An adventure in Uganda conjures up thoughts of trekking through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in search of its chest-thumping poster boy, the critically endangered mountain gorilla. Whilst the chance to see these magnificent creatures in the wild is a bucket list experience, Churchill’s ‘pearl of Africa’ has so much more to offer, discovers Africa expert, Miles.
My most recent adventure in Uganda took me away from the home of the gorillas and instead to the deceptively placid waters of the Nile at Jinja, a small town located 2 hours from the capital and a mecca for adrenaline junkies. Home to not only some of Africa’s best white water rafting but also to jet boating, mountain biking, quad bike adventures and some truly terrifying bungee jumps.
On arriving at what seemed to be a sleepy little town perched on the edge of Africa’s biggest lake, it seemed hard to imagine anything more exciting than the occasional long lunch taking place. The fanciful notion that we would be sipping drinks by the pool and basking in the sun soon vanished after we peered over the bridge and had our first glimpse of the mighty River Nile. At least I think it was a river, it may have been an ocean.
At almost 7,000 kilometers long, the Nile has for centuries been the lifeblood of Egypt and more recently, Uganda, thanks to huge hydroelectric dams providing much needed clean energy to East Africa. The river itself is vast and can go from a gentle unhurried millpond to a frothing whirlwind of green water in seconds, as I was about to rather abruptly discover.
After a night at the Wildwaters Lodge on the banks of the Nile, where I spent more time that I care to admit thinking of ways to avoid having to spend a day crashing over mountains of white water, we were up with the sun and on our way up river to the launching point. Our guides, who were a mix of Europeans and Ugandans, had the casual air of people who have seen and done it all before. I on the other hand adopted a slightly more white knuckled approach.
Our guide, Davey, then divided us up into boats of eight and gave us a quick lesson on what we would need to do. Before I knew it, we were off, armed with only a paddle and a life jacket. What followed was a day of spectacular, adrenaline fuelled fun. Our guide steered us unerringly over the churning water, and despite feeling slightly like an amateur jockey entered into the Grand National, I found there really is no substitute for the bizarre combination of hysterical laughter and adrenaline fuelled fear that only rafting on the Nile can summon up.
We were instantly left wanting more. In fact, we were so keen that before I had realised quite what was going on, I had very bravely signed up to raft the Nile in a “ducky”. Which, as it turns out, is a two-man raft or if we are being more accurate, a slightly glorified lilo. However, I was now committed and having not fallen out once the day before, I was full of conviction that I had discovered the secret, potentially Olympic level, talent I had been waiting for. I was wrong.
Keeping a ducky upright is a lot like trying to carry a very large rugby player on your shoulders whilst ice skating, on one leg. With the hugely helpful advice of our guides to “just go with it”, we set off.
Of the six different rapids that we were catapulted over, we managed to remain dry for just one of them. Our day consisted of a series of hugely entertaining but undignified bum wiggles as we heaved ourselves back on board. Despite a debate to decide who should captain our little ship, we rounded off our intrepid adventure by traversing the final rapid unscathed provoking a huge amount of back patting, boasting and smug expressions.
Rafting the Nile is not only about the adventure though and as we were lazily floating along on the flats between the rapids, a host of birds and wildlife surrounded us. From cormorants and fish eagles to the Nile monitor lizard we were kept constantly busy spotting new species and even caught a glimpse of an elusive otter as we meandered gently down river.
For those looking for a slightly unconventional way to end a safari or to simply an adventure off the beaten track then Jinja is the place to go!