Monday, February 26, 2007

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rafting on the nile

uganda's main tourism attraction in terms of people and dollars is the wildlife and landscape and safari sort of thing. but there is also a bit of new zealand-esque adventure sport scene centered around jinja, the source of the white nile on lake victoria. last weekend was our first foray into this scene, and definitely a memorable one. jinja is only an hour and a half from kampala, but we hadn't been there yet even though there is a well-reviewed mexican restaurant there (none in kampala).

we did a one-day trip with nalubale rafting company and i would recommend them again, for sure. the trip is 29 km and goes over some 12 rapids, equal parts class 3, 4 and 5, and at least one class 6 that we have to portage around because it's not legal for commercial groups to run class 6. for good reason.

in terms of whitewater, one of the nile's defining characteristics is how safe it is. it's really deep so rocks generally aren't a problem, and it's dam-fed so the water level never really fluctuates seasonally. no crocs, hippos or sketchy parasites, either. that's all hard to remember when the raft flips and you're being tossed around underwater, feeling like you're at the whim of the river. we wear helmets though, and as long as you don't panic and can hold our breath for 5 seconds, the life jackets do their job of getting you back to the surface.

we had two rafts with 6 folks and a guide or two in each. the guides were canadian and just as you would expect career river rafting guides to be. they quoted south park and team america. there were also a few ugandans in the entourage in river kayaks and a raft fit with oars. these were the safety boats, and these guys had unreal upper bodies. i felt safe. midway through the trip i asked our guide, who had seven years experience guiding, what the gnarliest injury one of his clients had had. he said, "you mean besides dying?" oh.

the not-so-fun part of the trip was before we had even left the bay where we put in to the river. we were practicing our paddling and doing some capsizing and rescues and stuff. so it was the very first time that i was in the water and learning to get back in to the boat by grabbing the line that runs around the gunnel (if you call it that on an inflatable raft) and hoisting yourself up like getting out of a pool while someone pulls the shoulders of your life jacket. anyway, i went in the boat, but my wedding ring did not. i didn't tell paige because i didn't want to make the trip sad for her. but we're somewhat over it now, and i like to think that my ring will be found by a hobbit and make some kind of journey that changes the course of the events of our time.

when we left MN for africa, i finished the insurance paperwork for our wedding and engagement rings in the MSP business office just before we boarded our flight. between my two knee surgeries (among other things medical) and now this, i'm definitely beating the house at insurance. just my little way of sticking it to the man.

back to rafting, paige and i each exited the raft 3 times and only one of those times wasn't entirely fun. the last time i went under i was really glad that i had been under a couple times before because it was deep and it felt like a long time. but i just hung out knowing that life jackets float and it would do its job. one kayaker documented the trip on video and we will have a dvd of the action. we stopped mid-day for an excellent lunch at a somewhat posh lodge and i think paige and i will definitely go back there for a little vacation. watching some of the ugandan guys running class 5+ in river kayaks was awesome. river kayaking had never appealed to me until seeing that. they were doing all sorts of rodeo moves, too, that looked like a lot of fun.

there is probably more that i'm not thinking of, but for sure a good time was had by all. that all included me and paige, seth who is here for some months, chris who is about to do his PhD vive voce, lindsey who will soon be leaving us, emily who we may convince to stay, and simon who is on the lake vitoria tour researching the world bank for his PhD.

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