I finally ticked Northern Uganda off my list. This venture was proudly made possible by Mountain Slayers Uganda, a group of adventurers whose sole mission is to make mountaineering, hiking and the outdoors in general popular as alternative fun activities in Uganda. They have been consistent seeing as they are well into the 5th season of activities stretching to every corner and beyond the borders of the country.
Got Kalongo, in Agago district was first on the agenda this year. At 2 pm from Game Lugogo, off we went. The excitement never gets old, plenty of catching up plus new faces, drinks and chicken, it was a party. It seemed like Gloria, a hiking beast and a generous heart had caused an inflation at a one KFC outlet and got everyone pieces of chicken. For the better part of the journey, pieces of chicken were glued to our lips like pacifiers.
As with most long journeys, the conversation eventually died out and fatigue induced queries of how far we had to go started going around. We eventually arrived in Gulu town at around 9 pm for dinner.
The last stretch of the journey was on murram, it would have been uneventful if it weren’t for a stone that broke the window. Cue the stone which. Everyone was shaken, especially Anita who was seated right next to it. Speculation was made that perhaps it was a drunkard or an angry drunk Arsenal fan venting after Manchester United won a game.
The first thing you notice once you step into Kalongo at night is a glowing cross up a mountain. It’s a sight to see! It looks like it’s floating, especially if the car is still moving! We later found out that Kalongo is mostly a Catholic community. The sky above our base camp, Green Oasis Guest House was clear and littered with stars. The temptation to roll out a sleeping bag right on the grass was very high, however, it was only Dibo, the group’s DJ that succumbed to it as the rest of us, torches strapped to our foreheads, sleepily pitched our tents.
“Where’s east?” James asked, wanting to face the sunrise. No one could tell, although I accidentally placed mine in the right direction like a boss.
Despite the fact that we tucked in a little after 3 in the morning, by 7, we were up and ready to take on the day’s hike, Got Kalongo.
“Why are you showering when you’re going to sweat as soon as we start the hike?” someone who wasn’t particularly concerned about water conservation wanted to know.
“So I’m fresh when I start sweating.”
Breakfast was served, a cake was cut because the sky was blue…
It promised to be a very hot day and Paul, the group leader advised everyone to carry at least 3 litres of water on them. Our guide, the knowledgeable Richard was introduced to us. He was lean, neatly clad in a white shirt, jeans and dress shoes clutching a 500 ml bottle of water.
“They said it’s going to be a hot day, will that small bottle be enough?”
“Don’t worry about me, I am a son of the soil,” the guide confidently assured us.
We set off for the hike while receiving a brief history about Got Kalongo.
According to our guide, Got translates to “big,” while Kalongo refers to the hydrocele disease – mpanama where I come from. Apparently, many many years ago, there was a hydrocele epidemic in the region, the infected were ashamed to go to the health centre and opted to wash up in the valley where water from the mountain collected all year round.
By and by, the area came to be called Kalongo and subsequently, the mountain was baptised Got Kalongo. The mountain is more of a rock really, at first glance, it looks like they’re two. In the slave trade era, slaves and ivory were bought and stored in-between the rock to capacity until shipment – marched to Gondokoro in South Sudan and beyond.
The hike was extremely hot and dusty, sunscreen and a hat were paramount. We had decided on the longer route because experience has taught us that there is nothing easy when it comes to shortcuts. We took breaks although shades were like gold. It was a very meaningful hike in spite of the boiling temps and by the time we got to the top, we had earned the glucose, bananas and treats that Francis and Edgar were kind to carry the entire hike.
Every New Year’s Eve, many of the dwellers take a hike up the rock to usher in the New Year with prayers, praise and worship.
The descent was something else. The route was quite steep and not well defined, we had to try to not lose sight of each other and every now and then one would scream, “Louis! I can’t see you, can you see me?”
“No, where did you disappear to?”
“In the canopy thingy, follow it and turn left!”
“Got it! Let me wait for Paul so he can see where I turn off!”
Soon we were back at the base camp with throbbing toes, some strained ankles and bad knees but feeling very accomplished. Showers were had, conversations held and the highlight of the trip, the dinner. Everyone agreed that Green Oasis Guest House prepared the best dinner we had ever had on any hiking trip. The special was anyeri – a wild rat and a serving of la tête de poulet (head of a chicken)all of which were a first for me. I however disappointingly didn’t try either because I am too much of a chicken to try new food but I am adjusting. From then on, DJ Dibo took the reins on the ones and twos till the following morning.
Some said that it would have been a perfect trip had they served us posho for dinner and porridge for breakfast during our stay. I believe it was the perfect trip to start the year! The following day, another cake was cut because it was a good day to eat cake.
We sealed the adventure with a sombre trip to Paimol Martyrs Shrine where martyred catechists Jildo Irwa and Daudi Okelo were laid to rest. At the time, the people that were against the new religion took advantage of the unrest in the region to stop the preaching of the gospel, so the catechists were often harassed and ordered to give up their faith. They were later speared to death in October 1918 in a place originally known as Pakamuku which was later changed to Wipolo (in heaven) in their loving memory.
October 20 marks the commemoration of Paimol Martyrs Day, people celebrate this day in droves at Paimol which is now an out-station of Kalongo Parish.