Paradise (soon to be) Lost

In March I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Uganda, and paddle on the Nile, with world class paddlers Stephen and Clay Wright, from Jackson Kayak, and Sam Ward, founder of Kayak the Nile. This trip was especially memorable for me, as this will be possible the last year much of this incredible place will exist in its natural form. Soon much of this section of river, along with the vibrant tourism industry which is built upon it, will be flooded with the opening of the newly constructed Isimba dam. Not only will this flood the lower portion of this incredible section of the Nile River, it will displace thousands of local people, who have little to begin with, as well as do away with hundreds of local jobs which depend on the vibrant recreational economy created by the rafting and kayaking along this section of river. For me, to have the opportunity to visit this special place, and paddle on the famous rapids before they are lost, was truly a chance of a lifetime.

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The trip was organized by Stephen Wright, a team paddler with Jackson Kayaks, and as soon as I heard about it I signed on for the trip. With a group of 12, Stephen brought on fellow JK paddler Clay Wright to help instruct, which meant we would be paddling with two of the best play boaters in the world. To make this trip run seamlessly, and be the ultimate African adventure, Stephen worked with Sam Ward, owner of Love It Live It and Kayak the Nile, for local logistics. Sam, and Love It Live It, set up all of our local accommodations, meals, shuttles, and local guides to make this a safe, hassle free trip. Sam also jumped in and assisted with instruction, which really pushed this into a top tier learning experience.

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One of the impacts of the future loss of much of this beautiful and vibrant recreation economy for this area will be the impact on businesses such as Love It Live It, and all the locals they employ. During our stay I became good friends with our regular shuttle driver, and tour guide extraordinaire, Meddy. As a local he knows that with the impact on the river tourism industry in this area work for himself, and many others who enjoy good jobs supporting the recreation industry here, will soon dry up. He is already making plans to move to Dubai for work, leaving his wife and young children at home for up to two years before he can hope to come home. It is these sad stories, which bring this terrible issue to a human level, which made this trip so poignant.

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With the knowledge that this could well be the last season to experience many of the famous rapids as a kayaker, we were able to make the most of the beauty and power of the Nile. Spending our days alternating between running the river one day, and staying at a single epic play spot the next, we were able to make the most of the invaluable instruction we got from Stephen, Clay, and Sam. Each of them brought a different prospective and instructional style to the river, but it is easy to see the passion for kayaking and the river that they share. Each time we moved to new feature, with names I had only read about and seen in videos, we became more enchanted, and immersed in the magic of the Nile. 

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On our fifth day we moved down the river to the legendary (in kayaker lore) Hairy Lemon, part of the section that will be lost. This was to be our home for the remainder of the trip, with Love It Live It. The Lemon, as it is commonly known, lies directly across from the world class Nile Special wave, which would is where we would be “schooled” for the next week. These lessons were administered by a combination of our great instructors, and the Nile Special wave, which was much more impactful, in many ways. One great treat was to have the chance to help celebrate Clay Wright’s 50th birthday at the Hairy Lemon, and on the Nile Special. Marking such a milestone with a legendary paddler, on a legendary wave, followed by a gourmet dinner prepared by the incredible local staff on the Hairy Lemon was the ultimate way to cap off an epic adventure in a paradise soon to be lost.     

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