In April this year, 46-year old kayaker Sarah Davis, from Sydney Australia, completed the first woman-led expedition down the Nile River. Setting off from Rwanda in September 2018, she went in search of fulfillment, adventure, challenge, and a life less ordinary.
The seven-month expedition included 3,000 kilometres of kayaking and 1,000 kilometres of rafting through Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, and Egypt. Kayaking as much as 92 kilometres a day, Sarah and her team rested mostly in campsites or were hosted in the homes of locals.
Sarah spent more than two years planning the expedition, undertaking reconnaissance trips to Africa, training in wilderness survival and even learned Krav Maga self-defence techniques.
She faced several tough challenges along the way including being arrested and detained by military police in Burundi, unexpected, life threatening river rapids in Tanzania, and changing plans in South Sudan in response to safety concerns.
Enthralled with Sarah’s journey and her drive to accomplish a world first, we asked her to share a few of the more memorable moments.
Highlights of the Expedition
This expedition was full of so many amazing experiences. Sudan was definitely one of the highlights. The scenery was spectacular as we made our way north. Paddling through the world’s biggest hot desert with sand coming down to the river was a slightly surreal experience, it was also stunning. In addition, the people in Sudan were incredible – the most hospitable people I have ever met. They are so kind and generous, always ready to help out and we could have been given beds and food every night if we’d wanted.
Another highlight was going across Lake Kyoga in Uganda. At night, we’d have to find places to get off the river and raft through the papyrus which would open out to the village. It was like going into another world. The people we met, not only in Uganda, but throughout the trip were incredibly kind and generous.
Most Terrifying Moment
One of the most terrifying moments was being attacked by a hippo. We’d accidentally got between a baby hippo and her mum. She lost it. She charged us and then tried to flip the raft. If it had been a lighter, smaller raft it would have flipped. We tried to paddle away, but she came again and this time sunk her enormous teeth into the raft. She put a huge hole in it. Luckily we made it to land, we leapt out and she backed off. The boys from the team patched up the hole but I was so scared to get back on the water.
To do something like this you need a strong ‘why’, your driver for doing it. For one, it was a huge amount of work and took a long time to even get to the start. And once I got going, it didn’t always go as planned. But I kept coming back to my ‘why’ – so long as I was still aligned to that, how the expedition went was less important.
This trip has taught me so much personally – patience, accepting uncertainty and not having all the answers. It has built my resilience and ability to adapt as well as to slow down. Before this journey, every day was jam-packed. I learned the simplicity of life and to take time to enjoy the moment. I’ve also learned to live with very little and break away from my normal trappings of life.
I think we tend to only regret the things we don’t do. If you have a dream, make it happen. It may seem unachievable or impossible, but you just have to start. Regular steps, daily actions and a good dose of determination and you can have the most amazing adventure.
To learn more visit paddlethenile.com
Words by: TPL & Sarah Davis