JINJA -- This must be how the delicate cycle works in a washing machine. Everythings rotating, the water is 30° C, and when I come up Im going to be really, really clean. If I come up! When is this cycle over!?
Airs getting tight. Whats up, whats down? After a couple of seconds that seem endless I finally manage to get my head above water. I have just been thoroughly washed by the White Nile where, according to Lonely Planet, the best rafting in the world is available in the topmost of the top travel countries in 2012: Uganda.
"Is there anybody on board whos never gone rafting before?" Paulo Babi asks before we set out. Three hands including mine go up. "Great, then at least Im not the only one," laughs our rafting guide in his bright red rubber boots. I know hes experienced also witty, theres that too, I think as I seat myself up front.
We set off, and, spurred on by Paulos "Go, go!" my arms pull my paddle through the water. Soon I can hear the sound of roaring water through my helmet, then I see a drop, at least four meters, and my mind starts sending signals that maybe this isnt such a great idea -- but my arms keep on paddling. Im having a hard time keeping my rubber-boot-clad feet down and now waves come streaming over us. I lose my orientation. The raft and its passengers me, six overweight Americans and the shouting Paulo capsize.
Where the Nile meets Lake Victoria
Freshly washed, back in the raft, we dry off in the strong sun as Paulo utters soothing words: "No worries, there are some crocodiles around here but theyre all vegetarians! Seriously, we need to pay more attention at the next rapid. Ive got my laptop with me and waters not good for it."
The jokes burble out of the mouth of our Ugandan guide faster than the water rushes past the raft. Paulo could have gotten us through without capsizing he is, after all, a member of the Ugandan national rafting team but with him the wash cycle is part of the program.
"Right after the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria, you have the best rapids in the world -- Class 5, says Paulo. "And because theres so much soft water here, and so few sharp stones, capsizing isnt dangerous, he adds. Hes been taking tourists on this most African of rivers for over 12 years and theres been only one accident, when a rafter broke a leg.
When a rising roar announces the approach of another rapid I get the feeling that maybe Im going to be Paulos second accident statistic. Paddling under these conditions seems about as promising as trying to reach up and grab the fresh green leaves away from a giraffe feeding off a tree top. At first the raft bobs up and down on the white foam like a cowboy on a rodeo bull. Then its as if the water is saying No More Mr. Nice Guy, cuts the fun and games short and the second wash cycle begins.
Paulo is intimately familiar with the dangers of the current. Until he was 16, he was a member of the renowned Bujagali Swimmers. Carrying just an empty 20-liter jerry can each no life jacket, no helmet for flotation, these young men would jump into the Bujagali Falls. Paulos older brother was killed doing this.
This didnt happen, however, on the 25 kilometer stretch that Paulo negotiates daily with tourists like me for Nile River Explorers. Still -- hearing the story about the brother isnt confidence building, especially as just then we are approaching a rapid called "Bad Place." One minute and a lot of gulps of water later I understand why the rapid bears that name. The next ones "Vengeance Rapid" vengeance for what, I wonder, that we got through Bad Place without capsizing? Here, nomen est omen (name is omen): submerged again.
Shaped like a fat snake thats just eaten its fill, the White Nile courses through the green landscape. Clapping kids leap off rocks into the warm river. Fishermen in slim wooden boats shake their heads at the often sunburned muzungus (pale faces) who pay nearly 100 euros each to get thoroughly soaked.
Over 100 years ago, Winston Churchill called Uganda the pearl of Africa. He was certainly referring to the landscape not the Nile rapids. Whether or not, on a rafting trip, your view of this landscape is more that of a fish really depends on the mood of the person steering. Paulo enjoys turning his boat into a submarine and every time he does it I want to swear at him. But no sooner are we back underway, the adrenaline gets going and Im thinking: another wash cycle, please!
Read the original article in German
Photo - NeilsPhotography