The source of the Nile is one of the most spectacular white-water rafting destinations in the world. SOLOMON OLENY took on the Nile’s rapids and survived to tell the tale.
White water rafting on the Nile is one adventure that needs the bravery of a lion, I was happy to be among the daredevils who have ticked white-water rafting off my bucket list.
An early morning drive from Kampala to Jinja, arranged by Adrift, took us to the camp base by River Nile. Close to 30 tourists, mainly from Australia, Turkey and India, joined us.
As we happily took in the enchanting view of the scenic river, we had a healthy breakfast which aroused our appetite for the adventure.
Greg, an administrator with Adrift, said though no one has ever lost their life while rafting on the Nile, the risk could not be eliminated from the adventure. He implored us to abide by the safety precautions.
However, he was quick to drown our worries, assuring us that a team of over 10 professional rescuers would be on hand throughout the ride.
Into the river
The team gets swallowed by the rapids
My team of five was led by Sadulu Khadir, a rafting coach. We were strapped with life jackets and kayak helmets. We had to leave our shoes, watches, phones and cameras behind to avoid damage or loss during the adventure. Armed with kayak paddles, we jumped into an inflatable raft, ready to beat the hell out of the rapids — or so we thought.
First, Khadir coached us on rowing techniques and sitting postures needed to contain both the polite and the ugly that would come our way. Then he ordered us to dive into the river to hone our survival skills.
For those of us who knew nothing about swimming, it was like Khadir was commanding us to commit suicide. I looked him in the eye, hoping he was joking. But he returned the hard stare, and showed no signs of relenting or engaging in any small talk.
Stuck between tough choices, I jumped into the river. Shockingly, it turned out to be the sweetest surprise of the morning, for the life jackets did what they do best.
Floating on my back in the blissfully cool water was great. It was the closest I had coming to swimming all my life. He then ‘rescued’ us and took us back into the raft. It was time to paddle towards the fun-filled hell that awaited us. We rowed, along with tonnes of support around us, including safety kayakers and a rescue boat nearby.
After a lot of paddling over a flat stretch of the river, we reached the mouth of the first rapid, dubbed grade three, the third most aggressive rapid. Its nerve wrecking roars left my chest thudding with terror and when the foaming waves came into view, the terror came alive.
Fortunately, Khadir was such a fantastic coach. He kept calm, making us feel that he was in control. Alas! No sooner had we struck the edge of the two feet deep rapid than the boat got hooked onto a flat rock. The gushing water flogged us angrily as it forced its way downstream.
To crash through the explosive rapid, towards the calmer stretch downstream, it took team work to bounce the raft back and forth before it was dislodged. It was too soon to celebrate, for a few meters ahead was a much more terrifying challenge — a grade five rapid. The closer we got, the more it looked like a starving lion ready to rip us apart.
It exploded powerfully, flipping our raft upside down. Only three of us escaped being buried under the raft, in the choppy waters. I was vertically flashed onto the rocky edge, where I hit my head. But thanks to the helmet, my skull was protected.
Nonetheless, I could not whine because I knew my suffering was nothing compared to what the folks under the boat were going through. After seconds of waiting for them to swim out in vain, a wave of panic ran through me.
It was a relief when Khadir jumped onto one of the corners of the boat and grabbed a rope to flip it back into position. It was then that the buried folks popped out their heads, struggling to catch their breaths.
Flustered, we finally hauled ourselves back into the boat, with the help of the day’s hero — Khadir.
Once inside, the fright changed to incredulous happiness. “That was close!” Excitement bubbled inside everyone. The water was calm for a while, giving a chance for the fright to ebb slowly while we enjoyed the view of floating plants, the small forested islands and the various birds.
In between them were small rapids which were a piece of cake to manoeuvre, the type of cake you can stuff in your mouth and swallow without chewing. With the sun becoming hotter by the hour and our earlier fears long extinguished, we felt free to dive into the water for leisurely cooling dips.
Mother of rapids
But there was one more giant to overcome. We still had to face the most inviting but deadliest rapid — the grade six rapid. But we had to dodge the worst part of it, so we paddled to the left bank and got off.
We then walked for five minutes on land as Khadir tactfully steered the empty boat on a calmer side to the nearest safe point, where we jumped aboard. We then dared the safer part of this rapid with towering waves, but thankfully, did not flip.
We paddled to the finish point at the foot of Adrift’s second camp base. I could not help but wish I had gone for the full-day rafting as it entails thundering through eight rapids, unlike the half-day which has only four rapids. I also wished I had some champagne to toast to the sweet victory we claimed.