October 4, 2010
Uganda – Days 8-12 – Rwenzori
The first day was the hardest day’s hike I’ve ever done. And I carried nothing but a water bottle.
We had a guide and five porters from the local community. Two of the porters carried our packs. The other three carried the food and supplies we’d all need for five days, and met us at the first day’s camp site.
We started in Kilembe, at an altitude of about 1800 meters, and stopped at over 3100 meters six or seven miles later. That’s a net gain of 1300+ meters, or about 0.8 miles of elevation, and it wasn’t all straight up. Twice before lunch I got a bit light-headed and had to stop walking for a few minutes, but I think I was just overdoing it. Once I hit my stride, I could hike all day. One foot in front of the other, slowly.
We passed through savannah, jungle, bamboo, and up into heather, each distinct ecosystems. The heather zone up above 3000 meters looks like an alien world designed by Dr. Seuss. On the third day, we hiked up to our highest point, just under 4000 meters. On the way, we passed through a swamp with huge clumps of grasses rising out of it. The only non-plant life was spiders. The way to get through is to hop from one clump of grass to another, avoiding the muck below. It was like being inside a video game jumping puzzle.
It was incredibly muddy. Large portions of the hike were spent finding a tenuous route along the edge of the trail without sinking your foot in up to the ankle. Going down was interesting. I decided on the second day that the best thing to do was just to plant your heel and ride it down. Sometimes you stopped a few inches later, sometimes it took you a few feet. Only ended up on my ass once. One of the camps was so muddy that there were logs strewn all around to walk on.
The days were comfortably cool. Great hiking weather. The nights were cold. I was amazed at the porters and guide who seemed to wear so much less clothing than us, have so much poorer bedding, and not seem cold. We cowered around the camp fire long before the sun went down. On the fourth night, I slept in all of my clothes except the rain gear, inside my sleeping bag inside the tent, and I felt ok.
The landscape and plants were like something out of another world.
We had a few great discussions with our porters and guides, ranging from sex to politics to sex to economics, education, and environmental policy, right back to sex. They knew AIDS was a problem, but seemed unwilling to take any kind of personal responsibility for it. They believed that condoms would give you cancer (which we tried to disabuse them of), and the men were absolutely convinced that women were to blame. Their argument was that since some women (prostitutes) could and did sleep with hundreds of men a year, they spread it around. Pointing out that the men who slept with those prostitutes shared equal responsibility fell on deaf ears. It was both encouraging that they were willing to engage us on these issues, and heartbreaking that they seem so unable to help themselves.
We hiked with our pants tucked into our socks. Because of the ants. Some places, the ants were thick on the ground, a stream of them so wide that there was nothing to do but run through them as fast as you could, then flail frantically at your clothes to brush them off. I wasn’t willing to stand still enough to take a picture of a large swarm, but imagine this, thirty feet wide.
Our guide was named Rogers. Kristi’s porter was Jessica, and mine was Eliak. Jessica had a great laugh, and we heard it often; I think the others were flirting with her a lot. Eliak was a student of biology. He carried a notebook and spent time sketching and making notes about the local plants and animimals we saw. The other three porters were Vincent, Moses, and Posco. They were coffee farmers.
Here’s a picture with everyone but Kristi. From the top, left to right: The guy who we were trying to get to take the picture of us, Vincent, Posco, Moses. Front row, Rogers, Eliak, Jessica, Me. Here’s the one with Kristi, although we lost Eliak.