Note- This adventure took place more than a few weeks ago, but I felt that it was essential to write about. I hope you enjoy the account.
A large group of USP students went to Jinja on Saturday, October 16, 2010 to raft the Nile River. I was nervous and scared, I had heard tons of different stories about the rapids. I was expecting a wild adventure, full of class 5 rapids, near drownings, and possible injuries. One of our girls, Esther had planned the trip for us and arranged our transportation. We woke up early and met in the center of town for our ride east. I boarded the first of two buses (full of muzungus I had never met) as our group completely filled the second vehicle they brought for us. I listened to the accents and realized it was quite an international group that was going rafting today. Our director had warned that sunburns were the most common injury and so we all slathered tons of sunscreen on before our arrival.
At Jinja, we unloaded from the vehicles and swarmed like worker ants around the base. We signed waivers, paid $, and ate “free” breakfasts as we prepared for the day. We received a speech from the head guide, Doug who gave us a rough overview of the day…all in rough accented language that made us laugh out loud. We were outfitted in helmets and life jackets and loaded onto vehicles. A few of us made friends with the other folks that came out to raft…
The guides we soon discovered were a motley assortment of men from all over- some were Ugandan, Australian, New Zealandan, Austrian, South African… I had decided that pirates may not exist anymore- but in these men- they are very much alive.
At the river launch location, we formed groups based on what kind of ride we wanted- wild or mild. (We later learned that in reality there is no mild option, but it made some of us feel better at least.) After we were in groups, Doug began to assign us to different rafts and guides. I ended up in a group with Kim and Ned (from USP) and a handful of American medical students who were doing internships in Kenya (they drove in the night before to raft).
My raft’s guide was Camo, a New Zealander with a passion for the Nile. He has experience in NZ, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada, and a bit in the US around CO. He kept us safe, entertained with some outlandish stories and interesting language (and accent) and gave us a medium to wild adventure on the river that suited everyone’s needs for peace and chaos.
We went through a series of around 12 rapids- over a distance of at least 20 kilometers. They ranged from class 3 to class 5 (some felt like 6 or 7). There were about 14 rafts, making a pretty nice caravan to travel down the river together in. After the first half of rapids were behind us, we swam down a few. Then we lounged on the rafts, eating pineapple and glucose biscuits (taste better than they sound).
We saw otters, a crocodile or two, and a huge cloud of bats (one of the guides agitated them on an island so they all flew out screeching, the guide shouted maniacally, “If you fall behind you die here!” It didn’t help that his English was broken.)
As we drew near to the second half of rapids, I grew more and more excited. I had been through some intense waves the first half. I sat in the front with Kim as a wave completely covered us and nearly swamped the raft. Water filled every orifice in my face- leaving me coughing and gasping for air. After that experience, I knew that I could take on a few more waves. Also, Camo had given us a good orientation, we all practiced a flipping of the raft scenario. Basically, we all leaned over and Camo yanked on one of the support ropes as we all went swimming. Some of us were under the boat, so we learned how to get out and stay near the boat. Camo then righted the boat and we all helped get back on the boat. Somehow I managed to bang up my hands in this process. Surprisingly, this was the only injury I received the whole day- a few bumps during a practice run.
I did end up switching with Ned for the second half to give him a more wild ride with the rapids. I sat right behind him, so I was still able to experience a good bit of the front row action. So as each rapid approached, I felt more and more fearless. I knew God had created this river, and he had created us and he loves us- why should I fear? I started to smile more (although in the photos, I still look scared from time to time. )
One of the best rapids was a two part ride with a waterfall at the end. Basically, once you enter the rapid you paddle like mad (sitting in the bottom of the raft). It is your hope to catch the waterfall to the right or you can take the left fork and go down a pretty basic “staircase” rapid. Our raft was so keen on taking the waterfall option that we over-paddled. This caused us to get lodged up against rocks to the right of the waterfall. The guide and a nearby kayaker hopped out (careful not to slip and go sliding down the fall alone) and started to push the raft up more so the other rafts could go by. Once they had passed, (which was a sight on its own- one of the rafts guide decided to do a back-flip off at the top of the waterfall-so one of the kayakers helping us had to jump into their raft to tell them what to do without him….) Camo finished his work of pushing us off the rocks and we made our descent down the falls! We all looked to the left and smiled for the cameraman perched on the rocks between the falls.
Near the end, we forded a series of rapids that were just insane! I was pretty grateful we decided to walk around them. There was just one more left and we all told Camo we were fine with capsizing if he thought we might. Surprisingly, we did not. We made our landing and unloaded, trekking up a hill and watching as the remaining rafts did the same. We all thanked Camo and took photos and drank water and tried to dry off. We loaded back into the vehicles and headed back to the base. They served one of the best meals I have eaten here (probably because it was very Western and I had just rafted the Nile all day). It was steak kebabs, salad (such a rarity), fruit, some pasta, and some vegetables….so so good. After dinner, we headed back to Mukono on a coaster. We all shared stories about the adventures and the various guides we had that day. I was so so happy- it was such a great day.