I have never done white water rafting before. I always wanted to try it, but somehow there was never the right time and place for it. Or maybe that is just an excuse. But here we were on the shores of the Nile in Jinja, one the of best places world-wide for white water rafting and kayaking, and I knew I would not be able to get out of this one.
Two things make Jinja stand out: there are over 8 rapids, all class 4 and 5, and they are reasonably safe. But most importantly, the water is warm - a luxury you won't get often when rafting. So, considering that this place is so special, I decided to go all out and try the "extreme" rafting option. The difference here is that there are only two people in the raft and the raft is much narrower and closer to the water. The direct result of this is that you will most likely flip in any rapid above class 3. I did have some reservations about this; I sometimes tend to overrate my abilities and get myself into situations that are far above my skills and experience. Or as my friend Peter would say (who often had the questionable privilege of sharing those endeavours with me), I tend to be an idiot. But my doubts were quickly dispersed from an unexpected direction. My super safe and cautious girlfriend just said: "Oh B, I think you should definitely do it!".
So how did it go? Well, I'm still breathing... But having said that, it was great fun! But don't be fooled, this is no walk in the park. It's scary, and brutal and you will probably feel close to drowning. Here just an example:
We were closing in on rapid number 4, a class 5 rapid nicknamed "overtime". My guide, who was sitting behind me, was preparing me for this one.
"The first thing we will hit is a massive breaking wave. We have to paddle as fast as possible and try to take it head on. If we get over the first one, there are two more just as big or even bigger. If we flip, which is very likely, remember to hold on to the boat on this one".
"What if I can't hold on to the boat?" (every time we did a back flip I wasn't able to hold on)
"If you let go of the boat then there are a couple of things you absolutely have to keep in mind. Frist, and most important, swim as hard as possible to the left. The current is going to take you to the right, straight into a massive rock. Second, at the end you might get sucked down for quite a bit. Just don't panic, stay calm and roll into a ball, you will pop up eventually".
"...... Ok, so don't let go of the boat, got it."
When we flipped, the first this I did was to let go of the boat. The second thing I did was panic. The first time I went under it was probably not for more than 5 seconds, but I can assure you it felt longer than that. Once you're under water, it's absolute mayhem - you're just being tossed around like a rag doll. I ran out of air straight away. When I felt I was coming up I prepared for a much needed breath of air - what I got instead was the full hit of the third wave. And back down it went, this time for quite a bit longer. When I finally got up I was desperatley gasping for air while coughing water. The worst seemed to be over, the rapid was on it's way out. So I started swimming to the left - an effort that was so futile that I almost started laughing. But it did look like I was about to miss the rock, just barely. And then out of nowhere I was sucked down again, this time all the way to the bottom (it's absolute dread when you feel your legs hitting the ground). But this time I managed to keep relatively calm, so I rolled into a ball and waited patiently, wondering if anyone ever drowned here.
"There you are! I thought I told you not to let go of the boat? How was it?"
"... Great. How many more do we have to go?"
"4 more. The last one is the worst."