Thursday, September 15

White Water Rafting on the Nile (Uganda)

Mary: We headed from Kampala to Jinja. Jinja has a great feel, despite having a lot of tourists it is very relaxed and there is no hassle at all. It has a lot of interesting-looking old buildings, in various states of decay, in a weird old mix of styles – probably best described as Art-Deco-meets-Africa. We camped at Bujagali Nile River Explorers ($5pppn), about 6km from Jinja, which has amazing views over the Nile, a good restaurant and a good atmosphere. We stayed for a few nights as we hadn’t really had a proper break since Dar and we need the occasional weekend! There is a great chapatti stall on the edge of the property, rather grandly called “The Uganda Chapatti Company” and a very reasonable craft shop. Chapatti is actually one of the main staple foods in Uganda, eaten plain, or alongside rice or posho/ugali/pap as a side dish, or filled with vegetables or egg. We had a few “rolexes” (“rolled eggs”) while we were there – chapatti with a thin omlette with veggies and avo, rolled up together. I am going to have to look up the recipe for chapatti as Brett and I are now both addicted! It is interesting seeing the Asian influence on the local food, and curry has also featured quite strongly on the menus. We also enjoyed the Ugandan speciality, Binyebwa, or Groundnut sauce, usually served with rice or posho and chapatti. We have been eating out a bit more lately as the food has been a bit cheaper (especially at campsites) and very tasty.

Brett: The main reason to come to Bujagali is White Water Rafting ($125pp and definitely worth it). We were grouped with 4 other cool people and Geoffrey our guide who was very funny and experienced. We did some initial training for steering, falling out and righting the inflatable raft. There are 8 rapids in total and many are grade 5 (Mary: ie hard – harder and definitely scarier than the ones we did on the Zambezi 10 years ago) but with fewer rocks as hazards when you fall out and no seasonal variation of water volumes. The first rapid was a grade 5 - a 3m waterfall to get the adrenalin going! The second was a grade 3, but we hit the big wave at the bottom at an angle and came out – it is actually good to fall out early on as you learn that it is not as bad as expected (Mary: apparently! But it actually felt worse than the grade 5 we started with because of the falling out). After being put off a bit by the sheer size of the rapids, Mary was yee-haa-ing all the way down like I knew she would Smile, although she confessed later to have gone through the critical bits of some of the rapids with her eyes shut.

There were two more rapids where we stayed in, but got very wet going right through the massive wave at the bottom and then some flat water for a floating lunch of pineapples and biscuits. We swam in the Nile (hopefully it is cleaner here than Cairo) after lunch and we gave Geoffrey an involuntary swim while he was sleeping on the edge of the boat. The boats are carried past the grade 6 rapid after lunch and then we climbed back in for the last 4 rapids – one of which Geoffrey tipped us out as revenge and the last he tried to catch a wave and we came out. The day ends with an awesome all-you-can-eat-braai before taking the truck back to camp. I certainly made the most of the all-you-can-eat braai and wasn’t really hungry for a day or two afterwards, but Mary was so tired she could barely lift her fork. The new Bujagali dam has changed the rafting route so you now start and end 2 rapids later. Apparently one of the rapids now missed was very good, but so are all the rest so I think it is still worth it. The planned new dam will also change the campsite view to one of a lake rather than a river, but it should still be good.

Mary: We stayed at the Jinja Nile River Explorers ($5pppn) for a night as we needed to sort out a few things in Jinja. The camping is in the gardens of a nice old backpacker lodge in the classic style, and was very comfortable and quiet, with fantastic staff. We had a romantic dinner at 2 Friends a few blocks away, which has a fantastic setting (in a lovely garden with fairy lights) and OK-ish food (my Braaied Pizza in Uganda was definitely better, even if I do say so myself). In the morning, we went to DHL to send our UK passports to Brett’s folks to organise the Ethiopian visas from London, as you can’t get the Ethiopian visas at the border (unless you fly in), and the embassies in Nairobi & Kampala have stopped issuing the visa unless you are a Ugandan or Kenyan resident. The ladies in the DHL branch in Jinja were great, really helpful and professional. We even got to draw a little piece of paper out of a hat to see if we had won a random prize….but we were unlucky.

We decided to take the scenic route to Kenya via Sipi Falls  on Lutz’ recommendation, as the border at Suam is apparently a lot easier than Malaba. At Moses Camp ($2pppn) near SIpi Falls, we parked our car on the edge of the cliff with incredible views over the plains below and the largest of the Sipi waterfalls. The facilities are a little run down, but the locals running the place are very nice. We did one of the guided walks to the waterfalls which, unusually, is charged at 10k Ush per waterfall, because the farmer whose land you cross to get to each waterfall needs to be paid off. The walk was great (except for the constant up-selling by the guide who wanted us to do a coffee tour, village tour, all 3 waterfalls, a cave etc). The walk down and back up from the bottom (main) waterfall is quite steep and slippery, and includes a climb down a ricketty wooden ladder – my favourite! (as Borat would say: “naaaaaaaaat!”)

After we got back from our walk the rain came down with a vengeance – probably some of the hardest rain I have ever seen. We hid out in the lounge area and drinking wine from our 500ml plastic carafe (the wine came in a 5l box – oops I mean magnum – which we decant into an old 500ml water bottle, making a convenient sized carafe which fits easily into the fridge, and we drink it out of our not-so-crystal-plastic cups!). After dinner we were introduced to the splendid game of Yahtzee by the equally splendid Bex and Doug from the UK.

Brett: We headed off early for the Suam Border. It is 40km in a straight line, but was more like 110km as the road has hundreds of clever twists and turns as it vaguely follows the 2000m contour line on the edge of Mt Elgon. The first 20km were good tar which changed to quite rough dirt roads. We were taking it very slow, often in 1st gear for inclines and obstacles, and very grateful for the high ground clearance, but we saw several locals managing just fine in Toyota Corollas Smile.  The drive to the border is really scenic, and we would definitely recommend this route for the scenery. It took us 4h30, but partly because we were enjoying the views so much (really some of the best we have seen in Uganda). A lot of people avoid this border in the rains – it would be slippery if wet, but it wasn’t bad the day after our massive storm. 

The Suam Border itself is another reason to come this route – it is our favourite border on the trip so far (we weren’t even looking for a favourite). The ladies running the Ugandan Immigration were doing their hair as we walked up and were very friendly and chatty, so of course we had a group photo. They told us that our colleagues (another SA couple that we haven’t met yet) had camped over outside their office the night before and I can see why – it would make a brilliant camping spot, right on the Suam river. The Customs guy in Uganda was equally friendly.  On the Kenya side, the Immigration guy was a huge, friendly hulk of a man who chatted to us about the rugby, having played it in highschool (he was certainly built for it). He also asked how long we wanted to stay, reminded us that South Africans don’t pay for a visa for a month or less, and when we went for that, he smilingly scolded us for not making him any money. At Customs on the Kenya side, we helped fill out the Carnet form as the guy didn’t get many of them and he asked us to confirm what he needed to fill in where. After half an hour for both sides, we headed into Kenya, no fees paid. And what a super bunch of people – actually we should have camped there a night just to spend a pleasant evening drinking a beer with them. By contrast, I have heard that the main Malaba border has a brilliant road, but has huge amounts of bureaucracy, touts and queues of trucks.

Car stuff/broken stuff:

  • We plugged in our car at the campsite in Bujagali Falls for the first time since Dar too – the battery had been doing well, but we had spent too many nights without driving, and the driving that we had done was too short, to keep the batteries charged.
  • The Indel B fridge stopped working – we emailed National Lunar in South Africa not really expecting a speedy reply, and Robin promptly emailed back with some tips to diagnose the issue. An hour later, we had eliminated the power supply, Danfoss compressor & controller, the thermostat, the fan. Robin has sent a replacement circuit board and screen/buttons on ahead of us to Jungle Junction (for free) with instructions for how to replace when we get there, which should fix it – very impressive service. In the mean time we are running the fridge manually – ie always on, but we have rigged up wires which we disconnect when it gets down to about 0 and connect again when it gets too warm.
  • We have only used the inverter twice before and we tested it out again to charge phones and cameras (as Kampala has many power cuts). While driving, the inverter alarm went off and we could smell burning, and it seems completely dead now. It was never very good to start with, not being able to charge the laptop (even though it should be able to based on the 350W rating).
  • The brilliant Canon G10 compact camera which has been fantastic for a few years has developed an interesting flaw – it now gives off a puff white of smoke and a burnt smell when the flash is used! It still works, but don’t know how much longer it will last.

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