I’ve never considered myself an adrenaline junkie, far from it in fact. Upon signing my name on the list for a grade five white water rafting adventure, my stomach turned instantly to butterflies. We were in Jinja, the adrenaline capital of Uganda. It had been an incredible drive across the Kenyan border into this lush green land, a welcomed change. Our campsite overlooked the fast flowing water of the White Nile. What have I gotten myself into this time? – The primary thought running through my head as I prepared to feel the wrath of the rivers energy.
They piled eighteen of us into a bus with the rafts in tow, we had an hours drive to get to the beginning of the 26km downstream ride. Nobody else was nervous – it was only me, of course. Our head Guide, Jumia, gave us a safety rundown. He informed us of the crocodiles and monitor lizards we might encounter along the banks. Oh dear. I managed to group myself together with four others who were not intentionally planning to flip the raft, I felt like this was a safe bet for me.
After the initial safety briefing we jumped into our rafts for some practice drills and became familiar with the commands. I could see the white water downstream inching towards us, tormenting my already uneasy stomach. Jumia announced the name of the rapid – The Nile Special – a grade five, eight foot waterfall. I almost chocked. By the time I could say anything my scream had overrun everybody’s eardrums, we were in the white wash above the waterfall. Get down, Jumia yelled, our command to hold onto the rope for dear life and get low inside the raft. The next thing I remember after tipping over the edge was finding myself tumbling around in the whitewash underneath the fall. I had let go of the rope, and fell out of the raft. Disorientated and unsure which way the surface of the water was I just told myself to hold my breath. After what felt like ten seconds later, I resurfaced and gasped for air. I felt a tug on the back of my life jacket. Jumia was pulling back toward the raft with his paddle. Once inside the raft, my mind was in some sort of confusion as to whether I should be in complete shock, or scream with excitement from the adrenalin. Fortunately the other four in the raft were there to help me calm down and regain a normal breathing a pattern. I looked around at the other boats coming down the rapid and watched in awe – I can’t believe I just did that. One guy in our boat had a bleeding nose – no doubt from my airborne paddle or legs as I went flying out of the raft.
Continuing downstream, the next three rapids were grades three and four – enough to reach the brink of my adrenaline bracket. It was fun, I came to a quick realization however, that I did not want to enter another grade five, the likelihood of the raft flipping was high, there was no way I was getting back in that water, my adrenaline had already peaked for the day. Jumia had a proposal for me – I could jump into the safety raft – a grade three boat that goes down the same rapids ahead of everybody in order to pick up the any casualties. Being a grade three boat means that the raft is much sturdier and is unlikely to flip. Perfect. I jumped at the opportunity.
We puled up alongside Moses who who was in charge of paddling the safety raft, I clambered in and we set off. I found my perfect balance; somewhere between flipping out of the raft on grade five rapids and having a leisurely cruise on lake victoria. I sat in the very front of the raft like a little child, but this was perfect for me. And better yet, I was able to watch the other four rafts tumble around in the ‘washing machine’ white water and pull the stragglers aboard as they floated by. After the final rapid we hobbled out of the rafts onto the shore, cold beers and a barbeque were awaiting us. I’ve got to say that I had an incredible time overall, the energy and buzz from the group had us partying all night. The white waters of the White Nile have left a mark on all of us, what an adventure!
Following our four days of camping and recovering from hangovers, it was time to say goodbye to Jinja. We cruised further south in the giant yellow truck toward Queen Elisabeth National Park. The drive was serene; hundreds of kilometers of tea plantations covered the hillside. As our clunky vehicle wound its way through the village streets, kids would run up to give us a wave. What a friendly country. Queen Elisabeth National Park lies around the shores of Lake George and Lake Edward. It is home to abundance of wildlife and in particular – the Hippopotamus. We embarked on a cruise along the canal where the two lakes meet. Hundreds of Hippo’s lined the shallow waters alongside the shore; their grunting noises overtook the sound of the boat motor.
The many villagers who are living within the park boundaries source their income by fishing for Tilapia in the lake. We passed the small wooden boats making their way through the canal and into the depths of the water, where they will spend the night before returning in the morning with their full nets. This lifestyle doesn’t go without risks; many fishermen have lost their lives from Hippo’s snapping their canoes in half with the strength of their jaws, or the crocodiles that sunbake just of the waters edge. The village has even seen tragedies such as a single lioness, which killed thirteen people some years back, or the hyena, which took a six-year-old boy straight from his home. A hard life for these locals at times.
Our camp was just outside the parks boundaries, our evenings advice from our tour leader was to ‘leave enough space between your tents for the Hippo’s to walk through, they are likely to come by during the night’. OK. Note taken, we were warned that if we need to leave the tent during the night and come across one of the beasts, get straight back inside! The following morning, after a full head count, we packed up the truck and sped off towards Kisoro for some more adventures in the National Parks. Uganda has been a delight so far!