Wild On The Nile

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, January 01, 2012 was originally posted on January 03, 2012.

DAY(S 3-)4: “Are you ready to go rafting?” asked Alex, the Italian guy sitting next to me in the hostel lobby at 6:45 am. We had both signed up for a rafting trip with adventure outfitter Adrift, based out of the town of Jinja on the Nile River, about 54 miles from Kampala. Near him were Paul and JD, two Americans I met the day before (Day 3, when I didn’t do much but stay at the hostel to knock out a freelance project and write about my encounter with an African king; I did see two vervet monkeys though). They were from Minnesota, but on vacation from their volunteer work in southern Tanzania.

“Well I’m still jet lagged from the flight from New York,” I told them. “I went to bed at three last night.”

“So it’ll be pure adrenaline then,” Paul said. (He reminded me a little of Sebastian [Morocco].)

While filling out waivers on an iPad — they’ve gone paperless in Uganda too — a minibus took the four of us, plus four more from the Sheraton hotel (three Danes and a young Ugandan woman) out of Kampala. It wasn’t long before our minibus broke down, but we were soon sent another one.

Once out of the dusty industrial area of western Kampala, the road revealed a more African environment with lush greens, a result of Uganda’s proximity to Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, and the river that spawns from it, the mighty Nile. If you’re old enough to remember the “Men On…” skits from 90s sketch comedy show In Living Color, one phrase I recall is a pun: “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” Well, the Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt; it’s in Uganda too, as well as Sudan and South Sudan — the world’s newest nation which only independently formed in July 2011. In fact, that’s where Alex the Italian lived and worked for an Italian NGO, in its capital city Juba.

By 10 am, the eight of us arrived at the rafting put-in point on the banks of the Nile where our group was joined by a larger group of twelve Americans plus a few others. We had a breakfast of bananas, sausages, and hard-boiled eggs that had been battered and deep fried (why haven’t we tried this yet?!), and then formed our raft groups — naturally our bus crew formed a raft full of eight: me, Alex, JD, Paul and the Danes Jacob and Emily, who were not traveling with the other spirited Dane Tommi — who had rafted the Nile twice before. With him was a young Ugandan named Yudayah, his sister-in-law, who was from Kampala but had never been rafting.

“Okay, do you want to go wild?” asked our Ugandan rafting guide Olom. “I think you guys want to go wild.” He was giving us the option to take the wilder drops at each of the eight upcoming rapids (11 originally, before the construction of the Bujagali Dam) or to take it a bit milder.

“I think we’ll go wild,” the garrulous Tommi said. All the guys shared his sentiment, but the two women were not so keen — especially Emily who seemed really anxious about the whole trip. When you go rafting, anything can happen, and to be prepared, we did a few exercises in calm water: rescue, swimming to safety boats, how to come up for air if trapped under a flipped raft, etc. Soon, the roar of the first rapid of the day, named Overtime, was within sight and earshot.

“Oh, I’m really nervous,” Emily admitted.

“Paddle forward,” Olom commanded.

Training was immediately put into use in the coming moment.

“Hard forward! Hard forward!... Get down! Get down!”  Naturally, I was all smiles and started laughing.

Our raft went down the 20-ft. drop and immediately flipped over. It happened so fast I don’t remember much, other than seeing the wave and then being in the water a second later, and then coming up for air, then feeling the pressure of water push me down, and the power of my lifevest struggling to keep me afloat. Water, then air, then water, with the sound of water rushing all around me, interchanged with split seconds of yelling voices from above; I had become completely disoriented and swam — in which direction I didn’t know, until the current was less intense.

“Move! Move!” I heard a voice call to me.  “Hurry! Get to the safety boat! Get to the safety boat!”

I didn’t know where I was. Boat? What boat? There were like four boats. Soon a safety kayak came to my rescue.  “Get in the safety boat! Get in the safety boat! The next raft is coming!” I swam from the kayak to the big double-oared safety boat on the side, which had taken a milder drop.  Where my raftmates were I didn’t know, until things settled down again, and we were reunited, each with our own story. Alex had been trapped under the flipped raft and managed to breathe by popping his head up between the dividers, until he started “to drink water” and had no choice but to swim outwards. The Americans got their thrill, swimming for their lives, as did the two Danish guys.

The two women however, were a bit shaken up. In fact, when Emily was the last one to get back into our raft, she was crying. “I almost died… the water kept pushing me back down, and I couldn’t breathe. [And I have asthma. I should have brought my inhaler.]” It took a while for Olom to calm her down, and had to assure her that the worst rapid of the day was over, and that we weren’t going to die — as long as you had your vest one.

“What would happen if you weren’t wearing a vest on that one?” Tommi asked later on.

“You die.”

“Are we going to flip over again?” Emily asked him.

“Yeah,” he answered. “But it will not be like that one.”

“Are you sure?” If she could, it seemed she would have quit right then and there.

Yudayah was shaken up as well but remained calm, anxious for the next one.

“Welcome to Nile,” Tommi said. It was only our first of the day.

OVERTIME, A CLASS V RAPID (the hardest grade a commercial outfitter can permit for clients), was in fact the wildest rapid of the day, but we still had a few formidables coming up. We were thrown out of the raft a few more times that morning — Paul falling out in each one, and fairly proud for doing so.

“Are you nervous?” Yudayah asked Emily. “It’s okay, I am nervous too.”

The second rapid made the guys excited before plunging down for another wild class IV ride. For the girls, each subsequent one built more and more confidence albeit forced; the element of the unknown was gone and they knew what to expect.

“[If we go down one way, there is a 50/50 chance we flip over,]” Olom briefed us with options on an upcoming rapid. “[The other way, we flip over for sure.]”

“Let’s flip,” suggested one of the guys. Paul was in, JD, Jacob, Tommi, and me.

“I guess democracy prevails,” Emily said, no voice in the matter. But soon after about three rapids, Emily changed her tune and embraced the sport. In fact, she regretted that she and Jacob had only signed up for a half-day, to leave us after the lunch break (to go bungee jumping of all things, which I’ve done once and consider to be terrifying).

“I could do this all day,” she said.

Class VI rapids are too rough to navigate (or perhaps insurance policies forbid commercial outfitters to do so), so we disembarked and walked around it, the first section of a tremendous series of class VI and V rapids all in a row so intimidating to the eye that it is nicknamed “The Bad Place.” I myself thought it was a little insane that we were going to do it, but hey, it’s what I’d signed up for.

Approaching The Bad Place came sooner than I thought and we were flushed down gushing water like the Devil’s toilet. Again, it happened so fast when I fell out of the raft and became disoriented. Water everywhere and I was under longer than I thought I’d be, with only brief moments to get air. A foot or something hit my face but soon the Nile spit me out into a calmer current. I laughed and looked back at the next coming rafts. Ha ha, we were just in that, I thought, all Nathan Drake like.

“That one was the best!” raved Yudayah. “That was the best one!” She had changed her tune too. “Take my picture! Take my picture!” she asked of me when she saw me floating with my camera, taking photos. All smiles.

The two of us swam to another raft, which played rescue to everyone misplaced. We eventually made it to our own raft where Tommi was bleeding from a big cut around the outside of his left eye. A faulty helmet, which he had been explained was faulty but decided to wear anyway; he took the blame for wearing it and remained positive. As rafting guides explained, the biggest cause of injury on a river isn’t from water or rocks, but from equipment hitting you in the face.

Tommi got bandaged up for the meantime at the lunch break, while everyone else immediately queued up for chapati filled with veggies and meats of their preference, plus optional soup and soft drinks, like Stoney Tangawizi. Jacob and Emily left from there, leaving the six remaining back in the raft for four more rapids. Rapids after calm water after rapids filled the afternoon.

“Okay, let’s turn that lunch upside down,” Paul joked.

Olom gave us options on an upcoming rapid, to go a class II way or class IV. JD and Paul nod in agreement. “Let’s go four.”

Even Yudayah, who was nervous about rafting that morning, was all in.

“[You came here and now you’re all smiling,]” her brother-in-law Tommi said to her. “Me, I’ll go to the hospital after.”

“Let’s go four,” I said, choosing wild over mild. “We’ll just go to the hospital with you.”

Another wild ride and subsequent rescue, and it just kept getting more fun — we wanted to fall out now. However, on our last rapid of the day, Nile Special, we didn’t flip over or even lose people; we somehow managed to ride the entire way and kept afloat.

“Eh, that was disappointing,” Paul remarked.

We landed on the river bank amidst villagers and cows, and a barbecue ensued with baked potatoes, shishkabobs and beers — Nile Special being my choice because of where we were. Our rafting package from Kampala included an optional free night stay at Adrift’s resorty village on the Nile back near Jinja — the perfect place to catch the sunset over beers and football.

The Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt; it’s in Uganda too — and what a wild ride it can be. And for novices to rafting, the key is to go with the flow and embrace the rapids, letting go of any fears or dismissal that it can actually be fun, despite its initial intimidation. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt; that too is something that can be overcome in Uganda.


FUN FACT:

Adrift also offers jetboat rides that go up the Nile, which is an awesome thing to do if you like splashing water in the faces of everyone going down the Nile in a raft.

“I guess you have to be a professional asshole for that,” Jacob said.

“Professional douchebag.”





Next entry: A Gentleman’s Game

Previous entry: The King and I




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Comments for “Wild On The Nile”

  • Here’s one more before I head into the N.I.Z. for possibly the rest of the week. It’s Chimp time!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  03:55 AM


  • have fun with the primates!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  04:25 AM


  • looks like a lot of fun!  Can’t wait for the next entries…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  05:54 AM


  • +2 for you for the Uncharted reference! Very cool blog entry!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  06:44 PM


  • two snaps up with a twist!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/04  at  03:38 PM


  • Awesome post on the rafting trip down the Nile.  Looking forward to the posts on the treks.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  10:15 PM


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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Monkeying Around," which chronicled an eighteen-day journey through Uganda and Rwanda in eastern central Africa.

Next entry:
A Gentleman’s Game

Previous entry:
The King and I




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