During our week in Uganda, we were lucky to be invited to spend a weekend on the Nile. On Saturday morning we drove just over two hours out of Kampala before turning off the tarmac road onto a nondescript red dirt road – I love the color, which is even more vivid in Uganda than in Kenya. Children played in front of mud houses and waved frantically as we “muzungus” drove by, a common occurrence in every rural area we have visited so far and which somehow never gets old.
Finally, our destination: Saranac on the Nile. Beautiful grounds leading right up to the Nile, with a main house and two cottages all boasting similar but different views of the river. After settling down in our cottage and noticing a distinct lack of Wi-Fi signal (we love being disconnected but old habits die hard and we’re still detoxing!), Francois and I walked around. We spotted a swimming pool just before getting distracted by a gorgeous black and white bird with a long tail that looked like it belonged in a fairytale. Plants also competed for attention, with exotic flowers, unidentified fruits, and smells we are used to coming from perfume bottles.
After a late lunch with the owners, Lyndsey and Nick*, we played UNO with my brother while enjoying the view. Francois won so often we thought he might be cheating, but even when we ganged up on him he remained reigning champion. The price to pay? His winning jingle, the chorus of “The winner takes it all” was stuck in our head for days.
Dinner was served by the pool and catered by the neighbor, a Belgian who runs an eco-tourism lodge using all local produce. The menu was grilled chicken on an avocado mango cucumber salad (so fresh and tasty), followed by beef fillets accompanied by grilled okra and squash with a homemade herb butter and spicy French fries served in coconut husks, topped off by chocolate lava cake with passion fruit coulis. Just writing about it makes my mouth water all over again.[PHOTOS COMING SOON]
Sunday we drove to The Haven for a continental breakfast of champions (where we bumped into one of the only two other people we know in Uganda!), enjoyed while watching what might be the most beautiful spot on the Nile wake up and emerge from a thick mist until it was basking in the sunlight.
Then, we went white water rafting.
We self-selected into groups of 5-8 people and, having both donned a lifejacket and a helmet and grabbed a paddle, we claimed our rafts. Between Estelle, the French teacher living in Uganda, Pratyush the Indian engineer, John the American who worked in food security, and Sebastian the Chinese American who provided endless entertainment, the three of us, and our guide Gio (or was it another seemingly random Italian name?), our boat somehow got dubbed “MAYFLOWER II”.
Over the next five hours, after we intentionally flipped the boat to know what to do if that happened, we made our way down the Nile and over various rapids ranging from level II (you might notice a wave) to level V (you heard this one from far away and knew you had to hold on tight with a reasonable chance of the boat flipping).
It was brilliant.
Nile River Explorers are not just professional kayakers and rafters, but also logistic pros. Kayakers accompanied us to take photos and provide support in case a boat flipped and someone needed to be retrieved from the current, and one big raft was outfitted with two huge wooden oars and held supplies: sunscreen, water, and pineapples for a late morning snack.
Sebastian had done this rafting trip a few months prior and loved it, and kept trying to get us to flip. The rest of us were less convinced, and as John and my brother – each twice Sebastian’s size – were in the middle of the boat, no matter which way Sebastian stood and tugged over the rapids (and stand and tug he did), our boat stayed true. Even when we all agreed to flip the boat on the last rapid, we somehow failed! Our guide – previously a world championship level kayaker – admitted that it was the first time he made it all the way without capsizing.
(I did not feel cheated of the experience because at one point I thought our guide was going to make us flip so I launched myself out of the boat, only to realize everyone was right where I left them and staring at me with a puzzled look on their face. Oops. This may also have been where I drank about a cup of Nile water unintentionally… what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Good.)
When we got back to shore around 3pm, a big BBQ meal and cold drinks awaited. The perfect way to end such a rafting adventure.
That night, feeling like mighty conquerors (it doesn’t take much!), we had a homemade dinner by the pool with Lyndsey, Nick and two other friends, exchanging travel stories, feeling utterly relaxed, disconnected, and just beginning to understand the magic of Saranac on the Nile.
*Lyndsay and Nick have full-time jobs, in a social enterprise focused on providing solar power to the bottom of the pyramid and in an NGO supporting sustainable agriculture in subsistence farmers respectively, and are the parents of two children under five – in case you woke up thinking you were juggling a lot…