There are some experiences that are too daunting to recount for fear that mere words wouldn’t do them justice, and this one is just one of them.
My friends – Telma, Evelyn, Kylie, Sue, Maureen and I had been Ninja Warrioring at the Extreme Adventure Park the month before. That was quite an eventful adventure. During the level two obstacles, I lost my footing, nearly ripping the skin off my underarm as I dangled in the sky completely mad at myself for not being able to proceed to level three. Maureen was the only one amongst us to successfully complete the course. A wounded armpit along with my wounded pride vowed to go back and attain that elusive Ninja Warrior certificate, but first, we needed a more dangerous adventure – enter rafting.
“Girls, can we go rafting next weekend?”
“I can’t swim.” “Me neither.”
“Will we die? Oh my God, this exciting. I’m so in!”
“Me too!” “If you girls go and die without me, I will kill you!”
“Do you think the water will be warm?”
“We will be so busy drowning; water temperature will be the least of our worries.”
“What will we wear?”
“Swimsuits. What kind of question is that? We will wear swimsuits and lots of shea-butter.”
We have a couple of rafting companies in Uganda, we chose Adrift for its experience, and their slogan is experience is everything. These guys have been at this sort of thing for over 30 years; I figured we were in good hands.
There aren’t very many benefits of being a Ugandan, I mean, look at our shilling and the strength of our passport… Don’t get me started on the affairs of the state.
But once in a while, Uganda is represented at the Africa Cup of Nations and the black, yellow red spirit is everywhere! The feeling almost compares with the one a Ugandan gets when they are told to pay less because, well, they are Ugandan.
Adrift offered us a Ugandan package – UGX 150,000 per person. It included a pickup from Kampala city, breakfast, lunch, a sundowner drink + BBQ and a drop off back to Kampala.
On D-day, Adrift picked us up at Oasis Mall way after the appointed time of 7 AM, but we did not let that ruin the start of a very promising day. We had the shuttle to ourselves; soon we were catching up excitedly in anticipation of an adrenaline filled day. We arrived at the Adrift base when everyone rafting that day had had breakfast. After we registered and signed our lives away, someone announced that we had three minutes to have breakfast and get ready for the shuttle to drive everyone to the start of the raft.
We were quite astonished at the announcement.
“What do you mean three minutes? We just got here.” Kylie pointed out.
“You guys are late, everyone was waiting for you…” The announcer continued.
“What? The shuttle picked us up late, how is that our fault?”
My vocal friends were losing their cool and everyone that was waiting was getting nervous.
“There are two people going to join your group.”
“Again, what do you mean? We don’t know them!” Kylie asked.
The announcer wasn’t getting anywhere with us, the manager had to step in, apologize and calmly explain about the delay and why two strangers were joining our group. We noticed that even they didn’t want to raft with us, crazies. Little did we know that they were going to turn into lifelong friends.
We managed to have a bit of breakfast with in 5 minutes and carried the rest to the shuttle. When we got to where the rafting journey starts, we changed into our swimsuits, geared up and started to get acquainted with our new raft mates, Beshka a Kyrgyz and Mark an American. We hit if off instantly.
“Beshka, Mark, do you swim?”
“Super! You will save us if we’re drowning, OK?”
“We will try,” Beshka replied laughingly.
Roberto, our talented raft guy jumped in and reassured us that there is a very reliable and efficient team on the water, we shouldn’t worry.
We got into our raft and Roberto took us through the basics, what to do when the raft flips and throws us into the Nile. The first lesson entailed us to be out of the raft and into the water.
“Who’s getting into the water first?” Roberto asked.
“Is it too deep?” I asked.
“Not very deep, plus you have a life jacket on, you’ll come right back up,” he replied.
“OK,” I said as I slid off the raft and went into the river backward, head first. A ton of water shot through my nose straight to my brain, painfully and fearfully, I went down the river thinking, “This is how I die, why won’t my feet touch the bottom? Mom. I’m so sorry for leaving you without a grandchild, my sisters, my brother, my life, is this how it ends?” While those thoughts and more were screaming, I resurfaced, panicky and coughing up litres of water. My friends were still in the raft looking on very worriedly as I held onto Mark for dear life. He’d gotten into the river the moment I did.
“Are you OK?” they chorused,
“No. I’m not feeling confident about this rafting thing. I thought I was going to die!” I screamed as I splattered more water.
“It’s not so bad, everyone, get into the water,” Roberto urged my friends.
With the help of other lifeguards, we were taught how be assisted by a kayaker, by straddling the nose of the kayak and tilting the head back. Once again, I was the model student by offering to go first. I wrapped my legs around the kayak in one swift move.
Laughingly, I credited my muscle memory. Beshka almost died of laughter. I was glad everyone wasn’t nervous anymore as we took turns at the drill. Next, we had to learn what to do if the raft flips and you come back up under it. This can easily be a nightmare for someone with an irrational fear of enclosed spaces.
When it happened, this time, I thought everyone had died and I was left all alone in this world!
“WHERE IS EVERYONE?” I screamed.
“Jeez Olive, we’re here.” Kylie reassured me as she reached over for my hand and pulled me from under the raft. I sighed in relief.
Soon we were ready to start our journey of drifting along River Nile. The life guards passed around sunscreen before we set off. At the start, it’s nice slow sail. We decided to learn a little about our new friends, Mark and Beshka are workmates at the Bridges Schools.
The first rapid slapped water in our faces but left us in our raft, it was exciting. Mark lost his contact lens and we teased him about it, how he won’t see the rapid coming and how the lens is on its way to River Jordan.
There were two teams rafting that day, our team – Team Roberto and … I don’t remember what the other team was but there seemed to be an unofficial competition of who would have the most fun.
We overheard the other group telling their “Roberto” to make sure their raft didn’t flip.
As we listened to the other team give in to fear, Evelyn asked our Roberto to take us to all the rapids in our path and he did. As the ruthless rapid approached, Roberto commanded us to peddle faster and faster, above our shrieks, he commanded us to get into position – squat in the raft while holding onto the rope. The raft turned and down under we went. The kayaks shot in our directions to gather us. Amidst more shrieks and confirmations that everyone was back on the raft, Beshka calmly asked Sue, “Why were you trying to kill me?”
Embarrassed Sue asked when. Apparently, after the raft turned and Beshka was resurfacing but before he could take a deep breath, Sue pushed him down again with all her might.
“What? Sue! What did Beshka ever do to you?”
“Oh my God, I swear I didn’t do it on purpose! I thought I was holding onto a raft.”
“Excuses…” As we laughed on.
“While you laugh, Madam Kylie here almost killed someone with her peddle…” Roberto reported. As Kylie was floating away, the life guard asked for her peddle, because Kylie panicky, she wondered if the peddle was more important than her life. Why else would the life guard ask for the peddle first instead of her hand?
“That peddle can be a weapon. Therefore, the lifeguard has to take it away from you so he can safely save you without putting both of you in danger.”
At the next flip, Roberto reported that Sue didn’t want to be saved as she kept slapping away the peddle the kayaker was offering her to hold onto so she wouldn’t drift off to Egypt. Turns out Sue couldn’t even see someone helping her with her eyes closed.
We drifted and rafted some more and not before long, hunger pangs stuck. We began to sing nursery rhymes as a distraction. Roberto taught us a Swahili soldiers’ song that loosely translated to, “we’ve been working hard, we’ve earned the food, and we are coming to eat…” or something like that.
Lunch consisted of a salad wrap with bits of beef and plenty of guacamole talk about a healthy and filling meal, which we had silently undermined because we were so hungry and well, we are Ugandans, we tend to prefer our food solid.
We didn’t take too much time eating and soon, we were back on the Nile. We experienced the wrath of the rapids called Bum Shaker and the Nile Special. We nearly lost Evelyn at Bum Shaker when she flew out of the raft. She disappeared for a few seconds that felt like hours, reappeared in one of the most dangerous spots filled with rocks. Kylie screamed while she held onto Evelyn’s jacket, I screamed as I held onto Kylie swimsuit. Everyone else screamed as they looked on, Roberto did his best to stabilise the raft and eventually Kylie managed to slide Evelyn back into the raft.
As we tried to get our racing hearts under control, Evelyn excitedly asked when we would be flipped again. Kylie almost threw her back into the water. The girl scared the heck out of us and there she was clapping happily.
The last rapid, Nile Special was the scariest. We didn’t really except it mainly because Roberto seemed unperturbed by it. He warned that we were definitely going for the very last swim, he also pointed out that if one didn’t want to go for the said swim, they should stay in the raft. I decided I would stay. I was so exhausted from the thrill of almost dying so many times.
When the rapid hit, I was the last one to go under. I felt betrayed by Roberto. How could he not warn me properly! I shot down into the hole like a canon. This is definitely when I die, I thought. I even decided not to fight it. When I resurfaced, the raft hit my head and down I went again. Oh God. My neck hurt for a whole week but was I happy!
Roberto and the lifeguards definitely earned their keep getting everyone together safely. They were the real MVPs, strongly supported by our Kylie.
Back at the base going through the photos and videos as we sipped our sundowner sodas and bit into the BBQ skewers, we all agreed that that was the most reckless adventure we had ever been to.
As we whipped out our phones to do the maths as to how much each one would have to contribute to pay for the photos and videos, Beshka calmed us down, “Guys, I’m Asian. I got this.” Of course he did.