13th July (2012) Jinja, Uganda

Whitewater rafting was on my to do list. I don’t recall the term Bucket List being in common use in 2012. I associated the Nile River with Egypt, so I revelled in the novelty of being able to say I’ve whitewater rafted on the Nile. The Zambezi River, in Zambia, was the usual choice amongst African adventurers.

Our tour guide Brett joined as part of his birthday celebrations. Prior to rafting, he went bungee jumping. He’d chosen adrenaline rushes for his celebrations.

Pretending to be a good redhead, I’d packed knee length board shorts and a rashie (a T-shirt style swim top). These items together formed the perfect outfit for rafting. Most people wore shorts and T-shirts.

After a short drive, we reached the rafting centre. Loads of groups waited around for boat allocation. With eight of us, we got our own boat.

Before we got in the water

They directed us where to sit based on weight and height. The tallest guys in front, Keith and Will; the smallest girls in back, Val and myself; the second row, Brett and Julie; and the third row, Garrett and Karen.

We’d start slow then increase in intensity. With a full day booked, we’d have four rapids before lunch and four after, ranging from class three to five.

A couple of fun small rapids to start. I was not confident I knew what to do. I listen to instructions, but always forget them a few minutes later when I’m required to follow through on them. Being a strong swimmer, ending up in the water didn’t worry me, just the falling out part if rocks nearby.

On the third rapid, our boat flipped completely, throwing everyone in the water. We suspect the raft leader can do this whenever he wants and does so for his own amusement. At this point, I didn’t care. I enjoyed being thrown into the water. I was ready for more.

As we approached our fourth set of rapids, we discussed how to tackle it, being a class 5. I believe we could paddle around it if the group wanted to avoid the higher class. They said there was a high probability of falling out of the raft. I clarified if there were rocks around, no, so we agreed to go for it.

This is how I remember it. We entered the rapid. It was rough and people started falling out. Then something hits my face. Pow. Ow. I close my eyes for a second and when I reopen them, I can see water washing around me. I was swaying with the swirling water without conscious control of my thoughts or actions. I hear, “Grab her,” and someone grabs my arm. The water disappears, but the swaying in circles continues. I’m off with the water fairies.

Only four of the group remained in the boat, not including the raft leader. Keith from the front row, Julie from the second row, Garrett from the third row, and I from the back remained. We sat on the lefthand side. Garrett managed a full somersault from the third row to behind me. The rest were floating around somewhere in the river.

Julie recognised I was not compos mentis and yelled, “Grab her!” Garrett grabbed me from behind. Our raft leader arrived back first, and we headed down the river to find the others.

Next was Val, who was an ENT surgeon. Julie put her to work, checking me out the moment she returned. In doctor mode, she checked my eye socket, tested how many fingers I could count and if I could follow her finger as she moved it from side to side. She concluded there were no broken bones, and having improved by this point, I passed the consciousness tests.

It was becoming obvious I’d come out of this adventure with a shiny left eye souvenir. At least it’s a souvenir you don’t have to dust.

It was Friday the thirteenth. A stupid date to take risks. I honestly believe if I had not, by pure miracle, stayed in the boat, I could have died. I was out of it. If I’d been face down in the water, this story could have had a different ending.

It was time for lunch, and I elected to end my day there. I was brewing the headache from hell without access to any pain medication. I’d be scared to continue, wanting to avoid the rapids, which wouldn’t be fair to the others. There was no point ruining the rest of their day.

After lunch, everyone continued without me. I sat by myself, feeling miserable and full of self pity, wondering how my face looked. I had nothing with which to distract myself.

We met at the photo viewing location. We bought the photos and split the cost. This is where we began working out what happened. It appeared when Garrett did his somersault, he kicked me. We jokingly blamed Garrett. Then we decided an oar hit me, but unsure if mine or Garrett’s.

From the photos, we can see the raft is vertical with my section submerged. As it flattens out, the right side gets dunked. You can see everyone on the left side except me. I must have slid across after Val had slid forward. Once flat, Will is in the water, Brett is nowhere to be seen, Karen is head in the water with her bottom in the air, Val is falling overboard from the second row and Garrett starting to fling backwards. Keith and Julie, the only two in their original positions, are holding on for dear life.

Then I have a pained look on my face with my left eye closed. The end of my oar is sitting on my left shoulder with my arm twisted over it. Garrett and his oar are nowhere near me. It appears to be my oar that hit me. I think the swirling water I remember occurred when the right side of the boat became dunked while the raft was trying to right itself. Our raft leader was nowhere in sight.

The next photo has me almost wiped out as covered by waves. Only Karen’s feet are visible and Val is disappearing under the water. Garrett is next to me with his oar in his lap rather than near my face.

Then my oar moves down to my chest and Garrett’s momentum has his legs moving in an upward direction. His legs get higher and he loses grip of his oar. We are practically touching hands while his oar moves up to my head and my oar down his arm. I’m contorting my face in agony. Garrett is smiling away, having the time of his life. Our raft leader is beside the boat. Keith and Julie remain in place, the others not even a toe in sight.

The last photo shows our raft leader climbing back in with Val next to him. Garrett’s holding onto my arm and Keith has a worried look on his face in my direction.

The photos are amazing to have. They show what happened. Kudos to the photographers. It’s a day I will never forget. I got to tick two things off my Bucket List: whitewater rafting; and a black eye.

We made it back to camp in time for a yummy dinner of pork chops, and I called it an early night. My eye shining away.

The black eye, I mean rafting, cost US$125. I did laundry costing 20,000 Ugandan shillings (about US$8).

We boarded our raft to start training. They directed us where to sit based on our weights and heights. The tallest guys in front, Keith and Will, and the smallest girls in back, Val and myself. In the second row were Brett and Julie, third row were Garrett and Karen.

You were guaranteed to get wet even before reaching the rapids. We jumped into the water to practice getting in the boat from the river. In we all went. At least the weather is guaranteed to be warm, so it does not matter being wet from the beginning.

On to the rapids. Like most adventures, you start mildly and increase in intensity. With a full day booked, we would have four rapids before lunch and four afterwards. They would range from class three to five.

A couple of small rapids were fun. I was not confident I would do the correct thing. I’m good at listening to instructions, but then I forget them a few minutes later when I’m required to follow through on them. Being a strong swimmer I was not worried about ending up in the water, just the falling out part if there were rocks nearby.

On the third rapid, our boat flipped completely and I believe everyone ended up in the water. We suspect the raft leader can do this whenever he wants and most likely does it for his amusement regularly. At this point, I did not care. I actually loved being thrown into the water. I was ready for more.

As we approached our fourth set of rapids, there was a discussion of how we would tackle it. It was a class 5. I believe it was possible to paddle around it if the group was unsure of the higher class rapid. We were told there was a high probability of ending up in the water. I clarified if there were rocks around and when he said there weren’t, we were all in agreement to go for it.

This is how I remember it. Into the rapids we went. It was rough and people started falling out. Then something hits my face. Pow. Ow. I close my eyes for a second and when I reopen them, all I can see is water washing over my head. It felt like it was swirling around me. I was swaying with the swirling water without conscious control of my thoughts or actions. I hear, “Grab her,” and someone grabs my arm. The water disappears, but the swaying in circles continues. I’m off with the water fairies.

Only four of the group remained in the boat. Our raft leader was not one of them. Keith from the front row, Julie from the second row, Garrett from the third row, and I from the back were onboard. We were all on the lefthand side. Garrett managed a full somersault from the third row to behind me. The rest were floating around somewhere in the river. 

It was Julie who recognised I was not compos mentis and yelled, “Grab her!” Garrett was the one who grabbed me from behind. Our raft leader was the first back on board, and we headed down the river to pick everyone up.

Next was Val, who luckily for me, was an ENT surgeon who was told to check me out the moment she hopped back in the raft. She went straight into doctor mode, checking my eye, seeing if I could count how many fingers she was holding up and if I could follow her finger as she moved it from side to side. She concluded there were no broken bones, and having slowly improved by this point, I passed the consciousness tests.

It was becoming obvious I was coming out of this adventure with a shiny left eye souvenir. At least it’s a souvenir you don’t have to dust. 

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but it was Friday the thirteenth. Stupid date to take risks. I honestly believe that if I had not, by pure miracle, stayed in the boat, that I could have died. I was out of it. If I’d been face down in the water, the story could have ended differently.

Luckily, it was lunchtime, and I elected to end my day there. I was brewing the headache from hell without access to any pain medication, and it would be too scary to continue. I would have wanted to avoid all the rapids. That was not fair to the others. There was no point in ruining the rest of their day.

So after lunch, everyone left while I waited for a few hours. I sat there by myself, feeling miserable and full of self pity, wondering what my face looked like. I had nothing with which to distract myself.

We met up again at where you could view the photos of your trip so you could decide if you wanted to purchase them. Of course, we all wanted them. Being a group, we bought them all and shared the cost. 

This is where we started to work out what happened in my fateful rapid. It looked like when Garrett did his somersault over the top of me that his foot kicked me. That was our first guess. We jokingly blamed Garrett. Then we decided it was an oar that hit me. But we couldn’t be sure if it was my oar or Garrett’s oar. 

From the photos, we can see that the raft is vertical in the water with the back section, my section, submerged. As it flattens out, the right side gets dunked. You can see everyone on the left side except me. I must have slid across after Val had slid forward. Once completely flat, Will is in the water, Brett is nowhere to be seen, Karen is head first in the water with her bottom in the air, Val is falling overboard from the second row and Garrett has started to fling backwards. Keith and Julie are holding on for dear life, the only two in their original positions.

I have a pained look on my face with my left eye closed. The end of my oar is sitting on my left shoulder with my arm twisted over it. Garrett and his oar are nowhere near me. It appears to be my oar that hit me. I think the swirling water I remember was when the right side of the boat was dunked under while the raft was trying to right itself. Our raft leader was nowhere in sight.

The next photo has me almost wiped out as covered by waves. Only Karen’s feet can be seen and Val is disappearing under the water. Garrett is next to me with his oar safely in his lap rather than near my face.

Then my oar moves down to my chest and Garrett’s momentum has his legs moving in an upward direction. His legs get higher and he loses grip of his oar. We are practically touching hands while his oar moves up to my head and my oar down his arm. My face is contorted in agony. Garrett is smiling away, having the time of his life. Finally, our raft leader is beside the boat. Keith and Julie remain in place, the others not even a toe in sight.

The last photo shows our raft leader climbing back in with Val next to him. Garrett’s holding onto my arm and Keith has a worried look on his face in my direction. 

The photos are amazing to have. They really show what happened. Kudos to the photographers. It definitely was a day I will never forget. I got to tick two things off my bucket list: white water rafting and a black eye.

We made it back to camp in time for a yummy dinner of pork chops, and I called it an early night. My eye was shining away. 

The black eye, I mean rafting, cost US$125. I also did some laundry costing 20,000 Ugandan shillings (about US$8).

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