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8 - Near death near the birth of the Nile

The next day we trekked up an old volcano to track golden monkeys. What a treat to spend an hour watching these gorgeous creatures chase each other around their private playground.

As we observed them they observed us, with such obvious intelligence.

It's an impressive sight as they fly from tree to tree like furred birds...

An attentive momma:

Then off to chill at Buyinyoni Lake.

  • Very relaxed vibe, parked the truck to take a boat and avoid brutal roads.

  • We went swimming shortly after arrival (“very clean, no crocodiles, no hippos!”)

Misty morning for a fisherman...

Sometimes you just have to do the tourist thing!

And then we headed to Jinja for what -- despite all the amazing highlights so far with wild chimps, mountain gorillas, leopards, elephants, crocs, hippos and giraffes -- I was pretty sure was going to be a very memorable day: whitewater rafting the mighty Nile river!

It turned out it was mightier than I anticipated. And while treacherous and rocky, treachery wouldn't be limited to the water.

We signed waivers at Adrift HQ then hit the water.

First, practicing the art of dumping our vessel:

The most impressive part of this maneuver was that Levan had decided to join us.

And he can't swim.

I was surprised by how nervous I felt lining up for the first set of rapids. Perhaps it was because they’re CLASS 5 meat grinders. There are only two Class 5 rapids in all of Canada. The Nile has four along our stretch. Along with two Class 6 killers!

I was forcibly ejected into the first Class 5. I blame Nathan for throwing an elbow in his haste to dive when the captain ordered everyone to hit the floor, and gravity suddenly made that floor disappear. I was soon down and out. Laughing the whole time as on my way over I’d managed to grab the safety rope ringing the boat, perhaps saving my life in the process.

Happily one of the rescue kayaks was right there, so I was never in any real danger. Probably.

We pulled over for a Class 6, thank god. But our intrepid captain, instead of putting in at the bottom of the maelstrom, decided to enter higher up, just before what he called a Class 5 1/2. There was a small, calm pool, and then a two foot liqued“step” straight down into the boiling cauldron that led into not one but two towering walls of ivory fury and swirling smoke. No rational animal would even consider trying to get past them; perhaps one, but with another 10 foot gaping maw laying in wait immediately behind it would be suicide. And so we started…

And made it! Later, over a beer at base camp, I asked our intrepid captain if he'd been nervous, even a little bit, as we drifted into the liquid insanity of a class 5.5, and he replied "once we hit it, I thought there was at least a 50% chance we'd capsize. It was gnarly."

What a blast.

But then, either by swallowing litres of Nile or some untreated water from our hosts, Nate and I were both hit by a very nasty stomach bug just as we arrived at our last guesthouse in Entebbe, on the shores of Lake Victoria. We had to rise early the next morning to fly to Addis Ababa, then on to Kilimanjaro and the white sand beaches of Zanzibar.

This is why the experienced traveller always packs a bottle of Immodium, which was worth its weight in gold given how many hours we were going to be spending on planes shortly.

How to sum up Uganda?

We met only friendly folks, and most seemed quite happy, even though 42% of them live on less than $2.15 a day. Kampala has crazy traffic, the same population as Toronto (its arguable which metropolis can claim worse divers or traffic jams), but it's the countryside which truly amazes the Western tourist; picturesque parades of elephants frolicking ever so gracefully, big herds of horned kobs and oryxes moving en masse across grass fields stretching to a horizon occasionally punctuated by moving spires of giraffe families... the mighty Nile and all the life it supports as it weaves through the plains and valleys and lives of all of us animals lucky enough to experience its voluptuous curves and thunderous take-no-prisoners temper... impenetrable forests so easily navigated by chimps, gorillas and even elephants who can disappear into the screens of bamboo stands and emerald cliffs like phantasmagorical ballerinas when a loud horde of voyeraga caucasiana pounds down a nearby path and disrupts the natural harmony of their home turf... what else could you call it but the pearl of Africa? But there is no way to "sum it up." If you have an ounce of adventure coursing through your veins you owe it to your adventurouself to visit this hard-to-believe-it-still-exists playground, so very well-managed by the local stewards, and enjoy -- up close and personal -- some of Nature's finest-ever works, in the flesh and on the rich red fertile soil of one of my favourite countries on earth.

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