Select Page

Living in a Van sure beats a mud hut

We are staying at the Black Lantern – the high-brow resort behind NRE that features an amazing view of the river as well as the pool we shot our 2005 playboating videos in.  It’s quite ‘posh’ by African standards, and we are certainly appreciating the excellent food, quiet nights, and easy access to internet and the NRE bar for entertainment.   After a hearty breakfast on ‘Porch’ overlooking the Nile, we pile into a ”matatu” (van) and head to Super-hole for low-water training in the most “Plattling-like” hole on the river.   An instructional video in the making and a stiff comp season close at hand, we leave sharply focused on becoming the best kayakers the world has ever seen.




Emily and some local boaters

While the hole is sweet:  a 2” ledge into a wave-hole with a nice sticky pocket, the most impressive part is the kids that join us each day.   They dress in torn clothing – usually red from the African dust, and swim in just underwear or often nothing.  They come out to the hole by boat or just swim-out across the heavy currents to watch, then beg for a chance to try out our kayaks.   We oblige a few, and they are remarkably fast learners!  I imagine one or two might make a fine video kayaker for NRE in a year or two if the kayakers keep coming.   After the session, they jostle and beg for the chance to carry our boats, paddles, or gear upriver back to the matatu for just 200 shillings a load (like ten cents!).   That’s a fine day’s wage for these kids who are usually digging dirt or carrying bricks while the more fortunate kids are in school.  So fine they sometimes fight for the opportunity – wading in and grabbing at our paddles before we can even get to the bank.  200 shillings is nothing for us, but this is a different world in which our money is overvalued and our presence an opportunity as well as a threat.  

Nick loops while kids wait to carry his boat

Africa is full of these challenges – I hope our presence and $ is helping these families move ahead, but I also know we’re showing them a life full of possessions they will never have.   As we load our Rockstars and cameras and brightly colored gear at the end of the day I often wonder what they are thinking as they smile and wave us on our way back to our world of wildly different expectations. We wave back, then it often goes quiet for awhile as we drive by the mud-huts, one-room brick houses, and the multitude of people living lives so very unlike our own..  But then we go right back to the task at hand: learning tricks, forming a fast and high scoring 45 second routine, evaluating paddling technique etc because in just 3 months we’ll be in front of the best freestyle kayakers in the world as the Team to beat.  Those kids will be missing our shillings soon, but wearing whatever clothes we can spare to fly home without.


Clay Wright:   Typing from the bar at NRE, a ‘footbol’ crowd glued to the TV in front of me while the natives gather water and beat clothes on the rocks far below…   This is Africa.