Friday, September 26, 2014

Nile River Explorers Camp

One of the best recommendations we got from my friend's friend was NRE. She emailed me the link--and seriously it's what brought our trip full circle. I knew I wanted to go rafting and I knew we wanted to volunteer somehow as well. Imagine my excitement when I found out that we could volunteer right there in Jinja, through a company called Soft Power Education that would pick us up right from the camp! It was too perfect!

After rafting, they took us to the river camp. We got a free night's stay with the purchase of rafting (which was only $125), and how could we say no? This place was unreal! It was a little home away from home for backpackers right there on the Nile! You could choose from dorms, private rooms, tents, etc. The view was amazing. The atmosphere was fun. There was free wi-fi. A restaurant. Massive slides into the Nile. Every night was a mini-party with music, and wi-fi users with new friends from around the world--in other words, it was perfect. In fact, they even do yoga classes at sunset--which we participated in one night. So cool right? I could go on and on about how amazing it was...or you could just see for yourself.
Isn't it just B E A U T I F U L! I just wanted to sit outside forever and just enjoy the view. But I was in Africa! And gosh dang it, and there was so much to do in so little time.

If you're thinking of going to Uganda-NRE is definitely highly recommended. It makes a "go by yourself" trip totally possible!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Rafting the Nile

The next day was the day I'd been looking forward to since the beginning of the planning stages of our trip. One of the biggest reasons why I chose Uganda (besides it all just working out so perfectly) was because my friend Audrey had gone there right after she got married to do some humanitarian work. I loved reading her posts and getting her emails. Like they were the highlight of my day kinda thing. Especially her post about rafting the Nile. My jealousy then reached an "off the charts" kind of high and I just couldn't get the idea out of my head--for years! Audrey thought it was the scariest thing in her life--but I didn't even care. 
I wanted to do it. 
I neeeeeded to do it. 
And today was the day I finally got to.  

Our pickup time was 7am at the Nakumatt by the elephant statue. Since it was so early, we braved up and took a boda boda. And we survived! Honestly, it was not even concerning at all. But the traffic in Kampala is pretty I'm sure it isn't the safest thing. 

The company we were rafting with sent a bus to pick us up. It's about a two hour drive from Kampala > Jinja. The drive there could have gone on for hours and I wouldn't have even cared. Uganda is so beautiful! It was great to leave the city and see the country. Even though Jinja is the second largest city in Uganda, it had way more of a country feel to it. There wasn't much traffic--in fact hardly any cars where we were (boda bodas galore) but I think we spent most of our time in the outskirts of the actual city though. We got to see lots of villages and how the people live literally off of nothing but the land. I loved it so much! Jinja is located at the source of the Nile. In fact we had to cross a bridge over the Nile to get to the city and they are so protective of it. In fact if you take pictures of the bridge you can be punished by law and your camera confiscated. I didn't know and snapped a picture. Oops. Apparently they are paranoid about terrorism which I found it super interesting. The recent dam built is a huge source of power for that area of the country, so I guess it makes sense? 

We got dropped off at NRE headquarters (Nile River Explorers) where we were briefly trained on rafting, given our equipment, fed breakfast (a rollo and fruit), got on another bus and were on our way! I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. And the breakfast was delicious. My first taste of passion fruit. I've had passion fruit flavors--but never had experienced an actual passion fruit. Boy was it divine. A sweet treat indeed. I love the amounts of fresh fruit we consumed here. My tongue is raw from all the acid, but I did't even mind. 
As soon as we got to the bank of the river, the local Ugandan guides carried all of our supplies down to get things set up and ready. We took a little bathroom break, and along came the cutest, sweetest kids walking down the road. My first interactions with the kids of Uganda :). It warms your heart just hearing them giggle and act so silly. They LOVE the camera. Mirrors and electronics aren't in their norm, so they loved seeing themselves on the screen after we took pictures. That was their favorite part. There is something about these sweet children--their vibrant smiles, the curiosity in their eyes, and the contagiousness of their laughter--that you can't help but love them to pieces. 

After that brief intermission we were back on track! We had a river to raft! And gosh dang it--I couldn't wait any longer. They gave us another little training course--like 10 minutes long--that basically consisted of--You're going to flip out of the raft. The most important things to remember are: 
1.) even though it may feel like forever, you will actually only be under water for 30 seconds or so. 2.) Get your head to the surface, but don't breathe until you open your eyes and can see that it's clear to breathe (and another wave isn't crashing down on you) 
3.) Kayakers will be looking for you and rescuing you. Straddle the front of their kayak until you get to safer waters. 
4.) If you get stuck under the raft, feel around til you get to an opening and can breather. 
5.) You're not gonna die. 

And that was it and we were off on the adventure of a lifetime.

As if Margo wasn't nervous enough (she has a severe fear of drowning and suffers from anxiety), she was borderline freaking out right now. But she put on her brave face and went anyways. So proud of her!

So if I remember correctly--I think we did 6 rapids total. 3 were class 5. We walked around a class 6 because it's not safe to raft. Only kayakers can do that one--and even then it's pretty freaking dangerous. Because of Margo's fears, we opted to be put in a more reserved raft. We still had a really great time, paddling our little hearts out. The first 4 rapids we didn't flip at all! Including our first rapids set that ended by going down a freaking waterfall! Yes! you read that right. I think it was like 15 feet tall. Check out my facial expression change from stoked to whooaaa in the pictures below. It was so much fun! By the second to last set of rapids, the guides convinced me and another girl who were the braver of the bunch to switch rafts so we could go on a more intense ride. We flipped right away of course and it was probably one of the most scary moments of my life thus far. I felt like i was in a washing machine getting tossed and turned every which way with no end in site. The guys were right, it did feel like I was under there forever, but I was surprisingly really calm. All I could think about was it's okay, you will reach the surface soon. All of their advice was clear as day and I followed all of their directions. Get to the surface. Look before I breathe. Swim swim swim. Grab ahold of the kayak! Finally we made it out (ALIVE) and oh my gosh. I've never been so exhausted. I took a beating. I don't know how everyone did that on every rapid. It was insane...but I was thrilled to have experienced it. But I was also happy to head back to my old raft :). 
At the last set of rapids our guide said that it's almost impossible to not flip in them. He gave us fair warning and of course we flipped. Before I knew it, all the scared-y cats on the trip were scattered across the Nile! This flip however, was much different than the last. It was graceful to say the least. I remember falling, coming straight to the surface and then floating down the river as if I was in a wave pool. Up and down. Up and down. And all I could think about was poor Margo being scared out of her mind. By the time I found her she was grinning from ear to ear! She loved it! We all did! It was a great way to end our 8-hour adventure!

After we were finished, we were taken to a little area with tables where we were fed dinner and given copies of all our pictures. We reminisced about the day and finally said our goodbyes before being dropped off at NRE camp! More on that place next (aka the best place ever)....

Our guide--I can't remember his name
Our rafting crew!

I highly highly highly recommend rafting the Nile and NRE was the best company! I couldnt have had a better experience and I never felt unsafe! I am so grateful that I got to check this off my bucket list!!!