Sunday, November 19, 2006

Storms, Birthdays and Waterfalls

Well since I last wrote we've been spending a lot of time down at the Hairy Lemon which is at the bottom of the "day 2" section of the river. We came back up to Bujagali for a few nights at the end of last week but camped at Eden Rock campsite which is about 500m away from NRE and hence a lot quieter - since NRE have got their speakers fixed it's rather noisy even with earplugs in. Wednesday night was a night of broken sleep due to the South African crew leaving at 3.30am and they decided to get Andrea (Switzerland) drunk so they carried her home at about 2.30am. Thursday night both Adrian and Kat suffered from Ugandan food hygiene or lack thereof - and Friday night was the biggest storm I have ever experienced from a tent.
Thunderstorms here are pretty common but this was something else - I don't think I've ever been scared of a storm before. It started with just the normal lightning flashes illuminating the tent and distant thunder, the rain started and as usual was a tropical downpour of large drops but instead of lasting a few minutes the deluge didn't seem to end. The lightning got closer until I was literally holding my hands over my ears and there was no time delay between the lightning flashes and the thunder cracks which threatened to deafen us. The rain intensified and started to force its way into my tent - but luckily only in small droplets - and the noise of the rain on the tent became deafening the noise of the thunder was the only thing louder. I pulled on some clothes, sure that my tent was going to leak enough for me to leave but then the noise on the tent grew even louder I pulled open the tent flap and in the bright light of the frequent lightning I was treated to the uncommon sight of equatorial Africa under a layer of ice - the ground was blanketed in at least two inches of large hailstones. At this point Scott (the one remaining South African) opened his tent which was only three or four meters from mine and I yelled over to ask if he was ok - even yelling at the tops of our voices we couldn't hear each other over the storm. After being hit by a large hail stone in the eye I withdrew into my tent but the noise of the hail was indescribable and I felt sure that at any second my tent would be ripped open by the hail so I did the only logical thing ... stuck my hands over my ears and pulled my sleeping bag over my head.
By this stage the storm had been going for around 40 minutes, the rain hadn't stopped and Scott had opened his tent to see his shorts floating past just in time to grab them. My tent was floating - there was basically several inches of water on the ground flowing under my tent and down towards the river. After a while the hail stopped and I pulled on my paddling cag (ooopps who didn't bring a rain coat to Africa???) and got out to check on the others. The termite holes in Kat's tent had let water in and she moved to the bar, it was only after she was settled and I was walking back to my tent that we discovered the trees - two trees, one only meters from our tents, had come down and we hadn't heard a thing. There was a tent under one but luckily no-one was in it. Needless to say it was a while before the adrenaline stopped flowing and we could get back to sleep.
So after that it was off back to Hairy Lemon (which had been totally bypassed by the storm). Hairy lemon is near one wave on the river (the turd wave - ie. "third" but named by Irish) that works in the low water levels of the morning and then Nile Special that works in higher levels when the power generation water reaches it from the dam. We broke up the wave surfing by a few trips on the day 2 sections, this involves getting a truck (and we mean truck!) from Hairy Lemon to a point in the river where there are three channels of intimidating rapids, Itanda, Hypoxia and KalaGala. Kala Gala is intimidating but simple - ie. keep right. The consequences of not staying right could well be permanent as it's a 4m waterfall and the left side looks like a giant boiling pot of recirculating water. I've been tempted by this drop for a while, but have been put off by the fact that the boys seem to paddle quite hard at the top to get over to the right. On Tuesday the 14th I made the decision that I was ready to run it so we back on Wednesday (my birthday) and Kat and I both made the call that we were going to do it. Tim, Adrian and Anton were also running it and Scott was standing next o it trying to decide, on seeing all of us int he eddy above he quickly jumped in his boat as well. Andrea was designated camera girl... Adrian went off first before i was even in the eddy above, then Kat followed Tim out of the eddy. Anton looked at me and said (in a Swedish accent) "do you want to follow my back?", I considered this but Anton being one of the strongest guys I've met I could see that only stressing me out as our paddling styles couldn't be more different, so Scott jumped in behind Anton leaving me in the eddy alone. Suddenly I wasn't nervous - the decision was made and I knew what I had to do. I pulled out the eddy and let the current ferry me over to the right side of the channel. I few paddle strokes kept me on line and as I came over the lip I tucked forward into roll set-up position to protect my face and shoulders from impact. The landing was surprisingly soft as I disappeared deep into the aerated water, popping up again after a second or two to see Kat in the eddy
below with a boat full of water because her deck had popped. Kat had made it into the eddy in her submerged boat before hopping out onto a rock. A bit further downstream we popped into the Adrift Rafting take out and local safety boater and freestyle team member Joffrey seemed as excited as us about the run "Sala" he yelled ( Ugandans have trouble with "r") "Sala have you been running Kala Gala?" he ran over gave me a Nile Special beer and huge hug  -  Yup it was a pretty spectacular birthday.
So now back in Jinja and staying at Eden Rock again for a few nights, Scott Lingren (legendary white water cinematographer) is showing his new film here tomorrow night so that should be great. Then it'll be back to the Hairy Lemon to hang out at the waves (and watch Steve Fisher rip it up on Nile Special).
Kat leaves tomorrow which is sad, it's also amazing that I've already been here so long as originally I was to leave as well but extending your stay seems to be the thing to do round's contagious. I'll be sad to leave when my time comes but I'm starting to feel like I'll also be ready to catch up on things I'm missing at home.
Anyway till next time...