White Water Rafting on the Nile River

On Friday we woke up at 3:00 a.m. to load of our stuff on to the van for our trip to the Nile.  We were not coming back to the Telman’s home, so we had to make sure that we had everything.  The Applegate’s prepared coffee and breakfast “to-go” for each of us.  They told us good-bye and we were on our way.  We didn’t have to say good-bye to the Telman’s just yet as the whole family accompanied us to Kampala.  The bus ride to Kampala took approximately 3 hours.  I sat next to the window with Alexandria Telman (age 11) next to me in the jump seat.  About an hour into the trip we stopped for gas.  Elizabeth got out to go to the bathroom.  When she got back I decided that it would be in my best interest to go as well.  To this point, I hadn’t used a “cho.”  When I learned this was a cho I was a little nervous but also a bit curious.  The workers pointed me to a walkway in between two buildings.  I saw a very large back area with a couple of buildings, again no lights.  I wandered into what smelled like a bathroom.  It was pitch dark, so try as I might I couldn’t see a hole in the floor.  I didn’t let that bother me too much as I have never seen a cho before and didn’t know exactly what I was looking for.  I knew that time was tickin’ and everyone in the bus would be waiting on me so I decided to disregard the lack of light, and the absence of what I assumed was a “cho” and completed the task at hand.  To this day, I have no idea where I used the bathroom. This may seem like too much information, but a "cho" really is part of the Africa experience.

The remainder of the bus ride was very quiet.  I gave Alexandria one of my earbuds and we listened to music.  When I noticed that she was nodding off I laid my backpack in my lap and let her sleep the rest of the way on top of my backpack.

We arrived in Kampala as the sun came up.  It is like nothing I have ever seen before.  It is so crowded – there were people everywhere!  We saw one lady attempt to stuff a live chicken in a plastic bag.  The best way I can describe it that it looks like a post-apocalyptic city.  The buildings look to be in varying states of ruin, clearly there are no city ordinances and there are vendors all over the place.  Dustin explained that much of the city was destroyed by war and then never rebuilt.  What I found the strangest was the lack of street signs (stop/yield, etc), the lack of stoplights, and most scary of all, the lack of driving lanes.  You literally drive wherever you can squeeze your vehicle through.  To say that traffic is insane is the understatement of the entire trip. Then there are the peachy peachies (motorcycle taxis).  The average life span for these drivers must be very short as they whip in and out of between cars regularly.

We changed buses in Kampala and caught a ride to Jinja – where the mouth of the Nile is situated.  The ride to Jinja took another hour and half. When we got to the rafting station we learned that we had been accidentally booked for the Class 5 rapid trip.   When Dustin and Elena asked me about a month ago if I would like to do a Class 3 or a Class 5, I told then a Class 5 - duh.  He explained that we would be doing the Class 3 as it was the more prudent move, given that we were a large group in a foreign country with sub-par healthcare. While I was disappointed – from a liability standpoint, I couldn’t argue. So you could imagine my excitement when I learned that we were doing the Class 5! There were a few members of our group that did not want to do the 5 so the rafting company let them raft the level 3. 

After getting our helmets and life jackets Dustin, Elena, Roger, Amanda, Lauren and I boarded an open sided/safari type van to make the trip to the Nile.  On the way there they fed us chapatti with eggs and fruit to make sure that we were properly nourished for our day of rafting. 

Amanda, Elena, Me and Lauren

We put our rafts in the water at the mouth of the Nile River.  It was so surreal to be somewhere referenced in the Bible.  In my raft was Dustin, Elena, Amber, Jim, and two girls from Germany.  We had a great guide, Hasan, who had been doing this for 7 years - though he tried his best to convince us that this was his first day.  First he took us out to some calm water to practice all of the commands. After we had semi-mastered the simple commands, he flipped the raft.  We were all trapped underneath the overturned raft.  The purpose of this exercise was show us that if we were to get caught under the raft during a rapid that we can still breath and still hear – no cause for panic (yeah right).  He then taught us how to get out from underneath the overturned raft.  If I am being perfectly honest, this scared me a little bit.  Just being under the raft was nerve wracking.  I can’t imagine being stuck under there going through a violent Class 5 rapid. Next he taught us how to flip the boat back over.  This was a little scary too as we had to duck underneath the raft while holding onto the raft - too much coordination required.  Then we practiced getting back into the raft.  I work out with heavy weights and body weight exercises every day and ashamed as I am to admit it, it was impossible for me (and for everyone else) to get back inside that raft.  Luckily our guide could grab us, two at a time, by our life jackets and drag us into the boat. I felt so graceful flopping into the raft like a dead fish.   

We also had the joy of watching our other Class 5 rafting team (Roger, Lauren, Amanda, Amy and Chelsea) train.  Their guide was hilarious!  At one point I saw their raft flipped over (all were presumably underneath) and their guide was standing on the rafting, banging his paddle on the raft as hard as he could while screaming, “GET OUT! YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!”  It was so funny.

 The "before picture."  

Yes, my facial expression is humorous . . . and might I add, flattering :)

Our first rapid was right out of the gate.  It was a Class 5 rapid.  Class 5 is the strongest rapid that you can commercially raft. Class 5s are perfectly safe, expect for the threat of someone hitting you in the head with a T-grip (paddle), which actually happened to Amber. 

There is such thing as a Class 6, but it is really too dangerous for even the rafting guides to attempt.  Hasan told us you can only navigate a Class 6 in a kayak.  He told us the name of one Class 6.  We asked if he had ever rafted it and he replied, "No, I am not ready to rename it yet."  He explained that the last person that attempted to raft it died and they named the rapid after him. 

When we approached the first rapid, we quickly realized that it was actually a little waterfall.  

We rafted down into crashing white water.  Right before going over Hasan gave us our instructions.  We were get down, hold on and lean to the left.  It was so scary and so awesome at the same time.  It was all I could do to stay in the raft.  The power of the water was amazing.   

Once we got through it we were all freaking out with elation.  We did a paddle “high 5” and paddled to calmer waters. We noticed that the raft that came down after ours flipped over while coming down the falls and everyone fell out. 

Next we saw bat – hundreds of bats.

During our trip we rafted 27 kilometers and tackled 8 rapids. In between the rapids we paddled, A LOT! We were all exhausted by the end of the day.  We would paddle for 20 to 30 minutes in between rapids. I had no idea how I was going to be able to hold on during the rapids because my shoulders were so tired.  But the second I heard that white water my adrenaline kicked in and there was nothing that was going to deter my one and only goal – stay in the raft at all costs!

During the slow times we had fun with other rafts.  We raced our other team regularly. And let me say that we were super competitive.   When feeling unsportsmanlike we would just splash the other team with as much water as we could.  The guide of the other boat paddled close to our boat and knocked Elena into the water.   

The 3rd rapid was a level 6 rapid.  We pulled the raft out of the water and walked around it. 

We put back in the water in the tail-end of the Class 6.  We literally got into the raft and immediately into the class 5 rapid – it was insane. This rapid was named “the bad place.”  During this rapid Jim fell out head first. 

And there goes Jim - it was shame to lose our Missionary

We couldn’t see him for what seemed like minutes.  He finally popped by up close to the raft.  We extended our oars to him and pulled him back in. He was really shaken, and rightfully so.  During the next rapid, I could hear Jim praying out loud – over and over.  (Oh Lord Jesus – keep me in the boat).

In addition to fishing Jim out of the water, we also picked a member of the Swiss rowing team that was catapulted out of his boat.  He paddled with us for a few minutes until we caught up with his raft. Later that day the same raft full of Swiss rowers decided to challenge us to race.  Elena Clayton may be the most competitive person I have ever met.  As such, we were able to match them row for row.

Jim decided to give up his spot in the front.  And this is how I came to raft 4 of 8 rapids in the front row! Elena and I were officially at the helm.During mine and Elena’s first rapid at helm, our boat turned totally sideways and vertical.  Elena and Amber fell out of the boat. 

That is me standing up in the front of the boat.  We were instructed to squat, but I found that standing helped me to keep my balance. 

At the midway point a guy in a raft pulled up next to us and gave us “Glucose biscuits” (yes, that is the actual name) and pineapple. He cut the pineapple with a machete and handed it to us. They explained that the snack was keep us energized for the remaining rapids. 

Before the last rapid, our guide let us jump in and swim.  It was so surreal to swim in the Nile River.

Then Hasan prepared us for the last rapid.  He told us that this was biggest (longest) one. Before paddling in I asked Amber is she would like to try to the front. After some convincing she agreed. I went to the back with our guide. When we entered the rapids, Hasan shouted his commands.  Once in the most intense section of the rapid he yelled “get down.”  This meant squat in the boat, hold on for dear life and try your darnest to stay in the boat.  Right about the time I got a good hold, the raft flipped over.   

It happened so fast.  The raft hit me in the head and pushed me under.  The water was so strong and it flipped me over and over violently.  I literally could not tell up from down.  We were instructed not to attempt to swim to the surface because we would be disoriented and swim the wrong direction, but instead to curl into a ball and let our jackets pull us up.  The very second I resurfaced a huge wave sent me airborne. Another wave then immediately hit me in the chest and pushed me back down. I ingested so much Nile River water that day.  It was all you could do to get a breath and when you got a chance, you typically got a mouthful of water instead.  It did kind of feel like you were drowning. Floating solo through a Class 5 rapid in my life jacket was the wildest, coolest and scariest adventure I have ever been on.  I loved every second of it and would happily do it again in a heartbeat.

Our guide gave us the ride of our lives. Before each rapid he gave us our choice of Class 5 routes:  medium, hard or extreme. We all made a pact at the beginning to “go big or go home.” We stuck to our guns and truly had a once in a lifetime experience. Our guide told us that in 2 years the dam would be completed and there would be no more white water on the Nile. So it really was a once in a lifetime experience for me.


I have attached a link to a Youtube video from the same company we rafted with if you are curious about seeing the rapids.  Copy and paste the link into your browser.


Just out of curiosity I compared it to the Ocoee.  I have rafted the Ocoee on multiple occasions.  It is all Class 3 and Class 4 rapids. Check out the difference: 


Best picture of the day - not our raft though. This was our other group. 

Thankfully we didn’t see any alligators or snakes.  While we were paddling through the calm water, I let my right leg dangle in the water.  Our guide ever so calmly asked, “Do you not like that leg?”  He told me that if I wanted to keep it that I best put it back in the raft.

At the end of the day we pulled our raft out of the water and went up the out-door picnic area and pigged out on steak k-bobs and sausage.  Seeing how crowded the bathroom was, Lauren and I decided to rough it and change in the tall grass.  This grass literally came up to our shoulders. I have no idea how we navigated through it.  

The bus ride back to Kampala took 2 and half hours.  I sat next to Lauren and got to know her a lot better. 

We had dinner that night at Café Roma, a charming outdoor Italian restaurant. I had a club sandwich.  That is pretty much all I remember.  I was so tired.

Next it was on to our hotel.  The hotels in Uganda are very different from the hotels back home.  There are no lobbies or vending machines.  They are basically little town homes.  Lauren, Chelsea, Amy and I shared a townhome and Lauren and I shared a room.  

I was really excited to take a HOT shower!  The only problem was that there was no actual shower. The bathroom was quite small and there was a shower head just poking out of the wall.  So during a shower, everything in the room gets soaked - the sink, the toilet, the towels.  

Once I got settled in for the night I noticed four dead mosquitoes on my pillow.  Then I saw several more flying around INSIDE the net.  To this point I had not been bitten one time – I was not about to get a bite on my last night in Uganda. I sprayed my whole body with bug spray, but on pants, a long sleeved shirt and socks.  I then took 10 mg of melatonin and tried not to think about being a human buffet for disease carrying bugs.  The melatonin worked – I slept 8 whole hours – the most yet! Plus, I woke up bite free - SCORE!


  1. That is the wildest ride I've ever seen!!!! You are fortunate to have been able to do it before it closes.

  2. You are such a BRAVE GIRL!!! You appear to be having a lot of fun while drowning!! :)


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