I’m in Kampala, Uganda right now. I had planned on just coming for the weekend to meet Nancy and Naomi, two other Fellows and go rafting, but when I mentioned my weekend plans to my boss, she suggested I stay a few more days and work out of the PSI office here to get a feel for what a local office is like, as well as help the team complete some of their outstanding deliverables.
The weekend was great. Kampala is a much more social city than Nairobi because it is much safer. We were able to walk to a pub Friday night met a lot of other ex-pats. Saturday we got up very early to catch the rafting company’s van to Jinja, where we were going white water rafting. Nancy had organized some friends to join us, and it was a really fun group. It took about 1.5 hours to get to the base camp where we had breakfast and got fitted with our safety gear. Then, it was a short ride to the part of the Nile where we were putting in. We had the perfect number of people for our raft, so it was just us and our guide, Erik. Erik is a native Jinjan who looks like he is about twelve, but insisted he was 22. He gave us the basics on rafting as we had a mixed group in terms of experience. He then explained that there are 12 rapids through which we will be passing during the day, including a few Class 2 and 3, mostly some 4 and 5s and even a Class 6. The most difficult rapids are 6’s. The names of the rapids were very descriptive - Dead Dutchman, 50/50 (50% chance of getting out alive) and Widow Maker, to name a few.
The first part of the ride was fairly easy with some Class 2 and 3 water - nothing too hard. We got our rhythm and were working well as a team. However, we lost that confidence when we hit Silverback, a Class 5 rapid that defeated us and we went over. I’m a strong swimmer and confident in the water, but this knocked me for a loop. I got sucked down and turned around so many times, it was hard to figure out which way is up. I finally surfaced, I saw Nancy next to me and a safety boat and a rope in front of me. The kayakers and safety boats that accompanied us were great - they were at everyone’s side within seconds to haul them out of the water, and then embarrass them mercilessly for not managing to stay in the boat. What we later learned is that the guides are quite expert at what they do and often purposely find the spots in the rapids that will make the boat tip over, in order to give the patrons a more memorable experience.
Needless to say, it was a memorable experience and once we plucked all our passengers from the other boats that had picked them up, we were back on our way down river. We had some calm areas for a while and stopped about mid-way through the day for a floating lunch of pineapple and biscuits delivered to each boat. It was a chance to relax, go for a swim and gear up for the last part of the trip where we were to battle a Class 6 appropriately named The Bad Place. After going over a 5-meter waterfall and through a few other rapids, we were nearing the end of our trip. To get to the last rapid, we had to portage a bit, as the water between where we were and where we wanted to be was too difficult to navigate. As we climbed to the top of a cliff, we saw where the boats were to put in again and Mitra, one of Nancy’s friends and I decided that we had had enough. This was the end of the trip, the trucks with our dry clothes were right there, and we saw no reason to take such a risk at the end of the day. As neither of us plan to be professional rafters, it was no dishonor to skip this one.
We stood at the top of the cliff and watched as the rafts navigated the roiling water and, as one-by-one they tipped over, we congratulated ourselves on being so smart to be standing on the sidelines. The rest of our party made a go at the final rapid, but the guide purposely grounded them before they went into the most difficult part. We think that he decided that it was too much for only 2 semi-experienced passengers and 3 novices, so they hauled in. Still, it was a terrific experience.
After a barbeque, we stayed at the rafting campsite Saturday night, just hanging out and talking to the other trekkers. We were exhausted, but managed to stay awake until we got to watch the videotape of our day. I’m sure that every boatful of rafters thinks that their guide was the best and they had a better time than the other boats, but were quite sure it was true in our case, and I bought the video to prove it! I'll eventually put it up on the website, but here are a few pictures. We weren't able to take cameras along the river as they would be lost/ruined, but here are some from the porch of the campsite.
Nile River in Jinja, Uganda at Dawn