Irresistible mount MOROTO

The air in the bus was quite stale as some of the passengers had been sleeping inside for hours, myself, Cyndee and Paulinas, a brother from the Tapac monastery in Moroto, were seated closely to each other at the back of the bus. Frederic Lepron, a former sports journalist & professional photographer in  Paris and Les herbiers in France was also coming along with us. He was luckier than us, as he had found himself a much more comfortable seat at the center of the bus.

We were in Soroti at about 1pm; the scorching heat could be felt from within. The driver halted to take in more passengers in a bus that was already bursting with passengers. More passengers poured in carrying plenty of luggage, chicken, food stuff and children. The bus was carrying more passengers than the legal limit opting some to sit on tiny stools and buckets along the bus corridor rendering  movements within the bus almost impossible.

By about 4pm we had safely arrived in Moroto town, the alluring mountain ranges could be sighted at a distance. After bargaining for several minutes with the boda-boda riders we finally heaped our bags on bikes as we sat and headed out for the 47km ride to the Monastery in Tapac where we would rest for the night.

The surrounding mountain ranges were prepossessing; I have always considered Moroto as one of the most unique districts we have in Uganda ranging from the semi-arid climate in some months of the year, the pastoralist background of the locals and their unique form of dressing, culture and lifestyle which they have maintained to date. The Karamojong can easily be compared to the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania who are among the most admirable tribes in Africa.

“Am glad you kept your word and came back” Father Hans said to me as I arrived at the monastery. Father Hans is a German priest who has lived in Uganda for almost 20 years, serving in different  monasteries within the country.

After settling into our rooms we sat down for dinner at the monastery living room. Being International Women’s Day, Cyndee and I were treated like royalty by the gentlemen. They set the dinner table for us, served us food and even offered us a tasty bottle of whisky to celebrate womanhood. Cyndee and I felt quite honored, but were careful not to drink too much as we had a long hike the following day.

We were up by 7am Friday morning and by 7.30am we were gracefully walking past the fields and on to the trail that led to the ascent of the mountain. The distant views of the mountain peaks got clearer prompting us to take out our cameras and capture some memorable shots. We had agreed to hire some local porters from the community to help carry our bags so we could pay them in return; money they could use to buy food and cater to their personal needs.

There were plenty of massive cactus plants along the trails that highly fascinated all of us especially Cyndee. Our first stop was at a small Tepeth community of Karamojong that spend most of their time in the mountains and rarely descend to socialize with neighboring communities and villages that surround the parish. They barely go to the health center when they fall sick; they would rather visit the neighboring forest to hunt for medicinal roots and leaves to treat their illnesses. “She is asking you to give her soap or salt as a token’’ one of the guides translated to me as an elderly woman pulled out her hand towards me and spoke to me in the local language. Federic was kind enough to give away a bar of  soap with a lovely floral scent that got her excited and the rest envious of her. We gave out salt, biscuits and oranges to the rest of the women and children as we taught the men how to hold the camera and take pictures.

We got to the forest and pitched our tents leaving most of our luggage behind alongside two guides.  We recruited 2 more local Karamojong guides who diligently led us through the various trails within the mountain. I rated this particular hike as one of the easiest I have ever done because we set a comfortable pace for everyone and hiked as a group, unlike a few previous hikes I have done before where some hikers were a bit too fast and others too slow. We put emphasis on sticking together as a team, which is usually much easier when hiking in a small group. The sun was not as strong as it was in the previous months and this worked to our advantage. The skies darkened at some point threatening rain but luckily there was no downpour, whilst the distant views of Mount Kadam and other ranges were mesmerizing.

I noticed Federic was extremely excited, he was constantly recording videos of the views and speaking in French. I imagined he was eager to share the beauty of the mountain with his friends back in France, probably entice them to visit the country and do the hike themselves. Cyndee on the other hand pulled out her camera and was busy capturing photos of various bird, insect and plant species. Uganda boasts about 1,000 various bird species, making it an ideal bird watching destination for bird lovers like my dear friend Cyndee.

We successfully summitted the Imagit peak by 2pm, captured lovely photos with the Ugandan flag and later begun our descent towards our camp in the forest. The Karamojong guide and I were feeling exceptionally energetic and opted to compete by running down the mountain towards the forest every now and then, until we got to camp. I could tell he was impressed with the fact that I was running after such a tiresome day of ascending.

We were all settled in at the camp by 6pm. The guides were busy cooking beans at the fire they had set up, Federic was making some tea and noodles on a tiny stove he carried along, the rest of us were munching on various snacks to get our energy levels back as we sat around the fire to keep warm. We hung a speaker on the branch of a tree and started to play and dance to all sorts of music from France, Uganda and West Africa. The best moments of every hike to me are the excitement and celebrations that come after the descent; the feeling of accomplishment is always so good that it makes me want to dance and be merry. I barely slept as it was extremely cold in the night and the guides could not stop laughing and cracking jokes by the fire, this went on till dawn. It was a beautiful experience for me, very different from my usual comfort zone.

We were up by 7am, had some coffee and begun our 2-3 hour descent back to the monastery where we were welcomed back with a feast fit for a king by Father Hans and Father Jimmy. After lunch and a few beers, we took showers and jumped on motorbikes in preparation of the 47km journey to Moroto town to board the evening bus back to Kampala.

The following is essential for the hike:
1. Quality hiking boots
2. A Quality back pack
3. A hand watch
4. Sun-glasses
5. A long pair of thick socks
6. Long sleeved pants and shirts (to act as protection from thorn pricks from the bushes along the
hiking trails).
7. Sunscreen for skin protection (the heat in this region tends to be extreme especially between

8. A hat or cap to offer protection from the hot sun.
9. Plenty of drinking water at least 2 liters (one can also fetch water along some streams on the
way, however they need to be purified with purification tablets).
10. Oranges for vitamin c, chocolate bars and salty snacks are also handy to replace the nutrients
lost during the hike.
11. Altitude sickness tablets like Diamox and Acetazolamide come in handy for hikers who suffer
from Altitude sickness. Medication is best when taken a day before the hike or at the start of the
12. A sleeping bag, a tent, and all the necessary beddings required. (if hiker’s choose to spend a
night at the mountain)
13. A head torch comes in handy especially in the night.
14. A camera/phone camera to capture the breath taking views encountered during the hike.
15. A fully charged power bank to re-charge one’s phone comes in very handy.
16. Toilet paper/wet wipes/hand sanitizer/face towel/Tooth paste & brush- Hikers should not
expect to have a bath/shower at the mountain.
17. A small cooking stove, utensils and easy to prepare meals for dinner and breakfast- This is for
the hikers who prefer to spend a night at the mountain.
18. A trash bag that will be used to collect litter. It’s important for hikers to conserve the
environment and leave it clean.
19. Hikers can carry small quantities of salt, soap and biscuits to give to the communities residing at
the bases of the mountains. This is usually a kind gesture towards the locals that is always highly
appreciated. However, this is not compulsory!

Accommodation is readily available at the Tapac Monastery. MCU has a good relationship with father Hans, Father Jimmy and Brother Paulinas who are always willing to help hikers settle in comfortably. There are a 3-4 twin rooms that go for UGX 50,000 a night inclusive of 3 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
There is plenty of camping space that goes for around UGX 15,000 a night for a tent, plenty of clean water and hot showers within the monastery grounds.

One can travel to Moroto by bus from Kampala and ride with a boda-boda to the Tapac monastery from Moroto town, this is a very long journey and not quite comfortable. The best alternative would be to drive or hire a private van from Kampala to the Tapac monastery.

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