Stories from Africa

  • major rapids
    One of several major rapids on the Nile River in Uganda Africa.

    Riding the Rapids: Taking on the White Water of the Nile

    The water gently passed by the bank where our group stood, but this was soon to change as the staff from the Nile River Explorers lowered a raft into the water.

    I had booked a rafting trip on the Nile River in Uganda. The Nile River is one of the best rafting destinations in the world, at least for a couple more years. Work is underway to dam this section of the river, and the rapids will be gone forever.

    I was excited and a tad bit nervous. My swimming skills are not so great. But, as I often tell the students during my programs, we never let fear stop us from our dreams. Determined to walk my own talk (our float in this case), I crawled onto the raft.

    Our guide's name was Jack. Originally from South Africa, he had moved to Uganda several years ago to guide on the Nile. He was a large man and had a sense of humor.

    I shared the raft with the Murchisons, a British family of four on vacation.

    group of rafters
    Paddlers prepare for their rafting adventure down the Nile River in Uganda.

    After Jack went through a series of paddling instructions, we proceeded to jump into the river while he flipped the red raft.

    Two by two, we were instructed to dive under the water and pop up underneath the raft in the air pocket that the seats created.

    My turn came and, with a little effort, I found myself under the raft with one of my companions. It was a little dark and quiet until Jack yelled to come out.

    "No problem,"I told myself.

    In case we needed extra help while rafting, rescue kayakers accompanied us on the journey for support.

    "Our first rapid is more of a waterfall,"Jack explained. "If we hit it right, we should just crash down over it."

    This would be the first major rapid in a series of eight for the day. The difficulty rating for the rapids would range from Class 3 to Class 5. The most challenging is Class 5. There is a Class 6 rating, but only crazy people do those rapids.

    The strong river current pushed our light raft around like a bobber. Soon the calm water was transformed into an explosive froth of thunderous white water as it crashed over the rocks below.

    "Paddle harder,"Jack yelled. "Get down, hold on, we're going over backwards."

    The current had turned our raft backwards, and now we were being taken for a ride at the whim of the Nile.

    The raft plunged into the raging white water and filled quickly.

    Somehow the raft popped back to the surface with everyone still sitting inside, which brought a cheer of excitement and a sigh of relief from me.

    rafters holding on
    Paddlers hang onto the raft as it plunges over a small waterfall.

    The next few set of rapids were not as challenging.

    Then came the next Class 5 rapid.

    "We have to hit this one right,"Jack explained."Otherwise, we will flip."

    Confident after navigating the river so far, we set off down the Class 5 rapid.

    "Paddle harder, hold on,"Jack yelled again. The swift current sped up even faster as it pulled us down river.

    In front of the raft was a wall of raging white water. Soon the raft was airborne on its side and bodies fell off the raft into the raging white water.

    In my panic, I forgot to hang on to the rope attached to the raft.

    The next thing I knew, I was submerged and surrounded by white and green water that tossed me like a rag doll through the rapids. Disoriented, I tried to find the surface. But, I only found the raft bouncing on top of my head, as if trying to hammer me back down into the heart of the river.

    I looked for the air pocket that I remembered from our practice session at the start of the trip, and I found nothing but more raging white water.

    raft capsizing
    Our raft flips upside down while passing through a series of rapids.

    To make things even more interesting, Enen Murchison (the father of the British family), who probably weighed around 250 pounds and appeared to be in great shape, kept slamming against me as we tumbled through the water.

    After what seemed like an eternity, I pushed myself away from Murchison and then the raft. Next, I popped to the surface like a cork.

    I was a considerable distance from the raft, which meant the current had carried me downstream.

    I must have had an interesting look on my face because a kayaker in one of the rescue kayaks paddled immediately toward me.

    "Are you OK, man?"the kayaker asked.

    "I'm good, buddy,"I replied as I spit out a mouthful of river water.

    "I'm really good,"I repeated, as a big smile filled my face.

    Fremont Tribune

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