Pope Francis in Uganda
While we were travelling through Rwanda, we realized we had the opportunity to see Pope Francis, as he would be coming to Kenya and Uganda in the coming days. As luck would have it, we had planned to be in Kampala during the same time period, and only had to take an overnight bus from western Uganda to ensure that we arrived in time. The only event which would be open to the general public would be the mass on Saturday morning at 9:30.
We awoke at 5am and took a taxi towards the Namumongo Martyrs Shrine on the northeast part of town. This shrine commemorates the 24 Ugandans who were martyred for their Christian faith between 1885-1887, and whom were canonized by Pope Paul VI, when he visited Uganda in 1964. Due to the heavy traffic, we soon elected to get out and walk, joining the throngs of people hoping to see the pope. There were a huge backlog of people, as it took a long time to get through security. Just our luck, they opened a new line and we were one of the people ushered over to join it.
We finally made it into the enclose area a little after 6:30, and the place was packed. Hundreds of people had camped out the night before. Not to be discouraged, Laura asked a priest for directions, which turned into him ushering us to some great seats on the hill to the side of the main aisle! We couldn’t believe our luck.
The next few hours went by quickly until it was time for the Pope to arrive. The crowd became electric as the time grew near. They sang joyful music and danced in their seats. When the Pope finally arrived, he did a lap around the area in the Pope mobile. While we had a great view, I unfortunately wasn’t able to get any good pictures, as the people in front of me were waving their hands ecstatically as he drove by. Oh well.
Mass was long, but a great experience, truly rivaling the Easter mass at the Vatican with Pope Benedict I was at back in 2011. Communion was a very interesting experience, since the Eucharistic ministers were at the bottom of the hill. To get down to them, one had to descend several ledges, each about a yard high. To add to the difficulty, the ground was very muddy on account of the short rainy season. I then proceeded to help hoist a hundred or so Africans up the ledge that we were seated by. After mass finished and the Pope exited the area, the crowd finally calmed down and the mass exodus began. We chose to wander around the area a bit, and mad our way over to the choir, who were still singing. There we chatted and mingled for a bit with the other people, some of whom had traveled quite far, as the crowd included Tanzanians, Malawians, Zambians, and Rwandans, to name a few. It has been funny travelling with Nacho and Laura, whenever we are asked where we are from. Quite often, the person has never heard of Chile. However today, they also added in their explanation that it was next to Argentina, where Pope Francis hails from. This news caused some of them to then become extremely excited! We didn’t end up getting back to the city until close to 2pm, but we agreed that it was well worth it.
Rafting the Nile
After being told by multiple people that this was a must do when I was in the area, I had been looking forward to this for a few months. The day was a little sad, as it marked the time when I would be splitting off from Nacho and Laura. They had done rafting before in Chile and elected to keep moving forward.
Jinja, Uganda, is the base point for rafting the Nile. It is also the location of its source, as the Nile flows upstream all the way to Egypt. Due to the rapids, this area also does not have any crocodiles or hippos, both of which can be extremely deadly for humans.
The company I chose to go with, Nile River Explorers, had great reviews on tripadvisor, as well as had a few perks, including free transport from Kampala, as well as a night’s stay in their hostel, as I would be continuing my journey east. There were 5 other people in my raft, plus the guide, and we were the only other raft going out that day. I was a bit surprised that there weren’t more people, but it was a weekday during rainy season, and it meant a more authentic experience on the Nile. It was a beautiful sunny day blue skies, which definitely added to the experience. While I was originally planning on bringing my go pro along, due to the unpredictability of the rapids, I elected not, which turned out to be a good decision. We did choose to have a cameraman go along with us in a kayak and take some pictures, which ended up turning out great, and only costing $10/person. These will be added sometime later, as they are currently on a CD, and I haven’t had a chance to upload them yet.
There were 8 rapids total, all varying between Grades 2-5. When we got into the water, we had a short tutorial from our guide, giving us varying instructions, varying from paddling forward and backward, to ducking and holding tight, to actually jumping out of the raft into the water. It was soon time to make our way down the Nile.
The first two rapids would turn out to be tame in comparison, but seemed intense then. I thought we were going to flip during the second rapid, as the front of the raft went up a few feet in the air, but we managed to stay afloat. The third rapid was a different story however, as we flipped for the first of three times for the day. It happened so quickly, I wasn’t able to react. One moment we were paddling hard trying to get through the rapids, and the next we found ourselves in the water. I was able to grab a hold of the side of the raft while still holding onto my oar and was able to hoist myself back in after we flipped the raft right side up. I then realized that 2 of the people were missing, having been thrown yards from the raft in the commotion, and were picked up by the rescue raft, that always remained nearby in case of emergencies.
After the fourth rapid, we had a quick snack of pineapples and crackers. Pineapples in East Africa are extremely sweet, much better tasting than the ones usually found back home. We then were ready to face the last 4 rapids, the most notable one being the sixth one, which is nicknamed “Hair of the Dog”. This rapid had two parts to it. While going down the first part, we actually spun in a full circle! It was difficult to ascertain in the madness which way we should be paddling, but soon the raft capsized and we we found ourselves out in the water again. After getting back in for the second portion of that rapid, one of the Aussies actually fell out again, but the rest of us managed to hold on.
After we finished the eighth and final rapid, our guide told us we could jump in the water and float down the river. The current was very strong for the water being so calm, but it was a great way to end the trip.
I highly recommend anyone who finds themselves in the area to raft the Nile. There are also many other great locations around the world (and US) for rafting. It certainly is an adrenaline rush!