Charlotte Beauvoisin plunges into the Nile for a white-water rafting adventure, and makes a few friends on the way.
White-water rafting had been high on my bucket list for years. When friends told me they were planning a trip to Jinja, Uganda, I was the first to say, “Count me in.”
Thousands of people had safely rafted before me, I thought, so what’s to fear? “Bring it on!” I cried … until we neared the first rapid and the point of no return.
There are six grades of difficulty in white-water rafting, and I was going to attempt Grade Five. (Grade 6 rapids are deemed so dangerous that they are effectively unnavigable.)
On the riverbank, our guide Nathan reassured us that rescue was never far away in the shape of a flotilla of kayakers and the safety raft accompanying us over each rapid.
Our first test was wading into the river, and hauling ourselves onto the raft, weighed down by a lifejacket and helmet, all the while carrying a heavy wooden paddle.
As Nathan told us, our job was to paddle – and to follow his instructions to the letter.
Just as we were getting used to the raft, these cheeky guys flipped us over. And so it was that we had our first dip in the river, on the calm waters above the first rapid.
What seemed easy-to-follow advice in the sanctuary of the upright raft was instantly forgotten as I snorted and swallowed bucketloads of river water. My helmet fell forward over my face and my lifejacket jerked me up underneath the upturned raft. I was safe of course, and able to breathe thanks to airholes in the bottom of the raft, but my head was all over the place.
Before I knew it, one of the guides yelled at me “Don’t panic!” and flipped the raft back up the right way. The ‘practice flip’ taught us to cling onto the safety rope that edges the perimeter of the raft, hold onto our oars tightly and shout out for our mates.
Coughing and spluttering, I struggled to get back into the raft and was yanked from the water by my lifejacket to land face first at the feet of my fellow rafters.
We were all laughing hysterically by this point. We also realised that there was going to be a little more to white water rafting than we realised.
As we contemplated what lay ahead, Nathan sensed we weren’t quite ready to be thrown in the white water, so guided us gently down the first rapid. The speed of the river picked up and the raft pitched fore and aft as we slid over the top of the white water.
“Do you want to go mild or do you want to go wild?” Nathan teased us, as we approached the next rapid a few minutes later. “Wild!” We cried as one. We grabbed our paddles, tuned into Nathan’s instructions and leaned back against the edge of the raft as we paddled straight into the rapids. We crouched in the bottom of the raft as the raging white water tossed us in all directions. With a big bump, we were ejected from the raft like popping corn.
A kayaker whizzed over to me and told me to hold on to his kayak as our raft drifted onwards, devoid of its occupants. Rafters and raft were quickly reunited as our morning of excitement and apprehension proceeded downriver.
Would I recommend rafting? Undoubtedly. I did experience a few scary moments but I spent far more time laughing my head off. It was a fantastic way to bond with new friends, too.
Rafting spots in East Africa
Look no further than the source of the Nile in Jinja for sheer thrill. Perhaps the premier rafting spot in East Africa, this river stretch offers terrifying Grade 5 rapids, as well as an array of other river-based activities. Nile River Explorers and Adrift Uganda are both reputable operators.
You don’t have to go to Uganda to get your thrills. Kenya, too, offers some fine white-water rafting on the River Tana, and elsewhere. Rafters navigate down Grade 3-5 rapids, dependent on the season. From Sagana, visitors can also opt for canoeing, bungee jumping and rock climbing. Savage Wilderness is one of the best-known operators at Sagana.
Omo River, Ethiopia
The spectacular Omo River, which races through canyons, forests and waterfalls, offers one of the world’s great rafting adventures. This southern Ethiopian river, traversing through some of the most remote parts of the country, plunges 6,000 feet, tipping into Lake Turkana. Contact local tour operators for advice on visiting this region.
Rufiji River, Tanzania
Although said to be tamer than some, the Rufiji river leads rafters through the remote and little-visited Selous Game Reserve, offering excellent opportunities to see wildlife, and camp in the wild.
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