What an enormous adrenaline rush today would have been. How Matt managed to complete his ‘straight-face challenge’ through the second set of rapids beats me, (he was so proud of that by the way), but it certainly made me laugh – you’ll have to zoom in on the photographs to get the full effect, notice how even when the team are covered in water Matt’s helmet is still in the same position as the rest of the photos. You can’t see the rest of his face, but I’m pretty certain it will have had the same expression as all of the others 😐!
However, even shooting the rapids wasn’t enough for these guys. Oh no. They had to become pirates!!!!
Day 26 – 10th August
This morning when I woke up I felt fully refreshed and recuperated, as if I had been at home for several days.
We rolled up to the main building and paid $100 each for the rafting. We were introduced to an American guy with a beard who was to be in charge of the day. There were also a lot of extremely excitable Chinese people who were hilariously surprised at a non-black man being in charge.
After a short wait we embarked on a short bus journey to the start of the course. There weren’t enough seats for us to sit next to each other so I ended up sandwiched between a Chinese guy who called himself Magic and a Dutch girl called something unpronounceable (and even more unspellable) who thought I looked 23.
We arrived and had breakfast; a buffet of sausages and deep fried eggs which Chris and I polished off at the end.
We were then introduced to our captain for the day, a local Ugandan with dreadlocks called Roberto (he was introduced as Roberto the Champion). Our rafting team consisted of me, Chris, Matt H, Gavan and Craig. We all posed for a team photo and then we pushed off for our training session.
Roberto told us about the commands he would be giving us and how to steer. This also included ducking into the boat and capsizing drills. This took about an hour altogether by which time we were ready for something a bit more exciting.
We paddled full speed ahead at a fast moving current and an approaching roar. What I understood by white rapids was high speed, bumpy water. What our first experience of rapids actually was was careening backwards down a 4 or 5 metre waterfall into a chaotic maelstrom. We somehow managed not to roll, although it was a close run thing, with Roberto at the back shouting instructions at us (nearly everyone else capsized on this first fall, it turned out to be level 5 rapids where we were only insured up to level 3 and the maximum is level 6 which is seriously dangerous even for instructors!).
Roberto’s faith inspiring comment as we edged backwards over the edge was, “Uh-oh, we wrong way”.
After we recovered our senses and stopped screaming, we found ourselves in a wide, slow flat section with several other rafts which had righted themselves and climbed back in. It was a very long paddle to the next set of rapids so we decided to try our hand at piracy. We were hyper and tensions were already rising due to some competitive splashing during training. Rechristening our raft “The Beige Pearl”, we set off in search of mischief.
Our first victim was our other team’s captain, who was caught completely unawares as we slid alongside and Chris and Craig snatched him backwards into the water. What we didn’t bank on was how good a swimmer he would be, and he popped up on the on the other side of our raft and tried to pull Craig in. Rushing to his defense, we anchored Craig and ended up somehow pulling our victim back onto our raft.
After we released our prisoner, we set off in search of new prey and had several similar encounters. We eventually spied our other team hot on our trail, presumably seeking revenge. By this time we were the unquestionable pirate lords of the Nile, and we were feeling pretty cocky. We engaged the enemy crew and oars were locked in a tug-of-war that could only end one way. I noticed about 3 people about to pull Chris off so I quickly grabbed hold of him so he could fight back. I then also saw Matt H being suspended between the two rafts by Craig and Adam tugging him apart, so I went to save him. Unfortunately for Chris, this meant everyone on our boat was preoccupied and he succumbed to the river.
Out for blood we formulated our revenge plan and chased our rivals. When we were the right distance, Chris, Gavan and I leaped over to their boat and started causing absolute bedlam. Chris and Andy engaged in a death battle which ended up with both of them in the water, although Andy reckons Chris went in first and then pulled him in after. In fact Andy grabbed a freshly landed Chris around the torso and threw him over his shoulder, which he called a suplex. Meanwhile, Gavan and I were causing chaos by trying to push everyone else out of the raft. Gavan went for Josh and Simran while I tried for Sam, with Adam on the floor being crushed by the combined weight of me and Gav. The skirmish ended with Gav being ejected by several people, and me realising I was on my own, grabbing Simran and diving in with him helplessly following. By this time we were approaching the next set of rapids so we all scrambled back to our raft and made ready.
Roberto told us not to capsize as there was a photographer, so Gavan and I resolved to continue our long running straight face challenge and show no emotion for any of the pictures on that set of rapids (which we both succeeded in).
The rest of the morning followed in very similar fashion, with several more rapids and Roberto continuing to issue commands in his powerful voice like Ugandan Arnie.
We were significantly ahead of all the other rafts by the time we reached the final rapids of the morning. These were one of the longest of the day, and we had to seriously battle against the water. Like the champion that he is, Roberto got us through to very near the end, at which point amid massive waves and loads of adrenaline we heard, “And Now We Swim! Jump! Jump!”. Our short experience had taught us to do exactly what Roberto said without delay, so we promptly dived off and were swept away by the current. When we caught a breath, I looked around and saw Gavan struggling for air so I swam over and helped him out.
Once we were back on the boat it was nearly lunchtime so we paddled over to a little island with a large log hall on in which we had our lunch. As we were captained by a champion, we arrived first out of all the teams on the water.
Lunch was a buffet with free sodas, and we were encouraged to have as much as we wanted. There was extensive salad and fruit, and some delicious chicken with pineapple, along with chapattis to wrap it all up in. Up to this point I had refrained from really pigging out, but I was hungry and it looked delicious so I absolutely piled it on. 10 minutes later I was struggling to finish my salad mountain, but I pushed through and cleared the plate. Chris and Gav had a similar experience, and the raft sat a little lower when we climbed back in.
Back on the high seas, we wasted no time and headed straight for the next rapids. This one was split into 3 channels: “Chicken Run”, “50/50” and “Bad Place”. We were told in no uncertain terms that if we went for Bad Place we would 100% flip, (Roberto said that even instructors have never successfully traversed Bad Place, he described it as a washing machine!), so we powered straight across it and made for 50/50. The current was very strong, and though we pushed as hard as we could we were barely moving in the direction we wanted. Suddenly we caught a massive wave from Bad Place, which pushed the raft so we were literally 90° to the water, halfway between 50/50 and Bad Place. By sheer luck (and Gavan throwing all his weight at the aerial side of the raft), we smashed back down the right way and surfed to freedom, hands shaking from adrenaline.
Our other team weren’t so lucky, and as they drifted inexorably towards Bad Place without the power to resist, their captain just started laughing and threw away his oar as they performed a spectacular group dismount off a giant wave.
There was a long stretch before the next one, so we jumped out and had a swim for half an hour. When Craig wasn’t looking, I jumped up and grabbed him, pulling him in. He then climbed back up and prodded us with an oar as we tried to follow forcing Chris and I to swim behind the raft for a good ten minutes. As we approached the final rapids, we clambered up and took our positions.
We paddled full speed ahead and caught the current. The waters were rough, and several times we teetered on the brink. Finally our luck ran out, and we wiped out into the seething rapids.
Even with our life jackets, it was difficult to catch anything other than short, irregular breaths. Whenever I did surface, I looked around for my friends, but I couldn’t see Gav anywhere.
The fast current carried us straight out of the danger zone and into a more steady flow. Matt H and I had travelled the furthest, and we reunited 50 m away from where we capsized.
The raft eventually caught up with us, and thankfully everyone was on board. It turned out that Gav had been trapped under the raft unable to breathe, convinced he was going to drown (for about 4 seconds!).
We decided to swim the last few hundred metres to the final beach, and ended up hitching a ride with some kayakers. There was a barbecue waiting for us, and an opportunity to view the pictures taken of us. My favourites were Chris’ terrified face down the first waterfall, and my no expression challenge which was uninterrupted even by being completely covered by a wave.
The instructors who had lost a paddle at any time had to down a pint through a beer bong as a forfeit.
We wanted to buy the pictures from the photographer, but he wanted $200 for both teams. We haggled him down to $100 for the lot, and Craig and I agreed it could come out of the group budget as we are quite up on what we should be thanks to successful haggling and scrimping.
We have 3 nights left after tonight and at length we have decided to spend all 3 in Entebbe rather than go to Kampala as in the itinerary. While Callum and I went through the accounts to work out exactly how much we have left, the guys on accommodation looked in my Ugandan travel guide to check out our options. We ended up with several in different brackets (including Josh booking us in provisionally at the Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel for 3 nights at $165 per person per night!). After consulting the books, we put to the team that we spend 3 nights at a mid-priced hotel near the beach that is supposed to be close to an excellent pizzaria, which is now the accepted plan. This decided, we retired to the bar for a few drinks (still non-alcoholic) and then went to bed for our last night in a tent.