The Nile isn’t just a river in Egypt, in fact, Uganda houses the source of the famous river. Jinja is known as the adventure capital of the country. With the slew of water activities in a hippo and crocodile infested river, it is clear why. Originally I did not want to participate in activities while in Jinja. I went white water rafting in Massachusetts on a school trip in 8th grade. Been there, done that! You sit on the edge of the raft and paddle when told to do so. You avoid falling out at all costs to shirk the risk of incessant teasing, which is inevitable considering I had seen larger rapids in my bathtub.
The evening we arrived in Jinja, we all took a sunset cruise, aka all you can drink for two hours on the water. As the night unfolded, I was convinced by a group of “Scottish lads” that entering a river filled with man-eating predators on rubber boat was an activity I couldn’t miss. Insert some acronym about only living once. Who says drinking leads to poor decision-making?
The Morning After
You know what they say…Nothing cures a hangover quite like drowning. So it happened, I had committed to going white water rafting this very morning. Despite not feeling my freshest, a commitment is a commitment. Stupid is as stupid does. I woke up and dressed in long pants and long sleeves for sun protection as suggested. While I was the only one on my raft who received the sun protection memo, I didn’t mind (at the end of the day when everyone else looked like steamed lobsters). We rode a unique, open aired bus to the rafting starting point, ate breakfast, divided into rafts, and began some light training.
What kinds of things do you need to know prior to setting out over a series of Class 5 rapids? You must learn how to paddle as well as where to keep the oar when you don’t paddle. Additionally, you must learn how to pull people back into the raft and how to escape from underneath the raft if you get trapped underneath. WHAT! Ok, so I already didn’t have the best feeling about this.
Rollin’ on the River
We were off. There were 8 rapids that had a designation of either grade 4 or 5. A grade 5 rapid is the highest rating that rafters are allowed to undertake. I know this because we reached a grade 6 rapid, exited the river barefoot, hiked around the rapid, paddles in tow, and re-entered the river.
I was not sad about missing this rapid. In between those rapids we would just float or swim along side the raft. I learned I did not enjoy white water rafting, well, from the practice moves, but my sentiments were solidified with rapid number 1. As we approached, the guide comfortingly remarked, “guys, try to stay in the raft on this one, there are really shallow rocks and its going to hurt.”
Now I love adventure, but let me attempt to distinguish between types of pre-adventure nervousness. There is the kind that is actually just adrenaline. Where your heart is in your stomach and your stomach is in your throat. Normal. Exhilarating. You complete said activity, you had the time of your life, and you talk about it for years to come. Then there is the crippling nervousness you feel when something bad is going to happen. That sinking feeling. In the end you are relieved you survived, you will still talk about it for years to come, but you never want to experience it again. Rapid number 1 gave me feelings of nervousness type number 2. Despite all of the negative anticipation, no one fell out of the raft onto the rocks!
So nothing bad happened when went through that first rapid and boy was I relieved. Then, we just got to relax and float for nearly an hour until we reached the next rapid. Each rapid had a cutesy little name like “Hair of the Dog” (how fitting) or “Vengeance” (uh, Die Hard anyone? Not the sign I was looking for). Anyway, rapid 2. This time we flipped. Everyone overboard. And I managed to surface beneath the raft. Despite the training in the beginning to get myself out of this predicament, I opted to beat my hand against the base of the raft and shout, “I’m under here.” The guide promptly responds, “well, get out!” So I did.
I had swallowed a good chunk of the Nile at that point, but I also felt relieved to get the first raft flip out of the way. They say on average, the raft tends to flip once or twice per trip. If luck was on my side, it would be smooth sailing from there on out (rafting pun!)
Fast forward to the next rapid where we all make yet another unplanned exit.
The Bad Place
We are about halfway through the day at this point and have completely flipped the raft twice with a couple of minor casualties (read: bodies being thrown from the raft) peppered in. At this point in time, we have reached a rapid entitled “The Bad Place.” Now I highly doubt they chose this name to be ironic. We had an inspiring pep talk from our guide:
“Best case scenario, we just paddle through, no problem. Worst case scenario, we all die.”
While you might think my impending description of what went down sounds dramatic. Well, it does because it was! But drama does not equal exaggeration. If you asked me the closest I have ever been to death or drowning, I would describe this moment. We were all thrown from the raft. There was a strong undertow and I recall the sensation of being pulled down. This was most definitely happening because my pants (yes, remember I wore pants?) were at my ankles. The river also took my hair out of the ponytail it was in. I just remember holding my breath and waiting and waiting and waiting for the river to spit me out. I was running low on air and there was nothing I could do about it.
While I estimate I was under for about 30 seconds, it was likely less but seemed like more due to the stress of the situation. When I finally popped up I was gasping for breath but could not seem to get enough air. All the while I am still in the water with rolling rapids attempting to swallow me. I had to be rescued by a kayak and was then released by the same kayak because another raft had just flipped producing some more recent wreckage. I was then brought aboard the rescue raft and slowly began to breathe normally again. Everyone from my raft was scattered. It was insane to imagine how far we were separated, not to mention our raft was probably a football field away, upside down.
Each person was accounted for, we regained our composure and got back in our raft for the last few rapids of the day. The mood completely shifted after “The Bad Place.” No one was talking. The aptly named “bad place” didn’t go well for any of us. While I didn’t want to be a quitter, I vowed that I would complete my journey as a member of the rescue raft if we flipped one more time.
Get Me Off the River
We completed the final rapids without incident and settled in for a much deserved barbecue lunch and beers. On arrival we had broken up into three different rafts with 8 people per raft including the guide. It was interesting to hear the perspectives outside my own raft bubble. One of the three rafts did not flip at all, not even at “The Bad Place,” until they reached the final rapid. They had that coming.
White water rafting on Class 5 rapids is one hell of an adrenaline rush, in the impending doom sense of the word. While a majority of the people I have spoken with love this activity, it is something I have no interest in ever doing again. I will focus my future endeavors on adventures where I can breathe for the duration of my participation. For me, white water rafting on class 5 rapids is a once in a lifetime experience, just like Carnival.