Put rafting and bungee-jumping on your bucket list this festive season

ALI TWAHA

In December 2015, I received an e-mail from MultiChoice Uganda inviting me and 40 other journalists for a media challenge at Busiika Adventure park.
I did not show up because of pressing issues I had to attend to. When the opportunity struck for the second time, without asking any questions, I said yes, this time. I would not miss it for anything.
When we gathered at the pay TV company’s offices in Kololo at 6am, I had no idea what to expect from this experience. White water rafting is one of the main tourist attractions on River Nile. It fetches the country billions in foreign exchange. We arrived at the Adrift base in Jinja at about 11am. The view of the River Nile looked so beautiful.
The first rapid on the Nile. No one fell off the boat.

It curved gently through the swampy river banks, making the air smell so refreshing and I inhaled deeply. As everyone rushed off to get some breakfast, my attention was quickly drawn toward the sounds of the crashing waves. There, we would go rafting – a high adrenaline sport where several people sit in an inflated boat and sail over rapids and foaming, angry waters.
The rafting instructor took us through the rules.
Rule one was to “Listen and do what you’re told.”
Rule two: “No jeans, no phones... If you still want it, leave it behind,” yelled the instructor before telling us to sign a form, detailing our heath conditions. Rafting is a preserve for adults. And if one has any health complications such as anaemia, or high blood pressure, one is advised not to join in.
Roberto was assigned as our captain after forming a group of six. Majority of the journalists were in their mid-20s or early 30s. An army of kayaks was to guide us around the mad curves of the Nile as it thundered northwards to Egypt from its source in Jinja. In case of an accident, the kayakers can spot you easily and come to the rescue. 
After boarding the inflated raft, we got another set of rules. These involved teaching us how to hold on and how to get back on the boat in case the cascading waters tossed one out.
At this point, clearly no one had thought falling into the river was part of the bargain, going by the looks on our faces. From a distance, we could hear the thundering river beckoning. 
The training, however, required a lot of strength yet we were an interesting group, I must admit. Not your average buff guys. But no one wanted to feel water strike his or her skin; so, we took the training seriously.
If white water rafting is on your bucket list, expect to burn lots of calories when that time comes. Some of us had never seen a rapid until we sailed down them that sunny afternoon. Anxiety started setting in slowly as we got closer to our first rapid. The fast-moving waters were crisp and clear as they crashed against the rocks below.
We could see children skinny-dipping along the banks as we headed for the rushing waters.
“Peddle faster…faster. Everybody get down!” Roberto yelled. “Hold onto the raft!”
His voice competed with those of the screaming journalists he was leading. The first rapid we hit was pretty frightening. It felt as if we were stuck in that rapid for hours and unable to breathe. But I clenched the safety rope running along the boat’s edge tightly; a few seconds later, it was over. We were sailing down the gentle river again.
“That was easy,” one journalist remarked. Roberto laughed lightly as we cheered, heading further with the Nile waters

The Kayaks kept an eye on everyone at every rapid level.

Then Roberto said we should maintain basic coordination for the second round. He said there were high chances the boat would flip over. At this moment terror took over.
One journalist said he could not face another rapid, claiming he had a fractured ankle. We offloaded him into a safety boat we later nicknamed the ambulance. Now, only five journalists and our captain remained in my boat.  On the right side, where I sat, we were only two and had to peddle twice as hard as our three counterparts to the right. 
Roberto said, “The next rapid is Bad Place.”
The name alone sent chills through my spine. I went silent and stared at the approaching rapid, its angry water being tossed about in a white mess by the rocks beneath.
We plunged into the notorious beast, Bad Place, where towering waves collapsed upon us, shooting our inflated boat and the weight in it up and over the crest. I felt myself losing grip of the safety rope, as did the other journalists. I found myself flying off the raft and into the foaming madness. I panicked.
Suddenly, everything went dark. The boat had covered me but others were screaming with the thrill of the experience once we emerged from the water. As we were all struggling in the water, meanwhile, Roberto was in the boat. Safe and dry.
Our dreadlocked captain was tough but nice at the same time. He says he has spent about 20 years on the river and seven years as a guide with Adrift Company. After Bad Place’s scare, journalists resorted to doing what they do best: asking questions.
“How many more rapids do we have? What are the chances of the boat flipping again?”
But Roberto only refreshed our minds with the rules of rafting. There are five rapids in total; however, we could only raft on four of them. The third one, Roberto said, was dangerous and compared it to a death trap.
The author 

The waters flow very fast and the rocks are pretty many, he warned. When we reached it, the boats were carried and we crossed the dangerous part by the slippery banks.
“If you let go, you get off,” he said, smiling at us as his dreadlocks dripped over his shoulders.
By the time we rowed through the last two rapids, our boat had flipped several times. We spent more than three hours on the river. When it got too hot, Roberto told everyone to take a swim. We left it at that and headed for lunch.

BUNGEE JUMPING
But no trip to Jinja is complete without doing a bungee jump. The thrilling experience is not for the faint-hearted. One journalist after being tied up and all was set for him to take a dive off the tall platform toward the river Nile below, looked at his mind-blowing destination and asked to be immediately untied.
“This is death. I can’t do it,” he said, retreating from the jumping ledge.

It looks easy if your watching from a distance. However, being on that cliff is a different story.

I was next in line. For a moment I thought of tossing my turn to my neighbour. I felt nervous going up the approximately 50m platform. But with ropes tightly holding me and my ankles so tightly strapped, I thought surely nothing could go wrong!
I nervously watched a monkey jump from tree to tree on the opposite side.  Friends who have bungee-jumped once told me never to look down. That advice came in handy. I locked my eyes on the monkey, just to gather some more courage. 
Amid cheers from friends watching from the balcony of the bar, I was caught in the moment; I spread my arms and dived forward. My blood rushed through my veins as I moved at God-knows-what speed. Soon it was over as I bounced inches over the Nile, until I was released into a waiting boat.
Being upside down and plummeting from the sky is really scary, but worth it if you are an adrenaline junky.

QUICK TIP
If you are planning on trying all this, for Ugandans, you can pay Shs 240,000 for bungee jumping and rafting. That includes being picked up from wherever you are in Kampala to Jinja, as well as breakfast and lunch. Once you are done enjoying the experience, you are driven back.
It is a lot cheaper if you transport yourself to the Nile. Foreigners pay double the locals’ rates. The experience was worth it. The day ended with a performance from Peter Miles until about 10:30pm.
As we drove into Kampala in the wee hours of Christmas day, I could not feel my legs. Yet strangely, I wanted to go back to Jinja and raft some more.

This article was first published in The Observer Newspaper

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