SAGANA, Kenya, Jun 5 – Sun, water, rafts, fish and bugs! That’s about as much fun as you will have if you find yourself on a white water rafting expedition in town-like Sagana.
And fun it is. This is how it could start; In typical Kenyan fashion, about 12 of us – my colleagues and I – set out from Nairobi at about 11am on Saturday, headed towards Sagana, squeezed in one half of the bus to make room for the alcohol we had carried to drink on the way.
The driver was not distracted by the music boom box and loud singing that came from the back of the bus and managed to get us there in just under two hours. A few kilometres from the town, the bus turned left and drove for about seven minutes on a small dirt road to our destination.
About five minutes into the road, Yoram spotted the bungee jumping crane, pointing at it like an excited child and drawing ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ from the rest of us. Mucai was brave enough to utter what a lot of us had been thinking deep in our hearts, vowing stoically that he would NEVER jump off that thing because he heard he could burst his capillaries doing that. Others expressed that they would try it next time they came, when they would have remembered to pack their adult diapers. I decided to stick to the second excuse.
The camp we arrived at doesn’t look like much from the gate, which opens into a narrow steep ‘hill’ on stone, into a cute little parking lot. That’s where the concrete stops and in comes this lush well-manicured lawn with acacia trees evenly spaced on it.
There were about four stone enclaves with a large wooden table attached to benches of the same size. We picked the first one on the right and plonked our bags and alcohols on it, before stretching and dashing to the tiny pool to put our legs in.
I couldn’t speak for about 15 minutes from the moment we stepped into that campsite. I was taken aback and regretting why I had come on this trip. The water was brown!!! As in it looked so mucky! I could not for the life of me imagine myself rafting in that water and much less falling in! Nini said falling in was inevitable, so needless to say my stomach was queasy for the rest of the evening.
We took it easy on day one because the instructor had said that we would need to be alert the next morning, and that he would much rather we indulged in resting than barraging our blood with fermented brew. I was happy to oblige, and as I drifted off I could hear Charles laughing and dancing.
Lights off was at midnight. Come 5am, I resigned to the fact that I had lost the fight against the call of nature and would have to trudge in the dark to the loo using the light from my phone. It was cold and I could somehow make out a crocodile in the grass. I couldn’t sleep after that, so I didn’t put up much of a fight when Joe decided to wake us up by placing the stereo right at the mouth of our tent.
“Jus lememba God willu never reave your side…,” it blared. I rushed to turn it off – sigh – and after a nice warm shower headed for breakfast. Coffee, eggs, bacon, baked beans and three slices of toast! Even if I was swallowed by those waters I would at least not have died hungry.
We had to wear tight shoes and be prepared to get wet. There was a raft of instructions that had to be followed keenly. And I stress keenly. The raft was like a machine and we all had to row in unison, stop rowing in unison and even huddle into the raft together if the waters got too rough.
At about 9am, after a drive upstream, we got into the rafts – six each plus one instructor – and set off with our life jackets tied tight. I could hardly breathe, and the first turbulent waters we rode over made the butterflies in my stomach and skin go crazy. I was intent on staying in the raft and not even look into those icy waters, and when we all (including non-swimmer Beato) stayed in the raft after a 7-foot fall, I knew I was on top of this.
I ignored this big monitor lizard I had seen and focused on the next task; surfing. We were to row into the rapids and try to go under but stay in the boat. Once, twice, thrice and I was hooked! We got wet but no one had fallen in. Not until Beato forgot to brace and rammed into me, plunging us both into the water. If the life jacket didn’t prop me back up almost immediately I would be lost in that brown water. You can’t even see your hand, much less the raft! Everyone was quick to clutch onto our jackets as we held firmly onto the sides of the raft and pulled us back in. On the second and third fall however, we were pros and could swim easily to shore while keeping the current in mind.
The scenery was beautiful, and as we continued rowing downstream meeting rapid after rapid and taking the falls in stride, it became a thrilling adventure. We played, threw water at each other, tried to row into this huge waterfall, threw each other into the water… and even said hi to the locals.
The waters got quiet at some point and there weaver-bird nests were dangling from branches that gracefully stretched over the sides of the Sagana River, singing to us. Breathtaking. My arms were aching when we finally got back to the camp at about lunch time. After the long hot shower, I could only just manage to eat. Sunday, 2.30pm, we headed back to Nairobi, quiet and content.
My body was a bit sore, I’d been bitten by all kinds of bugs imaginable, I had jumped into the brown river, I had swum against the current towards the raft; I had been drawn into the whirlpool twice and I was purely, happily exhausted. By the way, it all cost Sh6,000 per head.