious unbelief clothed in wigs and robes of the self appointed judiciary
And in all we forget the voice to respect another’s choice and mind our own glaring vices
We forget that one river cannot tell how the riverbed of another is to be laid out
For each of us has our own path curved out differently
No route runs the same traditional course
Each river curves its own path and tributaries and carefully chooses where to deposit its silt
Also kulu pe mol dok itere
A river won’t flow backwards
It chooses to flow onwards regardless of the frightening trammels ahead
Langwidi mwodo cogo nongo geno tere
The hyena continues to chew on bones because it trusts the unbelievable end game of its anatomy
People see love where we don’t see
They find love in unthinkable places, spaces, persons, and hearts
Mar wange pe, love has no eyes, it’s as blind as a blind cave fish!
It sees beyond the rules and norms
It goes beyond the cultural lines, barriers, beliefs, colors, and race
It goes beyond the tribal codes of conduct
Beyond the numbers twelfth, thirteenth even fiftieth.
It takes us to the craziest of places, the yonder of plateaus and valleys
Love knows no bounds and rules all hearts
Love chooses the weirdest of things for us
Love takes us to inconceivable lengths, leaps, bounds, and depths
It makes us echolocate like bats than use our sight
You cant miss out on the fine tunes of love whispering through the air from his sometimes stinky morning breath
Because i ada, in truth, being in love and being loved back is freakishly awesome
It beats being solo dolo and clinging to society’s various values
And i ada bot lit okugweno me ada
Being alone in the cold dawn is a pain beyond compare
Love who you love
Live love to the max while you are still agile
Love while you can for we know not what the after life offers
Love beyond the norms, rules, traditions, numbers and opinions
‘Cause love knows that it takes no prisoners!
So love now and forget the passcodes
Love who you love
Pien bot pe yot
Bot lit!

Note: Part of this work was crafted earlier while I was traveling somewhere. A friend suggested I polish and publish it here.

It’s inspired and drawn from two things. One, a certain popular Aguma song I like called “Bot lit dong okugweno” which literally means being alone or single in the wee hours of the morning is a pain in Acholi.

Secondly, from looking through a different lense. The lense of a bold woman who decided to become wife #13 amidst the judgemental and watchful eye of our society.

About me

I love to adventure, to eat good food, to read, to travel when the wallet allows me that luxury, take photographs of anything, and writing.

Lately I have picked up mountain hiking. My knees aren’t too happy about this new craze but they will come around.

I will be writing about anything and everything. Some will be interestingly funny and some will not. Some will be about nothing in particular.

I work during the day time. The daytime employee kind of thing. I am employed by some artificial individual created by Law.

My village Bura Ngweny, some ka simple village placed right in the middle of the red soils of Mucwini in Chua county Kitgum district, and the Acholi language will find it’s way into my writings here. It always does! But not to worry, I shall be your living dictionary!

Let’s see how this new adventure pans out!

Happy reading!

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