by Ruth Ndyabahika
I still don't know what it is about mountains that is so addictive that it makes one forget the agony and long for another one. Due to public demand from our #ClimbMuhavura4GraceVilla group for the next adventure, we made a brazen decision. We chose on of the most extraordinary, epic African safari experience one could ever have: 4 days and 3 nights in one of Uganda’s best kept secrets: the ends of the wild savannah’s of Kidepo Valley, to climb Mount Morungole.
On Valentines Day 2017, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) heralded the expedition with a press conference, and the next day we were off to Kidepo. "Possibly the most picturesque park in Africa.” CNN Travel called it. We agree. When the sun reaches its peak in this land, there is a clarity to the light that makes it possible to see over great distances, and in incredible detail. Sometimes we would stop just to gaze in silent awe at what lay around us. A dreamy haze of sunlight and sand, a sort of beige color scheme of unspoiled vast savannah wilderness and rolling foothills leading to magnificent mountain ranges etched on the horizon. The wild grass of the plains scattered with acacia trees and boreholes where animals hide from the scorching sun, and from curious humans like ourselves.
We climbed Morungole on the February 16th, bearing sacks full of items for the marginalized Ik tribe that lives at the peak. The 2,749 meters above sea level hike which was underestimated by most at first, turned out not to be for the faint hearted. But driven by the anticipation of meeting one of the most endangered tribes in Africa, we struggled up. We crossed over absolutely breathtaking landscapes, and would turn back to gasp at the scenery in the valleys below that got better the higher we climbed. The Ik came to literary fame in the 1972 book “The Mountain People” by anthropologist Colin Turnbull. In it, they come across as a people who do not love. He must have gotten it wrong. They received us with so much joy and dancing, and we responded with an unrehearsed but passionate rendition of our own Kiga dance. We almost left one of our girls atop the mountain, with the Chief who passionately proposed! She would now be a queen. Most likely one of his many as theirs is a polygamous society, but a queen non the less. Later that night back at the campsite, as we relaxed and nursed our sore exhausted bodies around the campfire waiting for a much deserved dinner, our time spent with the Ik was a main thread of conversation. They will remain etched in our minds and hearts for ever. And who knows. Gathering from some of the ideas brewed around our campfire that night, some more good may come of our visit.
On day 3, the few early risers had breakfast sitting high up on Lions Rock, watching the sun rise over the Morungole mountain that we had conquered the day before. Our adventure today was all about the magnificent vast plains of the Narus valley. We piled into two 4x4 coasters, armed with lots of water, snacks, binoculars, cameras and 2 passionate game rangers. The valley was rich with wild life that seemed to come out to meet us. Huge herd of buffalo, and zebra’s swinging their chubby hips. Lions, elephant, giraffe, ostriches, eland kept unfolding in front of us. A group in one of the 4x4’s swore that they saw the elusive cheetah. And the awkward Jackson Hartebeests posturing on anthills, in a macho territorial display. which That afternoon we spread a picnic lunch over the hot sands of the seasonally dried up Kidepo River itself, surrounded by soaring Borassus palm trees which elephants "planted" over time and thus marked their migration path. We took off our shoes and played in the sand, some taking turns to jump from fallen tree stump spring boards into the river of sand below. We danced, did cartwheels, ate & danced. While others simply sat together in silence, listening to the breeze in the borassus trees, awed by the unexpected wild beauty of this new place. Later that night, we sat around the campfire under the spectacular starry skies one last time. There was a nostalgic sadness in the air. Nobody wanted to go to bed. Because this would mean that the beautiful, once in a lifetime Kidepo story had actually come to an end.