Paddling, as if your life depends on it

Uganda, located between Tanzania and Rwanda in the south, Congo in the East, South Sudan in the North and Kenia in the West is called the pearl of Africa due to its natural wonders and beauty. Uganda packs a lot in a small country with the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains, the biggest lake of Africa – lake Victoria and unique wildlife such as the chimpanzees and the gorilla’s.

For us Uganda would be a different side of the Africa we had seen until so far. Most likely, what we heard, due to its green hills and mountains and its many lakes.

Wild Water Rafting

On the 17th of September we would be reunited with our (travel) friends Christianne and Sander, which we met on our travel through New Zealand in 2015. They were coming to Uganda to travel with us and experience our overlanding life. 

Uganda isn’t big and with most road tarred it is easy to travel quickly to most parts of Uganda. Keep in mind though that you will find enough police stops along the way, so keep to your speed.

From the Kenyan border we drove to Jinja, Uganda’s city of adventure where you will find many companies offering rafting, kayaking and other water sports on the source of the Nile. And we were ready for some adventure.

“Many people think that Africa is only good for wildlife, but there is more to it than that as we would be about to find out.”

On the morning of the 19th we left our campsite and walked to the river. People were busy putting on their equipment, while teachers where giving instructions to them and teach the basics of what would be awaiting us in a couple of minutes.

Closer to the river the serene water made way for aggressive waves tumbling over each other, waiting to take on every raft that would be passing this rapid. Yes, you can figure out by now that we are about to jump into a raft and float downstream, taking on every rapid that would come our way.

The exercises we started with in the water gave us a good feeling of how tough it would be. From rolling over, to what we had to do when we would fall in the rapid, nothing was left behind as it would be a 50% chance of us getting under water.

The first rapid started slowly with a 3-4 grade and with excitement while some with fear we went straight into the waves passing the toughest part of the rapid. Waves where pouring over us while we tried to maintain our course. Shouts of our teacher made us clear that we would have to hold on until we past the big wave.

A few seconds later we cleared the first rapid and everybody was cheering, fuelled by the adrenaline. The adrenaline was just for a short time as a new rapid was fast approaching. Again, our teacher shouted what we had to do, and we obediently followed because we didn’t feel like getting wet feet in these rapids. We passed our second test with flying colours and after that we slowly peddled to our lunch break.

Four guys joined our raft after lunch and they were up for some tougher rapids. Although one of the guys made the hearts of our female teammates run faster, Christianne had enough excitement for now, so she and Sander moved to another boat. Inge and me on the other hand were ready to take on the grade 5 rapids.

After ten minutes of peddling the rapid was slowly showing itself. It was a huge and there was no end to it as far as we could see, but fear wasn’t on our mind. We were ready with 4 power houses in the back and Inge and I in the front. The first few waves went smoothly and the thought of passing it without any issues was on our minds, until we saw the next few rapids. Waves over waves were pushing its way to the centre of the turmoil and the strong current was pulling us in. We were told to paddle as hard as we could although this didn’t have any effect. The current was too strong, and our teacher probably wanted us to tumble as we didn’t go straight in. The waves hit the flank and water was rapidly getting into the boat. A second later I was the first to enter the washing machine, while Inge was solo flying like Wonder Woman, hoping to not hit a rock.

The current was dragging us down and the only thing what was on our mind was trying to keep above the water. All the things we learned from our training was down the drain as we were trying to swim up while the trick was to make yourself small and go with the flow. Although I kept one thing from the training, which was “don’t loose your peddle”.

Waves and waves where coming over us and water was filling our lungs while we tried to breathe. Seconds passed, although it felled like minutes. Slowly the current weakened and finally we managed to pull out. I was swimming towards a big boat, while in the distance I saw Inge grapping on a small kayak. We all were out of the current and although shaken we jumped back in the raft to take on the last hurdle.

The Nile is a great spot for white water rafting with many grade 4 and 5 rapids. In Jinja you will find many rafting companies, but they all have around the same price and transport and a cold beer afterwards is included. Rafting starts close to the Heaven, a nice campsite and lodge on the river bank with views over the first rapid. When leaving from Jinja keep in mind that it is still 20 minutes’ drive Uganda.

Love, Chris & Inge

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