Easter is hands down, uncontested, nothing else comes close, my favourite time of the year. It may come as a surprise to some but the reasons are mostly spiritual,I cherish my faith growth during the lenten season. On a lighter note, I have also had some great Easter time experiences. This year I got to spend a comfortable familiar Easter with family, in the city that holds my heart, Lagos. The comfort of this Easter, akin to a pair of sweatpants I’ve owned since high school, made me reflect on the foreign nature of my 2016 Easter which was as familiar as stiletto heels to me. I spent it “alone” in the unknown land of Uganda.
I arrived in Uganda for work shortly before Easter. Considering my familiarity with Africans one might think I would have more common sense than to arrive in a new country for a work trip shortly before public holidays. One would be wrong. The result was that after a few unproductive days I had to admit defeat; I would accomplish nothing until Easter was over. I decided to face more immediate problems, what to do for Easter? Everyone around me had Easter plans, as apparently traveling during Easter is a common Ugandan tradition. Although, my guesthouse had international residents they too had adopted the habit and I was in a it of a bind. Luckily a lovely mother and daughter duo invited me to join (crash) their adventure. I AM NOT A SPONTANEOUS PERSON by any means and I really really doubted the wisdom of this trip. At the last moment I threw caution to the wind, purchased a backpack, sleeping bag and a few other essentials and off the Rwenzori Mountains I went.
Google maps estimated the journey time from at about 6 hours via Mbarara; I am pleased to inform you that Google was wrong. We had a planned stop that involved bird watching and was fun by virtue of its uniqueness (to me at least). I got to straddle the equator, also another fun point but then things went downhill for some hours. It felt as though we drove forever, and then the there was the East African Rift Valley. It’s odd I remember learning about rifts in school but for some odd reason it always seemed fictional and I never really considered it’s physical existence. Re-energized from this unscheduled stop we plodded along in our very uncomfortable, no shock absorber, hard benched seat. If I had any less melanin I would have been covered in bruises from the ride. Just as sunset was approaching we drove through Queen Elizabeth national park and saw Elephants and Giraffes within touching distance, beautiful.
Then the pleasant experiences truly ended, as roads became terrible and the sun bid us adieu, forcing us to complete the journey in pitch darkness unbroken by streetlights. Throw in the inconsequential factor of driving up an unknown mountain road in total darkness, and you have the recipe for a truly terrifying drive. One moment we heard roaring water on both sides of us, and then the next moment we were treated to glimpses of nothingness, apparently tottering on the edge of a cliff. The lady beside me prayed loudly and violently, a real believer in the violent taketh by force. The only thing that kept me from totally loosing it was giggling at her colourful requests while sending up my own fervent petitions, silently of course. Eventually we arrived at our camp about 12 hours latter, exhausted and dragged our luggage up to our rooms and tents. After quick showers we inhaled dinners of Irish (potatoes), matoke, rice and sauce before seeking our beds, mine happened to be in a tent. It’s interesting that my first real experience camping out in the least predictable place. The departure from the ordinary was fascinating, even if I did shiver with cold and fright every night before sleep overtook me.
The highlight of this trip was of course the hiking journey that we undertook on Saturday. It was marketed as a moderate climb and estimated to last about 4 -5 hours. My dear friends, you know where this is going right? Let us say that on the morning of the hike, an early 6am, we were advised to wear hiking books, rain jackets and rainproof pants. Why all this gear? Apparently we would not be hiking on any marked paths and the mountains were famous for sudden rains. We eventually all had to rent rain coats, couldn’t do anything about the hiking boots at that point. None of us (maybe a couple) had anything similar to hiking boots, needless to say we were an ill prepared group. The climb up, a literal crawl on hands and feet through sliding mud, was challenging but exciting. Surrounded by beauty, ascending higher into the clouds, I actually felt a poem growing in my soul. The top of our mountain (hill) provided views worth the challenges of fire ants (terrible bites), loosing our guide in the middle of nowhere, ruining my sneakers and jeans, all crowned with getting rained on.
The climb down though! My brethren, even climbing down stairs produces an anxiety attack in me since that trip. It was a steep walk down with no footholds on muddy ground. I swear, I prayed like I never have. If I was in a country with rescue helicopters you could not have paid me a billion dollars to walk down. I think the guide offering to carry me down got my feet moving “quickly”. I had an easier time picturing my sure death if I was carried. Luckily the nightmare inducing steep climb lasted for about an hour, and then it became more bearable. We finally made it back to camp somewhere around 4ish in the evening. So much for a 4-5 hour hike.
I was so grateful for life that Saturday evening and completely uninterested in any activities Easter Sunday morning. Truthfully, a lot of my hesitation about going on this trip had to do with my reluctance to miss Easter Sunday church. However, I convinced myself that I had spent 28 or so Easters in church and could survive missing one. That year I got to have an alternative Easter morning. I sat in the gazebo, sipping coffee, and listening to worship music while admiring the absolute magnificence of God’s creations, visible all around me. The rest of the trip went on without incidence, if you discount my deciding on an impromptu dance performance with the villagers.
I will say nothing about the drive home, well maybe just one or two points. When we drove over the bridge and roads we had come through at night, I knew God was really watching out for us. The drive home was as uncomfortable and long as the drive there. This time we actually had a breakdown to contend with, and had to randomly use a family’s bathroom. They were very kind to allow the motley crew into their home. With all the ups and some considerable low points, I cannot help but look back on this impromptu, spontaneous trip of mine as a notable chapter in my life. My fear of heights is far from conquered, but there’s just something to facing your fears and emerging victorious that’s yummier than tiramisu.