Well, before I go much farther I have to warn you that there is extreme profanity written below. While I have tried to clean my mouth out lately, rafting was an experience that only these words can really express. If you have PG or G eyes, you may want to scroll quickly through the bottom part of the message :-)
That being said, I ended up getting to raft the Nile at the last minute. Instead of going Wednesday, we went Thursday, thus pushing my departure date one day later. I had a great time on Wednesday browsing the big Kampala market. It was awesome. Everything you could imagine was sold at this market, and half of the stuff was probably donated from Europe or America, as Gap and Marks and Spencer clothes were everywhere. It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours, and get a feel for the way of life in the City.
But now for the exciting part of my week. Chad and I were picked up with three other Americans, Rachel, Kirsten, and Joe, and taken to a place on the Nile. Now mind you, there are 6 grades of rapids, 6 being death or thereabouts and 1 being nothing. No rafting companies will do sixes because it's financial suicide and people can and will drown, but they will do fives. So, we were set to do many rapids, four of which were fives! Why was I doing this, I have no idea. I was pretty much scared s***less. But I was now comfortable with Africa and traveling around, so I needed to rock the boat a little more (please pardon the pun.)
We put on our gear, which consisted of very nice life jackets tightened to our bodies as if they were corsets, and then a sturdy red helmet. I just kept reminding myself that the life preserver is there to make you float. Yeah, right! Our guide was named Ian, a nice white Zimbabwean who had been working on the Zambezi and had come north to work on the Nile. Fun fun. He was very cool and mellow, and helped make the group feel at ease on the water.
Off we went, knowing that we had two grade 5's before lunch and two after. Before we fully set off, we stuck to a calm place of water and practiced rowing together, falling out of the boat, turning the boat over and other fancy stuff like that. It helped a bit but I was still a bit anxious to say the least. Ian kept reminding us to chant the mantra "Don't panic, stay calm, don't panic, stay calm" in a slow manner - not "dontpanicdontpanicdontpanic!". I practiced that a lot. The feeling in the boat was of camaraderie, and we were all excited to head off and get very wet and wild.
Fifteen minutes later we were heading downstream. The river itself was quite beautiful. It was overcast but the surroundings made it quite pleasant. There were lots of little islands about and farms of corn and banana. People were also washing their cloths, bodies and who knows what else on the riverbanks around us. Within about ten minutes we were on a rapid, I think a class 3, and made it through without tipping the boat. See, (pardon my digression) supposedly that's the whole point of this experience - to be tipped out, or flung out as many times as possible. The guide may appear to be steering you in a way to keep you in, but really they're just setting up the raft so you catch the wave in a way that will make you fall out. Fun fun. Let's just say I was never ever bored.
We made it through the first class 5 rapid without falling out. That was named Bujagali Falls and was really not as bad or crazy as I expected. I was thrilled and it was quite fun. Kind of like a water ride at an amusement park. But, we later hit a class 3 rapid named Sibling Rivalry. Well, we hit the wave just right and slowly but surely we tumbled out as the boat flipped. Luckily since it was a class three we were not flung out, but were quite able to hold the rope that connected us to the boat. It was actually fun to tip over and I was ready for more ... or at least, that's what I thought. The second class 5 was supposed to throw us out too - notice the pattern here - if we hit it right; but instead we made it through the first three of four waves with no problem and the forth we missed altogether. "So far, so good", I thought.
We had lunch on a mini island on the Nile. It was very relaxing and a good break. They made us avocado and vegetable sandwiches with pineapple on the side. And 30 minutes later we were off again to head on down for some more action. And let me tell you, there was lots o action to be had. The second part of the day is much more mellow with big, flat parts in between the heavy rapids so we swam along the boat, floating in the River Nile. It was great and very warm by that time. During those long stretches I started to relax and nearly forgot about the adrenaline rushes I was about to have.
I will now skip ahead to the last class 5 rapid since I have little time, and that was the most crazy of them all. Ian calmly explained to us that this rapid coming up was called the 'BAD PLACE', and believe me it was. He told us he really liked the 'BAD PLACE' and wanted to hit it right on the money. Oh S***, I thought. What the hell am I doing here on this boat about to go into a rapid I know is going to fling me into the depths of the river and hope that my life jacket works?!!!! Well, I had seen videos of this rapid and at least knew that soon after the people spilled out, their heads bobbed out of the water and they headed down stream. I hoped I would be the same. I also tried to memorize the mantra of staying calm that Ian had told us. And lastly he told us not to hold onto the rope since it wouldn't matter anyway and that just because we came up for air didn't mean we wouldn't be sucked under for a second or third time. I was overjoyed to hear that part, but it came in handy later.
The first part of the 'BAD PLACE' is a class 6, which means our boat and our group were taken out and we had to stroll around that part to a place where we could reenter and then of course be thrown out. I was s****ing bricks by this time, hard core. The rapids were amazing, not just to see them but the sound as well. It was white, all white because the rapids were so strong. And the waves the currents made were amazingly huge. I got an email from a friend telling to keep my feet pointed downstream. Well, in this water, you just hoped you came up. (I am exaggerating of course, but it was pretty crazy how big the rapids were, and the strength of the current). On the Nile, the rapids are caused by an excess of water, not rocks, so you didn't really have to worry about bumping into anything.
So off we went, me wondering how I was going to make it through this and trying so hard to not panic. Can you tell that I was? We got stuck between two rocks right beforehand since we had to make our way to the section where the 'BAD PLACE' was. Ian told us three things could happen: 1 - We could hit it right on the money and fly out and get re-sucked through it while we went through. 2 - Start surfing the wave until we managed to be tossed out or jumped out. 3 - Miss it altogether and not be flung out. I did have the option to go with the row boat and watch it safely from the side of the river, but I paid to do this and I was going to do it!
My friend Chad was catapulted out when we got wedged between the two rocks and bumped himself up nicely on some rocks since he fell out in a shallow area. It was too bad because when we became unwedged it was hard to come around and get him so we were off and headed straight for ....'THE BAD PLACE'!!! Holy f***ing s*** @$#!#!@%!@$%^!^!@^Q! We hit it right on the money and then started to surf. Supposedly I was one of the last two to stay on before getting whooshed out and sucked into the big wave of the 'BAD PLACE'. I saw green water and calmly chanted "don't panic" to myself. But after a few seconds had passed, I was started to get a wee bit worried.
Just at that time I was coughed up into the light and had a nice breath of air, and then was hurriedly sucked under again and then soon came out. They tell you about rhythmic breathing and timing your breath with the rapids; well, it works if you can do it. I don't know how much of the Nile I engulfed but I'm sure it was a lot. I was exhausted but quite thrilled with the experience after it was over. Glad I had successfully made it through and that my wonderful life jacket had done its job. If you like activities that make the adrenaline flow, this is it folks.
I wasn't looking forward to the last rapid, (I don't remember the name) but I know it is a class 4. We were told that we were going to be flipped, again, and I was not too thrilled. I had no energy and didn't really want to go diving for a second time. But I didn't want to chicken out either and go in the row boat. So I stayed, and like the 'BAD PLACE', I got thrown out and sucked in and whirled around and spat out multiple times. I just kept waiting for the white water that meant air was soon to come. While it feels like an eternity when you're under, it's really no more than five seconds or less. The life preserver does work wonders and that's why I was willing to do all this.
So, after we all got back in the boat, we quickly made our way across the current to the shore and were taken up some stairs to our truck. What a day! I am very happy I did raft the Nile and have no regrets. If you asked me to repeat the experience I'd probably laugh in your face. However, I am headed down towards the Zambezi and we'll see how I'm feeling by the time I get to it. It's a similar story but a different river. Lots of adrenaline, that's for sure.
Now I'm back in Arusha where I met my family yesterday. We had a nice day today, although I'm the only one of them that's not jetlagged. Tomorrow morning we head off for a ten day safari. Should be lots of fun. And after that we head straight to beautiful and tranquil Zanzibar.
I hope my message has not discouraged you from rafting this river sometime in the future. It's pretty damn crazy and fun and wild, and if you don't have a fear of drowning like myself I'm sure you'd enjoy it even more.