Near the Equator
There is something magical about the Nile, the longest river in the world and the source of life for many great civilizations throughout the ages. For centuries the Nile's source remained unknown. Today we might ask, "How hard can it be? Why not just go up the river?" But the quest became fascination, fascination became mystery and mystery became legend.
Hundreds of explorers and adventurers died seeking to solve the big mystery. Ancient Egyptian pharaos sent armies in search of the source of the great river and the Greek philosopher Ptolemy held that the source was the "Mountains of the Moon"...
The source of the Blue Nile, in Lake Tana, Ethiopia, was not found until 1770 and the source of the Nile was not found until 1861 at Lake Victoria in Uganda.
So, being in Africa and being so (relatively) close to the source, I had no choice but to go all the way to Uganda for having a glimpse and probably just to be able to say: Heey, you know what, I have been to the Source of the Nile! - I know, now and then I am a silly silly boy! - Kampala -
It was Winston Churchill, at the beginning of the century, who said "...for magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life - plant, bird, insect, reptile, beast - for the vast scale... Uganda is truly "The Pearl of Africa".
So, I am pretty sure that I would had called this entry: Uganda - The Pearl of Africa... if I had seen more of this country. But frankly speaking, I can't say what is true about Churchills words as I've spent just a few days in Uganda and the reason for coming to Uganda was to raft at the "Source of the Nile" in Jinja. But from the few that I have seen, I got the impression that Uganda is a nice country indeed and from what I've heard from other travellers like Kumiko, who had travelled several other African countries as well, Uganda is a special destination with friendly people and a beautiful nature.
As soon Grace and I arrived in the capital Kampala we checked into our hostel and booked a trip to Jinja, the place at Lake Victoria where they offer wildwater rafting at the "Source of the Nile", as I had
The Source of the Nile
Grace sitting at the Nile
to head back all the way to Mombasa in a few days for my flight back to Germany!
All the rafting companies in Jinja claim that the Nile is truly the best rafting, kayaking and river boarding location in the world and Jinja the starting point of an unique white water adventure on the River Nile. They say that nowhere else is it possible to have all year round grade 5 action and that the river was naturally designed for commercial rafting, with warm water and huge rapids the big volume river has no rocks within the rafted section. Sounds good - so far, like a big deal of adventure and action...
In the morning I felt that my stomach infection from Nairobi was on the way to return, but nevertheless we departed to Jinja at 7:00AM. When we arrived there I didn't feel well, I had light stomach cramps and it was raining and a bit chilly. The view from the rafting company camp was nice and when I saw the Nile from the terrace I fell into a thoughtful mood as there is a definite mystique attached to the Nile, something quite exciting knowing that the
water flowing past your feet will leave Lake Victoria on its long, long journey to the sea, and that from here the Nile continue its progress through the deserts of Sudan, past the Valley of the Kings and through Cairo to Alexandria at the Mediterranean Sea - so life was ok for a while..
We descended to the river and boarded a raft. After a brief introduction on what to do when we flip and how to react on certain commands of our guide, we headed out for the rapids. I was curious and even a bit excited to finally get into the rapids for some action. The guide placed me right at the very front of the raft, so that I knew that I would get hit the most by the water and that I gonna have to deal with the strongest waves crushing on me, so when we approached the rapid I hold on to the rope of the raft with one of my hands as the guide told us to. When our guide shouted "Get down!" I did so and got down on my knees to avoid to get flushed away and off the raft by
Grace trying to get back into the raft
the waves. Our raft went through the rapid and after a few seconds the show was over. I was like: "What? That's it?" and when I looked around to see if everyone was ok and still on the raft, there was just Grace missing... she was the only one who fell out and we had to get her back into the raft, but I was glad to see that she was fine and looked happy and excited.
After the first rapid most people on the raft had redish eyes and were coughing as they got too much water through either their mouths or their noses. I was glad that I was a bit used to the element "water" from my diving, so that I kind of naturally knew what to do to avoid unwanted water getting into my mouth or nose.
The following 2-3 rapids were stronger and we flipped once. When your raft flip, you'll lose your orientation for a second and find yourself somewhere underneath the watersurface... you look around and everything is dark, you hear the strong current of the river so that you know that you're in motion and that the extremly strong current
at the source of the nile
is pulling and pushing your body through the water into a certain depth, you have no idea how deep the current gonna pull you down into the water as the world around you is dark, so for some people this can be a highly claustrophobic feeling, especially as you feel like having no control of what is going to happen - whatever you do, like trying to get to the surface, the water will be stronger than you. So the only thing that you can do is to stay calm and wait... otherwise, if you panic, the 5,6 or 7 seconds underwater can feel like an eternity, some people who had done rafting before told me that they felt like that they seriously gonna drown and some of them added that they will never ever gonna do any rafting again.
So when I was underwater, I looked around and found myself in the dark depths of the Nile, I could hear that the current had pulled me further away and that I was not in the rapid anymore as the water around was much quiter than right in the rapid - almost silent. I made myself small, pulled my
Ohh my goodness
Indians (!!!) on the nile
legs to my body and put my arms over them so that I probably looked a bit like a human canonball. Then I was wondering how long it gonna take until I would finally surface as the water stayed dark around me for a while. I am not exactly sure how many seconds more it took until I noticed that the water became lighter and when I saw the first rays of the sun finding their way into the water I knew that the surface wasn't far anymore.
I didn't hold on the rope of the raft as our guide told us to when we flipped, so that we would stay close to the raft. I thought it's not necessary and I didn't want to stay close to a big thing like a raft and close to other people when the raft flip as they could hit me with their legs, elbows, ores or whatever and break my nose or arms underwater accidentally. In fact minor injuries happen often. So when I surfaced, I was like 100m away from the raft and the rest.
During the whole time, I periodically had stomach cramps and felt terrible. The rain
kept falling and my body was wet and I felt cold on the raft. In additon I was bored, the rafting wasn't very exciting at all... as it was like 5seconds rapid and then 30min nothing and actually the only thing you do when getting into a rapid is to get down and wait whether or not you'll flip - what for a great action (?!) adventure. Or maybe I just had too much time to think and to be cynical. Anyway, my stomach cramps became so bad that I decided to quit after the lunchbreak and to head back to Kampala even though I paid for the whole day trip. I said goodbye to Grace who paid for the whole day and therefore wanted to stay and finish the rafting, in additon she wasn't sure wheter or not she would return to Kampala or stay in Jinja a few more days, so that I might wouldn't see her again before heading back to Kenya the next day.
I felt extremly weak and could hardly walk alone. Fortunately there was an American girl who helped me in and off the raft and lend me her shoulder to hold on
Ugandan boy at the nile
- and I didn't even know her name, but I was thankful that she was there for me in this moment. It was a long way from the shore to the bus through muddy and slippy jungle trails. I got a kind of lost as I couldn't keep pace with the other ones and passed some small remoted villages and even though I felt really bad I snapped some pics of the kids with my camera (as I bought an underwater case and therefore could use my pocketcam while rafting and afterwards in the rain) who were really happy about that. I must have looked like an alien to them, an Asian guy in a bright yellow lifejacket, redishpink helmet and an oar in my hand, awkwardly trying to walk on the muddy path without slipping and falling flat.
As soon I found the bus, I laid myself down on the backrow and fell into a deep delirium. I felt freezing cold and the cramps made me feel like my stomach gonna rip open soon... so I tried to sleep. The 2 hours busride back to Jinja and then to Kampala was a nightmare, the road condition wasn't that
Ugandan boys at the nile
bad for African standards and paved, but I could feel every single little hole in the asphalt. The pain became so bad that I felt like to scream but didn't, maybe because I never scream. I had weird dreams while being half awake. In moments like this you feel lonely and left alone by the entire world. I've always feared a moment liks this, you know when you're a solo traveller, travelling alone and got sick and there is noone by your side who cares, like a friend or a good travel companion - fortunately it never happened to me before and it was the first time that I became that seriously sick and helpless on one of my journeys. I have seen other people in situations like this before, some of them were big and strong guys full of energy, in daily life and under normal condition like huge rocks in the sea, but then even these rocks can break and fall apart from time to time like when they become sick... and to see them helpless and vulnerable like this, hurts and reminds you that we are all just human beings and vulnerable indeed - like everything in
life is a kind vulnerable.
When I finally reached the hostel and checked in with my backpacks on my shoulders, I was still in delirium and a kind of sleepwandering. I just walked in and asked for a bed. Laid myself down and slept... and dreamt the weirdest dreams... for a few hours which felt like an eternity.
When I woke up, I fortunately felt better. A bit later Grace came back from Jinja after the rafting and we ate dinner together. I had to leave on the following day for a 2day journey back to Mombasa for my flight, but I wasn't sure if I could make it.
Fortunately, I felt much better in the next morning. I woke up early and got into town to buy a ticket for the bus to Nairobi and had a walk around Kampala before returning to the hostel for packing my stuff and to wake up Grace for having a last lunch together at a nice steakhouse in downtown Kampala before we finally bid farewell to each other.
On the bus to Nairobi I thought about the whole rafting experience. I came to the conclusion that it was
a disappointment and a total waste of money - maybe the biggest waste on all my journeys so far - not the sum of money itself but what I got for what I paid (Allow me some cynical thoughts: 95USD for the daytrip, considering you are in Africa and some families don't earn this amount of money in a month). If I had the choice again, I would personally skip the rafting and keep 95USD in my pocket... anyways, at least I can say I did wildwater rafting at "the Source of the Nile!" - Kampala - Nairobi - Mombasa or the Highway of Death -
So I was on my way back to Mombasa. My stomach was ok, just some minor cramps which didn't bother me too much, but I could feel that my body was extremely weak and asking for more rest, but I was allright.
The road between Mombasa (via Nairobi) and Kampala had been given different names in different languages. In German some people call it "Todes-Autobahn" (Highway of death) or "Aids-Highway" and in English I've heard the name "Road to Hell"! This road, the oldest "modern road or highway" in Africa, is
sometimes refered as "Trans-African Highway" as well, but this name is actually used for several highways in Africa.
When we stopped at some towns near the border for a break I could see why. Prostitution and unprotected sex. Truckdrivers have to wait days at the border until they can move on, due to the slow custom and due to corruption. Truck drivers earn relatively good money in East Africa, so that you can see many prostitutes in the border cities and at every popular stop along the highway. Like bars in some cities are packed with prostitues. Many of the men reject protected sex and want it without a condom and if they catch the HIV virus they will carry it on to the next town to another woman and then to their wifes back home. A neverending circle, which reminded me that Africa has so many problems. - The invisible Children -
Problems like for example "the invisible children" of northern Uganda. Just a few hundred miles north of Kampala, where because of the length of the civil war in Uganda, the rebel army, known as the Lord's Resistance Army, has taken to using children as
on the way back to Kenya
soldiers. There are no volunteer youths, however; the children are kidnapped and trained as rebels or killed to instill fear in the others. Northern Ugandan children are forced to go into cities and sleep in hospitals and at bus stops to prevent from being abducted.
The United Nations says up to 40,000 children are leaving their homes in northern Uganda at night to avoid being abducted and forced into fighting. About 20,000 children have been abducted and forced to fight by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, so children leave their village homes and sleep in the streets in larger towns to avoid being kidnapped.
I have read stories about all that which are so cruel that you start to doubt if there is any humanity in this world left. So while people like me pay 95USD for rafting on the Nile in Uganda, (sorry, I am cynical again) somewhere in the north of the country Ugandan children probably raise the question: "Has the world forgotten about us?"
This year the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army rebels, which have been mired in civil war for more than 21 years, agreed to resume peace talks... but it's
still "a forgotten war"... Hopefully the attempts to end a decades long civil war will be succesful!!!
Remember that in my last entry I asked you to say the word "Africa" and what kind of images would come up in your mind? If I say "Africa" pictures of dying people, skinny children, droughts, HIV, war, crime, genocide... will come to my mind... and I think that everyone who travels in Africa should think of that from time to time as well... and not only leave with the images of "Safaris and wild animals and endless savannahs"... both kind of images belong to Africa. ;-) - Mombasa - The end of a journey -
To cut it short: I got to Nairobi early in the morning, had breakfast and jumped on the next bus to Mombasa. It was a nice ride as we passed through some national parks and now and then we had encounters with zebras and other animals which were right along the road. I finally arrived at Mombasa in the early evening and left Africa on the next day.
The last night of a journey is always a time of reflection, you know, you
in Kenya along the road to Nairobi
look back the timeline and try to reflect what you have seen, learned or what you have missed or failed to do. What people you have met along your way. Good and bad encounters.
I went on this short 2week East Africa trip as I wanted to have a first glimpse on Africa. As I had closed the chapter "South East Asia" on my last trip in Jan/Feb I wanted to open a new chapter to a new part of this world as you always should have new goals in life or for a traveller - new destinations on your list. Therefore, it was nice.
But am I sadisfied? Frankly speaking, no... as I felt that I didn't see enough of Africa on this trip as it was too short and I travelled to slowly. But then, it was my own choice and therefore, absolutely ok. Maybe it's good that I am far away from being sadisfied with what I have seen in this part of the world so far, so that I still have to return one day and to continue this open chapter... and this was actually what I wanted... to open a chapter... not more
and not less.
And as I started my East Africa blog, I will end it with the same words: Travelling is like blood... and we travellers are like blutlusting vampires, always thirsting for more and more... fresh, sweet, seductive, inspiring new BLOOD... any yes, I still want more!
The End of "East Africa 2007"
---------------------------------------------- Next trip - The Middle East: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan & Turkey
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