Anyone who has ever travelled anywhere by water knows that it is can be both a tremendously exciting and relaxing way to experience the world. Nevertheless, these a paddling trip requires a lot of preparation which can be intimidating for newcomers to water sports. So in this post I will try to help you wade through the muddy waters of canoe and kayak trip planning. Continue reading “Water Bliss: A Guide for Planning your First Paddling Trip”
|Yeah you eat those leaves and leave my samosa alone.|
From the boat we were able to get so close to the animals on the shore and were plenty impressed by drinking elephants, creeped out by basking crocs, and threatened by hippos.
|Elephant comes down to the river to drink|
|Perspective shot as the boat pulled away.|
|Creepy croc just hangs out on the bank with his mouth open.|
|Hippo to humans: “Soon.”|
|The water gets a little too turbulent after this to let our hippo boat go any farther.|
As our fun Nile River boating adventure came to an end, our Skipper dropped us off at the beginning of a short hike to the top of Murchison Falls. The hike is straightforward and not too strenuous so most people could enjoy it. It winds through lush forest and climbs up a cliff to various viewpoints along the river. After our game drive the day before, getting out to hike and move was most welcome and the views were very rewarding.
|A closer look at the Murchison Falls.|
The famous Murchison Falls is where the mighty Nile squeezes through a 7 meter gorge and then falls 43 meters below. The result is one of the most powerful waterfalls I have ever seen. Other falls may seem more majestic, but Murchison Falls is a worthy competitor in demonstrating moving water’s awesome power.
|Thea, between two falls.|
|Philip admires the falls from close to the top.|
|Weavers, hundreds of weavers.|
Photo credit: www.scienceblogs.com
|Baboons, while we were still excited to see baboons!|
|Cape buffalo love to stare at you|
|As do Jackson’s hartebeest|
We had our fill of big game animals and thanks to Bosco’s persistence, we were able to see lions…lions (!!!). Noticeably absent from MFNP were crowds. Compared to the massive clusters of white safari vans than indicate an animal is nearby in other parks in East Africa, such as Masai Mara, Murchison Falls was refreshingly quiet. There were times where ours was the only vehicle on the track for as far as the eye could see.
|Lioness posing for her glamour shot|
|Elephant strutting in the park|
|Elephant becoming a bird perch just outside of the park|
We were amazed at just how many animals there were in the park and at how knowledgeable our Bosco was. After a long day of driving through the park, we arrived at the stunning Fort Murchison camp which overlooks the Albert Nile just outside of the park.
There we enjoyed a big, tasty meal and watched the sunset from the roof with a few lukewarm Nile Specials and retired early. Little did we know, our second day in the park would prove to be very eventful. Keep reading in the next post!
Philip and I decided to head into Jinja for lunch which meant taking our first boda boda ride. For the uninitiated, boda bodas are motorcycle taxis that every guide book tells you not to take in the introduction because they’re so dangerous, but then tells you that they’re pretty much your only option for getting around in some circumstances. This was the case for getting to Jinja from Bugujali Falls. With a little trepidation, our boda boda driver, also named Philip, told us to step on and took off. I chuckled to myself as I rode between Philip and Philip in a Philip sandwich of sorts.
While we clung on tight, Ugandan Philip told us how he thought the dam had hurt the people of Bujagali, rather than helped. He said that the government had promised that everyone in the village would get electricity, but it was years later and they hadn’t delivered and the electricity was being sold overseas. The dam removed the falls which generated a lot of steady income for locals, since tourists and locals would come to visit the falls and go white water rafting or kayaking year round. He told me that he wanted me to share this story, so I am now, although at the time my heart sunk because I felt like sharing it wouldn’t do much for him.
Once in Jinja, we worked out that he would stay and wait for us for a couple hours and then bring us back. Jinja was a cute small city, with a decent expat culture it seemed, but I think Jinja’s selling feature was it’s shopping. The shops had a lot of the same wares that we saw all over Uganda and Kenya, but for a lot less. The environment is much more relaxed there too since the shop owners won’t immediately go for a hard sell, like we found it to be in Kenya. If you want to bring some East African souvenirs back, I would highly recommend picking them up in Jinja.
Once back at Bujugali, we gave Ugandan Philip a good tip for waiting and asked if he wouldn’t mind posing for a picture with Canadian Philip. He obliged, but couldn’t keep his eyes open for the picture. Must be a Philip thing.
|Over here Philips|
From there we decided that a rolex with avocado from a street stall and a beer on NRE’s beautiful patio were in order while we decided between sunset yoga and another kayak adventure. While we pondered this, we were joined by this truly beautiful specimen on the patio:
After some liquid courage in the form of cold Nile Specials, I said that I thought I could do yoga anywhere but could only kayak the Nile on the Nile so Philip and I rented a river kayak for what was supposed to be a late afternoon/early evening cruise.
Heeding our kayak renter’s advice, we set out upstream first and paddled against the current to start our tour. We paddled around islands where birds seemed to be the only inhabitants and to the opposite bank where villagers were washing their laundry and filling up their water buckets. We remarked at how much easier it was to pilot a longer and wider river kayak than a shorter white water one. We never worried about tipping it once and paddling against a gentle river current was very easy compared to a white water rapid.
|Not a care in the world a this point.|
As dusk began to settle in, we finished the last drops of the Nile Special that we had smuggled on board and set to return. I insisted on trying to get a few shots where our kayak lined up perfectly with the reflection of the setting sun as we paddled back.
Pretty soon, we noticed that the dam was in front of us and we were losing light fast. When we set out, we had not seen the dam at all so something seemed amiss. We asked a couple local fishermen if they knew which way NRE was and they both pointed us toward the dam. We humoured them for a bit until we found a third fisherman who told us to go back the direction we came. Exasperated and somewhat scared, I suggested that we pull the kayak ashore and call the Kayak the Nile. When we got a hold of them, we advised that we were safe but that we weren’t exactly sure how to get back.
Trying to explain where we were on a dark river was next to impossible, so we were told to wait where we were for a rescue boat. Feeling rather silly, we waited sitting perfectly still on a river that yesterday had consumed us both in massive waves, but today in this spot, was as calm as could be. Fireflies started to glow along the shore and frogs began their nightly chorus. The scene was somehow both stressful and serene at once.
We waited for what seemed like a really long time until calling again and being told to follow the music. That sounded easy enough until we paddled closer to it, but it started to seem like the music was bouncing off the opposite bank which made it difficult to tell where it was coming from. With a few more phone calls and some worried paddling, we finally found our way back to the NRE camp.
As it happens, we had made the classic river sport mistake of underestimating how much faster we covered the same distance going downstream as we had gone upstream and overshot the camp on the way back. We insisted on giving the staff at Kayak the Nile a tip for their troubles and they kindly reassured us that we weren’t the first to get lost and all that mattered was that we were safe.
While it was stressful to feel temporarily adrift on the longest river in the world, we were in good hands and learned an important lesson that we can carry with us as we progress in improving our kayaking skills. I think that the Zen in this experience is learning to accept that you’re learning which means you will make mistakes. Ambitious, adventurous types like myself and Philip want to excel at everything right away but that is rarely possible and there is an opportunity to learn in almost every experience.
Our time at NRE and Kayak the Nile was brief and at times, harried (our own doing not theirs), but it was amazing enough to inspire us to continue kayaking and recommend Nile River Explorers and Kayak the Nile to anyone looking to kayak or go rafting in a truly beautiful spot. I know I hope to be back some day.
What may have made the top of my list may not have been some one else’s idea of a good time. If I answer this question as honestly as possible, my most vivid memory is of white water kayaking on the world’s longest river. The first thing that comes to my mind is of course, the one that I have no pictures of. It is also the only time I have (somewhat intentionally) done something truly GoPro worthy (more on that later).
|People getting a lesson the day after ours.|
We spent the rest of the morning practising strokes and turns and a few more emergency exits for good measure. Despite the instructor’s reassurance that I was picking it up very quickly, I was extremely nervous to go through the rapids on a kayak. Despite having worked up an appetite by paddling the calmer waters on the Nile, the lump in my stomach made eating lunch difficult. All the same, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by the beauty of the setting, and the excitement of learning a new sport.
|Oh sure, the Nile looks calm here.|
|I like to think I looked like this|
|But it was probably more like this.|
The second set of rapids had a less foreboding look than the first set but there was an eddy I was advised to avoid. Naturally, I ended up right there. The safety kayaker instructed me to paddle fast and hard to get out of it which I miraculously did without flipping (the instructor later informed me that most people who go in the eddy flip). By the 3/4 way through the rapids mark however, I started losing steam and was flipped again.
Getting out of the kayak underwater was easier this time, but as I struggled to crawl back in the kayak the instructor tried to reassure me by saying “kayaking is not a graceful sport.” He then instructed me try to maintain more power through the next set of rapids which was the “easiest.”
Meanwhile I should add, Philip who curiously is nicknamed “Flip”, only flipped once in the 3 rapids and still had enough steam to practice edging in an eddy while I waited exhausted by some reeds.
The rest of the journey down the Nile was a peaceful float which allowed me to regain some composure. Even as I write this, I remember the panic I felt as I was being tossed around in the river current and the disappointment of not even making it through one set without flipping. But I also remember the sheer exhilaration of those moments before and after my flips, as well as the blissful feeling of the sun beating down on my face as we gently floated to our pull out site.
While I learned that I need to work on my upper body strength before attempting to kayak through more white water rapids, I also am proud of myself for having tried something new and somewhat scary.
The whole day translated into an epic, memorable adventure and I would recommend a day at Kayak the Nile to any thrill seeking travellers out there. Although, you may want to make sure you pay attention to the emergency exit procedure at the beginning of the lesson!