Spending your life endurable miles away from the mighty River Nile but choose never to experience its richness.
In a dull environment where the Covid-19 pandemic has left little or no options for the average Ugandan to unwind, tubing the Nile at Shs 150,000 per head helped us shed the gloom.
On a cold Sunday morning, the group gathers in bits at Forest Mall, Lugogo to start a journey to Nile River camp in Budondo, Jinja. This is about 84km from Kampala via Najjembe Market for those roasts.
It takes two hours on the road where not even a 20-minutes stop by traffic police towards Mbiko almost kills the hype. On arrival, about 20 tubers get their water outfit on before they are moved in two vans to Namizzi, where everyone gears up with a life jacket and helmet before picking an inflated tube.
A scan at the faces differentiates who has been there and who is about to break their duck. The former look relaxed and rearing to go while the latter seem baffled. Water guide, confessed rastafarian Emannuel Mwesigye, will lead a group of three captains, who will each handle a group of five through the wavy 6km and three-hour adventure.
Mwesigye and his team are part of those affected by construction of the Bujagali Hydroelectric Power Station, left with nowhere to go.
“Call me Emma and I’ll be your guide for the day. Just follow instructions and everything will be all right, let us get moving,” he says in a Patois accent.
Off we go
A 300-metre muddy foot path leads us downhill where they are met with the spectacular view of Bujagali rapids with the power stations lurking in the background. In turns, the captains float away as Mwesigye repeats the safety briefing. There is even better news for those who can’t swim.
“Once you fall off the tube, just relax because you have a life jacket and I will also be there to help you get back on it,” says Mwesigye who has been at it for 16 years.
Born into a family of fishermen, both his great grandfather and grandfather all spent most of their lives on water. He was born on the shores of the Nile and he knows it well. His water skills have led him to River Tana in Kenya and River Zambezi in Zambia to compete and exhibit.
Mwesigye’s CV makes the biggest of doubters feel safe with his stewardship as if getting lost in the right direction. The history lessons on the Nile are inviting. You want to keep listening as he talks about what the river means to him and the community.
“To us it’s a way of life. I started swimming when I was six years old. I have gone to the water almost every day since then,” says Mwesigye who has guided people.
Facing the waves
As the tubers get forced by currents towards the rapids, captains wait to plunge them into the most brutal wave. During the course of the outing, rapids namely Caribbean wave and Kibibi will be the day’s test. At Kibibi your writer is caught off guard and left gasping for oxygen after a wave gets him off the tube into the Nile.
Mwesigye stretches his hand out with a smile and we are back to business. Our group mates suddenly have something to crack them up. A tough few seconds off the tube but worth revisiting. Catching the big wave comes with a rush of adrenaline that triggers pure elation.
The next part of the adventure sees another kayak emerge with water and snacks after the bumpy ride with people already sharing their tubing on the Nile experiences.
Persuaded to go
Three friends seem over the moon, I later find out it took one to convince the two having got his first experience a fortnight ago.
“I was talked into it by my friend and I’m already thinking about when I can do this all over again,” says Marvin Guma with longtime friend and student, Conrad Gutakira, had been persuaded by Andrew Okori.
It is a story retold by Kempten Safaris’ Joel Wakanyasiki who thinks tubing on the Nile should make everyone’s bucket list “You have not truly lived if you haven’t experienced the beauty and wonders of the Nile in a tube,” he opines. At the end of it all, it’s another experience in the bank with smiles all over as everyone emerges from the water.
A barbecue waits ashore with drinks, catching up, mingling and more photo moments all on the menu. With an hour to the 7pm Covid-19 time’s curfew, it’s time to hit the road back to Kampala. The excitement goes all the way to the van but does not last long as attention shifts to the need to get everyone home safe. At around 10pm, there is a handful still aboard as the driver heads to his last stop at Forest Mall where it all started. Mzee Stephen Senkubuge, our driver can’t wait to get home like everyone else, his jolly character has wilted into a spent man .