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White Water Rafting on the Nile River - Bujigali, Uganda
OCTOBER 01 , 2007

Taste the Pain - Bring on the White Water

A definite highlight of our trip to Africa (at least mine) was the white water rafting at Jinja on the Nile River. So far we have stayed away from most of the adrenaline activities on offer in various parts of Africa - yet with some of the best rafting in the world on offer, how could we refuse.

We arrived in Kampala after an easy run in from Masindi in the West of Uganda. Getting dropped off at the hectic bus station all too quickly reminded us that we did not come to Africa for her cities, after commandeering two motor bikes we scooted out to Kampala Backpackers - our nominated haunt for the next few days, we would have to endure this city while processing our much sought after Ethiopian Visa's.

Three days at the backpackers was more than enough to remind us how much we have enjoyed staying in the local guest houses enjoying their hospitality. Without sounding like a snob, listening to other travellers one up each other on their outlandish adventures was tiring (and so I will apologise now to everyone who ever is forced to listen to me prattle on).

Zipping through Kampala's back streets clinging onto to the rear of a boda boda is an exhilarating experience. Unlike in the country where there are very few cars on the road - here we were weaving our way through peak hour traffic, only the riders skill keeping us from immanent death under the wheels of a passing lorry. Thankfully we safely made it to the Ethiopian Embassy where we were met by the very helpful staff. After filling in all the necessary paper work we were asked to come back the next day - giving us the opportunity to have a quick look around Kampala.

While this was an unexpected delay (we had planned on getting it the same day), it was fortuitous in the end. We set off from the embassy on foot taking in some of Kampala's lovelier suburbs, winding our way into the city centre, and then out to the Garden City Mall where, after purchasing some souvenirs for Donna we found our way into the cinema. For the first time in god knows when we sat back with a box of popcorn and a paper cup full of coke watching a movie, in a fancy new cinema - with no one else in our presence.

After two hours of 'Lucky You' we surfaced into the light of day with a new found interest in poker and gambling, and to find that once again the rains had come. We killed an hour wandering around the mall and drinking coffee - then piled ourselves onto the back of a boda boda for the ride back through town to the backpackers - in the rain it's only more death defying.

The next day found us back at the Ethiopian Embassy where within minutes we had our passports and visa's (already running) and in the office of the Ambassador where he very helpfully answered several of our questions on safety and access to independent travellers in the far south of his country. Packing us off with some brochures and good advice we spent the remainder of the afternoon organising our upcoming white water adventure.


We have become ever the budget conscious traveller now - and with no qualms at all we signed up for the free shuttle to the Nile River Explorers in Jinja where we were quick to exit from and mount a couple of trusty Boda Boda's for the 15km run down stream to the Nile River Camp at Bujigali. The camp is smack bang on the river bank overlooking the Bujigali falls and while the accommodation is basic and a little tired - provides for some amazing views.

With a couple of days to kill until our chance to hit the rapids, we spend the afternoon on the turps with the Americans we had met back in Masindi. Then next day - a little worse for wear we trekked back into Jinja to stock up on souvenirs. We've bought very little in Africa to date and with the trip slowly drawing to a close we've started stockpiling a few keepsakes to post back to OZ from Kenya.


D-Day, getting up nice and early we were ready for the trucks to take us into Jinja to Nile River Explorers for the briefing. While we were waiting for everything to be sorted we hoed into a free breakfast - albeit a little small for what was planned in the day ahead.

We were given the usual motivation speech - a few safety issues were covered, we were then led out to be fitted with helmets and life jackets, then piled into mini vans for the run out to the Nile River. Our drop off point was just below the Dam where the water was calm and gave plenty of room for some preliminary exercises.

While waiting for the rafts to be delivered we all grabbed a paddle, got rid of the gear we were not taking on the rafts and played a quick warm up game, then we were sorted into small groups of seven (plus the guide is eight per raft).

We hooked up with a canadian, a spaniard , one kiwi, and two unknowns. We were all keen to go hard, however Donna and one of the other girls were a little worried to say the least. Standing around in the rain for a about an hour we were pretty chilled by the time we finally climbed into our raft with Charlie, our guide for the day.

Paddling out into the Nile we started out running a few basic exercises, forward paddling, backwards paddling and rotating the boat in a small circle. As we manoeuvred the small eight foot craft down the river towards the first rapids we practiced some drills including rolling the raft, falling out, and then righting the raft.

The first set of decent rapids we encountered were the Bujigali falls, which we managed to get down comfortably without tipping, although Charlie had a bit of a winge about the stopping of paddling before he says so – something to do with safety going through the grade five rapids a bit later on.. wah wah wah.

The Nine Rapids

Bujugali Falls
Easy Rider
Total Gunja
The Dead Dutchman
Itanda falls – The Bad Place

On the first of the bigger rapids of the day (five grade fives and some grade four’s) we were dumped big time. I managed to hold onto the side of the raft as we flipped, Donna and I being the last two thrown out of the boat. As we were washed down the river through the rapids I was dragged over someone then finally managed to get a mouth full of air. Donna surfaced a few seconds later and after we righted the boat we picked up Gemma who had been dragged over some rocks and was bleeding and a little shaken.

We pushed further down stream to the next of the bigger rapids, a grade four where again we got dumped – bigger than previously thanks to Charlie turning us side on into a wave, this time I was fully thrown clear of the raft. After  being held under in a whirlpool for what seemed like a minute I surfaced to find myself quite a way from the boat. Drifting I was smashed through a second wave before hitting some calm water where I managed to pull myself onto the front of a rescue kayak. Seeing a second paddle I grabbed it, then saw Gemma surface about five metres away in a bad way. I let go of the kayak and he went and rescued her. By now our raft had drifted well downstream, I swum about for a bit, then when the rescue raft came to get Gemma, I pulled myself up onto the boat, still with both paddles.

While Gemma was treated we caught up to our raft and while I jumped back on board, shocked and with some compression sickness after getting sucked deep, Gemma decided to spend the remainder of the day on board the safety raft (and she was not the last to do so). Back on board I compared notes with Donna who had been punished as well on the previous rapid and was a bit nervous about what was to come.

We did one rapid, a small three I think, and Charlie said we could stand up as we went down it. We started down and the others were scrambling around the bottom of the boat trying to get up onto the side of the raft, this is pretty tricky in itself. One girl fell overboard and body surfed through the rapids, I managed to get up onto the side of the raft, there was no way I could balance however and after a couple of seconds I launched myself backwards into the water and went down freestyle – a lot of fun.

The next major rapid we hit was an eight foot waterfall, before we tackled it I jumped out of our boat and scurried across some rocks to get some photos of the other boats going down - possibly not a good idea to see what lay ahead. We lined ourselves up perfectly shooting through two rocky outcrops, then spun the boat and hit the waterfall perfectly straight. We shot over the lip of the falls and plunged straight down, being in the front of the boat I was fully submerged before the buoyancy of the boat pulled us clear. An amazing adrenalin rush to say the least. Before we had a chance to catch our breath we spun around into a rescue position facing the falls. The next boat to come over the falls came over at a bad angle throwing one girl clear. She was trapped at the bottom of the falls in a rip that kept pulling her back under the torrent of water. A kayak. rushed into to rescue her and while she was able to grab on the kayaker could not back out against such a strong current.

Charlie told us to forward paddle and the next thing I new we were plowing back under the waterfall where we leant over the front of the boat pulling the girl in. If the blood was racing before it sure was now. A quick back paddle and we were clear.

We then moved over to the side of the river, I had the camera out taking some pictures of the other boats coming over the falls when a boat flipped and someone else got caught up – next thing I new we were paddling back in to get them although this time there were plenty of other boats doing the same.

From the waterfall we had a mad paddle across the current to a second bonus falls, a few boats missed the entry and only had a smaller grade four to crash through. Paddling like crazy we made it across the current, then lined up for the big rapid. We hit the first wave and smashed through it, then were caught side on as a second wave came crashing across our bows throwing everyone clear. Not making it through the whole rapid meant that as soon as you surfaced for air, you were pushed by the current straight into a second set of waves that smashed you around like a rag doll. A little further downstream we managed to surface and with the help of the rescue kayaks re-boarded our raft.

After a furious morning Donna and one of the other girls were by now a little weary of constantly being thrown out of the boat (thanks to Charlie's steering who had it in his head that it was better to tip than ride the rapid through), and were considering pulling out of the next big rapids. After a few words to Charlie he agreed to just let us ride the next rapids without deliberately tipping us. To say he was disgruntled was an understatement and the fact that he made Donna feel bad about the whole thing really just made him out to be a prick.

We drifted for a while, then paddled for a stretch - all in all we were covering nearly 30km's of water and so a fair amount of labour was required to reach the exciting stuff. During one quiet patch we managed to pack down a lunch of pineapple and biscuits. This provided the much needed sugar to get us through the afternoon.

After lunch the first rapid was a smallish grade four waterfall, perfect for tipping the raft if that was indeed what you wanted to do. We were first and managed to get down in one piece. We swung the boat around and I jumped off onto some rocks at the edge of the falls. This allowed for some fantastic photos as the other boats came down, and as the kayakers fooled around riding the waves.

We had a couple of bigger rapids through out the afternoon interspersed with long stretches of paddling. For about an hour we had to endure a passing squall which made the paddling a little uncomfortable with the stinging rain pelting down on us. Finally it cleared in time for the final rapid of the day - The Bad Place.

Rapid degree of difficulty classification

Class 1:
Fast-moving water with ripples and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training.

Class 2: Novice
Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional manoeuvring may be required, but rocks and medium sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers.

Class 3: Intermediate
Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex manoeuvres in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers.

Class 4: Advanced
Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast manoeuvres under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate manoeuvres, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require moves above dangerous hazards.

Class 5: Expert
Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts.

Class 6: Extreme and Exploratory. These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe, and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favourable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions.

The Bad Place is really one long rapid starting as a grade six, then forming into a grade five towards the end. With the water levels the way they are we pulled the boats into the bank to watch a lone Kayaker attempt the six. He paddled out into the middle, set himself for a good five minutes, then took the plunge. He hit the first wave and managed to crash through ok, on the second he was swamped by two waves coming together and he was fully pulverised, A few seconds later he surfaced upside down, righted himself, and then rode out the final rapids comfortably. Bloody exciting stuff.

We walked with the boats a little downstream, where they were put into the water. We were going to paddle out into the middle of a rapid where the six ended and the five began. Donna was umming and ahhing about whether to come or not - Charlie basically talked her out of it however after a few reassurances she would be ok, she decided to come.

In the boat in a calm eddie we spun around and paddled as quickly as possible into the white water, then righted the boat and hit the oncoming water. We were warned this was prime rapids for tipping, however due to the levels of water being so high we managed to ride each wave as it crashed over the boat - coming out the far side upright. We pulled into the bank successfully and relaxed as the other boats came through as well. For all Charlie's talk about this being a bad rapid it was one of the easier grade five's for the day and Donna would have been extremely disappointed had she not ridden through it.

We walked up the river bank where the trucks were waiting with some juice and chips to tie us over till we got back to camp. After loading the gear we climbed into the mini busses for the ride home, however five minutes down the track, in true African style - we got ourselves bogged up to the axles. The following hour was an amusing battle of the minds as we were joined by 50 or so onlookers from the surrounding villagers. First the driver and a member of the crew tried unsuccessfully to get us free, then an additional 15 or so crew turned up and after getting everything thoroughly covered in mud we finally pulled clear.

After a 30 minute drive back to the Bujigali Camp we were treated to a couple of cold beers and a cracker of a BBQ. We then had a long wait till about 10pm when the video of the day's rafting was shown on a projector. The DVD really was great - though at 50 bucks a pop to expensive for my liking.

That night we slept well…

Click here to see the White Water Rafting Photo Gallery (31 photos)

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Whew - What an adrelalin rush - l was rolling from one side of the chair to the other as l was reading this adventure. Thankfully l didn't fall off!!!

Anonymous - 25 November, 2007


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