Foaming water in my eyes, my ears, my nose. Clinging to a paddle that keeps hitting me in the face as I’m spun around and around. My lungs are bursting as I try to get my head above water, succeeding for a second before the swirling waters claim me again and I no longer know which way is up. I feel like an odd sock in a washing machine. Finally, my head breaks the surface in a calmer stretch of water and I’m able to breathe deeply, regain some composure, push back the helmet that has fallen half over my eyes, and scan the vicinity for the boat I’m supposed to be in. Yes, I chose to do this – I’m white water rafting on the Nile.
Ready to begin rafting
The previous evening I had arrived, with three friends, in Kampala, Uganda after a thirteen hour bus ride from Nairobi. We were then collected, by Adrift – the company who would be organising our experience, and driven to Jinja. Before we knew it, we were kitted out in helmets and buoyancy aids, assigned to a boat and a guide, and ready to begin our ‘training’.
‘Training’ basically involved learning how to paddle, where to sit in both the rapids and the calms, and of course what to do when the churning waters became too much and the boat capsized. We practised how to get back into the boat (something that requires good upper body strength!) and how to reach the surface if trapped under the boat. We had a non-swimmer in our group who was initially very daunted by the idea of being thrown into wild waters, but with plenty of reassurance from our guide she was soon feeling confident.
Time to encounter those rapids
Soon it was time to begin our 22km journey down the longest river in the world. On the way, we would encounter Class III, IV, and V rapids, and a number of ‘small’ waterfalls.
In fact, it was one of these waterfalls that we hit first and turned out to be a great way to overcome those lingering fears and test our bravery. Paddling hard to the point where the water seemed to just fall off the edge of the world was somewhat daunting. But with little time to think, we shot over the edge and went into freefall before hitting the water again with a jolt after a drop of around 6 metres.
Can white water rafting be relaxing?
The unique geography of this stretch of the Nile makes it ideal for white water rafting. There are many rapids (and some very impressive ones) but also long stretches of calm water between. In these calm sections we would leap into the warm waters, lie back, and float downstream alongside the boat. Being in the water also provided relief from the burning sun – whilst our skin was still rapidly turning somewhat red, the water made it feel deceptively comfortable. With nothing to fear (crocodiles don’t inhabit the more turbulent stretches of the Nile) it was wonderful to be in the warm water, just drifting and enjoying the scenery.
Of course, there was never too much time to laze around before clambering back into the boat to tackle the next section of white water. And our first capsize didn’t take long to come…
The exhilaration of capsize
There’s nothing quite like the hit of adrenaline when you realise that there’s no way your trusty inflatable raft is going to stay the right way up. There’s a frantic moment when you almost believe you can ‘save yourself’ and you cling to the side of the raft as if you can will it not to topple. Then, as the angle goes past the vertical, you give in to the inevitable and plunge into the furious, swirling, churning white water.
As your head is forced under and you lose all sense of direction (and sanity) the prevailing instincts are to find some air and to hold on to your paddle. You kick for the surface but the water doesn’t want to let you go quite that easily. Maybe you break the surface for a second, enough to grab a quick breath, and then you’re back underwater and the swirling currents are throwing you around like a cat plays with its prey.
Eventually, inevitably, the current carries you downriver, out of the chaos of the rapid, and into calmer waters. Finally you can kick to the surface and fill your screaming lungs with delicious fresh air. All that faces you now is the challenge of locating your treacherous raft, righting it, and clambering back aboard to continue on down the river to the next rapid where it may all start over again.
A well organised day
Included in this full day, 22km trip down the Nile is an amazing buffet lunch provided at a scenic spot high above the river (actually quite a climb on legs shaky from a morning riding rapids). Then it’s back down to the rafts to continue on the journey, with even more stretches of white water that bring your heart into your mouth as you spot them up ahead and can’t quite believe that you’re going to make it safely to other side.
At the end of this exhilarating day, with adrenalin coursing through my veins, the friendly team were waiting with a minibus to drive us all to our accommodation for the night – the Jinja Adrift River Base.
Jinja Adrift River Base
The River Base proved the perfect place to chill out after an amazing day.
I had chosen accommodation in the dorm rooms – 6-9 people in 3-tier bunks complete with the requisite mosquito nets. Showers are provided in a separate block and were extremely welcome as they proved the only hot shower I got in two months!
River Base is a vibrant place to spend some time. Popular with backpackers from all over the world, there’s a distinctly international vibe. Socialising centres around the bar, hanging on the edge of the cliff with the most amazing views of the Nile. The evenings are filled with music, limbo dancing, lots of laughter, and plenty of decently priced alcohol.
The food on offer is also pretty good although some combinations may surprise. It’s the first time I’ve ever had avocado on a pizza! And, as an English girl with fish and chips pretty much our national dish, it was a surprise to see ‘fish and chips’ being served as a whole grilled fish rather than the battered fried fillets I’m used to at home.
Watching the sunset
Something else you can’t miss at the River Base is the opportunity to watch the sun set over the Nile. They say that the sunsets in Africa are the best in the world. Well, I’ve not seen the sun set in every country but I’m willing to bet the saying isn’t far wrong.
Standing at a wooden rail with nothing but the sky before me and the river below, I was treated to a spectacular performance as the sun dipped below the horizon and filled the sky with vibrant colours that were reflected and intensified in the water. It was one of those moments when, with the sunset before me and the laughter of new friends behind, I could happily have stayed forever.
Have I inspired you? Are you now dreaming of your own adventure on the Nile?
Why not add ‘rafting the Nile’ to your bucket list (and your Pinterest board)?!
Thanks must go to Adrift for this amazing experience, for taking some great photos on the day, and also for allowing me to use a couple of their own images of River Base. You can find out more about Adrift (and maybe book your own adventure?) here.
NB: this experience was as a paying client in October 2013 and I have no connection with Adrift.