I’d wanted to go kayaking in Uganda since I was about twelve years old, watching videos of Steve Fischer et al playing on the big waves of the White Nile. As plans for an ‘end of uni boating trip’ to Japan fell through, myself and Joe decided to make tracks to Uganda to tick off this big goal.
Money was saved (yes, I moved into Joe’s cupboard to avoid paying rent), cheap(ish) flights were booked with Emirates (who have a brilliant luggage policy regarding kayaks – “please come to the front of the queue sir, we want to get this canoe thing out of the way,” and we headed out in early June for a month of boating and chilling out.
The Nile did not disappoint – it is just HUGE!! By far the biggest volume whitewater I’ve ever seen, let alone paddled – videos and pictures do it no justice whatsoever. At the same time, most of the rapids are fairly straightforward grade 3 (with notable exceptions), once you get used to the intimidation and volume. Sure, the waves are 4-5 metres high in places, and if you try and paddle straight up them you’ll just fall backwards onto your head (hint: go diagonally up the shoulder, shoulder charge the crest, and reach through with your paddle to pull yourself out the other side), but there aren’t many particularly technical rapids. Mostly, the paddling involves bashing down enormous crashing wave chains – which of course provide lots of great playspots, if you’re brave enough.
For the most part we based ourselves at the Nile River Explorers raft centre campsite, near Jinja, though we also spent a couple of nights on Hairy Lemon Island. NRE was great, cheap camping, a lively bar with lots of backpackers and travellers, and a chappati stand just outside the gates for cheap and tasty food. It’s also the central hub for all boaters in the area, so finding people to paddle with was easy. One great thing about Uganda is boda bodas – motorbike taxis – that everyone uses to get around on. Zooming along bumpy dirt roads on the back of an underpowered bike, kayak bouncing on your lap, certainly makes for interesting shuttles…
You see some strange sights driving along on a boda…
We spent a few days at Hairy Lemon Island, right in the middle of the river, five minutes downstream of Nile Special wave. The place is utter paradise – lots of comfy places to sit and read, good food every night and tea whenever you want it. A small channel running through the island has been dammed, to create a cool little swimming pool. There’s more swimming in the main river from the beach at the top of the island.
We had a great time on the Nile, and I think a month was about the perfect length of time to be there – I was really starting to crave chicken (of all things) towards the end of our stay, you just can’t get it there! There’s been some controversy on the internet over whether it’s worth going to Uganda, as the Bujagali Dam wiped out several of the main rapids. In my opinion it very much is – it may not be as good a destination from a purely boating angle as it used to be (compared to the Zambezi, Norway, etc), but it’s an absolutely perfect place for a boating holiday. Big waves, warm water, incredibly friendly people, cheap accommodation and food… I know I’ll be back at some point!