Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life in Uganda

My image of Uganda at the time was a simple sketch with no story behind it. I knew only of what friends had told me of the country and the little footage I’ve seen in recent kayak videos. I believed that I had grown quite accustomed to African life after spending a month in Zambia. I thought that I had already met the friendliest Africans, seen the most amazing terrain on the continent and had the most unforgettable high school experience. But I had yet to step foot onto the soil and into the culture of Uganda.

Anxiety in our group of nine students, four teachers and one intern was building. The long hours spent in the depths of Zambezi River Gorge would surely be missed, but it was time for a change of scenery. Within a couple days we would be navigating our kayaks through the braided channels of the White Nile River, Uganda.
The second quarter of our African semester would take us on a journey from Livingstone, Zambia to Bujagali Falls, Uganda. As it goes in Africa, we experienced many of the normal and expected travel interruptions. This included: One police ticket (two hour delay), one lost trailer tire (45 minute delay), traffic in Lusaka (30 minute delay plus one angry Zambian who stopped and got out of his car to yell at us for our driving), and finally, one missed flight to Uganda.
And of course, the spare had a giant hole in it...
After many long hours in the Lusaka Airport, the group bunked in a hostel and awoke the next morningto Ethiopian airlines gladly excepting our fourteen kayaks, kayakers and gear. After a day of flying from Lusaka to Ethiopia and then to Rwanda, we finally made it (without any of our gear) to Entebbe, Uganda.
From the Entebbe airport we drove three hours up and down the rolling hills of dense jungle spotted with sugar cane and banana plantations. We finally made it to Bujagali falls and got to sleep the rest of the day in beds, the perfect cure for two long days of traveling. After our well needed rest day, we rallied for our first day on the Nile River. The only thing in common between the Nile and the Zambezi rivers is volume, and both have lots of it.
Sunrise on the White Nile
The Nile is an enormous river, stretching a mile wide in spots. The many braided channels create lots of different lines to choose from as well as the most beautiful small islands in the world. The warm blue water of the Nile gives life to the already lush hills of Uganda. The banks are covered in corn and sugar cane fields and small villages are spotted along the shores. Small dugout fishing boats hang out in the eddies and flat water sections between the turbulent rapids. Our first day was spent on the “silver back” section containing Bujagali Falls, Silverback, 50/50, The Hump, Ugly Sisters and Blade Runner.
"The Hump"
Everyone was more than happy to only walk a few hundred meters to the sandy put in, opposed to the thirty to forty minute hikes in and out of the Zambezi River gorge. The next day we drove down river to “Superhole”, a fun park and play feature. After a few days of classes, mellow laps down the Silverback section and trips to Superhole, we geared up for the forty kilometer paddle down to our next destination, the “Hairy Lemon." Five hours later we got our first look at the long awaited wave of the White Nile known as “Nile Special."
On our way down, we took a few side trips and got to paddle some of the best rapids on the Nile River. Kalagala falls stood out to me, mostly because it reminded me of my forgotten creek runs back home. Kalagala is about a ten foot drop, the top half is a sliding tongue that launches boat and boater five feet off the end into the turbulent pool below.
After a few surfs on Nile Special we paddled down a few hundred meters and arrived at the sandy beach of the Hairy Lemon. The Hairy Lemon is an island about the size of a football field stuck in the middle of the Nile River.
On the Lemon sits a few bungalows and the small dining room. Solar power energizes the two coolers to keep the soda and beer cold, but other than that we were completely disconnected from civilization. This is where I would spend possibly the three most enjoyable weeks of my life.
Looking at the dining area on the Hairy Lemon
The schedule was pretty much the same for the next three weeks; wake up for morning workout/paddle session at seven, breakfast at eight, classes until lunch at noon, study hall for an hour, and finally three plus hours of surfing Nile Special and Club wave.
The Special
After a few days of practicing the rope tow to get on Nile Special, I finally mastered the technique. With the new dam being constructed on the Silverback section, water levels were consistently lower and Special was constantly changing. At times it would turn into a fast green wave with a big pile, but other times it was green and very difficult to land any tricks.
Our last three days on the Hairy Lemon, World Class Kayak Academy competed in the Nile River Festival freestyle competition. Prelims were held in the morning on Club Wave and finals on Nile Special. The freestyle competition was the most unique and ultimately the most fun competition that I’ve participated in.
Unlike most traditional competitions, this one was scored on the biggest three tricks you could throw. A heat of nine paddlers took turns throwing the biggest and most complex moves they could in a time period of forty five minutes. Out of forty competitors, the highest scoring ten advanced to the finals. Although the water levels were completely cooperating for the competition, Nile Special still gave some huge bounces. World Class Kayak Academy made a name for the school with Quinton Barnett placing 2nd in the men’s finals, Jason Craig placing 4th, Peter Thompson taking 5th and KileyEversole placed 2nd in the women’s finals.
The next morning the group woke up to another beautiful day in Uganda and headed back to Bujagali Falls. The following day we spent our last day kayaking in Africa running Itunda Falls, a long, complex drop with four massive holes. After watching our guide Timmy Flowers show us the line down, six of us hiked up and made our way down the first couple of warm up rapids. We eddied out above the first significant drop and Timmy went over the line again. Peel out into the current, punch the center of the first drop, clip the left edge of the “Pencil Sharpener,” paddle hard to the right side of the massive hole dubbed “The Cuban,” drive again hard right to avoid “The Ashtray,” and finally, paddle your ass off to miss “The Bad Spot.”
Finding my way around "The Cuban"
Everyone made it safely to the bottom pool to finish out our last day kayaking on the White Nile River. The following day we drove three hours to Sipi Falls to finish our last day of finals and enjoy a well needed day off.
Sipi Falls
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a Delica mini bus headed for Jinja. It’s been a struggle to concentrate on writing this because I’m surrounded by beautiful hills out both windows. I still can’t grasp the fact that this four month long adventure is coming to an end. Africa is undoubtedly my favorite overseas destination I’ve traveled to and is top on my list of places to come back to in the future.