Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Making Like Moses

The other weekend, on the advice of another ex-pat, my colleague, Harry, and I went rafting on the Nile for the day. We had been told that there were only a couple months left to experience the Victoria Nile in its current state because of a dam they are currently working on that will flood the area, displacing some communities and effectively covering two of the class-5 rapids on the river including Bujagali Falls. The dam is being built to provide hydro-electricity for Uganda and the surrounding countries, though it’ll likely not be nearly enough to stop the power-shedding or rolling blackouts that are common here.

The source of the Victoria Nile (which eventually joins with the White Nile and the Blue Nile to form the Nile in Egypt that we all learned about) is in a city called Jinja, about a 2-hour drive East from Kampala. We got up early, grabbed the sunscreen and shorts that they told us to bring and made our way to town to meet the bus that would take us to Jinja. After a couple delays thanks to a semi that had tipped over in our path we made it to the rafting company campsite. Before we got our boats, there were a couple people who wanted to take the opportunity to bungee jump (another offering of the rafting company’s). Each jumper gets the choice whether or not to be dipped into the Nile and whether or not to be clothed. A friend has confirmed that if your first jump is naked, your second is free of charge.

We got in the rafts and learned the commands that our boat leader would be shouting throughout the day, practiced flipping the raft and then we were off. One passenger in our boat happened to be a relatively experienced rafter – having rafted on a couple different continents, he informed us that he had heard that the rapids we were to be rafting were the roughest commercial rapids in the world. Our guide, a Brazilian, has been traveling the world, finding work as a rafting guide where he can, South America, North America, Europe and now Africa. His reason for being in Uganda at this point was also to enjoy the Nile before it is forever changed by this dam.

During the day we had four class-5 rapids with some paddling, political talk and a lunch break on and island in between. We paddled past boys swimming and playing, women and girls washing clothes in the river, river otters and some truly stunning views. Earlier in the day one of the kids in our raft had been tossed out by a rapid but besides that we had all remained in the raft until the final set of rapids of the day – Itanda – “The Bad Place”. We set out with the goal of no flipping for the entire day, a feat that’s not too easy. We paddled up to it, our guide told us to “get down!” I started to take shelter in the interior of the raft, between the inflatable benches and before I knew it the opposite side of the raft was coming down on me and I was under water, tumbling as if I was inside a washing machine, doing my best not to let go of my oar so it wouldn’t get lost. Eventually my life-jacket popped me up and I scanned the water for the rest of my raft mates. Everyone was fine, some were a little shaken by the flipping experience but I was simply in awe of the river’s power and glad I had the chance to really experience the Nile.