Paddles hit the water!

After the last update it was action stations finalising logistics. There were days when it went well but plenty of days with no progress, even backwards steps that had me feeling like throwing in the towel (but instead reaching for chocolate). 
With a fair bit of perseverance things then really started falling into place.  The big step was getting the team together – the Dream Team. They are three local Ugandan’s, awesome guys and I’m so happy that they have agreed to join this expedition. 
Paulo who I introduced before is our lead guide. We’ve been joined by Koa, a former kayaking student of Paulo, and fellow rafting guide and competitive white-water kayaker. Then we’ve got Peter, an international rafting guide and very handy kayaker. 

Dream Team.jpg


rafting1 copy.jpg

One of the most popular activities here is white water rafting. Trips run daily with a choice of a cruisey float to Grade 5 rafting and extreme white knuckle rafting (in a smaller two person raft). I picked the Grade 5 trip with Nile River Explorers in the hope that I really enjoyed it, otherwise big sections of this expedition are not going to be enjoyable.
It was AWESOME!! After a safety briefing and short trip to the put in we were on the water. Started with a few drills on the flatwater with our guide Paulo (yep, the very same Paulo who’s the rafting guide for the expedition). Then we were off and straight into it. The first is a Grade 5 with an eight foot drop. You sit inside the raft and HANG ON! 

Most of the rapids had lulls in between where we could float along the flat water, take in the stunning scenery, go for a swim and psych ourselves up for the next section. After plenty of rapids it was time to get out and enjoy a well-earned BBQ with drinks and beers. I smiled ALL the way down and loved every minute. I highly recommend it. 


I had fun talking about my plans to a group of kids all aged about 10 years old on a school trip from Kampala. I was inundated from questions including how I’ll deal with crocodiles, what happens if my paddle breaks, why don’t I just fly. But one girl blew me away with her comment – “to do something like this you need self-belief”. At 10 years old, she gets it.  


There have been lots of discussion with the Rwandan Development Board (RDB), who are amongst other things, are responsible for tourism in Rwanda. They have been fantastic in helping to get the permits and approvals in place and ensure I have the support needed en route. A huge thank you to Belise, Linda and Isaac for all their assistance. 
Joanna from Rwandan Adventures, who specialise in adventure holidays in particular cycling, has been helping with some of the logistics to get us to the start. She was acting as our fixer for Rwanda. I didn’t expect we’d have much for her to do. Oh how wrong I was…but more of that later. 

  • CAR TROUBLEBefore facing all the challenges on the water, I’ll give you the executive summary of the dramas involving cars and drivers getting us to the start.

  • CAR 1 DRIVER 1– Jinja to Kigali in Rwanda – car over heated and despite stops various attempts to fix it we had to pull the pin and get another car to meet us and transfer all the gear onto (no quick task) 

  • CAR 1 GLUE – we had some very important and special glue with us to repair the raft if needed (and it was needed). The driver managed to smash the jar the glue was in – my response (which I thought was remarkably controlled) resulted in no one making a sound or uttering a word for well over an hour and the driver, according to Peter, being terrified of me. Oops

  • CAR 2 DRIVER 2 – car worked and the driver was a gem at getting us through the border crossing without a full inspection of our gear. Got us to Kigali around midnight. The 10-hour journey had taken us 16 hours

  • CAR 3 DRIVER 3 – Kigali to the Source. Loaded gear onto this car night before but the driver managed to get arrested overnight. It was a trip to the police station and Joanna negotiating for over an hour with the police to give us the keys. We left Driver 3 there and Joanna found us a replacement

  • CAR 3 DRIVER 4 – en route the spare wheel fell off and had to be tied on. Then the boot popped open, wouldn’t shut and I nearly lost the top of my thumb trying to fix it. After visiting the Source we got a flat tyre down a dirt road in the middle of the Rwandan countryside with night falling. The jack was faulty but thanks to some creativity by Koa the tyre was changed. Turns out the spare was as good as the jack. Turned around to go back to where we could stay but was down to the rim before we got close. Joanna spoke to people at Giscovu Tea Plantation about 40 minutes away and a car was sent to pick us up and two guys were employed to act as security for our car. Justin from Gusovu Tea Plantation was our saviour. It was his car and he put us up and fed. THANK YOU Justin!

  • CAR 3 DRIVER 4 – Gisovu to Kitabi. Engine was cutting out. BUT did get one of the tyres fixed. Then engine seemed ok, so we chanced it and set off on the 2.5 hour drive to our next destination – dodgy engine and no spare tyre or jack. We MADE IT WITHOUT ISSUES!! 

  • BUS 1 GLUE  – in the meantime Nicci from Jinja Base Camp kindly organised a replacement jar of glue which was put on a bus from Jinja to Kigali. The bus broke down. Can you believe it?! Anyway, it finally got to Kigali and Joanna organised a pick-up and delivery to us on the river a few days later

Far out, that wasn't all painful at all...  You might think I’m a bit nutty but I went and saw a psychic a month or so before coming out here. One thing she kept saying, I see car trouble. Well she got that right. I’ll let you know if her other predictions come true too…

After all this car drama, I was hoping and praying that we were going to have more luck on the water than on the roads. I think we were all feeling a bit jinxed at this point. 


The source.jpg

There has been a fair bit of debate around where the source of Nile is found. Some say Uganda, some Rwanda and others Burundi. I went for the Source in Rwanda that was discovered by the 'Ascend the Nile' expedition in 2006. They determined that the head waters of the Rukarara River is the source of the Nile in Nyungwe Forest. 

After a day in Kigali, meeting with the RDB, a few lastminute supply stops and an interview with a local reporter we were off to the Source. The countryside and scenery en route was breathtaking.
It took about four hours to get to there and we met our guides for the walk into the Nyungwe Forest to the Source. After 45 minutes of walking we turned a corner and there it was. The sign and the muddy pool that is the source. While it may not be much to look at, the significance for me was enormous and tears started to well. After lots of photos we headed back.  


We had a night at a fab Eco Lodge in Kitabi. It was pretty fresh being up at about 2500m.


The next day we drove (without issues!) to the put in. On the way I was pretty apprehensive. Concerns included were:

  • was there vital gear I didn’t have 

  • were we going to have enough food

  • was all the gear going to work -  I felt like Miss ‘All the Gear, No Idea’

  • was I going to be able to hack it

  • what was ahead of us – with SO many risks with this trip it was inevitable that there would be more challenges (I was bang on here)

As we got closer to the river my concerns were overtaken by excitement. This was really happening! After a couple of hours of driving we were at the river. Yeewww! Time to set-up – pump up the raft and load the gear. This included three barrels of food, all the electrical gear (solar chargers, cameras, satellite phone, GPS, mobiles, chargers, laptop), the extensive first aid kit and medicines, the frame for the raft and oars, spare oars and paddles, clothing, water filter, jerry cans and camping gear.  

This isn’t the sort of thing the locals see here and the crowd around us grew and grew. It was Umuganda day. The word means a coming together for a common purpose to achieve an outcome. It’s why Rwanda is so incredibly clean. On the 4th Saturday morning each month the traffic stops, stores are closed and everyone pitches in to clean the streets, dig drainage ditches, build schools. Anywhere there is a need, there are a hundred, eager helping hands doing their part to make Rwanda better.
Littering is not something done here. Plastic bags are illegal and confiscated at the point of entry into Rwanda and there’s no walking on the grass on the well-maintained parks and grassy roundabouts. 

There wasn’t much cleaning up being done here - they said watching us counted for Umuganda day – hmmm not sure about that?!


After an hour or so, the raft was set. At 11.32am on 27 October 2018 paddles finally hit the water. Suddenly all the stress, the two years of work, reconnaissance trips, slow progress, the problems and obstacles and all my concerns melted away. The leap of faith had paid off. I could not stop smiling. I was ACTUALLY here. This huge dream that had seemed completely impossible at times had turned into reality. If we were only on the water for a day, it was enough. The sense of achievement of just making it to this point was enormous. And that’s such a big part of what this trip is about for me.  


We had people running along the river from the start – shouting, laughing, waving. It was getting dark by the time we got off the river. It took time to find a decent spot and somewhere without heaps of people. It was a quick pasta and pesto dinner and bed.  

What was to follow over the next few weeks was the biggest adventure of my life! More in the next update….

Sarah Davis