Surviving the Nile on a Kayak at Night

After testing my courage the day prior by trying to kayak through white water rapids on the Nile, I decided that I loved kayaking but wasn’t so sure about the paddling through rapids business. I debated between taking a sunset yoga class and renting a river kayak for a peaceful cruise at dusk. Having these options available to me is yet another reason why the Nile River Explorers camp at Bujagali Falls is such an incredible place.

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:

Blue beauty

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. 


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