Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Rafting the Nile
Over the weekend I went white water rafting on the Nile. Several companies based in Jinja Uganda run raft and kayak trips starting from the Owen Falls Dam, which is where the Nile exits from Lake Victoria. The dam destroyed Ripon Falls, which is the site that John Hanning Speke deemed the source of the nile in the 19th century.
Digression: Speke originally "discovered" that Ripon Falls was the source of the Nile in 1862, after a 2.5 year schlep on foot from Zanzibar to Sudan. [I put discovered in parenthesis, because some local people get annoyed with this language; they say their ancestors knew that Lake Victoria/Ripon Falls was the source of the Nile long before Speke was a ovum in his mother's ovary.] Speke’s journey is described in detail in Alan Moorehead’s epic The White Nile. Thanks to my parents, I have all 1000 pages of Moorehead’s The White Nile and it’s prequel, The Blue Nile, here with me in Kenya. I know more than I have ever dreamed of knowing about the golden age of British exploration in Africa.
Back to my weekend: We left for Uganda at 6:30 am on Saturday morning. Including border bureaucracy, the drive from Busia to Jinja took more than three hours. Luckily, the rafting company was busy with 30 peace corps volunteers who chose to raft the same day. After signing waivers and forking over more money than the average Ugandan makes in many months, we divided into rafts of 6-8 people and started down the river (pic at left is with Sharon, a midwife from the United States, right before getting into our boat).
According to the Lonely Planet East Africa Guide (and Nile River Explorers promotional material), this 30 kilometer stretch of the Nile has some of the biggest rapids in the world. I'm not expert enough to confirm this, but I can safely say that the rapids are supermassive. Our boat flipped several times, spilling all seven of us into the Nile. Even if the raft stayed bottom down, at least one of us was likely to fly out of the boat on the class IV and class V rapids. On these occasions, we were washed down the river with the current until a kayaker on “search and rescue” duty fished us out and towed us back to the raft. Each time I ended up in the river, as I sputtered and gulped down Nile water and clawed my way to the surface, all I could think about was….. Schistosomiasis!
Despite the near-drowning episodes and the annoying overheard peace corps conversations, it was a great day, and I would do it all over again given the opportunity. We rode back from the take-out point through rural Ugandan villages in an open-backed truck, The kids waved and shouted "How are you Mzungu?" The rafting company supplied BBQ and beers at Bujagali falls afterwards (see pic at right).