One of my highlights of my time living and working in Uganda was a weekend away in Jinja, the adrenalin capital of East Africa. Jinja boasts some of the continent’s best white water rapids and several rafting companies have popped up over the last decade capitalising on the ferocious but fun stretch of water a few kilometres out of town. But sadly, we learnt that the rapids are under threat with the Ugandan Ministry of Energy is planning to construct a large hydropower dam on the Nile River at Isimba Falls, 50km downstream from Jinja. If the plans go ahead, this will be a huge blow for Uganda’s struggling tourism industry and will rob the country of one of its greatest natural attractions.
Having tried rafting once before in Ecuador, I thought I knew what to expect. A quick, adrenalin-filled ride down some fast water with the jeopardy of being flung into the frothy rapids – all over within an hour of hectic paddling. In fact, the day had a much more relaxed pace. Our boat consisted of two English guys from Manchester and Leeds, a couple of American girls (one a volunteer for American Peace Core), a loved-up Swedish couple and another solo female traveller, a young French girl. We started with a bizarre breakfast of deep friend eggs (suprisngly tasty dunked in ketchup) and our guide, an unwashed Australian hippy whose lifestlye we all envied, gave us a thorough induction to what to expect in the event of a capsize or man overboard situation. I prayed neither of these mishaps would arise. We practiced tipping the boat and hauling each other back in the vessel. So far, so good. Although my lack of upper body strength was soon apparent as it became evident that I am completely unable to lift my body weight back onto a boat. Oh well, so long as I can cling on, I’ll rely on someone else to heave me out the froth!
And so our day on the Nile began. Each rapid had an imaginative, fear-inducing name – from ‘The Dead Dutchman’ to ‘Asphyxia’ and ‘The Regurgitator’. We all gulped in unison each time our guide introduced the next stretch of water – I thought I even caught a glimpse of enjoyment as he revelled in our collective fear. Open-mouthed, we listened to him regale us with story after story (‘I once took a group of British Marines down these rapids, they didn’t look so tough afterwards’).
The serenity of floating along the nile and taking in the wildlife suddenly disappeared as we were confronted with our first rapid of the day – a challenging ‘level 5’. We heard it before we saw it – a deafening crashing of water which silenced us all. It certainly woke us up a bit. I made a last mintute switch to the other side of the boat and thankfully my intuition paid off as I avoided being flung from theboat like the 3 on the other side.
After a daunting start, I actually got quite swept away with chaos of it all – having instructions screamed at us, working as a team to stay afloat and trying to avoid drinking any of dirty river water.
The trip takes 2 days in total from Kampala and you’re best to e-mail one of the reputable companies in advance to secure your place. I chose Adrift after a personal recommendation and stayed at the Adrift Riverbase hostel afterwards which has an onsite bungee jump, a lively bar and great views across the river. It’s a casual affair – you stay in large tents under mosquito nets with wild boar and other creatures roaming around. I loved it, but it’s by no means luxurious. If you’ve got a bit more money to spend, the Hairy Lemon is meant to be lovely.
I highly recommend making the trip to Jinja – you’re bound to meet a fun group and after several hours in an inflatable boat together, you’ll have plenty to talk about over a few beers after.