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The White Nile II

How was it for you? The girlfriend's perspective

A female friend of mine, married to a white water kayaker, can kill any mention of the activity stone dead with just a look. Their home is a kayak free zone. I'm not part of the white water scene but I'm not anti; I love flat water paddling on rivers and off the coast and I have a secret longing to do the other stuff but the reality of being cold, wet and in any way wounded is so alien to me that I never will.

So, approaching the white water part of our trip, I had mixed feelings. I very much wanted to see the White Nile. One of the great things about kayaking, I think, is the stunning beauty of the places to which it takes us (guys, remember to look up occasionally) but I did have reservations; Was I up for rafting? I had rafted before, on the mighty Zambezi, no less, but since then I'd heard so many horror stories that I'd quite lost my nerve and how was I going to get on as the only woman surrounded by a bunch of obsessive rufty tufty kayakers?

So, how was it for me? The river surpassed all expectations, the sheer scale and power, vast tumbling cascades of dazzling water. It took my breath away. Great rivers are a privilege to see. The rafting? (Of course I did it.) Well, a bit more mixed. I loved the thrill of being right there in that crashing water. The best thing is looking up when coming through a rapid at the wall behind me, amazing!

My raft flipped on virtually every rapid, with which I was coping OK. I fall out, I go under, I pop up. Then I get swept down in this mass of water until it suddenly all calms down again. I get back in. I was coping OK until the last and biggest rapid when I finally got my own experience of big down time. You can go down a very very long way, it seems, if you are unlucky. Being underneath that massive water for a long time, feeling completely at its mercy, is a significant experience. Shaken and stirred, I survived but with a new awareness. Natural forces have infinitely more power than we usually attribute to them and human bodies infinitely less, food for thought.

The company? While I still feel my natural milieu is a tennis club I have fond memories of happy camaraderie with the kayakers. Although my promised personal safety kayakers were conspicuously absent when I half drowned (playing on God's Own Wave, I believe) I did enjoy being an honorary kayaker, taking the truck back on top with the boats when all the rafters got in their bus (although the kayakers pinched all my cigarettes) and dear Simon lending me his kayak on one of the big pool sections so that I, too, can say I kayaked the White Nile. I've invited them to my tennis club. I wonder how they'll get on there.

Julia Hopkinson

Part III - How was it for you?