Today Sabia had to do a follow-up visit to an orphan high up the mountainside and she invited me along for the climb. We left around 10 a.m., equipped with rain gear as it was already threatening to rain. Before we left the road it was already raining. We slipped and slithered up the narrow muddy path, supporting and pulling ourselves up with anything handy – banana and cassava trunks, elephant grass etc. Before we reached I—-’s home, there was a regular downpour and we were soaked right through. A woman saw our plight and invited us into her best (front) room. The walls were completely covered with pages from the local newspapers. She brought us fresh mandazi (donuts that are chewy and not very sweet) and the tough corn on the cob. Outside a member of the family was holding an umbrella and feeding coffee beans into a machine that separated them from their outer coat. These outer coats are then fermented, which explained the odd smell about the house. After enjoying our hostess’s hospitality for about an hour – she even brought us warm jackets – we stood up to leave, but were made to understand that milk tea was on its way. The milk was straight from the cow and it was delightfully hot and comforting!
One more Visit
At I—-’s some of the promised improvements had been made. Bricks had been laid on the floor of the banana leaf shower so that it was possible to stand out of the mud. But the house itself was very poor.
Last February, Sabia and I had unintentionally strayed into the national park and received a severe lecture from a park ranger, who threatened us with arrest before relenting when Sabia indicated that we had free eye glasses to give away! This time, we did not anticipate that the ridge ahead of us was also in Mount Elgon National Park. We continued to squelch and slither our way up the narrow muddy path, which became steeper and steeper as we progressed. Eventually there were no longer continuous shambas (small farms) and the patches of crops became more widely separated by uncultivated areas and poorer in quality. The stamina of these mountain dwellers, who carry sacks of tomatoes and cabbages down these steep inclines to market, must be incredible.
The walk Sabia had in mind involved climbing up to the first of three humps, walking along over them all and then descending a long winding ridge on the other side of the valley. However, the path up to the ridge petered out after a while and we had the choice between going back and making our way through the bushes and trying to find the ridge path. We chose the foolhardier of the two options, namely, to continue. We were so high now that we were entering a zone of mini-bamboo and there was also a great deal of bracken that soared over our heads. The thick vegetation made it almost impossible to see where we were putting our feet and find footholds. At times we hauled each other up over rocks. We pushed our way through the sopping vegetation, hanging onto handfuls of stems and sometimes making our way up on all fours in the most precipitous places. Eventually, with a lot of hesitation, backtracking, discussing of options and puffing and panting on my part, we reached the first hump and found a barely perceptible trail along a ridge that was less than a metre wide. The ground fell away precipitously to the valley on either side. Despite the poor weather and the mist, the views were fabulous, mountain after mountain, dotted with the silver coloured roofs of the huts. Some mountains, extinct volcanos, were pointed, almost looking as if they had come from a Japanese painting. The other side of our narrow ridge was unmarred by any human dwellings and there, soaring above the other peaks was Wagagai, the highest peak of Mount Elgon National Park at over 4,000 metres. It was so near I began to suspect that we might be inside the national park. This suspicion was confirmed when we saw one of the white boundary stones. The question now was whether there were rangers around who might spot us. As a precaution we tucked our cameras into our bags – these had been a problem when we had previously entered the park by accident. Nobody was around and we exited the park safely. Then we were greeted by a gaggle of youngsters of all ages, who swarmed around us and accompanied us on our way until sent packing by a villager who was ascending towards us. At this stage, despite all precautions, Sabia fell headlong into the mud and I myself sat down in it a couple of times. Mud coated and weary, we were quite a sight to behold.
We reached the road back to Konokoyi just before it got dark and a hailed a pickipicki shortly afterwards. At one stage the road deteriorated into large puddle-filled ruts and the ground was so soft that the motorcycle driver told us to get off and walk a short distance.
Back at the guesthouse, we heated two large pots of water on the bottled gas stove. For the first time since my arrival, I washed in warm water!