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Doug: Rolling Rapids and Terrifying Heights in Uganda!

October 17, 2011

Habari zenu!

The semester here in Nairobi is really flying by. I have about two more weeks here in the city before I move to a rural coastal town north of Mombasa for a 6-week internship at an orphanage. More to come on that in the near future.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to my third African country—Uganda. There was so much packed into the three days we spent in Uganda, including white water rafting down the Nile and bungee jumping over the river as well, and I will try to convey all that we saw:

We decided to brave the risks of overnight bus transportation in East Africa in exchange for another day in Uganda. Downtown Nairobi at night is absolute mayhem. Due to overpopulation, there are people literally everywhere, crossing streets, packed into the sidewalks, flashing lights—it’s like a normal city on speed. Because of this, my friend Emma’s phone was stolen, which she only realized once we finally found the bus terminal. But other than that, knowing that this was the only incident of getting anything stolen on the whole trip, I’m not complaining.

So after waiting 2 hours for our bus to arrive (this is what is known as “Kenyan Time”—apparently that extends to bus schedules as well), we were off on our east-bound journey through the night to Kampala, Uganda. The bus ride ended up taking about 14 hours in total, and we hit the Kenya-Ugandan border around dawn. Getting our Ugandan visa was quite the confusing process. We sleepily stumbled out of the bus, walking in between a 2-mile long line of trucks, waiting to get into Uganda (I wondered how long these drivers had just been sitting there, waiting for entrance), finally figured out that we were supposed to just walk across the border ourselves to get our Ugandan visa, and wait on the side of the road for the bus.

Finally, after reboarding the bus with all the other passengers, we were flying through the rolling green hills of Western Uganda. Right away the landscape was vastly different from Kenya–lush and beautiful, with rich red soil, while Kenya is more dry and arid. We rolled into the outskirts of Kampala about 2 hours later. The next day was a huge soccer match between Kenya and Uganda, so people were pouring into the city from all over East Africa. Because of this, security measures were high—our bus was stopped multiple times for random security checks, and while in the city of Kampala, we were stopped at the entrances to shops and stores to be scanned. Apparently Kampala pulls out all the stops on the eve of a huge soccer match.

That evening I took probably the most interesting motorbike (‘bodaboda’ in Luganda) of my life. After dinner, we decided to try to find this traditional Ugandan culture and dance show, so after explaining to 4 bodaboda drivers where we wanted to go, we boarded the bikes. We were an odd number, so I took a bike by myself. Not only did I not speak one word of Luganda, but the driver spoke no Swahili and little English. The following ensued: we were weaving in and out of one of the worst traffic jams through the city I’ve ever seen, our bike broke down, it started back up, he got lost and couldn’t communicate with me, his phone was out of battery so he couldn’t call his friend to see where the others were. He used my phone battery, then left to buy phone minutes (because of course you carry around your phone when it’s dead with no minutes), came back, finally called his friend, and then successfully made it to where we were seeing the show! GREAT SUCCESS!

So after a day exploring Kampala, staying the night in our hostel just outside the city, we were up early to catch the ‘free’ shuttle provided by the Adrift rafting/bungeeing company we used that weekend. The rafting launch point on the Nile was just outside of Jinja, a city on Lake Victoria about an hour back west towards Kenya.

Us getting owned by the Nile

Now as far as rafting down the Nile River, this was a pretty surreal experience. The enormity, and power of some of the rapids was literally breath taking (especially when we flipped two times). We launched around 10am and rafted until 4pm, stopping for lunch along the way. Besides the worst sun burn I’ve ever had in my life (still strugglin with it as of now), rafting down the Nile was quite possibly one of the coolest things I’ve done it my life. We would be approaching what looked like small rapids and as we launched over the first one, the second would tower over us. It was like a roller coaster on a river. At one point we had to stop, get out, and they carried the raft around. When we asked our guide why, he said “These are Class 6. We would all die”–Casual.

Yeah…I wasn’t scared at all…(that’s me in the front right-hand corner, holding on for dear life)

After the full day of rafting, we went back to the accommodations that Adrift provides—a small hostel/campground, with a restaurant/bar right on the edge of the Nile–and right where we would be bungeeing the next morning. My heart raced as I awoke the next morning thinking about jumping off the huge tower that loomed over the nearby Nile. After getting breakfast, we got weighed (only 4 of us were brave enough to do the jump) and started climbing the huge wooden tower  that lead out to the ledge hanging ominously over the Nile. Apparently it was unanimously decided that I would go first, so naturally I agreed. I walked, heart racing to the little open-air room at the edge of the platform, while I was briefed by an Australian African man (yeah, I was confused too) about how safe this was, how many years they had been doing it etc etc.

View of the Nile from our hostel.

All of this did not comfort me much. I hobbled to the edge of the platform while all the while he was saying “Just don’t look down, look straight out, don’t look down, and in 3….2….1…JUMP!”

So I did, plunging hundreds of feet down towards the Nile (I actually went under water a few feet), and bounced back into the air. It was quite the exhiliration, and by far the worst part was standing at the end of that platform with my toes hanging over the edge, looking out over the Nile and the rolling Ugandan landscapes. The rest of the trip was not that noteworthy, with the rest of that Sunday spent exploring the town of Jinja, and then another overnight busride back to Nairobi.

Free fallin’ belly flop

Uganda, (besides the brutal sun), you were quite good to me, and I hope we get the chance to meet again. For now, I shall remember you by the patch of your flag I have sewed onto my bag–next to Kenya’s and Tanzania’s. It is my way of chronicling this adventurous year.

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