Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa. Travelers usually head to the western, southwestern and northern regions of the country to spot mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, see elephants in Queen Elizabeth National Park and go on safari in Kidepo. We’ve been to Uganda a few times, but our work has kept us focused on Mbale and the surrounding areas (no time or money to go on a big African safari). The Brandt Uganda Travel Guide describes Mbale as a town to pass through, not stay in. It dismisses the eastern region like US travel guides dismiss Ohio (our home state), but we disagree. Mbale is paradise. From any point in the city you can see Wanale Ridge, part of the Mount Elgon range. Wanale is dotted with tiny thatched-roof homes and terraced gardens. Men and women run down the steep mountain paths with jerry cans of water and cooking oil, bananas, and other heavy bundles perfectly balanced on their heads. Children climb trees and play football with their homemade soccer balls. Farmers cultivate every inch of the arable land, the soil is so rich. Wanale Ridge is such a grounding force in Mbale, especially when you’re in town, amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life.
Last Sunday, we had some free time and decided to walk up Wanale. It certainly wasn’t a gorilla trek and we didn’t see any giraffes or cute tree monkeys, but we did witness some of the most beautiful views and landscape we’ve ever seen. Banyan trees, wild flowers, granite and limestone rocks, lush banana and coffee plantations, cows and goats grazing on land that seemed to be on top of the world–we didn’t need to go on safari to see Uganda’s bounty, beauty and might.