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Drinking the Nile

Oh, the fateful day we decided to go rafting on the Nile River.  We were in Uganda, near Lake Victoria, which drains into the world’s second longest river.  Rafting seemed like the logical thing to do.  Hubby and I love rafting, and have enjoyed rapids from the U.S. to Costa Rica to New Zealand.

Couple at the source of the Hile in Uganda

And so it begins….

We first visited Lake Victoria, which is enormous and incredibly beautiful.  We ate fried Nile perch, and even took a boat out onto the lake (no lie… the only way to the boat was to be carried!)  We visited the source of the Nile River, which, since the water level was high, was basically a sign on top of a few rocks.

The lake and river coasts are lined with farms and fishing villages.  Incredibly, some of the villages are built on top of the water, and some people even live in boats.  Cattle and other farm animals regularly step into the water for a drink, and people bathe and wash their clothes in it. The river and lake are literally the source of life to the people living in the area.

I was nervous the day we went rafting, mostly because of things like, oh, I don’t know…. Nile crocodiles! Venomous and aggressive monitor lizards!!  Venomous snakes!!!  Ginormous perch and catfish!!!! Maybe this was a bad idea….

Once we got our rafts into the water we had to practice flipping the boat.  Moment of truth, as I generally don’t like getting into murky water where killer animals live.  Once we got into the water I slowly let go of some of my fear and started to enjoy the water, which even though it was like a warm bath, was a welcome respite from the equatorial sun.

The river was beautiful, and the rafting spectacular.  There were eight major rapids (including two Class 5 rapids), and plenty of time for paddling and swimming.  (And yes, we did see a monitor lizard swim by us!)   We ate lunch on a hill overlooking the river, as we had to walk the raft up and over a huge waterfall. By the end of the day we were wet and tired, and I greatly enjoyed my shower and glass of wine.

And then…..  By the next afternoon I felt like poo.  My body ached and I was weak.  Our guide and Hubby thought I was sore from rafting. (Men!)  But it got worse. I hurt to the very center of my being, and my joints were on fire.  I had a high fever, and I was sweating, but I had terrible chills.  Plus diarrhea and stomach pains.  It was the worst night of my life.

We had to leave the following morning to go to the airport in Kampala.  But holy crap I felt awful, and by this time Hubby also started to look sick.  Our driver decided Hubby had malaria. (Seriously.  Men!!!).  I knew we didn’t have malaria, as we were both on anti-malaria medication, and it was too coincidental that we were both sick at the same time.

Since we were in desperate need of anti-diarrhea medication, we stopped at a small pharmacy in the middle of rural Uganda. I remember sitting at the counter, hunched over, explaining my symptoms, when the driver emerged through the door with Hubby, who looked like something the cat dragged in.  And then he passed out.  Cold.  Like face-planted.

The driver and another man rushed over to pick him up, and I followed them as they carried him into a room in the back of the pharmacy and laid him down on an old mattress.  He was shivering, but was so wet with sweat that it looked like he had been doused with water. They tested us both for malaria. (Seriously, enough with the malaria!).

By this time I was really panicking.  We were sick as dogs, and in a rural part of a developing country with no real medical help nearby.   The driver reassured me that the “pharmacist” (actually a guy with a degree in marketing), would take care of him. They gave Hubby intravenous fluids and started us both on antibiotics.

Man with malaria test and IV on a mattress in a pharmacy in rural Uganda

Hubby with IV and malaria test

A couple of hours later he was well enough to travel, so we carried him to the car and let him fall asleep in the back.  The driver picked up the pace in an attempt to get us to the airport in time for our flight, but to no avail.  The flight was delayed, but due to incompetence, or rudeness, or a combination of the two, the airport folks wouldn’t let us onto the flight.  And so we spent the night in Kampala, in bed, feeling like death itself, but thankfully near a toilet.  Honestly, it’s just as well, as the airport in Johannesburg employed fever detectors to keep sick people out of South Africa.

Eventually we did make it to Johannesburg, where we spent almost a week recovering in the hotel room.  After a few days the explosive diarrhea (should I have given a trigger warning for this post?) finally subsided and we began recovering our strength enough to stand and walk again.

To be honest, I’m not positive the source of our illness was the Nile River water itself, or something we ate or drank.  And I’m really not sure what we had.  But the moral of the story? Be careful of what you let near your mouth, because the “worst that could happen” can actually be really crappy! (No pun intended.)

What do you think? Have you ever found yourself sick as a dog in a foreign country? Leave your stories in the comments below!

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