While perhaps not as challenging as the efforts of John Speke over 150 years ago to confirm the southernmost source of the Nile, the journey from Kenya to Jinja, Uganda, still poses some obstacles – mainly crossing the border, avoiding collisions with trucks and matatus, and minimizing inevitable traffic police stops.
We started our journey to Uganda by crossing the Rift Valley and Lake Bogoria and through the beautiful Kerio Valley. In fact, we found the Kerio Valley, which apparently is a subvalley in the more expansive greater Rift Valley, to be even more stunning than the wider sections of the Rift Valley.
We went down one switchback escarpment and up another where we encountered a local bicycle racing team, a pack of mules, a waterfall, and crossed the equator along the way.
This part of Kenya is home to the Kipsigis, a subgroup of the Kalenjin, who are reputed to produce the best long distance runners in the world. We passed through the town of Iten, which has a world renowned training center for runners. The town is featured in Adharanand Finn’s 2012 book Running With The Kenyans. Road biking is a much newer sport in Kenya, but the same cardiovascular results no doubt will follow.
After departing the Kerio Valley it was a long pastoral and pot holed slog through Eldoret and to the border town of Malaba. Note the side saddle way women sit on motorbikes in Kenya, and in this case with a baby in her arms to boot. Yikes! The last photo shows vehicles traveling on the right side of the road (the wrong side in Kenya) to avoid potholes.
We finally arrived at the border in the early evening after a good 8 hours of driving. We were able to pass in front of many dozens of trucks waiting to pass through customs and it only took us 2 hours to circumnavigate the authorities on both sides of the border – first customs to get approval to take our car out of Kenya, then immigration for our passports and visa checks, then money changers to swap Kenyan for Ugandan shillings, then the police to bless everything, then roughly the same process on the other side. It took a bit longer than normal in that the Ugandan customs official could not log into his computer for a good 20 minutes because his password would not work, while I sat patiently looking at the sign above his head declaring it imperative that customs officials process customers quickly to promote a business friendly climate for Uganda!
With the sun setting, we grabbed a hotel room in the Ugandan border town of Tororo, had a delicious Lake Victoria Tilapia dinner, and awaited our final push to Jinja in the morning (while the kids watched the Disney Kids channel on the sattelite tv).
We were up early the next morning and after a basic breakfast (saved only by the tasty Ugandan bananas!) we made the last push to Jinja. We were stopped within 20 kilometers by our first traffic cop (they are all dressed smartly in bright white uniforms) but he was pleasant, merely looked at my license, and waved us on without any request for money or claim of an infraction.
Upon entering Jinja, we headed to an overlanders camp and banda site along the river called River Explorers Camp. It was up a very narrow dirt road made more challenging by someone seemingly randomly plowing the sides of the road into large gullies. The village kids got a real kick out of the difficulties the vehicles had in navigating the obstacle course!
We finally arrived in time for a late lunch to an incredibly beautiful oasis looking out over the River Nile.
That evening we went on a magical sunset kayak on the river (particularly magical after the 2nd gin and tonic!). The full moon rising on one side of the river and the sun setting on other as we paddled around and swam to the quiet of dusk falling on the river, shared only with a few fishermen and a family washing at the river side.
The next day, after a leisurely morning, we headed up the river to view one of the many world class rapids along the river. We stopped at a more exclusive resort overlooking the rapids for lunch and viewing at Dead Dutchman rapids (thankfully not David).
Getting back to John Speke, the River Nile at its outflow from Lake Victoria, looks nothing like what it did in Speke’s day. Then, the source of the White Nile (which merges with the Blue River in Khartoum in northern Sudan) was a large falls cascading out of the lake, named Ripon Falls by Speke (he also named the lake after his queen). Those falls became submerged with completion of the Owen Falls Dam in 1954, which enlarged the size of Lake Victoria. Then, just two years ago, an even larger second dam, the Bujagali Dam, was completed downriver of the River Explorer Camp at what had been Bujagali Falls, creating the lovely reservoir we kayaked and swam in, but removing a section of the class 4 and 5 whitewater that had been a part of the draw for adventure kayakers from around the world. Below is a picture taken before the Bujagali Dam was constructed at roughly the same location we kayaked in.
Now, just two weeks ago, Uganda announced an agreement for yet another large dam further downstream and to be built and financed by the Chinese. The new dam, if completed, would wipe out the remaining class 4 and 5 whitewater sections of the river, including Dead Dutchman rapids, and end adventure kayaking in the region. Needless to say, environmentalists and river enthusiasts are up in arms, but there is no meaningful environmental permitting process, so stopping construction of the new dam is not likely.
This is part of a larger water war over the past and future of the Nile. There are two large dams in the Sudan on the Blue Nile tributary, the Sennar (1925) and the Roseires (1966 and expanded in 2013). Ethiopia is in the process of building the largest dam of all on the River Nile, the Grand Rennaisance Dam. It has caused significant tension with Egypt, which gets 95% of its water from the Nile. Egypt has its own large dam, the Aswan Dam (completed in 1970). As population grows, and the region becomes drier due to climate change, there will only be increasing conflict over the Nile’s waters and to what extent they are diverted for agricultural and electric purposes upstream of Egypt.
Saying goodbye to the River Nile and the concerns over its white water future, we were off on our next Ugandan adventure, passing through Kampala and to our ultimate destinations, Entebbe, Lake Victoria and the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary.