Sipi, Crow’s Nest, & the Tourist Experience, Pt. 2

Day two of our visit to Sipi Falls started with another sunrise chase. Yet again I missed the sun coming over the actual horizon, but it was just as beautiful, if less colourful, when it broke over Mount Elgon literally next to the first of Sipi’s falls.

P1010464 Sunrise copyThere was an obligatory morning selfie to prove that we all survived the night. Sunlight had not changed overnight. It was still very bright.

20160314_072120 copyThough it moved quickly (we were short on time because our driver was needed in Entebbe), the tour was excellent. Juliet, the guide, told us the coffee plants take ages to grow and don’t get very large. There was a 30-year old tree nearby where we sat that was less than double my height. The plants fruit after heavy rain, and are picked soon thereafter. The flowers begin white, turning to beans that change from green to yellow and finally red when they are ripe.

Once picked, the bean has three “covers” (shells). The first is removed by a machine, the next is pounded in a mortar. The beans themselves are surprisingly resilient and survive this process in flawless condition. Every one of us had a go at smashing the beans’ second layer off.

Juliet separated the husks and beans by flipping both and blowing so the lighter husks flew free. After that the beans are roasted, which they were, right in front of us in a frying pan. They are then pounded into a powder; the coffee grounds we all know and love. We also tried out hands at grinding the beans. Simon was better than all of us

…and then the most important part happened. Juliet made us coffee. I drank a cup and a half because one of my companions couldn’t finish hers. I was momentarily tempted to take some artsy photos of the coffee. I chose to enjoy it instead of feeding my inner tourist.

I broke into tourist mode to get a shot of us with Juliet. My inner tourist also photographed notice boards at Crow’s Nest in case any of you want to play tourist there and need an idea of what is available.

The drive home was on the same terrible roads, but in reverse, meaning they improved as we got closer to Jinja. I turned to music instead of photographs. The tourist was gone, satisfied until the next trip.

Sipi, Crow’s Nest, & The Tourist Experience, Pt.1

Nestled on a plateau of Mount Elgon about 6500 metres above sea level, the town of Sipi could be just another sleepy mountain town. A dozen hostels and guesthouses along less than two kilometres of road told a different story. A man shouting “Sipi falls, this way!” as our van passed him confirmed the hypothesis – this is a tourist town.

We were well shaken when we arrived, having traveled for five hours on roads that were under construction or filled with elbow-deep potholes. We stayed at a hostel named Crows Nest. Built on a slope facing all three falls, two of which were visible, every guest house and dorm had a view worth being jostled by the road. Their food was basic but filling, tasty, and inexpensive. I would recommend Crow’s Nest to anyone.

P1010375 View from the Dorm
The view from our hostel dorm. Well worth the trip, even without tours.

Simon, a local tour guide, led us on a trek to see each of the three falls. The first gave me an impromptu shower. Tall boulders surround its pool, holding in spray and making the air damp like a cool sauna. There was also a chameleon called Joseph. Dang chameleon eyes are weird.

The second falls make a natural shower, as well as a beautiful view from the top. I asked a co-traveler to take epic photos of me looking over the Ugandan plains.

The third we could only see from a distance. It also offered a brilliant view, which I used to take numerous group selfies wherein sunlight wouldn’t let us fully open our eyes.

On return to Crow’s nest, we ordered dinner. Tomato curry was a good idea even though it was more like a spiced tomato sauce. We walked to watch the sun set into pillowy purple clouds, still far above the horizon line. I’ve no photos of that – I left my phone and camera in our dorm, choosing to lay down my tourist hat and be present for a Ugandan sunset.

Searching for Sunrise

My stomach growls. I stand less than fifty metres from the Nile river, just North of the Nalubale/Owen falls hydroelectric dam, making a mental note to my future-self that one piece of bread with a thin layer of peanut butter does not count as breakfast. I’m not yawning yet, but less than four hours’ sleep is telling my eyelids to stay shut.

The air feels like late spring back home: cool and wet, yet comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts. I see a half dozen wooden boats near the dam. Moses, a coworker and friend from Arise and Shine Uganda who lives on the land where we stand, explains they are fishing for talapia. Sunlight appears on a hill many kilometres away on the opposite side of the river. The clouds are bright pink that slowly swallows on purple remnants of twilight. I flick my camera’s power switch and wait to line up the right shot.

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