First time riding Sagana River rapids


White water rafting on Sagana River. PHOTO | POOL


  • Darkness, panic, quiet.
  • Then the water spurted me out only to suck me back again.
  • I was caught in an eddy, a place where water from two rocks pours into.

I love adventure. But nothing could have prepared me for the emotional and physical highs of rafting on Sagana River.

I was swept by the churning rapids, I struggled in the water, terror flashing in my eyes until the rafting guide got a hold of me. But it is a thrill that I would want to experience again and again.

This is why.

I had always wanted to do white-water rafting to quench the nagging desire to do something risky. I settled on Savage Wilderness in Sagana. I thought because riding on rapids is already risky enough, I wanted a reputable company that I could be guided by over 30 years of experience.

Since I was going to spend a weekend at Sagana, I decided to try kayaking on calm waters first, before going to more tepid waters upstream.

You would think that learning how to row and then coordinate as a team is easy. It takes time to know how to spin a kayak, steer away from fallen logs, and guide the boat as instructed.

Once I got the hang of it, I began to enjoy myself that I even did an impromptu river-dive downstream. We could spot hammer bird nests, turacos, and hungry kingfisher as well as a whole legion of noisy weaver-birds as we kayaked downstream.

Having enjoyed kayaking, I could not wait to grab a meal, maybe try my hand at a bit of archery as I waited to get to rafting the next day.

“A safety briefing has to be conducted every time you go into the water. This is important so that we can communicate and help you out of the water in case you fall in,” Renson Mburu, one of the guides told us.

I was with a team of strangers the only thing we shared was a thrill of outdoor adventure. The guide explained the direction one should swim towards if they fall into the water; how to hold the paddle and rope if you are to be pulled back to the boat. Tana River has class 2 to class 6 rapids, with some having scary names such as can of worms, captain’s folly, and devil’s toilet bowl. The names allude to the characteristics of the rapids and the waters, with the devil’s toilet bowl spinning you round and round much like poop in a toilet while the devil holding the flash handle. It could take two to four hours to navigate the river, we learnt.

So, with equal parts of trepidation and excitement, we set out on a bus to a higher point in the river to start white water rafting.

The first part of our water sojourn was calm and quite scenic. The guide repeated the safety instructions, instructing us on how to best stay on the boat. We hit a few rapids, with giant waves crashing in front of us and drenching us. I could get used to this, I thought.

Rock climbing, zip-lining

Soon, we moved to larger rapids. My stomach dropped, I screamed with excitement and relief every time we touched the shaky waves at the bottom. I soon learnt that there is a practice called surfing for those with a greater appetite for risk.

Here, you and your entire ducky mates paddle back to a rapid and try to scale it so it can spit you out once more. Of course, I agreed to do this three or four times. On the second turn, as the water spurn the ducky out from the rapid, half my body swung out of the boat with just my hand left holding on to the rope on the boat. I was pretty much already in the water, so I let go.

Darkness, panic, quiet. Then the water spurted me out only to suck me back again. I was caught in an eddy, a place where water from two rocks pours into. I remembered that the instructor had said that if you fight the water and you still cannot move, to just trust the water. After what seemed like five minutes, but was probably five seconds, the water spurted me out and Sammy Muturi, the guide, pulled me out of the water and back onto the ducky.

We proceeded downstream. I fell out of the boat again in the a smaller one tide whilst celebrating navigating the last one. This time, I came up only to find that I was stuck under the boat. I panicked. The two seconds felt like a lifetime. I swam to the side before being pulled back to the boat.

I was high on adrenaline, if not the river water that I had gulped while screaming or when I fell in.

Of course, I immediately went rock climbing after changing into warmer clothes, and for several turns at the zip line. The only cure for adrenaline is more adrenaline, right?