Uganda hadn't been on my radar as somewhere to visit. Pictures I'd seen......"yep, impressive, best left to the playboaters" That all changed when friends from Hertford Canoe Club returned from a trip. Not only had they had a fantastic time, they also had news that a hydro-electric project would mean flooding of a long section of the river and a long list of rapids would soon be lost for ever. It was a case of now or never.
Having spent a few days in Kampala and then going on a safari, it was time to make my way to the White Nile, where hopefully my boat and kit would be waiting for me. First I had to find the bus station. Most short journeys are done on boda bodas, a moped, to you and me. You just jump on the back with whatever you're carrying and off you go. Once I'd got to the bus station ,worked my way through the crowded market, I just had to find my bus. This was like a game of 'hotter/colder' as you home in on where you want to go. Thankfully a board displayed the prices so I knew I wasn't going to get ripped off. Once the bus was full, it negotiated it's way out of the station, some how, I don't know how, and I was on my way.
I started my Nile experience at The Hairy Lemon campsite. Sam and Emily who run LoveItLiveIt, looked after me for the next 9 days both on and off the water.
I gave them five areas that I thought were achievable for me:-
- To manoeuvre in a hole,
- To flat spin
- Back surf
- Bow stalls
Emily would be coaching me. She took along a camcorder so that we could review what was I was doing and the progress that was being made.
- My hands have moved, my right hand being much closer to the blade.
- I'm reaching out over to the left
- That puts my boat on it's left edge, threatening to carve out of the hole.
I would never have worked this out myself. I would just put it down to....er...not being very good at this sort of thing, but now I've got something definite to work on, and look out for. Taking a camcorder along when we go on trips may be a hassle but the camera doesn't lie!
As well as practising different skills, we did some traditional river running too.
This is me getting Bujagali Falls a bit wrong. A previous run down, I'd got the perfect line..but the camera had run out of juice. Honest! And this makes it look harder. All the rapids that I ran had little consequence if something went wrong , but there are some big garde Vs out there. Just do a search on YouTube/ Itanda. Itanda is longer and more intense than anything I've paddled before and I wasn't sure that I could keep to the line...so not this time, and I probably wont be back, so I wince with a tinge of regret when I see it on Youtube, but at least I'm still in one piece.
A bit further down the river is the famously named Silverback. The Nile squeezes through a narrow channel, down a natural ramp, probably a slope of about 15°, and then it culminates at the bottom as a series of exploding waves. By the time I hit the third wave I was already on my tail, but somehow my boat didn't go beyond vertical and as I passed over the fourth wave, still staring at the sky, I knew I'd emerge victorious. Once passed Silverback, there was the option to get off, get a ride on the back of a boda boda, holding on to your kayak, and do it all again. Fantastic.
Sadly, Silverback has now been closed to the public due to the dam project and once completed, Bujagali Falls will also disappear under the flooded valley.
If you still want to paddle the Nile there still plenty to do. It's still being rafted which is so important to the local economy, but it's not a river you ca just jump on. The river splits into multiple channels and you need to know which channel you're in and what's coming up. Get it wrong and you could be in for a very scarey time. My thanks go to Emily and Sam at LiveItLoveIt for guiding me down the river and giving me some great experiences memories as well as improving some of my skills.