The sun comes out reluctantly, like a first time performer with stage fright. It starts to break, to eat the sky and, above the hills, you can see the strands of its glow. But it remains there; hidden, shy and stubborn. “Let’s change the location, guys,” suggests, Andrew Pacutho, lugging his camera as he labors to capture the sunrise. I follow him. Everyone follows him. I duck on the ground and adjusts my camera, like I was Tom Berenger. I shoot. I miss the shot. I climb an anthill, rub my eyes, and shoots again. This time, I have it. Finally, I got it. Or something close to a sunrise. I will later take pictures of these photography enthusiasts, silhouetted in the early morning smog. Everyone is trying to get a picture for Instagram, cover photo, or WhatsApp profile picture. They shove their phones in the semi-darkened air and tap their screens. Got it! Yes, I got it. See this, Edd? I got a nice shot. Epic. Hang on, let me snapchat this. Come. Smile. A selfie!
We were in Kapchorwa.
The sun refused to come out of the closet (thanks for asking). Even when they say the sun rises from the East, it seems, Kapchorwa isn’t in the East. Geography lied. It could have risen from the neighboring districts, from Sironko, but not Kapchorwa. Not from Crows Nest, where we stayed for two days.
I was with a bunch of travel enthusiasts under the #KoikoiUg initiative, documenting the Uganda you don’t see, the Uganda you should see. If you barely go past your gate, Kapchorwa will come as a big, unnerving surprise with impressive curriculum vitae. If Kapchorwa was a person, he would be tall and beefy and macho. It’s cold and it rains daily. Lil Wayne wouldn’t find trouble living here. Raise your eyes, you will see Kapchorwa in high heels, jutting up the skies. And on its hills, if you squint your eyes, you will see Sipi Falls, three of them, pouring downhill uncontrollably yet beautifully. Take a picture. You have to.
We stayed at Crows Nest, a touristy abode, nestled on one of the hills that was once climbed (halfway) by the then President Milton Obote. First day here, before everyone retired their knackered bones in their beds, we sat on the verandah, drinks between our legs (and hands) and irrigated ourselves. The banter got louder as drinks sunk deeper. And the night, outside, remained discreet. And dark. Too dark. The banter stayed on. The music choked and spilled from the stereo. Drunken jokes were exchanged. Staggering laughter rolled down the valley and faded into the still darkness. No echo. Later, one-by-one, folks groggily retrieved back into their holes and shut their eyes.
Breakfast was served. Heavy. Delicious. Crows Nest has this restaurant/sitting space where you sit and have your breakfast as you marvel at the arresting view before you. In fact, the view comes as a salad. Thereafter, we turned the noses of our vans and drove to the abseiling spot.
Look, if the only heights you are familiar with are liquor heights and blunts, don’t abseil. It’s scary as shit, but it will rock (that pun) you. The guide assembled us and took us through the drill and unwrapped the abseiling manual before us. I stood there, arms folded across my chest, and took in his lecture. He sounded like he’s been doing this for years. He said we shall get wet. I held my breath. He said we shall get soaked in mud. I swallowed hard, unfolded my hands and shoved them in my pockets and took a leisure stroll. I looked around and I saw everyone ready for this shit. I wasn’t ready. At least not today. “Who wants to abseil?” the guide asked, “Register your names.” The book was passed around, like an offertory bag, for those with brave hearts. Everyone wrote their names (and their will). Even the girls. You know? Even the girls I had thought would first step back and call their mummy to attain a good level of confidence. The abseiling bug didn’t sting me. I wasn’t completely soaked by this heart-racing experience. I loathe heights, yes, but the idea of me getting drenched in water and mud at an ungodly altitude made my stomach cramp.
I stayed behind.
How was the abseiling experience? Everyone had their version. It was epic. The greatest thing I ever did. It was scary. I prayed midway. I died halfway. I put my head first, can you imagine? My head! I saw a rainbow. Two rainbows. The water. It was great. I silently shouted (not sang) a hymn. I confessed my sins. Did you take my picture? I can’t feel my heart. Where is my heart, people? I saw God. I lost my mind. A 5-year-old boy saved my life. Confessions. Some, funny. Some, well, not funny. There is no fun in shoving your elbows at death.
We visited all the three Sipi Falls, getting wet in the process.
As the sun sunk behind a faraway hill, we squatted around a bonfire. Meat was roasted. You would pour yourself a drink and bite on the steaming hot muchomo as you warm your skinny (hairy) legs. Around the fire, there was Shawn Davis, the deep-voiced content developer and the founder of ‘top top’ (you should ask him what it means). There was David Ogutu, the brains behind #KoikoiUg and Kafunda Kreatives and works on radio with Crystal Newman and takes cool videos with his iPhone. There was Joanne Nvannungi with her ‘royal’ pippin’ hot sauce. There was Colin Asiimwe-Spartakussug-who breathed fun and puns into the group. There was the seasoned journalist turned photographer, Andrew Pacutho who kept whispering faint yet sweet (no)things into Emily’s ear. There was Edna. Ninsiima Edna, this well-read and irrefutably smart girl. There was Penelope who’s down to earth (ahem). Besides me sat, in loud silence, Ceasar Vulley from Ghana who, using the West African’s identify and conquer rule, kept whispering things to Patricia Twino in slurry American accent. There was Patricia Twino (hey, Patricia!). There was Fiona Komusana who kept shining even in the dark. There was the laidback, reserved, Hilda Tushabe. There was Ibrahim Ssebudde (On his Instagram: Simplicity is my trademark) who kept telling me that he had a drone in his bag. I never saw it. There was the quiet, soft-spoken Dinah whose smile kept the fire burning. There was Joel Jemba who added more firewood into the conversations and made sure that no one dozed off and fell into the fire.
There was Shell V-Power that fuelled us to Kapchorwa and back.