Location: Nile River Explorers Camp, Jinga
Miles travelled: 55 Miles (in one day)
Today we mostly listened to: The Lost World
We stayed just one night in Kampala at Red Chillis which gave us a chance to do some shopping, change some money and stock up on supplies for the next bit of the trip. I wasn't hugely excited by Kampala - the traffic is dreadful. We did however go out for a slap-up meal at a restaurant called the Fez Bar in celebration of it being the middle of January - a highlight of the day.
The next day we left the campsite around lunchtime, allowing Will enough time to find another pair of swimming trunks in Kampala. Apparently he wasn't too keen on doing the white water rafting in speedos! The drive to Jinga was a short one along a pretty busy stretch of road. We stopped off at the Nile River Explorers office on the way to the campsite and booked ourselves in to do the '1-day, Grade 5' rafting experience. I had never planned on doing white water rafting on this trip, thinking that rafting companies in Africa might lack some of the safety concerns of companies in other parts of the world. I really couldn't have been more wrong though - I highly recommend the Nile River Explorers. They are a safe and friendly bunch of very experienced people.
We drove on to our campsite, which was on a beautiful spot next to some rapids on the Nile - very close to its source. It was very nice to see the Nile once again after following it for so long in North Africa earlier in our trip. A supper of meatballs and pasta (energy food in prep for the next days activities) followed, along with some Nile Beer, brewed in Jinga.
So we awoke the next morning with some trepidation and knots in our stomachs. Will has done rafting before in Nepal and Ric has done a little in America so they knew what to expect. I, on the otherhand, hadn't done any rafting and the closest I've ever come would probably include being in an 'eights' boat on the Thames and getting a little too close to a weir - not exactly the stuff of adrenalin junkies!
After our breakfast and briefing session we headed on a bus to the 'put in' spot. On the way we got chatting to a bunch of doctors - two of whom are cycling all the way from Cape Town to England. I was extremely happy about having medically trained westerners around and decided then and there to ditch Dickie and Will in favour of their boat, but my plan was scuppered when I realised it was 7 to a boat and there was already 7 in their party, so no room for the PR professional who had zero skills to offer.
In the end our boat consisted of Dickie, Will and I, along with Lisa (an Australian girl who has been working in Kenya) and a Canadian couple called Rod and Mel (retired and on an extended holiday to Uganda). Our instructor, John, was pretty much your standard tanned and toned, adrenalin junky instructor. He is also the number two Kayaker in England - which reassured me immensely!
We did a couple of drills before hitting the rapids. This basically consisted of learning arm signals, jumping off the boat and getting back in and tipping it over completely. Drills completed, we set off to hit our first little rapid. All went smoothly and we got through with everyone still in the boat. Our next one was our first Grade Five of the day and with John words of advice - 'whatever you do, dont fall out on this one' - ringing in our ears we plunged in and successfully navigated it. I use the term 'we' very loosely. Whenever we hit a rapid all sense of timing went out the window and we pretty much all ducked down in the boat leaving John to navigate us through safely.
I think our elation of getting through our first grade five unscathed and the subsequent lapse in concentration goes some way to explaining what happened next. Out of nowhere on a relatively gentle stretch of water all of a sudden Will fell out of the boat and began drifting away from us very quickly. It took us all a moment to register that he was missing, by which time he was about 20 meters away and heading for a rock. He managed to cling on to one of the safety rafts though and got back in to our boat to much laughter and joking. Sorry Will, I promised to make it sound more knarly didn't I!
The day went on with more rapids intermingled with calm flat bits. We flipped once on one of the smaller rapids - and I'm pretty sure our instructor made this happen just to add to the thrill - it was very exciting. As we got to the end of the day we came to the very last, and biggest rapids, known affectionately as 'the bad place' and 'the other place'. As this is a grade 6 we weren't allowed to do the top part of it so had to get out of the boats whilst the instructors navigated down. Once half way along we could get back in to the boat, but we still had a really big bit to get down. So with the strong possibility of flipping in the bad place, we set off. It was extremely exciting and envigourating every time a crashing wave came over the tiny raft. At one point, convinced we were going over I made a tactical snap decision to slip out of the boat before it flipped. Wrong decision. Turns out the raft didn't flip and I had volutarily removed myself from my one and only lifeline to the shore and in to some pretty tasty rapids. Luckily John spotted my stupidity and grabbed me pretty quickly. As I was pulled very ungracefully back in to the boat with my bum in the air, to my delight I again saw Will floating off in the distance - he too had fallen out of the boat.
We got Will back though and still in the middle of the rapids our instructor shouted at us to paddle as hard as possible out of the bad place and in to the other place, which still looked pretty bad to me. I think Will was determined to make a point at this stage and so he set a hard pace at the front paddling like mad whilst the rest of us were a little half arsed about it if I'm honest. Anyway we ended up sort of skirting around the other place and in to the bank at the bottom of the rapids.
So apart from some aching limbs, sunburnt noses and knees and a few scratches on my toes we escaped unharmed. Back to base for a BBQ and beers.