Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Scariest day of my life - rafting in Uganda

Have you seen the latest comic relief challenge? A group of celebs are canoeing/rafting down the Zambezi River in Africa.
When I heard what they were doing, a cold shiver ran down my spine. I’ve been down an African river in a boat and it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done.
We went white water rafting on the White Nile. Not the nice flat wide Egypt part, the bumpy rock filled Ugandan bit with Grade 3-6 rapids.  My OH had booked it but was ill so his sister and I went ahead alone.
Picture: Nile River Explorers
We had two major problems - our raft was for 8 people and there were only 4 of us (plus our guide). So we were travelling light. And the other two people were young, strong, male white-knuckle junkies from Canada. In the armed forces. SHIT.
We practised a boat flip and finding air pockets to breathe in under the boat (gasp). We were warned about whirlpools – if you get dragged under into a whirlpool (HELLO!), count calmly to 20 in your head and it will spit you out. It will then drag you under again, repeat, and you’ll survive. We were assured it wouldn’t drag us under 3 times. Phew.
Anyway – we paddled all day, covering 10 rapids mostly named after people who’d died on them (like the Dead Dutchman), in the scorching heat. We did loads of stuff my head told me not to. Like paddling as fast as possible towards a huge rocky waterfall drop and remaining calm as the water dragged you under and over boulders the size of cars. And then repeating that activity, just for fun.
Despite some close shaves and some very scary balancing acts, we only flipped the boat once. But it was a big one and I thought I was dead.
We approached at speed and almost as soon as we hit the rapid the boat flipped. It flew a few feet in the air and sent us all off in different directions, the boys managed to clear the rapids (they were lighter!) but we both managed to land right in the middle of the raging torrent.
As I was being dragged down the falls I came up for air to see my sister-in-law’s face barely above the water gasping for breath, the look of fear on her face was sickening, before she dissapeared again. Then I went back under. The water was moving too fast for me to safely hide under the boat and there weren't any calm areas to swim to. It was just a matter of riding the rapids, avoiding injury and trying not to panic. We both finally managed to find the boat cord and got dragged back in. I couldn’t believe I was alive. Neither could she.
It was 30 seconds of madness and the rest of the day passed in a bit of a daze, stuck between panic, fear and intense elation after you'd completed a run. And thoughts of 'what the HELL am I doing?' as you headed to the next one.
But I’ve never had fun like it. We weren't ever at risk, it just felt that way. The kayakers supporting us remained calm and made sure we were safe at all times. And it's a shared experience that me and my sister-in-law will have forever.

But that first beer I had at the end of the day - that was the best beer of my life.
We didn't take any pictures but you can get an idea of it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyrJ7M12a0Q
Follow the Hell & High Water challenge here http://www.charitychallenge.com/comic-relief-about.html