06 June 2010

Kampala Diary 5/6/10

From left: Fannie Lafontaine, Noah Wiebord, myself, Meg de Guzman, Robert Petit, David Scheffer, Michael Scharf and Marieke De Hoon.

Today we went rafting on the Nile. There was a bit of chit-chat among the group about article 124 and aggression, but bascially we took the day off and enjoyed the thrill of white-water rafting on what is the longest and may be the greatest of the world's reviers. The photo shows some of our group, including Robert Petit, former Prosecutor of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (centre, with the Canadiens t-shirt), Prof. Mike Scharf of Case Western Reserve in the organge shrit (who organized the whole thing), and David Scheffer, in the blue shorts, who led the US delegation in 1998 and is now a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago . Others in the group include Fannie Lafontaine, Meg de Guzman and Noah Weisbord. When the photo was taken, we were at the end of the trip, soaking wet, but exhilerated.
The white-water rafting is one of the hot tourist attractions in Uganda. It involves a day trip from Kampala, starting with a two-hour drive along the north shore of Lake Victoria until you get to the point where the Nile leaves the lake. Some describe this as the source of the Nile, but other rivers in Burundi and Rwanda, may actually be the place where it all starts. Be that as it may, there are fabulous rapids and waterfalls. We did several hard ones, known as 'grade 5', whatever that means.
The rapids all have names, like Big Brother, Sibling Rivalry, Novocaine and so on. There are about seven or eight people in a raft, with a guide, who is both competent and entertaining. You wear a helmet and life jacket. Over the day, you cover more than 30 km of river. The rapids punctuate rather long stretches of paddling, and often we would jump out of the boat and swim in the river. The final rapid was so dangerous that we actually got out of the raft and portaged for a bit.
The greatest excitement was indeed on the final rapid, when we got sucked into a big vortex, a wall of water came crashing over the raft, and we capsized. Some hung on to the raft, as we were told, but I wasn't able to. I followed instructions, putting my feet downstream and lifting them up in the air. It was actually very relaxing and I was thrilled. I'm a strong swimmer and was always confident that I would simply ride my way out of the rapid, without real concern because of the protective equipment. But some members of our team were more traumatized by this dramatic end to the day. In what seemed like minutes later, I was picked up downstream by one of the many kayaks that accompanied the rafts.
We beached the raft, then walked up a long trail to a bluff over the river, where cold bear and barbequed brochettes were waiting for us. That's what you see in the photo. It is is forbidden to take cameras and things like that on the river, but the organizers take photos for you which they will sell you. But it will be many weeks before we get them.

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