Labor Day was another tourist day for me. It started with a visit to a friend of Bishop Gogo’s who is now retired but still stays busy with a group that is trying to maintain their cultural and tribal identity and build up a cultural pride by promoting economics and education in the local culture. He has been a successful small farmer and worked for the government as a minister of agriculture.
This area has a long history of coffee growing as a part of their culture. Before Idi Amin, they had a thriving economy and even had a union for the coffee growers and workers. During the Idi Amin era the government took over the coffee industry and killed any and all who opposed them so, the coffee industry was almost lost. It has not yet been able to make a comeback and be a strong economic presence that can help to build schools and provide good paying jobs. A new group, the BCA, is hoping to work with the local farmers to teach them methods of growing and drying their beans that will bring higher prices for the coffee and bring the industry back to the place that, once again, it can provide good paying jobs. It was a very interesting meeting. They have some great ideas and are moving forward with their plans.
After our meeting and tour of his farm, we drive up to the top of Mt. Nkokonjer, which is a part of Mt. Elgon. Mbale town sits about two miles from the foot of the mountain where the plains begin and Bishop Gogo’s house is right at the base. Driving up to his house, you are already staring the climb.
As we head up, it’s looking like rain. We’re not sure if we will make it but we are going to give it a shot. So off we go. The first part of the road is tarmac with pot holes but it’s better than dirt. After about two miles, the tarmac begins to disappear. The road used to be tarmac all the way to the top at one time but now it has become a mixture of tarmac, potholes, dirt and more potholes but not too bad…yet. But that changes as we turn a corner and head up a very steep section. Now the road is rock, very uneven rock. I’m waiting for the car to bottom out and become stuck. This is beginning to look like one of those Jeep four wheel drive truck commercials, the kind where the truck is on a big pile of rocks, which is cool if you’re in a four wheel drive truck with big tires, but we are in a car!!!! A TOYOTA CAR –A SMALL TOYOTA CAR–FRONT WHEEL DRIVE!!! I’m pretty sure that we have lost our minds. Somehow, (I’m sure by God’s grace) we make it over this section of road; about a hundred yards of nothing but very uneven rock. If we had filmed it, I’m sure we could sell it to TOYOTA for a commercial called “Believe The Impossible”!!!!
Remember my game, “butt and head”? The butt was ahead but not now!! The head has a large lead at this point!! O, my gosh, we have to come back going down! There are some things that you should just not think about, after all the next evil will be sufficient!!!
As we move up the mountain, we begin to enter into valleys, winding our way ever up. We have now entered into some of the most spectacular valleys that you could imagine. Valleys are below us and above us, we are surrounded by mountains. The most amazing thing is how many people live up here, their homes sitting on small flat spots cut into the sides of the mountain, their fields growing on the sides of the steepest places you can imagine. You wonder, “How do they stand and work the fields?” When we reach around 4,500 feet it begins to get cool and the air becomes more and more pure and sweet. I can almost taste the sweetness of the air. It is so fertile it looks like all you have to do is think about planting something and it will start to grow before you even get it planted!!!!!
The kids, oh, my gosh, the kids are everywhere!! I hear them screaming, “MZUNGU, MZUNGU.” When I look for them, they will be 50 feet up the side of the mountain right above us, the mountain going almost straight up, running and sliding, mostly sliding, trying to get to the side of the road to get a closer look a MZUNGU!! Or they pop up right beside me from the valley that falls away almost straight down for hundreds of feet. I’m beginning to feel like my head is going to pop off from all the swiveling around I’m doing trying to take it all in. Yea, we are only a little more than half way up and I’m on sensory overload. It’s just so beautiful everywhere I look that I feel like my eyeballs are going to crash into each other from my head flipping and flopping back and forth so much!!!! Bishop Gogo is about ready to put me out of the car, because I keep screaming, “STOP THE CAR! STOP THE CAR! STOP THE CAR.” so I can take another picture. I know that he wishes I had an old film camera rather than a digital with a 16 gig memory card. I know you’re thinking that I’ve lost it, and you’re right I have, but I’m having the time of my life, even if I don’t always know it at the time.
Did you know that cows can climb? Yep, they can, at least the ones up here can. There are cows up on the sides of this mountain where I don’t think you or I could climb. Now that I think about it, maybe they are some kind of really big goat. Are there 600 to 800 lb. goats? Maybe they learned from the goats. I don’t know but they sure can climb up some pretty steep places.
The mountains that make up Mt Elgon seem to go on forever. We finally turn back towards Mbale heading to the cliffs that overlook the town. We keep climbing and my head keeps popping back and forth trying to take it all in but there is just no away that I can. I think that you could spend months and still not see it all, and we just have a few hours.
Finally, we reach the area that overlooks Mbale and the plains that stretch back to Jinja. We have driven between 25 to 30 miles to get here. We are over a mile high, around 6,500 ft, but our house is only a couple of miles away, 6,500 ft. down. In some of my earlier pictures of the mountains around Mbale, if you look really close, you might be able to see some cell towers. These towers are about 250 ft. tall. That’s where we are. We are standing on the cliffs that over look what seems like the whole of Africa. At 6,500 ft., it is now almost cold. A jacket would feel good but even being cold I can’t leave because the view is unbelievable. There is rain to the northwest of us in the mountains moving out into the plains and we are higher than some of the clouds and rain. Out past Mbale on the way to Jinja there is torrential rain falling, the wind is blowing about 20 miles per hour and every once in a while a mist of rain comes by, increasing the chill. It’s almost like a fog at times but to the left the sun is shining through the clouds turning the whole world a deep, bright green.
The mountains continue on and on and I realize that somewhere in the distance I am seeing mountain peaks in Kenya. The scene before me is changing by the second as the sun plays on the sides of the mountain that stretches before us. It feels like the whole of Africa lies before me, at my feet, but at the same time I realize that what I see is just a very small part of Africa. Yet this small part takes my breath away, even more it captures my heart. I now know it’s all worth it; the long rides, the bad roads, bland foods, lack of creature comforts. All the difficulties are forgotten, at least for a few moments, until my African friends start to give me that “Can we go? I’m freezing!!” look. Somehow, someday, I’ve got to come back to see what all I have missed.
By the way, with all the climbing up and around waterfalls and walking out to cliffs this weekend, I only preformed my now famous feet-over-my-head trick one time; I’m sure to the disappointment of my African friends. They were starting to get used to it and think that it’s just the way I walk.