White water rafting on the Nile

Posted 29 June, 2007 by janette in Jinja

The grade 5 rapids are not optional. If you want to white water raft at Jinja, the source of the White Nile, it will include the roughest waters you can commercially navigate.

Neither Graham nor I have white water rafted before, but we gamely opt for the medium level of difficulty. Unfortunately for us, the rest of our group is experienced and wants to ‘go mad.’ So we become the mad-medium group. Great.

Our guides are local guys in their early twenties, all muscle and jokes. Their favorite schtick is to pretend they’ve only just started, and then don’t really know what they’re doing. At least we hope it’s just a schtick.

We make it through the first couple of rapids, and it’s quite good fun. As we approach the third, our guide turns serious. The water is low today, which makes this next grade 5 particularly dangerous. We’ll need to skirt the center to avoid the “G spot”. If we flip over here, it will be like getting stuck in a washing machine.

Sure enough, we flip as soon as we hit it, and I get sucked right into the spin cycle. I hold my breath for a few seconds, but my helmet has come down over my eyes, and I can’t tell how far I am from the surface or from the boat. I seem to just be going around in circles, and I start to panic. I flail and gulp water, exactly what you’re not supposed to do. An eternity later, I pop up downstream and gurgle for help. A kayaker comes and asks for my oar, which I realize I’ve been clinging to. I toss it aside and offer my hand instead. Not a great way to make friends with the safety staff, but I’m too exhausted to care.

This isn’t fun anymore. I want off this ride, but there are 7 more rapids to go.

We hit a couple more rapids before lunch, and I resolve to become one with the raft. I lose the skin off my fingers, but I never lose my grip.

We reach the ‘flat waters’ and snack on pineapples and ‘glucose biscuits’. Inevitably, a pineapple rind battle breaks out between rafts, which culminates in people being dragged overboard and dunked, as if we hadn’t already had enough of that today.

We have four rapids left, and we have resigned ourselves to being flipped and battered. My clinging-on-for-dear-life approach is working well enough.

The final rapid is a grade 6, which is too rough to commercially rapid. We steer into an eddy and get out of the raft. A couple of weeks before, another group didn’t make it out in time, and got chewed up by this rapid. Two of them are still in the hospital, too fragile to fly home.

We get back into the river for the second part of the rapid, which is a grade 5. This second part is divided into a further two subrapids. If we flip over before the second one, we are instructed to hold our breath for at least 20 seconds before we try for air. This is a nasty one.

We don’t even make it two seconds into the first subrapid before we’re tossed clear out of the boat. But before I panic this time, I notice that the waves I’m facing remind me of the waves I used to love in Southern California. I take the same approach as I did with the big waves that I couldn’t body surf, and hold my nose and squeeze my eyes shut. I get sucked into a jet stream, and shot through another couple of these waves. I end up 80m away, and manage to climb on to a rocky island and wait for help. The safety kayakers have quite a few bodies to collect before they get to me. I’m relieved to see Graham with a smile on his face, and even more relieved that this ridiculous rafting is over!

We head back to camp to enjoy a BBQ, trade war stories, and compare injuries. We watch a video of the day later, and we could swear that those guides were tipping us over so that they could dance on top of the overturned raft for the cameras!

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