Rafting With Ugandans

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
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Flag of Uganda  ,
Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Nile River. The ancient Egyptians believed the Nile was a road, a causeway leading from life to death, and ultimately the afterlife. No where on the Nile is this truer than in Jinja, Uganda where after parting with a few dollars you can risk premature departure to the afterlife on some of the wildest white water on the planet.

While very much wanting to raft the Nile, I am also notoriously cheap and trying to make this trip (and budget) last another year or two, so when the opportunity for a free day of rafting arose I was quick to take it. It was Ugandan Appreciation day, where Adrift, one of the rafting companies in Jinja, invited Ugandans who worked in the tourism industry for a free day on the river. Granted, I did not work in the tourism industry, but perhaps I had been living in Uganda long enough to become a weird, sad sort of attraction in its own right. Regardless, I was invited to come along.

Let me say this, at the risk of sounding a bit politically incorrect: in general, and always there are exceptions, most Africans do not white water raft. Nor, as a rule, do many enjoy swimming as a leisure activity. In fact, a great many of the Africans I have met profess a fear of water and no ability to swim. And they were all in my raft.

I do not profess to be a rafting expert. I have been twice before. However, in comparison to the average Ugandan, I am amazing. In fairness, there were at least two others in the boat, besides the guide, who knew how to swim. But to balance them out, there were the puker behind me, and the crier across from me, both men.

When we first launched (and before any of the rapids), our guide asked, "Ok everyone, what kind of day do you want? We can go mild, easy, with little chance of flipping. We can try a little bit more exciting, some bigger rapids, a small chance of flipping, but should be ok. Or we can go extreme, big water, big rapids, probably going to flip"

Everyone shouted "EXTREME!!"

Then we went through our first rapid.

It was a small rapid, as far as standards go on the river.

It changed everything.

When we got through, our guide looked at our raft and asked again, "What kind of day do you want?"

The answer? A muted, frightened, "Easy. Please."

After the first rapid, the river flowed into a large, calm area. It was here the guide decided we should try a test flip, just in case of a situation that might happen during a real rapid. He calmly and professionally explained what was going to happen, what he would do, what the raft would do, and what was expected of us. Everyone moved to one side of the raft, and still cooing words of assurance, our guide slowly flipped the raft over.

In Joseph Conrad's famous book on the Congo, the character of Kurtz, at the end of his life, utters some of the most famous last words in literary history. While completely out of context for this story, I will quote them anyway. "The horror. The horror..."

The chaos that ensued was monumental. In the water I heard screams and cries for help. My friend Maria was panicking and kept swimming back UNDER the raft every time I would pull her out from underneath. Suddenly I heard "DJ! DJ! HELP! WHERE ARE YOU?" Swimming around to the other side of the raft, my friend Phiona was panicking and thrashing about.

I put my arms around her and told her, "It's ok. Breathe. I'm here. Hold onto the raft. Breathe."

Our guide looked at our raft and said nothing, but his face spoke volumes. It was going to be a very quiet day on the river.

Despite it all, even the mildest routes on the river are a challenge. In the end, after all the crying and puking (and thankfully, none by me), it was an excellent day.

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