Woke at 7:30am. Ready for rafting! Left the hotel at 8:30, and to the ADRIFT Camp, the largest and most professional rafting company in Uganda. The camp was nice – a real travelers haven. As I arrived, people were bungee jumping into the river Nile, the the encouraging cheers of travelers standing in the wooden bar / restaurant.
I paid $115 for half-a-day rafting, but ended up doing the full day anyway. I then grabbed a cup of tea and some bread and butter. I met a chap from Tennessee called Patterson, a friendly bloke with a white-blonde hair and a goatee, who called my ‘sir’ a lot, probably because he was in the airforce and was used to calling everyone by that. I asked him how long he’d been in Uganda. ‘I’ve been in Uganda 6 months, sir,’ and fielded all my questions with ‘yes, sir’ or ‘no, sir’ or, unable to avoid military speak ‘affirmative’ or ‘negative’. Patterson was a communications guy, and was afraid of heights. A good reason to join the airforce then. He was hoping to be stationed in Yorkshire after Africa. Some contrast! I told him he’d love it, and the Yorkshire girls would love him! He was a genuinely nice chap. I liked him instantly.
At 10am we were put in rafting groups, given a lifejacket, a helmet, and a paddle, and taken to the river. I was with Patterson, and a hilarious group of other Americans, one Romanian girl, and one South African / Australian / British girl with a big mouth and a tongue-in-cheek hatred for everything America. She and the Americans all worked for the military. Some, like Patterson, were in the airforce. 2 others were army, a Filipino-American and a very skinny guy from a military family who was the butt of all jokes, but gave as good as he got. Then there were 2 from the Navy, one of whom couldn’t swim. A good reason to join the Navy, then.
Cries of ‘freedom!’ and ‘we rule’ filled the air, along with great American lines like ‘if a country doesn’t say yes to us, we’ll just give you money until you do. Or threaten to invade!’ Lots of high fives. Yanks! They were harmless though, they were fun, they were serving their country. They could see the holes in their leaders logic, they knew how people felt about America. They are proud of America of course, and would defend it in conversation, but they were also aware of its failings. It felt like I was a platoon going on a reconnaissance mission – I enjoyed the relentless banter, quips and jokes. I like Americans.
Our raft guide was a classic rough, tough, funny, made-for-outdoors rogue from New Zealand called Cam. He had a face creased with work in the sun, tanned skin, tousled blonde hair, hairy chest – a man’s man. A bloody bloke. ‘Ai fukin eight this job sometimes – av ter pretend ter be nace ter cunts I don’t like everyday,’ he said half-jokingly. He was a great guide, learnt everyone’s names, spoke to everyone, asked questions, told stories. The first half of the day included learning how to paddle, how to brace ourselves in rapids, how to deal with the situation of our raft flipping. There are 6 air pockets to find should the raft flip on top of you. We had a dress rehearsal. We jumped in, got wet. Here we were in the river Nile. This was the stuff of fantasy. The scenery was stunning, the river flowing at a relentless pace. We crashed down a few Class 3 and 4 rapids. Exciting stuff. The Navy girl who couldn’t swim kept falling out much to everyone’s amusement.
At lunch, held on the river bank and washed down with loads of tea, I decided I wanted more. I’ll do a full day. The Americans whooped with joy. High fives all round. After lunch, back in the raft, the sun came out, and I knew I was heading for a spot of sunburn.
We went through some amazingly tough rapids. A Class 5 finally flipped us. I just saw everyone coming and landing on top of me, and I went down and under the water. Above me was the raft. I couldn’t find an air pocket. Panicking, I tried in vain to find the edge of the overturned raft. I couldn’t. My hands scrambled around trying to find a way out, and all the while I was hurtling down the river. On my last bit of oxygen, I finally managed to surface. Wow! What a thrill. The thrill of almost dying. The Americans were all high fives and whooping, of course. We got back into the raft and carried on, chatting away excitedly. After a minute, somebody said. ‘Hey, we’re missing one.’ We did a head count. We were indeed a man down. The small one. The skinny one, wasn’t there. Soon, a safety boat came up (safety boats and canoes follow all the rafts, for obvious reasons) and on it stood the smiling young man. He got ribbed for that.
We then came to the mother of all rapids – a Class 6. Not even the guide wanted to do this one. We had to go through a mild Class 3, then walk across a hill before rejoining our rafts, which had been carried by others to the beginning of an ‘easier’ Class 5, or rather a 5 and a half. The Class 6 was only for professionals, and was a vicious, swirling, spraying torrent of violent water – to fall out in that would mean drowning for sure. We now had to negotiate a very tricky Class 5. We shouted at each other in encouragement, and ran the rapid. The raft almost flipped, tossed, turned, threw us about….and our Navy girl fell in again. But we’d made it. Cries of ‘Team America!’ filled the air. I was the pommy, but that was OK.
We drifted to the end as the sun was setting. What a glorious day. BBQ meat was being prepared, and we were given copious amounts of ice-cold, fresh, crisp Nile Special, which packs a punch at 5.6%. We then got into a cattle truck and drove back to base. What an amazing day. I got back to my hotel at around 8pm, fell asleep, and woke 12 hours later. I must have been exhausted!