Jinja City in eastern Uganda is famous for being the source of the Nile, its water activities on Lake Victoria and zip lining in the tropical Mabira forest and now there is tubing.
Tubing, done on both water and snow, is a recent experience in Uganda and since the country has no snow, it is done on the River Nile. It involves revellers sitting on inflatable tubes tied together in groups and then connected to a kayak that gives the group direction as they glide downstream.
The venture is operated by a company called Tubing the Nile. Adam Bafirawala, the company founder, said the concept is derived from white water rafting although for this case, there are no rafts but a tube.
A few weeks ago, I joined a few of my friends to take on the tubing challenge. It would be my second time doing the activity but the first for my friends.
We left Kampala and headed to Jinja on a Friday with the intent of spending the night there and then do the tubing the day after. However, one can drive from Kampala straight to the tubing venue. The journey from Kampala City to Jinja is a two-hour drive and from Jinja town, it’s about an 8km drive along a murram road to an area called Bujagaali. We arrived at the venue on Saturday afternoon to join another group of local tourists who like some on my team were water phobic.
“Sometimes we get water phobic people, but they actually love it the more after the experience. It is an activity that is addictive,” Bafirawala said.
Our hosts had two packages on offer, the first called flat water tubing at a cost of Ush90,000 for Ugandans and $25 for non-nationals. The second package known as white water tubing goes for Ush130,000 for locals and $45 for non- nationals. It is longer and scarier as it goes through wild rapids.
A team of professional guides wrote down our personal details before taking us through a safety briefing and equipping us with safety gear like helmets and life jackets.
We then took a walk through a campsite to the boat that would take us to our starting point. The 30-minute boat ride was in itself an adventure. At the starting point our guides tied the tubes together in groups with each group tied to a kayak. We were then guided onto the tubes.
Sheer fright at the beginning turned into screams of joy as we set off downstream past the first wave. We glided past groups of fishermen in canoes and little children bathing by the river banks as the guides told us about the area’s history, the relevance of the river to the community, the names of trees and caves at the banks.
As we moved to the calmer waters, a beer was provided for each of us together with pineapples and a few biscuits before we embarked downstream. At this point we were told it was safe for us to swim in the river. Many of us jumped into the cold water and swam near our tubes including those that were initially fearful.
This was the highlight of the trip for me and it definitely was for the seven-year-old boy in our company who swam better than all of us in the deep waters.
According to Bafirawala, the company allows children as young as four years to do the flat water tubing. We were soon back on the last haul of the journey and back to our tubes we went, gliding slowly towards the finish line. Story told by Jonathan Kamoga.