Rafting the Nile

As I write this post, I am sore and sunburned, but rafting on the Nile yesterday was definitely worth it.

Even though the White Nile isn’t included on National Geographic‘s “Top 10 Whitewater Rafting” list, I had heard that it has some of the best rapids in the world. So when a friend invited me to Jinja this Sunday to go rafting, I eagerly woke up at 6 a.m. to tag along.

I had rafted before on the Poudre River in Colorado, but the longest river in the world was much faster and more intense. During the requisite safety briefing, I listened casually as the guide told us everything that could go wrong…broken bones, dislocated limbs, drowning, etc. I wasn’t too worried, because if anything bad happened, the nearest hospital was only two hours away.

Once we were out on the river, we started learning the strokes and practiced flipping over.

Right before we practiced flipping over.

During my previous rafting experiences, we learned a move called “high side,” where everyone jumps on one side of the raft to prevent it from flipping over. Apparently the Nile is too intense for that…when the river decides to flip you, you just swim along and hope for the best.

The first rapid we ran into was a Class V wave that fell off into a three-meter waterfall. That doesn’t sound like a big drop, but it felt enormous when we were tumbling down it backwards. Fortunately, our boat landed upright and we sailed smoothly into the next rapid. The group after us wasn’t quite as lucky. Once they returned to their raft, we regrouped and paddled on.

We spent five hours on the river, traveled 25 km, and navigated eight rapids. So for most of the day, we cruised briskly downriver from Jinja, where water from Lake Victoria begins its 6,650 km-long journey to Egypt. It was one of my first days in Uganda when it hasn’t rained and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. And because the water temperature was perfect, we swam alongside the raft for about an hour on our way downstream.

For the first half of the trip, I held on tightly and never fell off the raft. But when our boat flipped over on two of the Class V rapids toward the end, I didn’t have much of a choice. When the first wave hit us, we were all ejected close to the raft and our guide jumped on top to flip the raft back over. We then helped each other back into the raft.

On the final rapid, the largest of the day, our boat catapulted us early on and we had to swim through the rest of it on our own. Fortunately, there weren’t too many rocks around, so I just grabbed my paddle tightly, put my feet up, and enjoyed the wave.

Twenty minutes later, we disembarked safely on shore, where a hot meal and dry clothes awaited us. I could hardly walk, but I survived the river and made new friends. Our raft held two people from Poland, one from Germany, one from Austria, one from Scotland, one from Canada, and two from the U.S. It was a fun adventure and one I will gladly repeat if anyone wants to visit me in Uganda. I’ll bring more sunscreen next time.



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