Jinja Part One

It was time for another R&R for me and whitewater rafting at the source of the White Nile seemed like a very good idea.  I got a ride to Kigali with the Air Serv car and then flew from there to Entebbe.  I met up with my friend Julia from Goma the next day in Entebbe.  She just finished a six month contract with another NGO and figured a little rafting detour on the way back to England would be a good idea. 

In order to get to Jinja, we took a mini-bus taxi (public transportation, more or less) from Entebbe to Kampala, a motorcycle-taxi across Kampala a bigger bus from Kampala to Jinja and then the back of a truck that they use to transport the rafts to get to the campsite.  It took about five hours and cost the equivalent of about four dollars to travel the 150km or so from the Air Serv house in Entebbe to the Nile River Explorers Campsite in Jinja. 

The campsite is up on top of a bit of a cliff looking down on the river a couple hundred feet below.  The view was amazing.  We will raft the next day.

In the morning we pile back in the truck along with a bunch of other future rafters and head over to another place where we’ll get breakfast and meet our guides.  After breakfast, we get a bit of a briefing about what we were getting ourselves into and then were fitted with helmets and life jackets.  Once all geared up we all pile back into the truck and head to put in the river just below the dam.  In our boat there are five plus the guide.  Out of the six in the boat we came from five different countries: US, UK, two from Sweden, one from Australia and our guide who I think was actually from Zambia. 

The river was relatively calm for a while after putting the boat in.  That gave our guide a chance to teach us a few things.  He would tell us, “Paddle forward!” and we would.  “Back-paddle left!” and those of us on the left of the boat would paddle backwards causing the boat to spin.  “You will tell from the urgency of my voice how hard you must paddle.”  I suppose that made sense. 

“If… when the boat flips, take a deep breath because you will go under the water.  It will be like being inside a washing machine.  Do not panic as the life jacket will bring you to the surface and then you will see a safety kayaker over you.  He will look like Jesus in a kayak.  Don’t worry if you lose your paddle as they will pick them up.”

A few nervous chuckles ensued.  We practiced flipping the boat, swam through a small rapid and then turned the boat back over and got back in. 

Up ahead the river appeared to disappear and there was an ominous roar coming from where the river dropped away.  The oar boat went down the rapid first, then the safety kayakers, then another raft, and then it was our turn.  “Paddle forward!  Harder!! Back-paddle left!! OK!  GET DOWN!! HOLD ON!!!”

We jump down off of the sides of the boat and crouch facing the tube and hanging on to the rope along the side.  The first wave we hit grabbed the nose of the boat twisting it 90 degrees to the next wave which then seemed to pick up the boat, turn it over, and proceeded to shake it until all of its contents were in the river.  When my head pops back to the surface a few seconds later I look back to see our upside-down boat and my fellow rafters floating nearby.  By the time I was back to the boat, it was right-side-up again and a couple of people were already inside.  I thought to myself that this was going to be a long day and didn’t want to ask the guide what class of rapid that was.  Our boat was the only one of the boats that flipped on that rapid.  I think it was good that we flipped on the first rapid because then we didn’t have to wonder what it would be like to get tossed out and swim through a class 5 rapid anymore. 

This is what it looks like before a raft flips. 

We made it down all of the rest of the rapids unscathed that morning.  After one rapid we had 12 people in our raft from other rafts that had flipped over. 

In the middle of the day the river was relatively calm.  We had lunch on the river that they had packed in sealed boxes on the oar boat.  It was relaxing.  Swimming in the river and applying copious amounts of SPF50 to our Mzungu skin. 

After the break, it was time for more rapids.  As we headed towards one of them, our guide starts telling us that there is a “standing wave” on this rapid that sometimes flips boats.  “If anyone doesn’t want this, we might be able to avoid it.”  We answer almost in unison, “let’s do it!”

“If things don’t… go as planned, swim to the left towards the island.  Helmets, check!  Life-jackets, check!  Just remember, swim to the left.  Paddle forward!  Back-paddle right!  Paddle forward!!  Harder!!! Paddle!!!  OK, GET DOWN!!! HOLD ON!!!”

I didn’t see much of a wave ahead, but before I knew it, the boat was upside down and we were in the water.  I pop to the surface a little bit later and Julia appears not to far away with a kayak behind her.  She grabbed the front of the kayak and I got on the back.  We are deposited on the island while the kayaker went back for some more people.  When we all got back in the boat we discussed how we were all surprised how the rapid wasn’t bad, but somehow we flipped anyway.  Gus the Swede said, “yeah, that’s because that’s where the guides flip the boats for the camera.”  I looked back to see a sly grin on our guide’s face. 

The next rapid is class 6 – too big for a raft to do safely.  We take the raft out and carry it over the hill and put back in after the class 6 section.  The rest is class 5.  One section of that rapid was affectionately known as “the bad place”.  When we hit “the bad place”, George the Australian was vaulted over the boat into the water.  The rest of us managed to stay in the boat, even though we were all scrambled around in different places of the boat. 

After rafting we pile back in the truck with the boats behind and drive back to the campsite while listening to choruses of Ugandan children shouting, “Mzungu, Mzungu!!! Give!! Give!!!”  Back at the campsite there was a big BBQ prepared waiting for us.  We sat around the tables looking down at the river we just braved in a daze eating good food.  It was a good day. 


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3 Responses to “Jinja Part One”

  1. Heather Says:

    Wow. Glad you had a good time. I would like to do that some day.

  2. Kristina Says:

    So. Jealous.

  3. mormor Says:

    I am sitting on the edge of my chair reading your blog!!
    Why do people do things like that!!! Anyway, it was an exciting experience for you….. but keep the excitement down a bit, please!!!


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