Mount Elgon-The World’s Largest Mountain Caldera

Written by Lorna

The cold was unbearable! Even after wearing two pairs of long warm socks, two pairs of warm trousers, two t-shirts, a warm sweater, two pairs of woolen gloves and a warm cap over my head, I still felt the cold seeping through to my bones. I tried to lay still underneath my sleeping bag to try and keep warm, but the hard ground forced me to change positions every now and then making sleeping unbearable for the night. I was extremely fatigued and needed as much rest as possible to gather energy for the next day. Katharina, Emma and I had hiked for 28km from the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre to our camping station for the night at Kajeri. The trails were moderately easy during the first phase of the hike with plenty of plants and bird species to see along the way, but got really steep by the time we got to the camp. The porters were really helpful; lighting up firewood to keep us warm and boiling water for baths and hot coffee.  This didn’t seem to help much in the long run, but was a good temporary solution. I almost thought we had walked to Alaska and were not in Uganda anymore, because the cold was so extreme…..

After having several cups of coffee the following morning, we hurriedly picked up our walking sticks at about 9 am – keen to get going and to try and stay warm though the exercise. We walked for a while through flat plains and steep slopes till we got to the Jackson Pool, a beautiful water source with an interesting history. We took some photos and later proceeded towards the caldera. The beauty was unbelievable, the vegetation was sol lush and green.  I felt so relaxed and out of this world.  I realised the porters had walked way ahead of me, as they were expected to set the camp for our team, whilst Emma and Katharina were way behind me. I felt a sense of guilt leaving them behind, but the fact that I have very long legs and had hiked seven mountains prior to Mount Elgon, meant my pace and fitness levels were quite good. It was interesting to know later on that Katharina got cut off from the group at some point and decided to play reggae music with hopes of scaring potential wild animals away. I was laughing so hard at the Mude camp as she narrated the story. We walked for 20km that day starting at 9am and finishing at 4pm.

I decided to act as brave as a lion on the morning of the third day and had a bath in the open. It was essential to wash away the dirt and sweat from the previous day, wear very warm clothes and head out to the summit point. The most exciting day for all hikers is reaching the summit point of any mountain; it is such a rewarding and fulfilling moment. After dressing up in my warm clothes, I picked up a piece of coal from the ground and proudly wrote my achievement on the wooden wall of Mude Camp. It said, “Pascqa Lorna Abur, 08th-July-2018, my 7th mountain in Uganda, Mountain Club of Uganda.” Katharina took a lovely photo of me standing next to it, which was a great souvenir of a special moment.

We all headed out as a group towards the summit point. After several hours of walking, I felt that the pace was a bit too slow for me and informed the group I would walk way ahead; thanks to my long legs that constantly take large strides! The path to the summit point was a combination of easy trails and rocky surfaces; it was very cold and foggy making it near impossible to see where I was going. My toes felt frozen and numb, my lips were dry and partially cracked. In fact my entire body felt extremely cold despite the fact that I was warmly dressed.  For a moment I thought I was lost, everything around me was calm and quiet, a bird flew from one tree top to the other just in front, scaring me shitless.  I almost thought a wild animal was ready to attack me. Though my eyes were partially blinded by the mist and fog, I caught sight of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) sign post at a distance. The summit point was about a three minute walk from where I was, but due to the excitement, I decided to run there instead.  My cold and fatigue was temporarily forgotten, I dropped down my back pack, and yelled “summit point’’, at the top of my voice for the rest to know that they were close by.

After taking several photos at the summit point and taking in some refreshments we quickly retraced our steps back to camp.  It was an extremely cold day and we wanted to warm up at the fire place. We had hiked for 18km that day from 8.30am-4pm. At the camp, we had a warm meal with coffee and tried to fall asleep on the cold, hard floor of the camp.

The fourth day was the last day of the trek, which meant we were finally heading home. It was also one of the most difficult days as it had rained so much, leaving the trails muddy and slippery. We slipped and fell down numerous times, it was a frustrating walk. The strain on the ankles and knees was extreme resulting in a lot of pain. We were very excited to see Allan our driver waiting for us at the base of the mountain; it was such a relief and the end of a physically challenging but mind blowing hike.

The following is essential for the hike:

  1. Water proof quality boots or long gumboots.
  2. Light weight back pack-Hikers should ensure to pack as lightly as possible especially if they prefer to carry their own bags during the hike. The weight of a heavy back pack is troublesome and plays a great role in slowing one down.
  3. A head cap for sun/rain protection.
  4. A hand watch
  5. Sun-glasses
  6. Light rain jackets/ponchos preferably with a hood and water proof pants
  7. A camera/phone camera
  8. Walking sticks/bamboo sticks are always provided from the office at no fee.
  9. Long sleeved shirts and pants.
  10. Drinking water, plenty of streams and a tap on a few of the camps to supply you with water.
  11. Sleeping bag, tent and a warm blanket; the nights are quite cold.
  12. Altitude sickness medication i.e acetazolamide

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) hiking fees for Mount Elgon national park;

  1. Foreigners USD 75 a day
  2. Ugandan Nationals is UGX 75,000 a day.

The total amount depends on the trail chosen. There is a 3,4 and 5 day option , the more days you spend the more you pay.

Hiking Mount Elgon is a good option for those who find Mount Rwenzori costly or strenuous, it is also a good acclimatization option for those preparing for the Rwenzoris.

Republished with permission


The Picturesqueness of the Irresistible Mount Moroto

Written by Lorna

“I have forgotten my handbag in my bedroom” I uttered out in dismay as Ivan our Uber driver parked the car in front of the Namayiba bus park where we were meant to board the bus to Moroto. Cyndee pelt, an amazing friend of mine that works for the American embassy in Kampala, said to Ivan and I, “Let’s drive back to your home and pick it up’’.  With that, we put our seat belts back on and began to hurriedly drive back to Bukasa a Kampala suburb where I reside.

“I forgot to re-fuel the car and it looks like we are running out of fuel’’ uttered Ivan as we glanced at him in distress. It was about 02.45am and the bus was meant to leave at 3am.  I wondered why any driver would drive clients around with a tank that was almost empty but at the same time I didn’t want that to heap blame or lose my cool as it was not necessary. After trying and failing to get fuel at three different petrol stations In Kabalagala one of the liveliest suburbs in Kampala, we were lucky to finally get a fuel re-fill at the fourth petrol station along the road. We hurriedly rushed to my house shortly after to fetch my bag and rush back to the bus station.

The air in the bus was quite stale as some of the passengers had been sleeping inside for hours, myself, Cyndee and Paulinas, a brother from the Tapac monastery in Moroto, were seated closely to each other at the back of the bus. Frederic Lepron, a former sports journalist & professional photographer in Paris and Les herbiers in France was also coming along with us. He was luckier than us, as he had found himself a much more comfortable seat at the center of the bus.

“Are you sure you never want to get married?” I asked Paulinas again (I have asked him this same question several times before). “Yes! I want to be free and dedicate my life fully to God.” He responded as Cyndee and I looked at him in dismay. I still have difficulties understanding why a young aesthetic man like himself would choose that path in life.

‘Do you have mountains in Burkina Faso?’ I continued to pester him with various questions. ‘Of course, we do, but they are not as high as the ones you have here in Uganda. “You should Google about it and learn more” he responded as I laughed. I have never met anyone from Burkina Faso before hence was intrigued with Paulinas and wanted to find out as much as possible about his country, the people, culture and lifestyle.

We were in Soroti at about 1pm; the scorching heat could be felt from within.  The driver halted to take in more passengers in a bus that was already bursting with passengers. More passengers poured in carrying plenty of luggage, chicken, food stuff and children. The bus was carrying more passengers than the legal limit opting some to sit on tiny stools and buckets along the bus corridor rendering movements within the bus almost impossible.

By about 4pm we had safely arrived in Moroto town, the alluring mountain ranges could be sighted at a distance. After bargaining for several minutes with the boda-boda riders we finally heaped our bags on bikes as we sat and headed out for the 47km ride to the Monastery in Tapac where we would rest for the night.

The surrounding mountain ranges were prepossessing; I have always considered Moroto as one of the most unique districts we have in Uganda ranging from the semi-arid climate in some months of the year, the pastoralist background of the locals and their unique form of dressing, culture and lifestyle which they have maintained to date. The Karamojong can easily be compared to the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania who are among the most admirable tribes in Africa.

“I think we are going to fall!” I said to my boda-boda rider as we fidgeted through a muddy path on the road. He narrated how the heavy rains had poured in the past few days rendering some parts on the roads impassable. “I think it’s best if I get off the bike and walk a bit ahead to make it easier for you to ride through”, I continued to say to him as I got more and more uncomfortable. I was seated with a heavy bag, a tent, hiking sticks and a sleeping bag. I felt like the weight on the bike needed to be lessened especially during the slippery part that we were heading for.

“Don’t be afraid Madame we are going to pass” said our rider. As soon as he had completed that statement, the bike gave way making us fall hard in the middle of the road! I watched as my oranges scattered all over the place, my bananas were mashed into a pudding, my elbows and knees were grazed and bleeding. Luckily for us an ambulance was passing by and offered to clean and disinfect my wounds to avoid an infection.

“I think I will walk to the monastery “I said to him as he urged me to jump back on to the bike. “It’s almost 8km between here and the monastery Madame. It is very far come and we go’’ he insisted.

“Don’t worry about it, I will still pay you fully for the entire journey” I insisted and grabbed a bottle of water from one of my bags and started the long walk to the monastery. Frederic and his boda-boda rider caught up with me and he decided to get off the bike and walk with me.

I was in a bit of pain but tales of France from Federic played a great role in keeping me distracted. We walked for about 2km until Paulinas caught up with us riding a massive CTX200 Honda motorbike. “Let me carry you Lorna, the monastery is still far ahead. I will come back and pick Federic up as soon as I drop you off.’’ Paulinas said to us as I jumped on to the back of the bike without any hesitation. I insisted on wearing his red helmet and comfortably held on to him as we set off. I was fascinated by the size of the motorbike, I have always been a huge bike lover but I would never attempt to ride one.

“Am glad you kept your word and came back” Father Hans said to me as I arrived at the monastery. Father Hans is a German priest who has lived in Uganda for almost 20 years, serving in different monasteries within the country.

“Are you all okay?” Cyndee asked. She had arrived an hour earlier before the rest of us and was worried about us, as we had taken a while to arrive. She was relieved when we all safely got to the monastery.

After settling into our rooms we sat down for dinner at the monastery living room. Being International Women’s Day, Cyndee and I were treated like royalty by the gentlemen. They set the dinner table for us, served us food and even offered us a tasty bottle of whisky to celebrate womanhood. Cyndee and I felt quite honored, but were careful not to drink too much as we had a long hike the following day.

We were up by 7am Friday morning and by 7.30am we were gracefully walking past the fields and on to the trail that led to the ascent of the mountain. The distant views of the mountain peaks got clearer prompting us to take out our cameras and capture some memorable shots. We had agreed to hire some local porters from the community to help carry our bags so we could pay them in return; money they could use to buy food and cater to their personal needs.

There were plenty of massive cactus plants along the trails that highly fascinated all of us especially Cyndee. Our first stop was at a small Tepeth community of Karamojong that spend most of their time in the mountains and rarely descend to socialize with neighboring communities and villages that surround the parish. They barely go to the health center when they fall sick; they would rather visit the neighboring forest to hunt for medicinal roots and leaves to treat their illnesses.

“She is asking you to give her soap or salt as a token’’ one of the guides translated to me as an elderly woman pulled out her hand towards me and spoke to me in the local language. Federic was kind enough to give away a bar of soap with a lovely floral scent that got her excited and the rest envious of her. We gave out salt, biscuits and oranges to the rest of the women and children as we taught the men how to hold the camera and take pictures.

We got to the forest and pitched our tents leaving most of our luggage behind alongside two guides. We recruited 2 more local Karamojong guides who diligently led us through the various trails within the mountain.

I rated this particular hike as one of the easiest I have ever done because we set a comfortable pace for everyone and hiked as a group, unlike a few previous hikes I have done before where some hikers were a bit too fast and others too slow.  We put emphasis on sticking together as a team, which is usually much easier when hiking in a small group. The sun was not as strong as it was in the previous months and this worked to our advantage.  The skies darkened at some point threatening rain but luckily there was no downpour, whilst the distant views of Mount Kadam and other ranges were mesmerizing.

I noticed Federic was extremely excited, he was constantly recording videos of the views and speaking in French. I imagined he was eager to share the beauty of the mountain with his friends back in France, probably entice them to visit the country and do the hike themselves. Cyndee on the other hand pulled out her camera and was busy capturing photos of various bird, insect and plant species. Uganda boasts about 1,000 various bird species, making it an ideal birdwatching destination for bird lovers like my dear friend Cyndee.

We successfully summitted the Imagit peak by 2pm, captured lovely photos with the Ugandan flag and later begun our descent towards our camp in the forest. The Karamojong guide and I were feeling exceptionally energetic and opted to compete by running down the mountain towards the forest every now and then, until we got to camp. I could tell he was impressed with the fact that I was running after such a tiresome day of ascending.

We were all settled in at the camp by 6pm. The guides were busy cooking beans at the fire they had set up, Federic was making some tea and noodles on a tiny stove he carried along, the rest of us were munching on various snacks to get our energy levels back as we sat around the fire to keep warm. We hung a speaker on the branch of a tree and started to play and dance to all sorts of music from France, Uganda and West Africa. The best moments of every hike to me are the excitement and celebrations that come after the descent; the feeling of accomplishment is always so good that it makes me want to dance and be merry. I barely slept as it was extremely cold in the night and the guides could not stop laughing and cracking jokes by the fire, this went on till dawn. It was a beautiful experience for me, very different from my usual comfort zone.

We were up by 7am, had some coffee and begun our 2-3 hour descent back to the monastery where we were welcomed back with a feast fit for a king by Father Hans and Father Jimmy. After lunch and a few beers, we took showers and jumped on motorbikes in preparation of the 47km journey to Moroto town to board the evening bus back to Kampala.


Hiking Mount Napak The Third Highest Mountain in Karamoja

The alarm tone on my phone was so loud that it made my heart skip a beat. I was certain I had set the alarm for 3am but was shocked and started to panic when the time on my phone read 3.20am. I had asked the driver of the bus we had hired for the trip, to come pick me up at 4.00am yet I had barely packed any of my hiking equipment. I had no idea where my hiking boots were, I could barely find any matching socks in my drawer, I needed to have a shower and a strong cup of coffee to keep me sane and awake yet time was not on my side.

It was 4.30am and the cold outside was unbearable, I was hesitant to go back into the house and pick up a sweater as my mother was fast  asleep and I didn’t want to wake her up with my frequent movements in and out of the house. I had sat at the balcony in front of the house for almost thirty minutes, impatiently waiting for the driver to show up. I had rung him about six times and all he said was “Madame will be there in five minutes.” Thirty minutes had passed and there was still no sign of him and the vehicle. At about 4.45am I started to get suspicious and decided to ring my friend Charles who was meant to be our leader for the hike to voice my concerns. “The driver is still not here. What if he has tricked us? I think he has run away with the cash deposit we gave him for the bus’’ I whined to Charles as he quietly listened to my concerns.

“I think you are over –reacting Lorna, he will show up’’ he responded to try and calm me down. “I think he is here, I said to Charles as I heard the bus come towards the compound. “We are coming to pick you up, I hope you are ready” I said to him as soon as I saw the bus trying to park on the compound. I hung up on Charles immediately without waiting for a response, I was relieved and disappointed at the same time because the driver had not kept time yet we had a long journey ahead of us. After countless apologies from the driver and the conductor for showing up late, I hurriedly carried my bags inside and asked them to quickly drive to Charles’s residence to pick him up and later head to the Fat back packers in Kisementi by 6am to pick up the rest of the hikers.

Matt Battani the secretary of the Mountain Club of Uganda had requested Charles and I two months earlier to lead the mountain hike up in Moroto on his behalf as he was unable to do it. A few representatives of the mountain clubs of Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya and South Africa were merging together to do this exciting hike. After introducing ourselves to the group and exchanging all the necessary pleasantries we boarded the bus at exactly 6 am and set off for the Karamoja region which is located on the North Eastern part of Uganda, about 10-12 hours drive from Kampala with a few stop overs along the way. The team in the bus was extremely friendly and cheerful, we all spoke about the political situations in our various countries with our favorite topic being Robert Mugabe ex-president of Zimbabwe, and we compared cultures and economic situations among many other topics.  Michael the team member from Zimbabwe was receiving plenty of questions from me as I have been intrigued by Robert Mugabe’s governance in Zimbabwe for a long period of time.

We stopped at Java’s café in Jinja for breakfast and later on had lunch at the Endiro café in Mbale where some members went out shopping for food supplies and safe drinking water for the week ahead of us. We arrived at the Pilas primary school which is situated in the Iriri trading center in the village of Lothaa in Napak at around 6pm; this was meant to be our camping area for the night. My phone had been ringing frequently as 2 of our group members from Japan, Ryutaro and Taiju had gotten into a bit of trouble with the local police and sub-county officials. They had travelled before us and had somehow been arrested for looking ‘’suspicious’ as the police explained to me over the phone.

Miha a Slovenian-Ugandan who owns a lodge at Lake bunyonyi, Charles and I rushed to the sub-county office to try and rescue the situation. After several arguments, debates and tempers flaring left and right with the various officials at the sub-county we decided to make peace and offered them a UGX 200,000 fee instead of the UGX 1,000,000 they were demanding to allow Ryutaro and Taiju to return with us back to the camp.

We were up and ready by 6am the morning of Sunday the 14th of January, we posed for a group photo with the Ugandan flag and begun to walk towards the starting point of the mountain. Mount Napak is the third highest mountain in Karamoja with a starting elevation of about 1,268 meters and a summit elevation of about 2,530meters. It is also considered to be one of the toughest mountains to climb in Karamoja as it has stiff cliffs and a few scramble sections that may require hikers to use a rope of about 15 meters to aid with the ascent. The ascent and descent on Mount Napak is about 18.9km if it’s hiked in a day like we planned to do, it takes a good 12 hours, 10 hours of hiking and 02 hours of breaks during the hike. The view of the sun rising in the horizon was spectacular; it colored the skies with a beautiful golden-brownish color.  The pathway was bushy with plenty of tall grasses; we occasionally stopped to greet the locals who had their homesteads at the base of the mountain, took plenty of photos and kept on trekking.

The hike started to get really steep at about 10 am. Steep rocky parts usually make me nervous as one wrong move could result into serious injuries and even death if the fall is severe, but luckily we had excellent team work and helped each other up where it got difficult. Charles, Wieslaw a skilled polish hiker and the local karamajong guide were extremely helpful and ensured all of us were safe.

The decision to make Charles the leader of the hike was a good one.  He is one of the most patient people I have ever met, he always stayed at the back of the group, whistling, singing and cracking jokes to ease the tension and fatigue that was starting to slowly build. Karamoja is a very dry semi-arid region and the heat is a bit extreme, the gruesome weather conditions made our ascent really challenging.

We were at the peak of the mountain by 1.30pm the views from the top were perfect for photography as it unveiled jaw dropping panoramic views of the famous Alekilek rock, distant Karamoja plains and Mountain ranges. The breeze was calm and relaxing providing the perfect environment for us to relax and have lunch. Most of us were falling asleep shortly after lunch when Wieslaw decided it was best we begun our descent to avoid hiking in the night.

We had assumed our descent would be much easier compared to our ascent but it turned out to be equally challenging.  Some paths were slippery making some of us lose balance and slide every now and then luckily there were no injuries. By 5pm we were all exhausted and extremely dehydrated, we had run out of water and our pace had slowed down slightly.

I was forced to sit down at a rock for about 15 minutes as my head was spinning and my sight had gotten blurry, I was extremely dehydrated, luckily the hikers from South Africa and Malawi had some spare water and rehydration tablets to share that aided in getting me back on my feet.

At 7.15PM we slowly walked towards our camp site at the school, extremely exhausted. I remember being so dehydrated and fatigued that I could barely talk. After an hour of taking a power nap, having dinner and a cold shower we sat at the bonfire with some cold beers and vodka to celebrate our success. Mount Napak had been successfully conquered.

“I appreciate MCU members for giving me and Taiju an opportunity to trek Mt.Napak and for having us released from Jail”-Ryutaro Onda a member of the mountain club of Uganda

“A huge THANK YOU to matt Battani for the invitation to Uganda and the planning, to Charles and Lorna for being our local charming hosts (the charm extending to the smooth release of our friends from the authorities at the Napak base camp), to Weislaw and Carolina for the daily nourishment, and lastly to the delightful group members with whom we hiked and shared stories and laughs. From the first Rolex in Jinja, through our interactions with the fascinating Karamojong, to the stunning top of the mountain we were smitten by this interesting and diverse country, Uganda. We had FUN-representatives of the mountain club of Malawi.


Lorna and Spacey go Hiking and Abseiling at Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa

I sat inside the bus to Mbale impatiently waiting for Spacey to show up. The driver seemed fed up with my countless pleas of “she is on her way, ssebo (meaning sir in Luganda) “please be patient she is on a boda boda(motor-bike) and will soon be here!’

“But Madame you have been saying that for the last 15 minutes. It’s 10.00am and we are supposed to take off right now’’ he argued back as I sat helplessly wondering why she was taking so long.

Just as the driver was about to leave the bus station, she breathlessly appeared, and jumped into the seat next to me. “I am never on time, Lorna, and am always late!” she said with an apologetic grin. She could see that I was exasperated after repeatedly calling her to hurry her along and cajoling the bus driver not to leave without her.

Spacey and I were in the same class in 2016, we both pursued an IATA course, graduated and started working in the Ugandan tourism industry. However, we had never done a tour together. This was our chance!  We dreamed up the idea of exploring Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa, a beautiful series of three waterfalls that lie on the edge of Mount Elgon and the Kenyan boarder.

The Sipi Falls area is perfect for a number of exciting activities like trekking along the magnificent water falls, rock climbing, nature walks, coffee farming tours, cave visits and birding safaris.  We opted for backpacking since we were both on a shoe string budget. That is why we were using public transportation through Mbale town to Kapchorwa. The drive to Mbale was rather long and uncomfortable, inside the rattly bus. It was really hot inside, and the dusty road outside made it unbearable to open the windows. It was a huge relief to finally disembark in Mbale, and take a few photos with the famous Wanale hill in the background. We ate a quick snack at a restaurant then grabbed a taxi to to take us to our accommodations in Kapchorwa.

We chose to sleep in a back-packer’s lodge since most of the Accommodation in town were fully booked. Of course, it was also the option that perfectly fit our budget. We got to our room late, and the weather had turned extremely chilly. The water in the shower was cold enough to induce hypothermia. I squealed, shivered and danced around until I felt clean enough to get out of the frigid water.

The next morning, we awoke to a lovely sunny morning. We were super excited about the Adventure that awaited us. Sheriff Chebet, one of our guides, picked us up on a motorbike and drove us to the office to register, make payments, and to meet our other guide, Juma Chebet. We safer with each of us having our own guide to provide the information and assistance we needed.

Grabbing long bamboo poles that aided us in our trek up and down the falls, we set out. The view was captivating and gave us the chance to pose for pictures inside the caves and to dance under the water falls. One of the three water falls had a massive pool underneath it that prompted us to quickly change into our swimming attire and jump into the water. We splashed water on each other, screamed our lungs out, and danced as we sung off-key to Beyoncé’s songs. Juma and Sheriff watched with amusement, and took photos of us.

Lorna sipi falls 11

We decided to wind up the day by walking to another fall and abseiling 100meters beneath it. As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed by Robert, the Director of Rob’s Rolling Rock Company.  He helped us each to wear a harness around our waists in preparation for our decent.

Even though the guides had warned me not to look down, my curiosity got the best of me and I did. ‘’Girl, I don’t see myself going down there ‘’, I muttered to Spacey as I was overwhelmed by fear. I started to wonder why we ever came up with this idea, I knew we were out looking for adventure but we didn’t need to risk our lives in the process. We had already paid a non-refundable fee of UGX 100,00 (about 30 USD). If we decided to walk away, we would have lost our money and feel disappointed for the rest of the day. We decided to go for it, with Spacey opting to go first. I watched her shake like a leaf as Robert instructed her to place her feet on the crossbar, hold tightly to the rope, and let go. She tried at first but then begged to be pulled back up, she was really frightened and wanted to give up. “Lorna come and do it first, I will follow after you’’ she said. ‘’No, you can do it Spacey, it’s going to be fun!’’ I yelled back. In reality I was even more scared than she was and probably didn’t sound too convincing.

Lorna sipi falls 15

Photo:Spacey getting ready

Robert did a great job of encouraging Spacey’s confidence. “I won’t let anything happen to you. Just relax and trust me!’’ he repeatedly assured her. “What if the ropes break?”  What if I fall down?’’ Spacey stammered out a number of anxious questions, and he answer them reassuringly until she eventually gained the courage to let go. Her first screams of fear were followed by shrieks of laughter and excitement ‘’I love you Robert. This is so beautiful!” she screamed. “I love you too Spacey. Now look at me and let go of the rope” he shouted back as he shot a great memorable picture of her.

Fifteen minutes later, Spacey was safely on the ground 100meters below and it was time for me to give it a try. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up, my heart was beating faster than Usain Bolt has ever run. My stomach churned so loud it sounded like an active volcano was about to erupt through my mouth. “Spacey did it, I need to do it too!’’ I repeated over and over again to calm my jittery nerves.

“Place one foot on the crossbar, place the other against the wall, hold the rope and slowly let go. Be careful not to get too close to the wall as you may hurt yourself.’’ I heard Robert say as I fumbled around to put my feet on the crossbar. It felt so unstable, and I could barely stand on it since the wind made it shake from one side to side.

‘’Do I have had to stand on the crossbar?’’, “Can’t I just hold the rope and go down? ’I asked as I struggled to get my feet firmly on the pole.

‘’Yes, you can…Are you ready?’’ he asked. I was too nervous to reply and quickly let go of his hand, held the rope tightly and let go.  My eyes were tightly shut until I heard Robert shout “You are doing it Lorna, open your eyes and look at the beauty around you.’’ I slowly opened my eyes and glanced at the Jaw dropping beauty that surrounded me. The reddish-golden sun sinking in the horizon, the rays of light glimmering in the clouds, images of a magnificent waterfall as white as snow, all dazzled me magically. The waterfall roared majestically as the perfect background for the stunning view of the distant hills and beautiful valleys. It was spellbinding!

Lorna sipi falls 12

I could hear gleeful cheers from Spacey and Sheriff who were watching from below. My spectacular ride lasted about ten minutes. On the ground, Sheriff hurried towards me and helped take the harness off my waist. Spacey was jumping up and down in excitement “Lorna we did it!’’ as we both hugged and laughed. It was such a great experience from fear to a rush of utter joy and excitement.

Lorna sipi falls 14

We all posed for more photographs and then jumped on Sheriff’s motor bike to ride back into town. We went laughing, screaming and singing. It had been such a lovely day. We ended it that evening by drinking Ugandan Waragi, eating chicken, listening to music, dancing, gossiping, and laughing out loud until we finally fell into an exhausted sleep.

We woke up to a lovely breakfast the next morning at Noah’s Ark hotel. We took a lazy walk around the town, and then grabbed a taxi to head back to Kampala that afternoon. We felt brave and content from our great adventure!

Many thanks to my friend Spacey for going on this adventure with me, and of course to our lovely guides Juma, Sheriff and Robert for their commitment and professionalism. I highly recommend them as the best guides to contact at Sipi Falls. You need to experience this too!

Republished with permission

Hiking Mount Sabinyo the Second Highest of the Virunga Mountains

By Lorna

“You are not supposed to indulge into any vigorous activities for the next 6 months. You need to heal properly’’, my surgeon said to me as I lay in my hospital bed at Pulse clinic. I had just under gone a sigmoid colectomy operation that had 30cm of the left side of my colon (sigmoid colon) removed. I had been suffering from acute stomach pains for the last 3 years till the doctors decided it was time for corrective surgery.

“Six months is too much! I will get bored and probably pile on some weight, am an active outdoorsy person I can’t stay still for six months doing nothing for exercise’’, I protested as I waved my hand from one side to the other. The I.V. drip on my hand was so painful.  It was the 15th one I had received in three days since I was severely dehydrated.

“It’s for your own good, Lorna!’ He said as he watched me wave my hand around to ease the pain.

“If your wound fails to heal properly from the inside you will be in so much trouble. My team will need to carry out another operation which will be costly and more complicated to fix.’’ He held my hand and tried to slowly take the needle from the most visible vein on my right hand. He had noticed the discomfort it was giving me, the large swelling and blood clot it had caused. He thought it best to place it on my left hand instead to relieve my right one.

“I have a feeling you won’t even listen to me. You are so stubborn Lorna, you annoy me sometimes’’ he continued to say as he got a brand new needle and injected it into the most visible vein on my left hand. He excused himself briefly after to go attend to an emergency, giving me ample time to take a much-needed nap. I was dog-tired after my long surgery.

A month went by and I was lying uncomfortably on my bed feeling unfit and bored. The urge to get some physically active was growing bigger day by day. I turned on my laptop and googled “Hiking Mount Sabinyo’’ and read some reviews from trip advisor. I immediately decided to take my chances and just hike it. I walked towards the large blue and white calendar that hung up on the left wall of my bedroom and searched through the dates to find the best time for the hike. November 24th-26th perfect! I had the dates ready all I needed now was a team of fellow mountain climbers to come along with me.

Being a member of the mountain club of Uganda meant it was going to be as easy as a pie to convince a group of ten climbers to go on this adventure with me. I posted my desire to summit this mountain on the group’s facebook page and the response was extremely positive.

On Friday the 24th at 2pm we were all seated in the taxi we had hired at the parking lot of Game supermarket in Kampala. We were ready to drive out of Kampala and head out for Kisoro where Mount Sabinyo is located.  Mount Sabinyo is one of extinct volcanoes that make up the Virunga mountains in the western part of Uganda and contains 3 peaks the first being 3423 meters high, the second 3537 meters high and the third and highest boasts of an amazing 3669 meters in height. The thought of the challenge that lay ahead of us sparked so much excitement within us!

Our first stop was at the Uganda Equator historical landmark along the Kampala-Masaka road for some memorable photos, a chance to stretch our legs and catch a breath of fresh air. We later stopped at the Agip motel in mbarara to relax and grab some dinner before we got to Kisoro.

At about 2am we got to the Mgahinga National park which is also the base of Mount Gahinga and Mount sabinyo hurriedly pitched up our tents and went to bed. We were up by 6 am for breakfast which delayed a bit alongside paying for the hike and a briefing session from Zachariah who was the lead guide for the hike. Clad in a black and yellow-stripped Uganda shirt and a Ugandan flag in my hand I convinced the team to pose for a historic photograph with the Ugandan flag. With the members being nationals of different countries like Belgium, America, Germany and the Uk I felt it was worth proving to their family and friends that they were once in Uganda summiting one of its various astonishing mountains.IMG_20171125_080336

We started the hike at an altitude of about 1890-2200 meters. It was quite enjoyable as the sun was shining brightly giving us the warmth we needed. Kisoro is one of the coldest regions in Uganda. The group was cheerful; there was laughter and plenty of chit-chat going on.  There was lots of lush vegetation, giant lobelias, and a variety of bird species singing to a melancholy tune that prompted a few bird lovers in the group to take out their binoculars and take a closer look.


There were lots of massive elephant footprints and piles of buffalo poop on the trails. Golden monkeys could be easily seen swinging gracefully from one tree top to the other. The hike was smooth for a while but later got much steeper after the first hut where we stopped for refreshments.  Just before getting to the first peak I was starting to get concerned about whether I would be able to complete the hike. I had just gone through a very physically and emotionally demanding week, had hiked a 2400 meter kilembe hill at one of the many islands of Lake Bunyonyi  that Thursday prior to the hike on Saturday and had started feeling the fatigue getting to me.

“Lorna adjust your bag, let it be closer to your body’’ Charles said to me as he noticed beads of sweat flowing down from my forehead. “Your bag seems heavy, what are you carrying inside?’’ he questioned. I quietly stood and watched him adjust my bag as I secretly wondered if I was going to make it through this hike. Charles is a professional hiker of Kenyan nationality he was once a hiking guide on Mt.Kenya for a good number of years. He has also hiked the Black cullins in Scotland, Mt.Kilimanjaro in Tanzania the Siemens in Ethiopia among many others. I was glad he accepted my invitation to come along with us.   It’s always good to have a skilled climber with a positive and encouraging attitude like he has.

“Let me carry your bag for you, Lorna!’’ He said to me an hour after he noticed my pace had drastically reduced and that I was breathing with difficulty. Charles, two guides and I were lagging behind from the rest. ‘’You don’t have to rush, just go slow we are soon getting to the first peak.’’ One of the UWA guides said to me as he looked at me and smiled.

The beauty of the Afro montane vegetation, Bamboo trees and low altitude equatorial forests helped to relax my mind, and my pace picked up considerably. I felt new energy that I was ready for whatever challenges lay ahead. After climbing a few steep handmade wooden ladders we finally got to the first peak at about 11.30am.

The rugged nature of the terrain along the slopes has very sharp ridges making it only possible to hike Mount sabinyo in Uganda as much as it’s also shared by Rwanda and Congo. The trails are quite challenging but the spectacular views from the peak were extremely rewarding.

After taking plenty of captivating pictures we soldiered on for another 30-45 minutes to get to the second peak which was even more steeper and had more ladders to climb. At 3,537 meters most of us got to the second peak, two had called it off as it was getting much more challenging. I could hear my friend Dahil whining every now and then “Am fed up of these stairs, they are too many!’’….”I am so tired, I think I’ll stop here,’’ she continued to whine as she sat down next to me and pulled out a packet of crisps to munch on.


The ladders to the third peak were the type that could easily break anyone. The wooden ladders were so many and so high – they seemed like a staircase to heaven. They literally disappeared in the clouds making me wonder where they ended.

I felt very dizzy going up the ladders despite the fact that I had swallowed some Altitude sickness medication before the hike started.  My knees felt weak almost like they wanted to give way, my mouth felt dry and all the joints in my body ached from fatigue. I glanced behind to check on the rest of the team that was behind me and it was quite obvious we were all struggling to get to the top. We finally got to the third peak at 3,669 meters and If I had a third hand I would have tapped myself on the back and said ‘’Good job Lorna, you finally made it’’.

Rwanda and Congo were very close by and the view from the third peak was spectacular. We rested for about 15 minutes till Zachariah urged as to start heading down before the rain or wild animals caught up with us. Mount Sabinyo boasts of about 86 recorded mammal species which include herds of buffaloes, troop of elephants, mountain gorilla families, Okapi among many others.

The thought of descending the mountain using the same route we used to ascend the mountain made my heart skip a beat. “This is not going to be easy!’’ I thought to myself as I lay down on the grass to rest for a few more minutes. I shut my eyes and listened as the others hurriedly followed Zachariah down the slopes.

Nick, Charles, Dahil, Cyndee, one of the UWA guides and I were the last ones in the group to descend the mountain. Climbing down the ladders was equally as difficult as going up! My toes hurt so much from stubbing them on stones several times, and to add insult to injury a few members of the trek had accidentally stepped on them.

Three hours later it was just Nick, Cyndee, and an Uwa guide and I taking our own pace as we slowed down. It started to rain heavily making the trails even more slippery and wet. We kept on falling and slipping as we may our way down the trail. We concentrated on slowing our pace to avoid any serious injuries. I felt like we would never reach to the camp! My energy had run out, and I was soaking wet from head to toe despite the fact that I had a rain jacket on. I was pleased to have Nick walking patiently behind me and quietly dealing with all my tantrums. He made sure I didn’t fall and pulled out a torch when it grew dark.

At about 8.15pm we finally got back to the camp, and we all rushed into our tents to put on some warmer clothes. Ten minutes later we were seated next to a warm fire, with some warm food and a hot cup of tea. I felt proud looking around and seeing the rest of the team chatting about how beautiful the hike was and how glad they were to have come along. Despite the fact that we encountered a few challenges during the hike, the satisfaction derived after successfully completing it is all that matters at the end of the day. I was glad I didn’t pay attention to my doctor and secretly hope he never finds out I hiked Mount Sabinyo without his consent!

I would like to thank Alexia, Charles, Hannah, Cyndee, Dahil, Stuart, Bara and Jesse who are all members of the Mountain Club of Uganda for coming along with me to conquer Mount Sabinyo and for being the best team I have ever hiked with.

You Think You are tall? Just wait until you see your friends inside…!


By Lorna

That was the first comment the gate keeper made as he saw me walking through the gates of the Giraffe Center, located in Langa’ta, approximately 5kms from Nairobi City.I smiled back in amusement; such comments are not new to me. My height has been compared to that of a giraffe since I was in Kindergarten. I remember being taller than all of my peers.


The last time I visited the Giraffe Center I was just 4 years old. If my memory serves me correctly, I cried out loud as my mother carried me up on her shoulders, encouraging me to stretch out my hand and touch one of the residents there. In my defense, I think Giraffes can look very scary to a 4 year old, with their large eyes, strange Hairy horns (called Ossicones) and incredibly long tongue.  I didn’t remember that visit being very successful, so it felt good being back 23 years later to give it another try. And yes, I am 27!


I climbed up the stairs of the raised observation platform with no trepidation, only excitement. The main attractions for visitors there are seeing, handling, feeding and even kissing the giraffes (yes that is a thing there). I was very excited when one of the guides gave me a handful of pellets; I was then ready to make amends for my childhood fears all those years ago.


One of the giraffes stretched her neck, raised herhead and stuck out her long slimy tongue towards my hands. She was named Daisy and this was the closest I hadever been to a wild animal. I was concerned and cautious at first in case she would bite me, but after popping a few pellets into her mouth my fears dissipated and my confidence increased as I watched her eat greedily, but gently, from my hand. She was so calm and gentle with me, allowing me to reach out my hand and pat her on the head as she remained still. I am sure she enjoyed it as I saw her close her eyes, just like we humans do while receiving a relaxing head massage. She let me do this until someone else moved beside me with a fresh handful of pellets. I swear she almost winked at me as she made her move to her next new friend!

The Giraffe Center was established as a tourist destination in Nairobi 1983 by the late Jock Leslie-Melville, a Kenyan citizen of Scottish descent. He and his American wife Betty devoted their lives to protecting and breeding the Rothschild’s Giraffe species, native to East African grasslands. They started with one Giraffe calf (also named Daisy) in the 1970’s and the programme has been a success since then, resulting in the introduction of several breeding pairs into Kenyan National Parks. Sadly, Rothschild’s Giraffe remains on the endangered species list to this day, but they can be seen in the wild in both Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya and Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda.

To be able to get so close to these majestic animals, feed them from your hand, look them in the eye while giving them a head rub – all while supporting the protection of the species through simply paying your entrance fee – I’d say the Giraffe Center really is a “must do” destination when visiting Nairobi.


Eco tourism at Budongo Forest

Budongo forest

Budongo forest est.825 is in the northwest of Uganda near Masindi town. It’s located in the Albertine Rift valley. It was home to mostly the mahogany trees which were planted for purposes of supplying timber for construction,furniture, flooring and boat building. It was also favoured because it was resistant to borers and termites. Currently it has a mixture of other trees like the fig tree, iron wood and other species. The mahogany is listed as a vulnerable tree species by the IUCN. The forest too is threatened by encroachment and illegal pit sawing.

It is also a birding paradise with about 360 bird species, 290 butterflies species,130 moths species,465 tree species and 24 mammals ,nine of which are primates.

On this adventure I also found myself immersed in the bird watching activity.Being a tour organizer and guide, such places are visited frequently to check on their availability to tourists and also refresh the birding skills with friends.

We made a stopover briefly at Kakonge swamp to do some birding. Birds seen in this area include Singing cisticola, Cooper sunbird.We later continued to Masindi town.

Kakonge swamp


We arrived late due to a tyre puncture. Overnight was at Masindi Hotel built in 1923 by the Riftvalley railways and harbours.


Car Tyre Puncture

Royal mile

This spectacular wide forest avenue was first enjoyed by King Kabalega of Bunyoro earning its name ‘The Royal Mile’. It is a 15 km drive from the eco-tourism site and visitors must pay a forest entry fee before entering the forest reserve. On an early morning visit visitors cannot fail to see some spectacular forest birds such as the Chocolate Backed Kingfisher and Paradise Flycatcher.

Royal mile is a popular birding destination in Budongo forest for both local and international bird watching enthusiasts. Royal mile avenue was once a historical hunting ground for King Kabalega, the nationalist ruler of Bunyoro Kingdom before he was exiled to Seychelles. During his reign he used it as an escape route too. He was later captured by the British Colonialists at Dokolo.


Nyabigoma trading centre

Along the way, Nyabigoma trading centre is named after a big celebration that took place during the reign of King Kabalega that involved drumming by his subjects. A drum in Runyoro is known as E’ngoma. and ‘Beating the drum’ is “Okutera ebigoma.

The King a revered hunter, killed a leopard that crossed his path during his hunting expeditions.At this point, his subjects did a lot of drumming as a sign of victory for their king and a lot of merry making after hearing the good news that their King had successfully wrestled a Leopard. He always enjoyed hunting alone. He later stopped going for solo expeditions when his throne was threatened by the British colonialists.

Royal mile birding

On the next day we embarked on our trip to Royal Mile.On our way we were able to see sugar plantations owned by Kinyara Sugar works.This route too before Royal mile was rewarding with bird species that included the Pin tailed whydah,speckled mouse bird,woodland king fisher,great blue eared starling.

Birding along the Royal mile brought to our attention birds that we considered lifers (i.e birds seen for the first time by a birder). Some of the Birds seen by our team for the first time included the blue breasted Kingfisher, Chocolate backed King fisher, Ituri Batis,White thighed Horn bill. Non lifers included Narina Trogon, Spotted green bull, Dwarf kingfisher and its nest, Collard sunbird, Woodland King fisher, Western Nicator.

Primates seen included the Blue monkeys, Red tailed monkeys, Olive Baboons and black and white Colobus monkeys.

Forest stories

Raymond the site guide was full of stories. He told us a story of how elephants previously crossed to the forest from the nearby Murchison Falls National Park. They ate leaves of certain tree and got drunk .They rioted and caused a lot of destruction in the forest. You can imagine how they enjoyed themselves to the fullest. To control the elephant riots, the trees were cut down and replaced with other tree species like the fig,mahogany and iron wood trees.

“Strangling Fig trees”

Our guide also informed us of how strangling fig trees are ‘expert stranglers’ of host trees.It is interesting if two different species of strangling trees met on a host tree they will “connive” to strangle the host tree at root level as they grow in opposite directions.


Busingiro Ecotourism centre.
The site is located in Budongo Forest, Masindi District.It was a common Royal “relaxation place” for King Kabalega. Busingiro means “relaxation place”. It is about 4-5 hours drive from Kampala City.
The Eco Tourism Centre is part of the Budongo Forest Ecotourism Project with the aim of conserving the forest by working closely with the communities residing near the forest. This provides local employment and sustainable income for local communities.

The area is famous for chimpanzee viewing, nature and primate walks and bird watching among others.It is also a famous habitat for butterflies.

Busingiro Trail butter flies

Polish refugee church at Nyabyeya

This former camp was built in 1942 for the Polish World War II refugees who had fled Germany due to prosecution.The Camp at the time consisted of 6 small villages and hosted about 3,635 Polish.The Polish refugees belonged to the Catholic faith.A church was later built between 1943 and 1945 which is still existence till today.There is also a cemetery with 60 graves of Polish Nationals who died between 1945 and 1948.After the World War II ended most of the Polish refugees were resettled in England, Canada, Australia.The graveyard and church are maintained by the Catholic community in Nyabyeya .

History of the Polish migration to Africa

The first group of exiles arrived in Africa in late 1942-44. Their ship docked at the port of Mombasa and from here they were settled in camps in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) and Zambia and Zimbabwe (formerly Northern and Southern Rhodesia).

The two refugee camps in Uganda were built at Koja, on the shores of Lake Victoria and Nyabyeya, Budongo Forest Reserve in Masindi district in northwestern Uganda.

The campsite at Nyabyeya, some 30 kilometres east of Lake Albert, was uninhabitated. No towns or villages were in existence.A small piece of land was demarcated for them which was previously covered by the lush tropical forest.More land was cleared to enable the construction of mud and thatch huts.

As they settled in,they utilised the fertile land in the area to grow crops like pineapples, maize, tomatoes, sunflowers and also kept livestock to supplement their diet and keep them busy.

The Cultural king at the time,Omukama Sir Tito Gafabusa Winyi IV of Bunyoro frequently paid occasional visits to the camp.

Photos:Polish Church,Graves and Catholic faithful


Bunyoro Kingdom Anthem

After birding we were entertained by the village kids who sang the Bunyoro Anthem.Our hearts were touched by the confidence and singing. We gave them tips.

In Picture: Team leader Arshley tips to the youngsters


Culture Norms

Every society has its norms.In Bunyoro a praise or pet name (Empako) is recommended. It is common to use the Empako for greetings when you interact with the locals.It is a form of respect.The use of formal names is sometimes considered “disrespectful”. The locals will always address you by it in subsequent interactions.
The pet names given to ordinary people are Apuuli,Akiiki,Amooti,Abooki,Araali, and Adyeri. Okali is a reserved for only the king and Bala is for chiefs.

In Toro too,a breakaway kingdom from Bunyoro in the 1830s also adopted the empako names and dance traditions.

Courtship in Bunyoro

In Bunyoro, a courtship dance is performed by young men to choose a partner for marriage.The dance was named after the “ebinyege” rattles that are usually tied on the boys’ legs to produce percussion rhythms that blend well with the drum beats and songs.

How to get there: You can use private transport and public transport (to Masindi and Budongo separately) or you can use the services of tour operators to the destination.

Best time of the year: All year round but best between November to April and June to September.

Age group restrictions:None

Possible Tour extensions:

  1. Murchison Falls National Park-Game drives, boat cruises,hiking to the top of the falls.
  2. Budongo Eco tourism site-Nature walks and chimpanzee tracking.
  3. Rhino Sanctuary: Home of rhinos
  4. Boomu Women Group: True African experience in the village
  5. Kaniyo Pabidi tourist site in Budongo forest:Chimpanzee tracking
  6. Hoima town (57 kms away from Masindi): Palace and Royal Tombs

How many days do you need for the tour: 2 days (Budongo& Busingiro only), extensions 9days . Total  11 days with extensions.