What a scenery! What a land scape! (echo), this is beautiful! Our team murmured in endless choruses as the van moved about this exhilarating landscape.

Apart from the driver, no one else concentrated on the bumpy unmaintained road nor did anyone care about the threat of bad weather although it had rained a great deal in the morning.

All this team craved was see the “new” water falls in Oluko Sub County, Ayivu County, Arua district.

Indeed it had been astonishment a few weeks back when a group of people posted pictures on social media purportedly taken from a water fall in Oluko, a neighbouring sub county to Arua municipality. How true could this be?

Miria Adua falls in Maracha district had hitherto taken all the headlines and drawing local tourists and those on picnics, etc.

Less than 100 meters beyond Oluko sub county headquarters, we are completely ignorant which route to take, we out of curiosity stop to ask from a stranger at the road side “Oh (Mini ‘yori Mundu ma eyi ‘diari I ce?) Loosely translated ‘you mean the water falls of the other white man?’ He asked back in the local Lugbara dialect.

At the end of this short conversation, we didn’t only get directions from this stranger but a clue that the said waterfalls could either be having an owner or a Mundu (common name for a white man/woman here) had bought land near this “mysterious” falls. Locals would later tell us this said Mundu is one Mr Mike Elkins, who has bought more than 15 acres of land near the water falls. We didn’t meet him.

About four kilometres drive deep into ‘nowhere’ and suddenly our anxiety is halted at least briefly as we arrive a top one steep hill, the sight of a tiny, iron roofed semi-permanent structure receives us, Its further confirmation that “May be” we are arriving at the “white man’s water” as was suggested by our stranger guide.

A few futile attempts to find whether anybody was here on this compound or in the building finally gives way at the emergence of a young man from the opposite side of the house. He had been washing his clothes using rain water from a tank connected to the house.

Our scepticism about the place fades quickly as this young man who we find is Mr Jacob Yuma, 23, a student of Nile University graciously answers our questions, and he later offers to be our guide on the remaining part of the expedition.

 

Locals selling off the land

Yuma is the son of Mr John Acile, a land lord in this Kamikua village, Wandi parish, Oluko Sub County, they bought nine acres of land here, a big chunk of which has been planted with pine tree, the rest been turned to other uses including rearing pigs.

Mr Yuma confirms the Mundu has more than 15 acres of land here and paid over 15 million shillings, His own father Acile paid six-seven million to acquire their land; but he doesn’t know the initial land owners. Houses here are totally distant from one another, it’s easy to guess this place had been uninhabited in the recent past.

Across the river we are told, a senior police officer who was in Arua bought another big chunk of land, the locals know him as a Muganda (A tribe from central Uganda) but we couldn’t verify this information further for there was no access across the river.

 

Beauty indescribable

With Yuma’s guidance, next is to descend down this very steep slope, we are headed to the first of the two falls; “oh yes this place actually has two waterfalls”, it’s our next discovery.

About 200 meters down, Alas! we arrive, the first of emotions as we set our sights on this Abairo falls (As we are told later) is a thing of unforgettable memory; Fear, excitement and accomplishment all gripping our thoughts instantaneously. But we are also left wondering “how come this place less than 20KM from Arua town is so much unknown?”

Whatever thoughts ran through each of our minds didn’t matter anymore because it suddenly dawned on us that we were already here at the Abairo falls, the sound of the falling water above 30 meters high perhaps, the huge stones rising above intertwined with a thick plant cover, the writings inscribed on one of the rocks “welcome visitors to the beauty of God’s creation”, no ‘one-size-fits-all’ word could describe this experience.


Not a mysterious water falls after all

Mr Yuma says many popular people from Arua town had already visited the water falls but such visits were not regular. Musician Ms Leila Candiru, businessman man Abdurrahman’s family, a group of refugees, and friends of the land lord Mundu are some of the names Yuma can recall.

After an hour taking pictures and enjoying this scenery, we bump into musician Mr Vincent Andama alias Vin pose, this was his second time here, he tells us. His friend one Mr James Agotre who hails from Aduvu village four kilometres away introduced him to the place.

“People don’t know about this place completely” Vin retorted instantly when asked why this beautiful place didn’t receive as many tourists as expected.


The locals are simply poor!
As we painstakingly make our way to the second water fall, the whaa falls about a kilometre away from Abairo, (actual distance could be much shorter but we followed the access road), we encounter children going about their usual business in their small impoverished homes, some grass thatched some stone built. The chit-chats, a few minutes rest and off to Whaa falls.

50 meters away from our destination, the vehicle’s access stops and we disembark to meet another activity. Children busy doing stone quarrying; I meet one Bernard Ezati, a senior one student of Arua public secondary with two other younger girls busy on this activity.

Abairo KidsThe children deep in the bush carrying out stone quarrying (Photo by LEMA LARSEN)

They are for holidays and Acile says this is what he does to raise money for his scholastic needs; he has a hammer to break the stones into the required aggregate after transporting them on his head at a distance about 20 meters away using a broken Jerry cane.

He sells his product to a middle man whose buyers come with trucks from Arua town. Ezati at maximum can make 20 pans of the required stone quarry a day each selling at 300 shillings.


The second water fall

Our next few minutes usher us to Whaa falls, a longer stretch not as steep as Abairo but easily gives a view of the beautiful horizon, the slippery stones make it difficult to move down.

The terrain leading to this falls is relatively flat and the stoppage place of a vehicle is a stone’s throw away, we are told most of the few tourists who have visited here before actually come to Whaa not Abairo as we had done.


Our team

Ms Mercy Amviko, although extremely tired at the end of these five hours is amazed at the friendliness of “Our guide”, at one point they offer our team a paw paw as we sat to rest, Our small token to them is received with endless choruses of “Thank you so much!”

Mr Larsen Lema struggles to describe his experience in words, he would rather refer the writer to his videography and photography and conclude that nature is simply beautiful.

Abairo WNWThe West Nile web team aided by the guide rest under the Muzungu's roof.

Back to the van enroute Arua town, this five-hour expedition in the ‘mysterious’ water falls seemed to have opened a much hidden world, we are left wondering what went wrong? Don’t the locals just appreciate the beauty of this place? Do they lack the capacity to develop this land into an income generating venture for tourism?

Who will buy the next portion of land here? What happens to the locals when all this land has been sold off (If at all that will come to pass)? It’s clear from our observations that sooner than later this place will be the recreation and leisure destination of Arua given its proximity to the town. But whether the locals can be a part of this “to come” development is the million-dollar question. One can then only watch the space.