If you ever come to Uganda, I would 100% recommend going rafting on the Nile in Jinja, Uganda! It was an adrenaline rush mixed with a slight fear of drowning and a smile of relief when we finally survived all the rapids. Even if you aren't the extreme sports type, this is one that is well worth the adventure!
The rapids in Jinja were mostly Class IV & V, which our guide would describe as “100% going headfirst into a car crash”. We would continually get flipped out from our raft, tumble underwater and get pushed down by the current. (Don’t worry Mom, I survived without any dislocations or broken bones).
While all of the rapids caused flips, turns and tumbles into the water, the craziest/worst rapid that we went through was the last one, which our guide, Bob, told us is “normally” one of the most predictable ones and a great rapid to end on because it was on the tamer side. The water features were almost always the same and once you get flipped out you could just have an enjoyable swim to finish out the rest of the rapid. However, he key words of “normally", "predictable" and "great rapid to end on” did not hold true. Apparently on this Saturday, the rapid decided to do the complete opposite of what it "normally" does. Instead of being predictable and not violent, it was one of the worst rapids we experienced that day.
We started out in the rapid facing a huge wave of water that not only flipped us over and placed the raft on top of my head but also thrashed us around against each other. Once I was in the water, the rapids spun me around like a washing machine and every time I could come up to the surface, another friendly wave decided to crash right on top of my head. When I finally got out of the “worst” of the rapids, the “easy enjoyable swim” during the rest of the rapids was more like a rip current pulling you in the complete opposite direction of where you wanted to go.
After reading that description of the last rapid, some people might be wondering why the heck this was “fun”, but I promise you, the experience and adrenaline rush was worth every second of it. The fun was in the adventure of doing something new, in facing a scary situation and overcoming it, and in the conquering of a challenge with new friends. Life is an adventure and some of the best memories happen when we play it a little dangerously.
Disclaimer: I promise it wasn’t quite as dangerous as it sounds and everything was pretty safe. We all wore heavy-duty life jackets, helmets, and there were safety kayakers and a safety boat for good measure.
Now, most people would think that the going down the rapids would be the best part of the trip. However, as it turned out that one of my favorite parts was one that most people would not think twice about, the ride home. While it seems simple, the ride back was an experience where the only way to truly capture it was to just be present.
After we got done with the rapids, most of the other rafters headed back to the bus to be driven back to the camp, but our group asked if we could ride in the back of the truck with the some of the local Ugandan staff. While they were a little confused and probably thought we were just crazy Mzungu (white people) for wanting to ride in the back of the truck instead of in the covered van, they welcomed us with open arms and some beers. The ride started off bumpy, dusty and a little quiet, but soon the conversations were flowing. We talked about endlessly about cultural practices and true or false questions about the US. They loved hearing our different stories while we loved getting to hear everything about them and their culture. At one point during the ride, it had started to rain, forcing them to put a tarp over the top of the truck. This created a little fort, like the type you built out of sheets and pillows when you were a kid, making a cozy little space and adding even more to the conversations.
During our ride, at times I thought, “It would be great if I had my phone to take a picture of all this!” But then it dawned on me that even if I did take a picture, it could never capture this experience. The conversations wouldn’t be the same if recorded, the smiles would have been different posing for pictures and the atmosphere would have been disrupted with interruptions to snap photos. The best way to truly capture this experience was to simply be present and soak everything in.
They say pictures are worth a thousand words, and I'm sure many people would argue that they're worth more, but for me, this experience, this memory, this moment, was worth a million, and that's far too many for one picture to show.