An adrenaline-filled weekend at Savage Wilderness, Kenya
“Now when the crocodile snaps the other end of your oar, don’t let go of it,” counsels Mark Savage, holding us in rapt attention. “If you let go of the oar, the crocodile will get you. Instead inch your way closer to the crocodile along the oar before it goes into the death roll.” At that point, some clue in. “What you do now is grab the crocodile’s jaws shut because it has very weak muscles to open it and jab its eyes with your two fingers like this.” At which point, some have realized that he’s pulled a fast one on us. He bursts out laughing seeing the shock on the faces of the more innocent.
“No, there are no crocodiles here,” says the man who introduced the adrenaline-filled extreme sport of white water rafting in Kenya in 1990. The group has already been briefed by an instructor on how to sit in the inflatable raft, how to hold the oar and paddle, what to do when you accidently fall off the raft and fitted us with sturdy helmets and life jackets.
Savage in his seventies is only doing the extra drill by the banks of the Tana at Sagana before we embark on the nine-kilometer run downstream through fast-flowing rapids which turns the water white because the flow is so turbulent due to the air trapped in the water.
Filled with anticipation and a little nervous the group carries the raft into the water. At first it’s plain sailing with Savage calling the commands to test the group on the rowing skills – left paddle, right paddle, relax. Having said that, most of the steering is done by the guide at the back- and that’s him.
Images fill me of white water rafters falling off high, fast flowing rapids. I calm myself with the golden rule – stay calm in every situation. The river’s calm but the skies break open and we’re drenched with rain.
“We’re going to die,” shouts Savage suddenly as the raft is whirled around a rapid and then sits on calm waters. That’s just an introduction on what’s to follow and he’s pleased with the group’s performance.
The Tana that we’re rafting on, demands respect not only because it is Kenya’s longest river but because it is amazing filled with lagoons and pools. Flowing through pristine landscapes like the Tsavo and draining into the Indian Ocean through a web that forms one of the most awesome deltas in the world at Kipini, it is for Kenyans what the Nile is to the Egyptians – vital to life.
The sky clears and the sun appears again. The water is smooth as silk and richly coloured like dark chocolate – a sign of silting. Along the river banks, towering palms like the raffia with the longest leaf in the plant kingdom stand with fat old fig trees.
Savage points to the ‘walking palm’ with its roots on stilts which isn’t a palm but an ancient plant from the Carboniferous Period (359 to 299 million years ago), which has formed rich coal layers in the earth.
And then we’re onto the next rapid though swirling waters and down the drop. Pumped with adrenaline, we row the rafts to the waterfall to see which capsizes first. I’m hoping it’s not ours and thankfully we miss being dunked into the water. We watch the instructor un-capsize the raft and continue with the sail. Again the water turns smooth. Eastern golden weavers and Black headed weavers weave beautiful nests on the overhanging branches of the palms and thorn trees. Green pigeons perched high watch us sail by.
A few more rapids amidst screams and laughs. We jump off the raft to swim with the current downstream and then we’re on to the final rapid. It’s nick-named the toilet bowl because the water is really turbulent and for those who want to try it, go through the drill.
Somewhere during the drill, l miss an important point which is to swim for the red point on the rock. Once inside the toilet bowl the water flushes me downstream, past enormous rocks with water gushing over me. And then the oar appears and Savage pulls me back into the raft.
I’ve been saved.
It’s really active. Over two days, you can white water raft, kayak, rock climb, zip line, hike a hill, swim, cycle, climb a wall and bungee jump – or just laze.
It’s an hour’s drive from Nairobi in the absence of traffic. Camp or get a cottage. The lawns are beautiful, clean with areas for BBQs. The restaurant serves good wholesome, simple meals with tea, coffee and water available free.