They Can’t Hear You Scream Underwater
As we started to paddle down the Nile River in Uganda, James, our guide, attempted to prepare us for the difficulty of the first rapid.
“We do not want to get thrown from the raft on this one. The water is shallow and the rocks are sharp.”
All I could think of was that I didn’t want to get thrown out on any of them.
“And remember,” James yelled over the pounding water, “get down, look to the side, and secure your paddle or you might…..”
A wall of water crashed into my face drowning out all other sounds. I couldn’t tell if I was still in the boat or outside in the water, but either way I was completely submerged and seemed to be swimming. I managed to keep hold of my paddle and had an iron grip on the safety line, but I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do. A few moments later, the raft bounced on top of the river and all five of us remained inside. We made it!
When Riyad suggested we spend a day white water rafting on the Nile River in Jinja, Uganda, I definitely had my reservations. Although Uganda is among the premier white water rafting destinations in the world drawing adrenaline junkies from across the globe, rafting can be extremely dangerous and I was not sold on the glossy brochure stating “They can’t hear you scream underwater!” Positive reviews and a solid safety record convinced me to give rafting a try. Plus, we had taken a cramped 14 hour overnight bus ride from Kenya and I felt the need to stretch my muscles.
At the beginning of the tour, Riyad and I along with fellow rafters Pieter, Karl, Shamim were handed a paddle, helmet, and life jacket. A larger safety raft and three kayakers would accompany us and assist in the event we get injured, thrown, or separated.
In the calm waters, James had taught us the basics of paddling and prepared us for every imaginable scenario. He had us jump into the water and showed us how to safely help ourselves and each other return inside. James kicked Shamim off our boat and put her on the safety raft when she refused to let go of the raft during our safety briefing.
“This is an easy one and we have nothing to worry about” James reassured us as we approached the second rapid.
Seconds later water hit the raft, folding it in half and flipping it upside down.
We were all thrown into the water and I still had my paddle in one hand as I surfaced next to the raft. I grabbed onto the safety line before I could get swept away. James surfaced next to me, but I was unable to find anyone else.
James righted the boat. Underneath we found Karl gasping for air. Out of nowhere Pieter appeared. James pulled me into the raft, followed by Pieter, and Karl. I was the only person who held onto my paddle and James took it from me in order to get us to calmer waters.
“Where is Riyad?” I asked.
“I think he might have drowned” someone replied.
A moment later, Riyad appeared in the distance clinging to one of the safety kayakers who was towing him towards us. He still had his waterproof camera and was happily snapping pictures.
We then had a long stretch of calm water where we took off our helmets, relaxed, and shared travel stories.
The next four set of rapids were equally terrifying though we managed to stay upright each time. While going over each rapid, James scared us with stories of broken arms, cuts, bruises, and chipped teeth.
“I know a great dentist!” he enthusiastically declared. “And he can replace your teeth at a fraction of the cost at home!”
Our luck ran out on seventh rapid. James attempted to surf it and the water flipped our boat in seconds. Riyad fell first, I landed on top of his head, and Karl again ended up trapped underneath the boat. This time no one was swept away.
With one more rapid remaining, James gave us the option to flip or stay on the raft.
“This is the only rapid where I have some say in the outcome” he told us.
Pieter wanted to flip. But the rest of us felt we had enough adventure on the Nile. We stayed afloat and ended the day with the sun on our backs while paddling to shore.