It only is if you let it be.
Today was a depressing day in many respects. Kayak the Nile announced that it had heard from one of the senior engineers working on the Isimba dam that flooding of the section below Itanda/Kalagala will now be taking place between the last week of August and the first week of September.
This would seem to be in keeping with what I was told about the dam at Bujagali when it was nearing completion. It was delayed and delayed, and people thought it would never happen. And then it all started moving very quickly and before anyone knew it the place was due to be flooded.
Nowhere has ever touched me in the way that Uganda did. I have never in my life actually welled up when having to leave a destination. I did when we had to leave Bujagali and Uganda. You can take your Ottawa river and whatever else destination you care to mention, and even the Himalayas. I know that they won’t affect me in the way that Uganda did.
The people are amazing, the environment is amazing. It SOUNDS amazing! Whether it’s the constant sound of the wildlife, or kids waving at you shouting “Muzungu! How are you?!”, or the boda bike riders taking you to wherever you need to go, or amazing drivers/guides such as Karim who would randomly stop and buy a jack fruit for you to try en-route to the river. The way that you bounce around in a family saloon car driving over terrain that a Land Rover would be challenged by, yet everyone is totally chilled about it, despite the ‘interesting’ driving ‘style’ over there! The kids who want to carry your boat, and mark themselves as your personal boat carrier for your stay, and have a go in it. The way that Uganda is the only place in the world where someone will be trying to sell you a pineapple while you are putting your spray deck on your boat! The way the kids playing in the river will half drown you by throwing water at you as you make your way onto the river. The amazing chapatti’s, the amazing food full stop. Jinx the dog!
And that’s the thing about Uganda. It’s mad, it’s chaotic, but it’s also totally chilled and friendly at the same time. And there’s a whole community there that has built up around kayaking, rafting, and other activities based around the White Nile. If ever there was an advertisement for the good that adventure activities and boating brings to a community, Bujagali is it.
And now it is all at risk of being destroyed. Or is it?
Of course not! At least not if us kayakers get a clue. And this is important.
Okay, the world class Nile Special won’t be there. A one in a million wave, gone, along with the amazing rapid that went with it. And pretty much all of the rapids between Nile Special running back up to Itanda will be gone. And that is a huge shame. The amazing paradise that was the Hairy Lemon island will also be underwater. In my opinion a bigger shame than Nile Special going, since it was a truly special place like no other.
But, as long as the backed up water doesn’t affect it for the worst, Super Hole will still be there. And while it isn’t Nile Special, it is still a world class wave that anyone can learn on (but make no mistake, it certainly isn’t small by UK standards!) Rapids such as Overtime will still be there. Masochists can still run the G5 Dead Dutchman if they choose along with the also rather huge secondary rapids afterwards. Kalagala will still be there too along with the monster that is Itanda Falls. Shorter rapids such as Real Deal will also still be there above Super Hole.
In other words, there will still be big volume rapids to go on. They won’t be as long and extensive as the ones that have gone to the great river in the sky, but if you want a taste of big volume paddling they will still offer a very meaty challenge. There might not be the attraction to the big name kayakers of this world to go there anymore, but there is still plenty for the rest of us.
On that note, it would be a shame if the ‘big deals’ didn’t go as a result of what is happening. The White Nile kayaking scene is as much about the mingling and the atmosphere of the place as it is about the kayaking. I would hope that the big names can see beyond the loss of Nile Special, and see a place that has a greater community worth supporting, and a kayaking community worth being involved with. It isn’t always about the size of the wave or the rapid (although by any standards some of the remaining rapids will still be world class HUGE). This is about something more, and we need to remember this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning!