The mighty, mighty Nile

I’m giving in again to my longing for Uganda, the Nile, and the river sections that are no more…

There are no coincidences, right?
That’s what I thought while watching the story of Ugandan whitewater kayaker Sadat Kawawa. It’s laudable when you get to be an athlete of this calibre. It’s even more laudable when you come from a culture that fears water altogether.
I was there, in Uganda. I still miss the red earth and those beautiful children waiving at me while I was on the road.
‘Muzungu, muzungu’
Yes, this white woman has always had a thing for water. What she did not know, however, was that the White Nile was a whole different ballgame.
The mellowness imagined got shattered at Karuma Falls. I couldn’t believe my eyes… enormous rapids, wildly-fast moving water, a terrible yet engaging roar of river waves crashing.
Karuma Falls, Uganda
‘Told ya!’ giggled Marcel, my life and travel partner.
Goose pimples.
I didn’t get much sleep before heading to ride the beautiful beast. At 6:30am precisely, we were picked up as scheduled and driven to Jinja. As we grabbed a Rolex and some fruit, Marcel and I realised that the German guy we had met in Murchison Falls National Park was also part of our team that day. Only us 3… and our Scottish guide. I didn’t mind his grumpiness; on the contrary, I was thrilled that we’d share the adventure and… I somehow trusted him. And this is an important element when you find yourself in uneasy territory.
Unlike in the case of other rafting trips, the drive to the start didn’t take long, which made my pulse accelerate all the more. Children were watching us in silence and curiosity and there were some women washing clothes in the stillness that seemed too good to be true. I had even forgotten to take on my water lingerie and I was going to paddle in my regular undies. Tension doesn’t bite, but it can break you.
Luckily, our training was on. What to do and what not to do on water. How to flip, how to get back into the boat, how to drag a teammate back into the boat. Marcel and I had gone through it tens of times, but this seemed by far the most comprehensive mise en scène.
The water was warm, warmer than in my homeland’s Danube Delta – it was the first time I’d raft without a wetsuit.
I could hear the falls. The first ones. Even though I pretended not to.
Jochen was going to leave after the first part of the day (I wasn't his biggest fan, so I didn't mind), so Davey asked me to let him sit in the front. I agreed. And I was nervous. The unknown and the 10% butterflies in my stomach. A percentage that does good rather than harm, because it gets me focusing better.
Safety gear – checked. Safety kayakers – checked. Support boat – checked. 
Here we go.
Vrrrrum! Rapid no. 1 – Overtime, Class 5, followed by Rapid no. 2 – Retrospect, Class 4. Tricky-tricky start. The first part is so deceiving, that you feel like going underwater, only to emerge in a few seconds. The water has so much power, that it violently rocks you and – although it is over very fast –, you will always feed on the memory. As vividly as you felt it while riding the river. I don’t know if these names were given with a funny twist in mind or not, but Rapid no. 2 really makes you think back of Rapid no. 1. What if you’ve already flipped?
Rapid no. 1 – Overtime; the White Nile, Uganda
Then comes peace. 15 whole minutes of it. Davey takes his PFD and helmet off. We do the same and simply float while our skin crisps under the twelve o’clock sun.
We are dealing with a super-hole, nicknamed ‘Bubugo’. There was a lot of ‘hang on to your paddle and rope’ involved, I tell you. In the end, water did not keep us there and the threat of flipping passed. So did we, through Rapid no. 3, also Class 4.
Rapid no. 3 – Bubugo; the White Nile, Uganda
Accustomed by now, we relaxed for 15 minutes more. And had a pineapple and some biscuits. I had never tasted such flavourful pineapples like the ones in Uganda in my whole life! Having them on the river was a treat.
We then portaged around a Class 6 rapid, way too technical for commercial rafting, which made Marcel and I whisper in awe: ‘Wow… so much water… it cannot be…’
I murmured the same things from the eddy where we got back onto the Nile. Waves were crashing not far ahead and it became pretty clear to me that we were heading their way. The name did not sound promising either: The Bad Place, again a Class 5-er. Long story short, I was 100% positive that we were going to flip. That’s how inclined the raft was! Jochen fell over Marcel, but Davey counterbalanced it all and got us safe and sound out of the foam and of Rapid no. 4.
Rapid no. 4 – The Bad Place; the White Nile, Uganda
Our German teammate went back to Kampala and we continued in 3. Philosophising as much as we could.
Rapid No. 5, Vengeance, Class 4. The name and the sight gave me chills.
Rapid No. 6, Hair of the Dog, Class 4. At one point, I felt Marcel’s weight all over me, but I tried to keep my cool and my balance and continue to paddle. At such a high water volume, every stroke counts. Every mistake could fight back.
Rapid no. 6 – Hair of the Dog; the White Nile, Uganda
Rapid no. 7, Kula Shaker, Class 4. There were waves, yes, but they only seemed a rehearsal for what the river had in store next: one of the best freestyle sections in the world, epically called ‘Nile Special’ or Rapid no. 8.
Only foam. That is what I saw. The waves seemed mountains. I understood that the White Nile had redefined ‘whitewater’ in my mind. I also understood that if a small boat like ours could get through the tempest, all was possible. Even not falling out of the raft when your face is 20 cm away from the water surface, you’re mentally ready for it, you’ve slipped and are barely able to paddle… but you regroup and find the majesty in it all. In feeling lucky. In feeling powerful. In feeling humble.
Rapid no. 8 – Nile Special; the White Nile, Uganda
Unfortunately, these last 4 rapids, culminating with Nile Special, my favourite, no longer exist, with the dam underway. It was a blow to the animals that call the river home and to the entire community that lives around it. I may have too unimportant of a voice, but it surely is loud and will always fight against injustice.
‘We will exit the water there.’
Goose pimples reloaded. This time, they talk of happiness and dreams fulfilled. And #bigwater
Nile... the tranquil version from our camp in Jinja, Uganda

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