Friday, December 22, 2006

Leaving Africa

The last few days have been all about getting ready to leave and saying goodbye, the last few Silerback runs - letting the kids paddle round in my boat for the last time. Then finally it really was time to go.
So leaving Africa happened in true Africa style. As Ben was on my flight I hitched a ride to the airport in the back of Steve Fisher’s ute, after the car almost didn’t make it we turned up at Entebbe to find crowds of African Muslims blocking the departures drop off area. A police man parted the crowd for the car and we managed to unload while Steve went off to find that only passengers were allowed in the terminal building and “I don’t think they’ll let me in now I’ve told them to get f*#ked” he added.
A kayak makes a wonderful battering ram through a crowd and Ben and I made it into the terminal and into the check-in line where we stood for another hour. Africa time – nothing happens fast! At check-in we avoided paying excess baggage with some difficulty and managed to get seated together for the 7 hour leg to Dubai, then it was through the one-man immigration operation and across the tarmac onto the plane which was full of Muslims going to mecca in their ankle length white robes and appropriate head gear … and blankets galore against the plane air-conditioning and … in the case the guys behind us, sunglasses that make you look like the Ugandan mafia.
So taking off an hour late we headed for Addis Ababa with just enough time to sneak in a gin and tonic before landing. This made what happened next even funnier, taxiing to the runway in Addis and the safety video was playing when all of a sudden from the other side of the plane comes the hiss of compressed air…. One of the guys in ankle length white robes now has a fully inflated life jacket to add to the ensemble!
The rest of the trip home was uneventful and long, and I arrived home to a drought-stricken Victoria at 3am. The yellow and browns here are a stark contrast to the lush tropical green of Uganda… doesn’t look like there’ll be any paddling here for a little while.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Last few days in Africa

Since the festival things have been plodding along here in the same fashion as they have been for last three and half months. Andrea and I managed to go horse riding, which was one of her prizes from the competition, which was a lot of fun and also very entertaining and neither of us are particularly skilled at riding horses. It did mean we got to tour the little pathways and villages on the opposite bank of the river and see the back channels from the other side.
We’ve spent some time down at Hairy Lemon and some up at NRE but although it’s been raining a bit less the mud is still a problem on the road up near Bujagali. There have been trips into Jinja for souvenir shopping and to get clothes made by one of the local tailors.
I fly out on the 17th of December, the day after Andrea leaves to head to the Zambezi. It turn out Ben Brown is on my flight home as far as Dubai so I’ve got company for that first leg. So this is it - the last few days in Africa…

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Combat Boating

Location: Pucon, Chile
State of mind: Laja
Body: sprained ankle, sore neck, nose full of green goobas, hangover - too much beer (english boys are a bad influence.)
Favourite run so far: Combat boating down the Laja PUMPED!

Tick list:
Liacura - Cold water in the face after an overnight bus ride
Trancura Bajo - Probing the Pescador hole
Trancura Alto - 1 american lost in nasty eddy with volcano in the background
Coilico - Ditchin!
Sollipolli - Bumpin scrapin, flat tyre again.
San Pedro - Vortexes of doom!
Maichin - Pulling the moves! Stunning canyons and the woga tiga woga bird.
TrufulTruful - Into the corner with Luge speed
Cautin - Don´t miss the eddies Jasmine, messy horizon line madness.
Laja - Haulin ass!

Volcanoes and vortexes

Jas and I at the portage on the Rio Truful Truful
Jas on the Maichin (above); Me heading for a horizon on the Maichin (below)

Location: Pucon, Chile
State of mind: Somewhere between woohoo and scared
Body: Showing the effects of too much good food, bruised knuckles, sore elbow, bruised ego
Favourite run so far: Rio Maichin

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Day 3 - Boda Boda Boater Cross

So the most dangerous event yet… the Boda Boater Cross or the Boater Boda Cross – not sure which but anyway the idea is a kayak race down Silverback and then back to NRE on the back of a boda boda.
So 46 entrants, 46 boda bodas and with all the recent rain the road was a little muddy and slippery.
So four girls in this race and we knew that there were really two races. Becky and Prossie were racing for first while Andrea and I were in there for third and fourth. We got to start 10 minutes before the boys and the moment we started paddling out of the eddy I felt that my muscles were tired from the day before. So at the top of the first rapid I made the decision to run Ribcage rather than the Hump, as Ribcage is easier although a little slower. I was at the back of the group coming down ribcage and somehow managed to roll on nothing at all, rolling up I could hear Andrea calling my name but I could see her, coming round the island I saw her – stuck on the rock of the left of the little island after ribcage. Eddying out just near her I could see the problem, if she leant upstream she would become pinned on the upstream side of the rocks, she could not got off the rocks downstream as they were high on the downstream side of her boat and she was sitting there stuck in the middle of turbulent white water.
Pretty quickly I realized the only way she could get out was to get out of her boat onto the rock – if she got out on the upstream side she was risking trapping herself against the rocks. I was aware of hundreds of spectators on the bank as we were at the most accessible part of the river to watch the race. It was a weird feeling being there with so many people but being the only person in any position to do anything as the other two girls were ahead and hadn’t seen and no one else was in a kayak.
Andrea hesitated but then pulled her deck and managed to get out of her boat pushing it over the rocks into the water below, then she and her gear were in the water – she was swimming above Bujagali. I yelled at her to swim to the right bank and when I saw she would make it with no problem I started pushing her kayak towards the bank as well. I got the kayak into an eddy just above Bujagali falls and then ran the rapid looking for her paddling, not seeing it anyway I started to paddle off downstream but then people on the bank started yelling and pointing at the local fishing boat. They had picked up the paddle and I collected it from them and got it back to Andrea who was now at the bottom of the rapid with her boat having walked around.
Realising there wasn’t much point racing now we started paddling off only to see 42 male competitors come charging down Bujagali behind us so we let the leaders of that pack over stake before cruising on down to Silverback. Then it was up the muddy path to the boda bodas and my trusty boda boda driver put on the back of a “faster” boda boda back to NRE – not far up the trail we hit a patch of mud and the boda boda slid out from underneath us I landed on my back in the mud with my kayak on the top of me and the boda boda (luckily not the exhaust pipe) on my legs. Unhurt and rather amused I got up and insisted on walking past the rest of the mud patch before getting back on.
The rest of the trip was great – there were kayaks on boda bodas left right and center – in front of me and behind me the road was lined with local waving at us and everyone was having fun. Arriving back at NRE – after watching the boda in front of me veer off into the house to avoid loosing control – we were confronted with an obstacle course that we had to complete with our boda driver before our time stopped. It was a jumping castle covered in dish detergent. My first attempted to get up the initial ramp failed and my second ended in the mud in front of the castle as I wiped out before I even reached it. Then my boda driver took a running leap up and made the top so I ran and jumped and he grabbed my hand. After a few seconds of hilarious and undignified hauling and wallowing in soap suds he pulled me to the top where I promptly fell over the other side on top of him before regaining some kind of co-ordination and slithering through the rest to the end where we each had to down a Nile Special beer (in an NRE style funnel) before the clock stopped…. Phew!
Unfortunately one boda boda driver was injured in the event, he has a broken leg but all his medical costs are covered and last night we passed a hat round and he will have 300 000 ugsh to see him through until he can work again (equivalent to about three months wage).
The festival was wrapped up with a prize giving and footage and photos on the big screen and again a weary paddler dropping off to sleep before midnight when I should have been partying.

Oppps probably should give some results here, the womens boater-boda was won by Becky, the I was second and Andrea third (Prossi was disqaulified) and the men's was won by Joffrey, Henry was second and I can't remember who was third.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Day 2 - 45km Endurance Race

So day 2 of competition dawned at Hairy Lemon and it meant packing up everything in time to head back up to NRE at 10am ready for the toughest event of the competition – the endurance race from NRE all the way down to the Hairy Lemon which is a stretch of 45km involving serious white water and long flat stretches as well. We all had to race in pairs for safety the girls were being set off at 2.15pm and the boys half an hour later. A total of 10 teams entered the race, 3 girl’s teams, 1 mixed team and 6 boy’s teams. My partner was Rae and we had the plan that we’d just take things easy and see how we went. Becky and Chloe were favourites to win the women’s event – Becky is a sponsored paddler that I met in Norway a few years ago and Chloe is the video boater for the Adrift rafting company here. Andrea and Irene partnered up to be the third women’s pair and we all set off together past the huge crowd that had gathered to watch the start at Bujagali falls. The first half an hour or so incorporates the bulk of the rapids of the day one sections and is pretty fast, I lead the rapids as Rae hasn’t run that section of river since last year and we were pretty much paddling with Irene and Andrea while Chloe and Becky we not too far ahead. After Silverback rapid you hit a long section of flat water at the end of which is Overtime - a rocky rapid that a lot of people chose to portage. By the time we got there we were well and truly ready to stretch our legs so portaging was actually a welcome relief. After overtime the flat continues, and it begins to seem like the water is flowing back upstream, towards the end of this flat section I could see some of the men’s teams behind us in the distance. Bobugo Falls ends that flat section but straight away you’re back in a lake and it’s flat until Itanda. As we were nearing Itanda the boys were closer behind us and Rae and I forgot our own race and turned around to see which boys were leading. To our surprise they weren’t local Ugandan but Will and Sam powering along behind us. Just as we pulled into the eddy above Itanda they caught and we cheered them on as they ran their boats past the first part of Itanda before putting in and running bad place. We also portaged past the first part of Itanda before putting back in and skirting the bad place on the right, by now we could see Irene and Andrea in front of us again and a few local Ugandan guys were passing us but they didn’t seem to be in the their pairs- you had to be within 45 seconds of your partner at all times or you would be disqualified.
We began the day 2 section happy with the knowledge that most of the flat water was behind us and that Andrea and Irene weren’t too far ahead. After the first three rapids in day 2 we hit the flat water but unlike the sections before the flat water here was actually still flowing downstream, Rae and I settled into a steady pace gradually gaining on the girls in front. At the last rapids we were quite close and Irene was looking tired, we caught up to them just as they were getting out of their boats at the beach at Hairy Lemon and they started off sprinting the finish line which was the bar, unlikely to catch them on the sprint, Rae and I skipped up the Hairy Lemon to the bar to come in third in 3 hours and 35 minutes, 15 minutes behind the winning girls and one minute behind Andrea and Irene. In the end only two men’s teams finished due to disqualification and people pulling out so Sam and Will won in just under three hours and Anton and Adrian came second. (Becky singing at the Finish)
Then it was back to NRE again for a party… but somehow the day took it’s toll and collapsed into bed before midnight.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Nile Freestyle Festival - day 1

The first day of the Nile Freestyle Festival kicked off with a truck load of kayaks and paddlers heading down to Itanda, one of the well known grade six rapids on the river. The morning was to start with an Itanda “expression session” where the paddlers familiar with the rapid would paddle down and “express themselves” through either the lines they chose or by the freestyle moves the decide to pull off in features that most of us would avoid going into at all costs.
Anyway the truck ride itself was great, we had about 25 kayaks and people in the truck I followed the lead of Becky and perched myself on top of some kayaks up the front of the truck. Because Itanda is far way downstream (I’ve included a map of the river for clarity here) of the dam and the water from the hydro only releases from 8am, when we arrived at 11am the water was still very low, lower than I had ever seen it and everyone jumped off the trucks and sprinted to the rapid to check out the rocks that are usually under water and the new lines that had opened up in the lead in to the rapid.
The rapid was still impressive and intimidating, over half a kilometer of serious grade five white water, only a few people entered the session the rest were on the banks with video cameras, cameras and just to watch. As I was going back up to the truck to get my camera I somehow got roped into being a safety kayaker for the event so I got into my gear and sat in the eddy half way down the rapid. Sitting there, I contemplated the logic of me being safety – after all the kayakers I would be rescuing were by far better paddlers than myself and rapid was not exactly one I would be happy to try and rescue someone in.... about all I could do is paddle down after them and pick them up at the bottom. But luckily no one got into any trouble so I just got to sit there and pretend I was about rescue anyone that needed it. After some impressive paddling at Itanda (including Becky who was the only girl to run it) we all headed on down the day 2 section of river to the Nile Special wave for the Big Trick competition, on the way down I managed to fall out of my kayak in a flat section while trying to stretch my legs and got rescued by Joffrey – who still calls me Sala – which was unnecessary but funny at the same time.
Down at Nile Special the 21 competitors were divided into three heats of 7, each heat having a 45 minute open session on the wave where competitors could have as many rides as they wanted to try for the biggest move they could pull off. The bank next to the wave was crowed with spectators, including many locals dressed up in their Sunday best and the Chapati Man from Bujagali who, complete with chapatti stove and table had been transported down to the wave for the event.
The six girls in the comp were spread evenly across the heats although we were judged separately from the men, the top 3 women and top 5 men were to go through to a final 30 minute heat to decide the winners. With this style of comp it’s all about how big you can go, getting your boat airborne while executing a freestyle move. With a few big names like Steve Fisher and Ben Brown in the comp there was plenty to make the crowd cheer.
The girls got out there and gave it a go but most of us don’t like using the rope to get on the wave, instead we walk around and drop in on the wave from the eddy above which meant we all missed the wave a lot and did a lot of running up the bank. Rae and Jessie used the rope and it was clear that they would both be in the finals. The rest of us were all pretty hopeless and in the end it was Andrea that pulled off some unknown move and made the final.
The men’s final was exciting with world renowned Steve Fisher almost being beaten by Sam, a UK boater in his first competition. Both of then pulled of combination moves however Steve’s ability to get airborne saw him take first while Sam well and truly earned second. Rae’s many days of practice on the wave paid off as she beat Jessie to take first in the women’s and Andrea showed guts by dropping in to the wave from a pitch black eddy above to secure third in the women’s. Then most of us paddled off the Hairy Lemon for spit roast pig while those heading back to Bujagali had the joy of getting the trucks stuck in the mud and getting back at 2am while we were all asleep on our island in the Nile.