Rafting the Nile at Jinja, Day 363

Rafting the Nile at Jinja (note the water level is above the raft!), Uganda, Africa

Whitewater rafting scares the crap out of me…and yet I continue to do it. Why is this? I think it goes back to something I’ve touched on in past blogs, namely that traveling reduces inhibitions and makes me more likely to undertake crazy, if not downright dangerous, activities – perhaps in a vain attempt to prove (to who? Me?) that I’ve got what it takes. That I’m tough. Quite how many times I need to prove my manhood to myself I don’t know. I’ve already survived whitewater rafting in New Zealand, Australia, USA, Argentina, Zimbabwe, and now god-willing, I’ll survive the Nile. A few years ago I rafted the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, which also proclaimed to have some of the world’s wildest whitewater, but now apparently, rafting the Nile at Jinja (just as the river exits Lake Victoria) is the new unmissable adrenaline junkie activity. I feel I can’t leave Uganda without adding this notch to my belt. The company I sign on with is called Adrift who proudly advertise: No one can hear you scream…under water, which is just so damn comforting.

While Adrift’s guides might be considered experts, there are 9 of us who have never rafted the Nile before. Is my life in their hands? Having done this a few times I know the basics, but the rest of my team are paying rapt attention to the instructions. I will be rafting with two Polish guys, 5 seriously gung-ho American Christian missionaries (all girls and all under 25), plus Kevin, a timid British Roman Catholic priest. The most daunting fact is the number of class V rapids (the highest commercially navigable). These are the toughest rapids and the ones most likely to cause problems, such as a long swim through churning whitewater that drags you repeatedly beneath the surface of the Nile. Is it too late to turn back?

The missionaries have raised thousands of dollars to visit 11 countries in 11 months spreading the word of god, although quite who they are expecting to convert aboard a raft heading through some of the most violent whitewater in the world is anybody’s guess.  We begin with the class IV Bujagali Falls, which goes remarkably smoothly. Next up is Easy Rider, a mere class III rapid. As the name suggests, this is a classic roller coaster ride where the rafts race down a slick tongue of water then explode over a series of large crashing waves. Our guide asks whether we wanted Wild or Mild through Easy Rider. Well those damn evil missionaries will not listen to reason and they all yell “Wild!” Consequently, we plow straight into a flipper (a wave with the ability to overturn the raft).  Still clutching my paddle, I am flung cursing and screaming from the raft (along with everyone else) into the noisy maelstrom of the Nile. My attempts to swim back to the boat are thwarted, however, by a bedraggled and shocked looking missionary who clings onto my paddle to stop herself being swept away. I thought Jesus sacrificed himself to save the rest of us. Well his missionaries have got a lot to learn. We are both tossed about in and under the wild water before being spat out of the rapid and eventually rescued by the safety kayaks. Still, the rapid was not a complete disaster for the missionaries as Kevin the Roman Catholic priest dislocated his shoulder and had to be evacuated off the river. Missionaries 1-0 Catholics.

The next big series of rapids are called Big Brother and the Silverback (actually four class V rapids back to back. You don’t want to get this one wrong). Clearly I have offended the Big Guy upstairs somehow and he has sent five angels of death to teach me a lesson. These crazy girls have no clue how to paddle or how to take direction and our guide is left to rue the fact that we hit Big Brother completely wrong. Not only is there no coming back from this for any of us, but our reward is a long swim through three towering class V rapids. I swallow so much water, I actually catch a couple of fish in my mouth. 

The only positive to come out of this long swim is that the girly missionaries are now somewhat humbled. Their early morning arrogance is replaced by a slightly more somber approach. There are no more calls to flip and despite tackling additional class V whitewater we spend the remainder of the day in the raft. I’m very relieved to have survived my last adventure in Africa, my last adventure on our Year of Wonder, and my last ever whitewater rafting experience. I guess I like my adrenaline junkie activities just a little more sedate – like reading a book in a hammock with a cold drink (but don’t tell Christi I said that).  

Blog post by Roderick Phillips, author of Weary Heart – a gut-wrenching tale of love and test tubes.

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