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Published: January 1st 2018
Just checking out the raft before heading out.
I've always wanted to go white water rafting, but have never done it. Since rafting down the Nile is a top attraction in Uganda, I decided to finally do it. What makes it so convenient is that the rafting companies will pick you up in Kampala at no extra charge, take you to Jinja -- two hours away, then return you to your lodge at the end of the day. You can raft 365 days a year, and even do it while it is raining. Our guide said they'll cut trips short during electrical storms, but that's the only time a condition will affect a trip.
One of the things you read about over and over again on the rafting companies in Jinja is their dedication to safety. Safety is as much a priority to them as having fun. Since I've never rafted before, I can only go by the reviews and what people told me, and one thing consistently said to me by experienced rafters is how impressed they were by the attention to safety these companies in Uganda give, unlike what they've experienced elsewhere.
The way it works in approaching a rapid in
Jinja is as follows: The photographer, who will be documenting the journey, is the first to go down the rapid to look for a place to position himself to take pictures. (Obviously the photos attached were not taken by me.) Kayakers then make their way to different points of the rapid to position themselves for any emergencies. The rafters then decide which path they want to take. For example, let's say the rapid is a Grade 5 -- the hardest one. If there are four rafters, and one doesn't want to do the 5, that person is placed in the safety raft to go down a lesser grade. If all four rafters want to do the Grade 4 path instead, then that is the path they take. The safety raft then makes its way to the bottom of the rapid, and is prepared to handle medical emergencies, if needed. Once the path is decided on, it's time to make your way.
For first timers, their reviews will talk about having a lump in your throat while approaching and getting through the first rapid. Just our luck, the first rapid on this course is a Grade 5, and
Last minute details
actually consists of several rapids combined in what appeared to be a long stretch. The guide told us we would do two drops on this first rapid, the second one much steeper than the first. The guide told us that given the wind factor and the high water levels at this time of year, we shouldn't feel the second drop too much, as the waves were high enough to push the raft back up and carry us down the rapids. I wasn't nervous about this, I just wanted to get through it. I think one of the things that also saved me from fear as we approached it is that I can't see very well without my glasses. With glasses, I sometimes can't see the individual steps while going down a staircase, it looks flat to me. Here, the river looked flat to me, just a lot of water splashing. No turning back, as the safety raft had already crossed over. There was only one way down, and all four of us rafters had agreed on the Grade 5 path.
We got through the first drop pretty easily, it wasn't much of a drop. The feeling of
riding the waves, and being splashed at from all directions, was amazing. Then we got to the second drop. The initial drop wasn't bad, and the water did carry us through, but something happened, and I'm still not sure what. Everything happened so quickly. All I remember is that I got my ass kicked big time by the waves, and found myself thrown out of the raft. Not just thrown out of the raft, but I went flying out of it. Amazingly, when all this happened, I was able to grab onto the raft's safety rope with my second hand, all the while holding on to my paddle. I rode down the rest of the rapid while I was underwater, but holding onto the raft. I'm surprised that I didn't let go of the raft and let the water carry me through it.
One other thing the reviewers comment on is that this is one activity where you will definitely stay hydrated. I took in so much water from the river via my mouth and nose from this fall, I felt like I had drank half the river. When the guide pulled me back into the raft,
Kayaker getting to his position for our safety
I told him I hoped none of it was caught on film. He assured me, with a laugh, that it definitely was, see accompanying pictures. With one rapid down, there were seven more to cross.
A lot of people actually enjoy being tossed out of the raft and into the rapids for some reason I don't get it. One of the guys in our raft had mentioned he wanted to go down all 5s and experience this. Unfortunately for him, at least half our rapids were no more than a 4. As one of the pictures show, when he was tossed for the first time, he wasn't too excited about it, and was holding onto the raft with dear life. I don't mind being thrown from a raft if I stand an equal chance of making it through the rapid. But to be thrown out for the sake of it was not of interest to me. So, when we later approached another 5 that the guide said it was almost guaranteed that the raft would flip, I opted to go down the 4 in the safety raft. But he went through the 5 anyway, and thoroughly enjoyed
Working his way to his position to wait for us, the other three kayakers were behind him
himself. It stood a better chance of not being turned over because of the oars used and the raft had weights in it, making it more stable. When we hit one big swell, I was ready for the raft to flip over, as the raft was at quite an angle. And just as quickly as the waves pushed us up, competing waves righted the raft back into position. As for the other raft, it didn't overturn after all. (Nature = unpredictable) However, one guy did get thrown overboard and, like me, was pulled along by the raft while being underwater. He eventually let go and let the water carry him to where it was calm for a kayaker to collect him.
The entire journey takes five to six hours, with the time spent in the rapids totaling probably no more than a total of 20 minutes. As you can see by the math, most of the trek is spent paddling through still water. The rapids are spread out about evenly, so they didn't all come at once, then you spend the next 5.5 hours paddling to get to the van. Toward the end of the trip, they
Waiting for us
stop and let you swim for a bit in the river, though it is almost impossible to move with the safety vests on. And for those who don't know how to swim, you don't need to know to do a rafting trip. All you need to do is follow the instructions on what to do if you are thrown into the water, and not to be afraid of it.
The guide books and agencies say there are no crocodiles in that part of the river, and the water doesn't have Schistosomiasis (bilharzia) -- a parasite that wrecks havoc to your system. Well, the following day, a crocodile was spotted resting along the water. The good thing is that both crocodiles and the parasites that cause bilharzia don't like rushing water, so when you get thrown from the raft, the likelihood of encountering either is rare. It's when you get to the still water that the crocodiles wait for you. Bilharzia isn't present in either part.
If I had been in Kampala for one more day, I would have returned to the river for another rafting trip. I was determined to get through that rapid
And we are off. The yellow helmets are us tourists, the white helmet is the guide
that did me in, to conquer it. Needless to say, I can't wait to go rafting again, and highly recommend this activity to everyone.
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