African Overland Tour: White Water Rafting The Nile In Jinja

Welcome to our ongoing review of our Absolute Africa African Overland Tour, if you’ve missed the previous installments, you can get some links down at the bottom of the page, or if you’ve been following along the whole time, welcome back! I’ve just finished eating four delicious beef samosas procured on the side of the road for the equivalent of less than a US Dollar, so I am full of energy; if I have to pause writing this to vomit, I’ll be sure to let you know with a five hundred word tangent about the best places to throw up in Africa (That’s the kind of blog entry that goes viral! THAT IS SOME GREAT WORDPLAY I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK)

After a quick and easy border crossing between Kenya and Uganda (we left before 6AM in order to get there early, and even once we arrived, there was at least a mile’s worth of trucks and trailers lined up to be inspected. Luckily, we blew right by those and were across the border in about an hour. PRO TIP: Do not use the toilets at a border crossing. They are real gross. Just hold it), we had a fairly long drive into Jinja, which is considered the adrenaline capital of Uganda. It’s a must for adventure-seekers traveling through East Africa, and we stayed in a sweet campsite on the shores of the Nile River run by the Nile River Explorers. 

Nile River Explorers is located on the Nile River a short bus ride from Jinja proper and a short boat ride from the source of the Nile near Lake Victoria. We were interested in kayaking to the source, but were told that the tour to the source wasn’t that cool (it’s just a sign on the side of the river), so we decided against it. While NRE has a multitude of activities available (bungee jumping, quad biking, bird safaris, booze cruises, kayaking, riverboarding, etc), we chose to pull the trigger on the main event: White Water Rafting the Nile River. If you’re thinking about doing this once-in-a-lifetime activity, keep in mind you can book as late as the day before, and the cost is $140/person, which was not included in our Overland Tour payment. However, of all the optional activities on our tour, this was maybe the most memorable, the few folks on our truck that decided to skip this awesome opportunity regretted it. 

The advantage to rafting the White Nile near the source is that because of how wide the river is, there are a multitude of options for each rapid. Each rapid offers choices between Class 3, Class 5, and XXX-TREME rapids, and every raft on the trip can choose their own adventure. After arriving at the water, we were split up into groups of 6 and herded into rafts. We received a quick lesson, including a rescue simulation and what happens if (WHEN) the raft would flip. FUNNY STORY THAT WON’T RESONATE FOR ANYONE BUT ME READING THIS IN TEN YEARS ALERT: The way to do a rescue demonstration is to have the smallest person on the boat rescue the biggest person, to show that anyone can rescue anyone, so our instructor instructed a small girl on the boat (Laura) how to rescue me. “When he gets to the side of the boat, push down on his shoulders, the lifevest will buoy him back up, and you pull on his shoulder straps as hard as you can and pull him back on top of you.” He then pushed me out of the raft. I surfaced quickly and started swimming back to the raft when into the water jumped Laura. Who was supposed to be rescuing me. She had made it so that both of us now needed rescuing, and her excuse was, “Well, he never said that I was supposed to rescue him from inside the boat. How was I supposed to know?” Her plan was to somehow toss me effortlessly back into the boat. Our guide's response: “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and that was by far the stupidest fucking thing I have ever seen.”

We hit eight rapids that day, choosing to go somewhere between Class Five and XXX-Treme for all of them (our guide revealed at the end that XXX-Treme was just the Class Fives with the guide trying to flip the raft as much as possible. Apparently XXX-Treme means not being able to stay upright and raft effectively), and it was undoubtedly one of the most exhilirating and terrifying mornings of my life. The adrenaline of holding onto the side of your raft for dear life over a ten foot waterfall, then being stuck underneath that waterfall while water beats into the raft attempting to push you to the bottom of the Nile is the biggest rush in the world, and the yells and whoops of victory after staying upright through a huge Class 5 Rapid are among the loudest I’ve ever yelled. And we only flipped once. Suck it, Extreme Rafters.

After an exhausting morning on the river, we had a spectacular lunch buffet on the shores where we traded stories and bartered with the professional photographer who had been traversing the river in a kayak next to us for pictures. We then headed back to camp where we geared up for what may have been our biggest adventure yet: The Sunset Booze Cruise. 

So let me set the scene here: We had been on the truck with our dozen fellow travelers for only eight days, but when you spend almost every waking moment with a group, you form a strong bond. Because the days are so full on an Overland Tour and you’re moving so quickly, most days you are up before 7AM in order to pull down your tent and take the long drive to your next activity. Since we were staying in Jinja for four nights, the day after the booze cruise was to be the first morning when we had nothing to wake up for the next day. We had also been talking about this cruise since we saw it on the itinerary, had just experienced one of the most exciting mornings of our collective lives, hadn’t eaten anything for dinner, and there was unlimitted alcohol on a boat with a group of backpackers who love shots as the only passengers. 

Needless to say, it got out of hand quickly.

Want to see some pictures? I invite you to like Getting In The Map on facebook, where literally hours of photo-looking await you. The pics of the booze cruise are in the Uganda folder, but here’s just one to whet your appetite:

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OK, maybe one more:

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Most of us were asleep by 9 PM, and let’s leave it at that.

The next day all we could do was lay around the campground and eat chapatis, a delicacy popular in East Africa, in which a wrap slightly larger than a tortilla is filled and rolled with assorted veggies or meats. The most popular is the breakfast option is the Rollex, which is made with a loaded omelette and rolled up for eating on-the-go. I ate probably six chapatis during the four days we were in Jinja, and a handful more throughout the trip where they were less prevalent. They were delicious, easy, and oh-so-cheap, costing 4000 Ugandan Shillings, about the equivalent of $1.15. I miss them already.

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After a much deserved day of rest and relaxation by the river, the next day we went on a village walk with a local farmer, who showed us around his farm, on which he grew passion fruit, banana, casava, and chili peppers; basically anything you could think of, he had a couple of trees or bushes on his property. He even had a “medicine plant” which he shared with the villagers.

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He then fed with a delicious homegrown lunch made with the vegetables we’d just seen growing (no medicine though) and showed us around his village. It was a delicious lunch, but personally, I didn’t enjoy walking through the village. He encouraged us to take pictures of the children playing in their yards and the villagers doing their daily activities, but were those people actually giving their permission? At one point, one of us asked a question about a tree in someone’s yard, and he waved us onto their property and pulled a piece of fruit off the tree for us to try. Good service, but the woman standing in the doorway looked pretty pissed off that there were ten white people on her front lawn taking pictures of her kids and house. The whole experience seemed a little exploitative to me, as I try to be as conscious as I can of taking pictures of people living their everyday life. It’s our vacation, but it’s their life. I wouldn’t be happy about tourists standing in my yard putting snaps of me playing Rock Band and drinking Coors Light on Insta, I think these folks deserve the same right.

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We spent the rest of the day sitting at the NRE Camp’s bar overlooking the Nile River and sampled almost their entire menu between our whole group, everything was delicious and incredibly cheap. Between the chapatis and the NRE Nachos, we were fed extremely well in Jinja. Overall, it was a much-needed change of pace from the hustle of an African Overland Tour to be able to relax and hang out for a couple of days in an idyllic setting, when usually we get to enjoy the setting for one day and head to the next adventure on the itinerary. Rested and recharged for more adventures, we left the adrenaline capital of Uganda and headed for Kisoro, the home of the African Mountain Gorillas.