Our gorilla tracking tour marked the end of the African travel we had planned before arriving, so it was time to figure out our next adventure! We weren’t ready to move on from Uganda yet, and decided to spend a night or two in its largest city, Kampala. After an exciting 8 hour bus ride from Kabale Town we entered the Jaguar Bus Terminal, where 10 men on bodas (motorbikes) approached us to offer a ride. Since our hotel was only 1km away, we opted to walk.
We stayed at the Namayiba Park Hotel, which was a bit of an odd spot. It was right beside a bus terminal where all buses were leaving for South Sudan so probably not the most touristy place to stay but it had hot water, free breakfast and was only $30 USD per night so we weren’t complaining.
The next morning we set out to walk around a bit and quickly realized we were visiting during Independence Day – October 9th. It was the 10th and the celebrations were in full effect! We headed over to Exposure Africa which has a bunch of craft vendors selling everything from jewelry, to artwork, to clothing. We made a few small purchases and then headed across the street to 1000 Cups of Coffee for iced lattes.
As we made our way down Buganda Road, we could hear the sounds of the street festival, which was taking place all day. We decided to follow the crowd and walked down Kampala Road, past floats, beer gardens, BBQs, vendors and HIV testing tents. As the only Mzungus in sight, we got lots of stares and some people asked to take photos with us. Everyone was super warm and friendly, caught up in the excitement of the day and the beautiful weather.
We made our way to the end of Kampala Road, and headed up to De winton street, planning to walk by Parliament. We did indeed pass by, and tried to grab a few pictures which proved difficult as it was guarded and you cannot take photos of police officers in uniform.
We decided to walk back down to Kampala Road and follow it back to our hotel, but first we stopped off for a Nile Special in one of the beer tents. On our way back we were also tempted by the smells from a BBQ and grabbed some chicken and chips to have for a late lunch. As we made our way out of the festival area, huge lines to get in were forming and we were glad we explored it before the crowds arrived! That evening, we decided to treat ourselves and had a Lebanese thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant called Ceders, which was delicious.
The next morning, we headed over to Oasis Mall where we were being picked up at 7am by Nile River Explorers – a white water rafting company. When looking at other things to do while in Ugnda, rafting on the Nile was high on the list so I suggested we try it out (I think James was a little surprised; I’m not usually the one to suggest adventure activities. To be fair, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect!). We headed for Jinja, a two hour journey and arrived at base camp where we had breakfast, were briefed on the day’s activities and put back on the bus to head to the river. We met a lovely couple from Toronto who is also taking a career break to travel, and this was also their first rafting experience. I think we were all a little excited and also terrified (or maybe that was just me).
We were split up into three groups – James and I were paired with a couple from Spain and a couple from Mexico who were a LOT of fun! We got into our boats and our guide, Hassan, gave us a good (scary) safety briefing and instructions on what to do and what not to do. We practiced flipping our raft and getting back into the boat which didn’t calm my nerves but was an important drill!
Pretty soon, we were on our way, paddling to our first (of 8) rapids for the day. Hussan informed us that water levels were low today which could actually make some of the rapids bigger (oh great). We made it through the first one unscathed and had a celebration before heading to the next one.
Though the second rapid wasn’t any scarier, we somehow managed to flip our boat – the first of the day! Luckily we flipped at the end of the rapid, so getting back into the boat wasn’t scary.
Between rapids, we would sometimes be paddling for 30 minutes, which was a welcome break from the excitement and also a good arm workout! I think we were all pretty sore the next day.
Rapid number 3 went off without a hitch and when we arrived at the fourth, we pulled up next to a rock and were instructed to walk to the other side. If we had gone down, we would have been heading into a grade 6 rapid and I can’t even imagine what that would have been like! On the other side, the rapid was a grade 5 so we were back in our boats and heading into the crashing waves.
We were halfway through! We cruised down the Nile, snacking on fresh pineapple and biscuits before continuing on. The 5th rapid was a crazy one; we hit a massive wave and nearly flipped but held on for dear life and made it! There was quite a lot of celebration once we were back on calm waters.
The 6th and 7th have completely escaped my memory since the 8th and final rapid scarred me for life! We approached the last one, which Hassan told us was called the Nile Special (named for a local beer) and watched the other two boats go down and flip hard. At one point Hassan said ‘We just have to wait because one of the boats has flipped and is stuck in a rapid’. Excuse me!? I was wondering if it was too late to get onto the safety boat. But we all cheered as we paddled on, into a certain death (ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit). Once we hit that first big wave, we were toast. Everyone appeared to go flying. I was hit in the face with a paddle (not hard) and crashed into the water where James best described the feeling like ‘being inside a washing machine’. I was tossed and turned, and finally after what seemed like 5 minutes (but was likely 2 seconds), surfaced and saw that the rest of my team was also ok. But none of us could see Sarah, the girl from Spain, anywhere in the water. As her husband started to panic, I called to one of the safety kayaks if they could see her. He started laughing – she was still in the boat! Everyone, including Hassan, went crashing into the Nile and she held on for dear life! Once we were safely back on water, there were a lot of congratulations and high fives.
Nile River Explorers are smart; they know that guests are elated to be alive and well after their rafting experience and they finish it the absolute best way – with a BBQ and beers. We sat around recounting our experiences and cheers-ing each other before getting back onto the bus and heading to Explorers River Camp, our accommodation for the next two nights.
Explorers River Camp is a great place to relax with an incredible view of the Nile. We opted for a safari tent, which has a bed and a view of the water; it seemed like most people staying also chose this option (and at $35 a night, it was a pretty great one!).
The food at Fork and Paddle, the pub, was excellent and affordable. On our second day there, we hung out on the patio taking in the views and relaxing which was great. My only complaint would be the music at night (I think I’m getting old). For such a serene place, they started blasting music from around 7:00pm – 11:30pm. Think Gangnam Style, Boom Boom Pow by Black Eyed Peas, and anything else that’s annoying and has a lot of bass. Earplugs were no match for the pub stereo! Still, for the price and the scenery it was a great place and if ever back in Jinja we would stay again!
Next, we were headed to Nairobi for a few nights to see giraffes, elephants and explore the neighbourhood of Karen!