It feels like early morning when we leave the hostel in Jinja, even though it's already eight. The streets are quiet and people are walking to work. A work party of young men greet us, waving with plastic bowls– breakfast– as they walk.
We find our own breakfast at a cafe in the center of town. We linger in the Wifi like the connectivity gluttons we are. After a few chapters of Eileen's audiobook download (at last; she's been waiting weeks), we rise to seek our bus.
It is easy to get around in Uganda. Turn to someone on the street, be sure to ask how they are, then ask the best way to get wherever you're going. If you'll need a ride, they'll tell you the price and where to stand. If someone doesn't know, they'll usually make a phone call.
Sometimes, transport comes to you. Boda bodas offer us rides at every corner. We walk through the streets, weaving with our packs between the shops of for-tourists crafts and the dug-up edge of the road.
Before we make it to the taxi stand, a minibus pulls in front of us: "Where are you going?"
"Mbale, come in. Sit here." We're shuffled onto the backseat, below which a live chicken rests. We are soon on the road out of town.
We're looking out the window for the three hour ride. The weather is fine, and a breeze blows in the windows. We're looking for a mountain range, the Kenyan border close to where we're going.
Is that Mount Elgon? A ridge rises behind Mbale, too perfect to be real. The lushly forested rise boasts twin waterfalls you can see even at this distance, and jutting red-cliff promontories at the ends to complete the symmetry.
It's not Mount Elgon, we learn, just a foothill called Bufumbo. The mountain is behind it. But I'm impressed anyway by the view.
We disembark the bus at the Mbale clock tower, and we're a little turned around. I ask a group of women sitting by the sidewalk: Hilltop Hotel? She points us onward: "you will get to a flat spot." We walk toward the mountain.
We have two missions in Mbale, and they start today:
1) Meet my conference organizer, who has made arrangements for us at the hotel, and
2) Make whatever arrangements are needed to hike over the top of Mount Elgon from Uganda into Kenya– crossing the border in the volcano caldera.
My hopes are high. The day is fine, and we're ready to take on our next challenge.