TOURISM RAFTING KIDEPO
Ugandans and keeping time should not be mentioned in the same sentence. A message in the Whatsapp group of coordination had made it clear, on Monday night, that everyone had to be there by 7:00am. I slept late.
I was at the Independence Monument by 6:45am. And, you guessed right, there was no one. Not even the coordinator of the trip, Dave Kazoora. It was just me and a bunch of homeless people that seemed to be enjoying a morning sleep. I sat on the stairs and conceded to the numbing bites of the cold morning.
On the streets, it was business as usual. Men and women ambled by, wearing brave faces, ready to take on the day. Cars filled the roads in an epic grid lock. Honks from frustrated drivers filled the air. The sun rose majestically. Time refused to fly, so I really felt the pain of leaving my bed early.
At about 8:30am, the UWA bus arrived. And shortly after that, more people started showing up. First, the Social Media Influencers. Regents of the TL, representatives of a bigger wave of digital transformation, the mighty 'twiterati'.
A band of young boys and girls who have amassed an audience on the different social media platforms. Extroverts online and introverts in person. They arrived spotting fancy garb and lugging designer label suit cases.
Then the media team, who always look beaten and frustrated. They arrived dressed almost like the homeless chaps sleeping below the monument. Or maybe I'm wrong, but you get the point.
Later, the State Minister for Tourism Godfrey Kiwanda arrived, together with three Miss Tourism beauty queens and socialite Anita Fabiola. Together, they flagged off the Tulambule Eastern Tour.
The minister said it wasn't about any of the individuals, in the different capacities, chosen to influence for the campaign.
“Tulambule is not about me, or anyone of these people. It's about you, as a Ugandan realizing the need to be a tourism ambassador yourself. Creating awareness about the beauty of our country is certainly our mandate as Ugandans," he asserted.
After the minister’s brief, we started the journey. On the bus, the animated bunch of the team started making merry. Banter was made, and rapport was struck, so the rest of us joined the conversation.
There is something about the Namawojolo chicken. Akin to how the KFC chicken recipe is a secret, so is the chicken in Namawojolo. Maybe it's just salt roasted. Maybe it's grilled on a different Brand of charcoal. But it wields a distinct, yet heavenly taste. It's perhaps the reason why when we got out, socialite Anita Fabiola was quick to rush to a stove stall and secure two succulent sticks.
But as she sauntered out her car, something happened. It was like, for the multitude of vendors, the world ground to a halt. With her light skinned and curvy body. With her graceful stroll. With her general star appeal. She disarmed them. Jaws were dropped and necks were craned.
They left the UWA officials teaching them about a python and a turtle's life, and started following her. No, they were not asking her to buy their chicken.
They just wanted to watch her go about being herself. To watch how she bites at their chicken. For her, they suddenly were interested in domestic tourism. She left them in awe.
Zip Lining in Mabira
We then hit a dirt road and went inside Mabira for the zip lining. The social media Influencers were the first to try it. Then the media team. Anita Fabiola and the minister chickened. They didn’t even climb mid-way and came down. Fabiola shed a tear. The minister Kiwanda broke a sweat. He cracked jokes about it.
Not knowing that if those pictures of that scenario made it to social media, the unforgiving band of social media commentators would bay for his blood. He’d later cringe in disgust at the misguided perceptions being peddled on social media.
The phrase, “life hanging by the thread” must have been coined after a rafting escapade. I learned that, and the fact that thrill and adrenaline jerking situations are not my cup of ‘water’ (see what I did there?)
We got off the bus and registered our names and we're strapped with bomber life jackets and helmets. A gentleman who introduced himself as Juma took us through the instructions.
With his fake English accent, it was going to be hard for us to take his cautions seriously, because we missed most of them in the slurs and errs of his pronunciation woes. But we should have been more attentive.
After a quick prep (of about 40 mins) we started peddling towards the Rapids. It was initially easier. The first one wasn't as scary. Yes we swallowed gallons of water, but the boat didn't flip. This was enough for me. I could take that for an experience and be a satisfied person. But no, we were yet to see the mother of rapids.
The minister and Fabiola were on a safe raft boat, whose operators steered clear of any Rapids. Cowards. But I wished I'd chosen their boat.
The instructor told us to stop peddling and to hold on to the boat as we neared the grandmother of white water rafting falls.
This is when I remembered that I can’t swim. So as we neared the rocky edge of the falls, and the waves were starting to slap our boat with more vigor, I held tighter on the rope.
We hit the falls and the boat flipped and threw us out. I held on tight. But as I later learned, that was a bad idea. I was deep in the water, and when I surfaced, courtesy of the life jackets and a firm grip on the raft boat rope, the instructor was bellowing 'let go, let go'.
I thought him nuts. Let go and I die? I'd already swallowed a lake and I couldn't swim. Life, yes, my dear life flashed before my eyes. I thought this was it.
I wasn't breathing. I pushed my nose out, but that took too much effort, my hands were getting drained of energy. And it looked like the last straw, when my grip was forced off the boat. I mean, I knew I had to let go so that they'd turn the boat upside. But letting go meant death. And now, being tossed about by the waves, my very fears were alive.
When I felt a hand tug at me by my shoulder, and a voice say, "You will not die today" I swear I thought it was God, and that I was in heaven. Baffled by how quickly the transition from earth to heaven was.
It turns out it was a life saver. I was carried onto the boat again.
A colleague from UTB, Herman, was meanwhile lost. He was not recovered on our boat. We panicked, because all of us were back on except him. We met him on the other boat.
Some people liked it. Many said they'd come back again. I told them rafting is for bazungu.
We slept in Mbale after that.