Of the many things you may have heard about South Sudan, it is unlikely that hiking as a pastime would be one of them!
And with good reason. It is the newest country in the world since 2011, when it broke away from Sudan, after one the longest civil wars in history came to an end, and they triumphed as an independent people.
And there’s much to be appreciated in this young free land, such as the majestic White Nile that flows through newest capital city in the world (Juba), the green of nature everywhere thanks to 6 months of rain annually (and super-fertile soils), the hilly mountains that litter the vast landscape and of course the BBB people (Bold, Black and Beautiful!).
One of the pastimes that totally changed my life in Juba (thanks to my colleagues Simo & Ashery), from one of boredom to one of thriving, was hiking Jebel Kujur, which means Mountain of Witchcraft.
Located on the outskirts of Juba near Rock City, it is said to be a group of 13 hills which beautifully aligned form the mountain. It takes about 20 min to get there from the city centre by road, and about another 10-20 min walk to get to the base of what has become the standard route up one of the rockier paths, near a church.
From my experience it is a worthwhile challenge, relatively easy for those experienced hikers, and an exercise is sweating, huffing & puffing (and complaining) for beginners.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of South Sudanese hikers you meet along the way, at times offering a ‘hand up’ if you are struggling with a tough rocky point and always ready with the ‘you are almost’ statement of encouragement (even if you are at the bottom)!
You’ll also be entertained by different types of music belting out from speakers of different sizes and types being carried in hand, backpacks, slang across the back, etc., at max volume to share.
Rush hour is on Saturday mornings, where hikers start off as early as 5am and vary their experiences by taking different routes or repeating the standard route 2 or more times (which I prefer) to give that ‘oomph’ challenge to the body for building stamina. You feel the crowd pressure at the near the first summit where the rock formation forms a bottleneck access on the path, and only 1 or 2 people can pass at a time. That’s when the two-way traffic of sweaty bodies and heaving breaths is forced to slow down (with impatient irritation for the fit and youthful, and with a sigh of relief for the strugglers who pause for guilt-free rest). Me, I stop to soak in the fantabulous view of the well planned symmetrical settlement now nicely exposed (while no one seems to care).
The highest point is an estimate 650m above sea level (Juba is said to be at very low altitude at around 500m).
This summit is a wide and vast platform of solid rock forming an ideal resting point, and providing magnificent panoramic views of the city, as well as of the diverse settlements not far below, all around the mountain. You can easily understand why it is referred to as Facebook (loads of photos/videos taken here).
Interestingly, it has increasingly become the popular spot for workout challenge by the energetic sporty folks who go there as a club, group or whoever want to join in! Others just love to dance to their local music.
With its long history of varied occupants and war, the mountain was said to be full of witchcraft, apparently named by the Northerners.
Today, it’s a delightful place of exercise, rest, meditation, friendship and increasingly of prayer, with many crosses firmly planted at different points signifying locations of focused worship.
(Clearly it’s time they changed the misrepresenting name!!)
For those visiting or residing in Juba, consider joining the fun hike if you haven’t already! 🙂