Saturday, February 6, 2010

Da Nile - Not just a River in Egypt

The Nile has become our respite from the hustle and bustle of Kampala. Situated only about 80 km east of the city, but depending on traffic can take anywhere from 1.5 to 4 hrs to get to. As most of you know, Lake Victoria, the shore on which Kampala sits, is considered the "source of the Nile". And here Jinja, located on the exit point of the river from the lake, is considered ground zero of the Nile's journey north to Egypt and beyond. The truth is I'm not quite sure why its considered the source, because the headwater of the Nile start in the highlands of Rwanda, where its rivers feed Lake Victoria. Lake Victoria itself is one lake in a series of lakes along the meandering path of the river. The nile is 4132 miles long and flows north, making it the longest river in the world. It is considered the primary reason for the rise of the Egyptian civilization, and made for exciting contests and stories among the greatest African explorers of the 1800's Speke, Livingston, and Stanley.

To us, the Nile has become a place to get away from the dusty relentlessness of Kampala. We have been here 3 times so far. Two at a place called The Haven and once for a weekend at Bujungali Falls for rafting.

The Haven is a serene river camp built by an inventive German who created a beautiful camp overlooking one of the class V rapids on the river. Apart from spectacular views of the river below, good food, and manicured lawns to camp on, the place is ecologicaly friendly and self-sustaining. The owner designed a rain water catchement system into the thatched roofs of the bungalows and uses the water and the height to run water to all his facilities without the help of a generator or pump. He also runs all of his lights on an array of solar panels.

We came here first about a month after getting to Kampala when Rusha required immediate R & R before she was going to get "American" on some of Uganda's challenges and inefficiencies, ie she was going to start yelling at people and demanding results before taking tea and spending 10 minutes on pleasantries before every conversation. We spent a short weekend here and were able to come back to K'la refreshed after playing in the (hopefully) Bilharzia-free waters, soaking in the sun and eating pineapple and mangos. We befriended some local teens and challenged them to a swim race, and you can imagine the shock to their machismo pride when Rusha beat them all. We swore that we would come back and here we are again, sitting on the restaurant's porch, typing a blog entry.

Our other Nile excursion was to Bujungali falls, a camp owned by a rafting company on the bank overlooking Bujungali falls, another class V rapid. This camp, while beautiful, carries a much diffrent vibe then the Haven, which is a bit more refined. Bujungali falls caters to the backpacker and overland crowd, and there the beer flows freely and adventure travelers abound. The camp runs a kayak school and rafting trips on the White Nile. The White Nile ranks among the mightiest white water rafting in the world, next to Zimbabwe's Zambizi River. The key is the massive quantities of water that flow, coupled with the speed elevation loss through the Ugandan portion of the river. the raftable section consists of 10 class V rapids, where the waves can be as high as 10-12 feet. The only reason it is raftable is because the river is so deep and the water so fast that if you do fall out, you are in lesser danger due to the relative depth of the water and can generally stay clear of under-cut rocks. Unfortunately, the rafting industry here is set to become extinct or much less exciting as a second dam is being built at Bunjungali falls (to feed the immense energy needs of East Africa) and will flood a large portion of the river, eliminating the half the rapids and changing the flow of the river downstream.

Bujungali falls is owned by one of the rafting companies and they let you camp for free duirng the weekend if you raft with them. We spent the majority of our time hanging out with a pair of nice German overlanders, who had driven their fully stocked landcruiser from Germany, through Turkey and the Middle East to Egypt and southward through Sudan and Ethiopia to Uganda. Their plans are to eventually make it to South Africa over the course of a year. The overland SUVs are a marvel to behold, with a rooftop tent, a kitchen, water filtering system, navigation/telecommunication/comuputer systems, a mechanic shop, and for the Italians, cases of wine and pasta.
We spent the day and night chatting up with the German couple and the next day we went rafting with them and some of our AJWS friends from Kampala.

Rafting the Nile is flat out scary. For those of you who have never flipped a boat into mighty class V waters, it is like being in an underwater head on car crash, only somehow you live on the other end. The trip begins just below the Owen falls damn, the main hydropower station of Uganda. After learning the basics of rafting along the quiet stretches we entered the series of rapids that make the Nile famous. From Bujungali falls, where legend tells of a spirit that is passed from generation to generation embodied in a human host who has to prove he is the Bujungali spirit by jumping into the falls. If he is the spirit he will float along unscathed on top of the water. If he is not, most likely he drowns. In the unlikely event he makes it alive, but does not float on top of the water, he is exiled to an island in the middle of the river, to live out the rest of his miserable life. Other rapids include: Silverback, Jaws, Rib Cage, Overtime, Total Gunja ("Totally Insane") and Itanda (the Bad Place). The rapids are truely massive, and in my limited rafting experience, would be unraftable if not for the fact that the volume and depth are such that it is safe to make mistakes. In all reality I think that some of the rapids would be considered a 4. The consequences, while scary, I believe are faily low, and we ended up capsizing once and throwing people out of the boat several times. Even still, when you are accelerating into a massive 12-foot wave or going over an 8-foot waterfall, its pretty thrilling. In between the rapids are calm parts where you can swim and listen to the guides tall tales, and eat pineapple, which rounds out a nice day on the river. We finished the weekend with a celebratory BBQ and a ride back to K'la.

Tomorrow will most likely be our last day on the Nile until we meet it again in Egypt. Until then, hakuna matata.


  1. Glad you guys are well and out of the water...keep the pics coming for those who are here and enjoy the scenery. Take care

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  3. I like it. That looks pretty sick. It looks like all is well and you guys are having a great time while contributing to the well being of humanity.

  4. I am finally catching up with your adventures, and I love reading your tales. Thank for posting and keep the photos and stories coming!