Rafting the River Nile (Andrew)

A POST I WROTE BEFORE CHRISTMAS BUT DIDN’T PUBLISH AT THE TIME. NOW IT FEELS LIKE NOSTALGIA. HOLIDAYS? TRAVEL? WHAT ARE THOSE?!?

I’m being mansplained by a man, which is unusual because mansplaining is what happens when a man tells a woman something she already knows. When a man does it to another man it should be called splaining to show it’s not sexist, it’s just really, really annoying. Especially when it continues for the next four hours floating down the River Nile. This is what happens when you say hello to strangers…

We’re in Jinja in Uganda, the original source of the Nile and a spot famous for white water rafting. Apparently, Prince William has rafted here – along with Geri Halliwell aka Ginger Spice or Jinja Spice, as she should have been called. We read about it before coming to Uganda and thought it would be fun to try rafting on the Nile. We signed up for the intermediate package. Big mistake.

“Should we take the beginner’s package? We’ve been rafting once before so we know the basics.”

We were told that the beginners package was only for complete beginners and we’d be fine. We should have realised that complete beginners also included us. Three hours on a river is the average amount of time a Cambridge student takes to learn how to punt. Three hours on a river does not make you a Royal Marine Commando ready to storm a beach.

The second warning was when we arrived at the start and saw the number of boats required to take us down the river. A safety boat. Three kayaks. And our personal photographer and videographer – a nice touch, I thought until I realised they were probably just filming our last moments for insurance purposes.

“Look! He really didn’t know what he was doing! He should never have signed up for the intermediate trip! He’s so bad he’d even drown in a puddle!”

On the positive side, at least Iain would have a good montage to show at my funeral. And a funeral was a distinct possibility because the instructor said we’d be staring with a level five rapid.

Rapids have six categories. The first five are progressively harder from one to five. The sixth is reserved for those on suicide watch or need to invade an enemy camp under the cover of darkness. Either way, five was the hardest we could try outside of a war zone.

But level five wasn’t going to be our toughest challenge. That was our fellow rower – Karl – a man from Eastern Europe who’d ridden 10 hours on a bus across Uganda in order to take part in this adventure. And Karl had perfect English. Or as he would say; “No, I don’t have perfect English, my English is 100%!”

Because Karl contradicted everything I said. Even if it was to confirm what I just said.

“I don’t like Dubai,” I said.

“You’re wrong – Dubai is a hellhole!” He’d say with absolute conviction and then he’d stare me down to dare to contradict him, even though he was agreeing with me.

And then he’d spend five minutes explaining what Dubai was like as if I’d never been even though the only reason I mentioned it was because I said that we’d just been there. I quickly wanted to throw him off the boat.

Which was lucky, as by starting with a level five rapid, there was a good chance we were all going to be thrown off the boat as the only thing you need to know is that you hold on and hope. And that’s it. I can honestly say I had no control over what happened in that whirlpool. Sprayed with surf, rocked by waves, spun by currents before the raft was chucked out like a frisbee. And then our guide shouted “And now a level four!”.

And Karl shouted to me “this is one less than a level five” – like I didn’t know how to count.

And this time to add to the spray, the rocking, the spinning and the escape we also had a 90 degree flip when the raft almost toppled over in the middle of the rapid.

However I have to admit that despite my fears I always felt completely safe. The instructor had prepared us with a safety briefing. The kayaks and safety boats went ahead of us to catch anyone falling off the boat and the instructor talked us through the whole rapids explaining what was happening and what would happen next -which Karl would then repeat to me. Thanks, Karl.

The rafting lasted four hours and involved 11 rapids over 20 kilometres of river. At various points we could jump in the Nile and swim beside the boat. The water was warm and with a life jacket it was easy just to float and let the current take us down stream until we finished with another level five and level four. This time the guide said we could jump out in the middle of the level four.

“Are there any crocodiles?” I asked

“We’ve not seen a crocodile in twenty years,” reassured the guide.

“So,” I said, “you’re telling me that you have seen a crocodile..?”

It was nerve wracking to jump into the churning water. It was disorientating to jump in and resurface 20 metres away having been pulled instantly along by the current – but reassuring that falling in wasn’t dangerous, as long as you had the life jacket and helmet than you just let the river take you to the calm waters beyond the rapid. Calm waters where I could see Karl, who’d also jumped in. He was grinning. And I was grinning and I thought I should forgive him and we should celebrate overcoming our fears by finishing the rafting and jumping into the swirling waters. I shouted “High five!” And raised my hand from the water only for Karl to say:

“No, Andrew!” Said Karl “Fist bump!”

I loved rafting, but I really, really hated Karl.

Skill required: None. The raft had guides taking control when in the high rapids.

Strength required: Some, you will need to paddle between rapids and while it’s not hard work it can tiring to paddle for a kilometre or more, even with the help of a current.

Safety: Loads. Life jackets and helmet checked before each rapids.

Overall: If Ginger Spice can do it, anyone can. If they can get to Uganda anytime soon…