Abseil down the Sipi Falls
I sat inside the bus to Mbale impatiently waiting for Spacey to show up. We were on our way for a weekend of adventure and abseiling at Sipi Falls on the edge of Mt. Elgon. 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 bodaboda (motor-bike) and will soon be here!’
“But Madam you have been saying that for the last 15 minutes. It’s 10 a.m. and we are supposed to take off right now,’’ he argued back. 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 a course in IATA, 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 Mt. Elgon.
The Sipi Falls area is perfect for a number of exciting activities like trekking along the magnificent waterfalls, rock climbing, nature walks, coffee farm 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.
Our drive to Mbale was rather long and uncomfortable inside the ratty bus. It was a huge relief to finally disembark in Mbale, and take a few photos with the famous Wanale Ridge in the background. Wanale is part of Mt. Elgon, an extinct volcano which in pre-historic times was once higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro. Today Elgon is much humbler but still one of the top 10 high peaks in Africa.
Up the Mountain
After a quick snack at a local restaurant in town, we took a public taxi to Kapchorwa, also on the foothills of Elgon, where we were to spend the night. We found most of the accommodation in town booked so we opted for a backpackers’ lodge. And it was also the option that perfectly fit our budget. But not our comfort as we soon found out.
We got to our room late, and the weather had turned extremely chilly. The water in the shower was cold. I mean cooold! I squealed, shivered and danced around until I felt clean enough to get out of the shower. Somehow, I fell asleep.
The next morning, we awoke to a lovely sunny morning. We were super excited about the adventure that awaited us. Sharif Chebet, one of our guides, picked us up on a motorbike and drove us to the company office to register, make payments, and to meet our other guide, Juma Chebet. Yes, another Chebet. We felt safer with each of us having our own guide to provide the information and assistance we needed.
Grabbing long bamboo poles for walking sticks, we set out on our trek along the Sipi Falls. The view is captivating and we took the opportunity to pose for pictures inside the caves. And even dance under the waterfalls. 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, screamed our lungs out, and danced as we sung off-key to Beyonce’s songs.
From there we hiked to the top of the next waterfalls to abseil 100 meters to its bottom. At the top site, 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.
Abseiling 330 foot with the waterfalls
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 fear creeping in.
Why did we ever come up with this idea? I wondered to myself. I knew we were out looking for adventure but did we have to take this? We had already paid a non-refundable fee of Ush100,000 (about US$30). 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.
Robert did a great job of encouraging Spacey.
“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.
With lots of reassurance from Robert, Spacey 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 100 meters below. Now it was my turn.
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 milk, all dazzled me magically. The waterfalls roared majestically as the perfect background for the stunning view of the distant hills and beautiful valleys. It was spellbinding!
I could hear gleeful cheers from Spacey and Sharif who were watching from below. My spectacular ride lasted about 10 minutes. On the ground, Sharif helped take my harness off. Spacey was jumping up and down in excitement like a kid.
“Lorna we did it!” she squealed as we hugged and laughed. It was such an experience from fear to a rush of utter joy and excitement.
We posed for more photos before jumping onto Sharif’s bodaboda back to town. We laughed, screamed and sang all the way into town. What a lovely day! We made merry, talked, laughed some more and talked through the night until overcome by exhaustion and sleep.
We woke up to a lovely breakfast the next morning at Noah’s Ark Hotel. Brave and content from our great adventure we took our bus back to Kampala.
Many thanks to my friend Spacey for going on this adventure with me. And of course thanks to our lovely guides Juma, Sharif and Robert for their commitment and professionalism. I highly recommend them as the best team to contact at Sipi Falls!