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My stay at Lemala Wildwaters Lodge in Uganda began in a curious fashion.
“Welcome to the Nile,” said James, our driver and the owner of Mj Safaris.
Our van came to a stop about an eyelash shy of an inauspicious corrugated metal shack tucked into a tight corner of the surrounding rainforest.
For weeks, I had looked forward to not only rafting the Nile River, but also to relaxing at a boutique lodge on the private Kalagala Island in the middle of the world’s longest river. But from what I could see, there was no river.
Moments later, three cheerful staff members emerged from the edge of the forest, each carrying a life jacket.
“There they are,” said James with a knowing grin. “You will like it here.”
Still not sure where “here” was, we followed our new hosts down a steep slope toward a narrow dock where a canoe situated in a quiet cove was waiting for us. Just beyond roared the Nile.
Like most travelers in Uganda, we had come to Lemala Wildwaters — a 45-minute drive from Jinja, the country’s “adventure capital” — to whitewater raft the Nile. What I hadn’t anticipated was that we would be rafting the river to get to the resort.
“Our lodge is just on the other side,” said our new guide, shouting over the roar.
“Of what?” I asked, looking ominously across the beautiful but obstreperous river.
“The rapids,” said the guide.
With that, he took my suitcase, and we were off.
The current began to pick up as a handful of whimsical villas revealed themselves alongside the water. Right before the river got truly nasty, we pulled into a still cove, where our host waited for us with fresh juices and a hot towel. Already pleasantly exhilarated, we started our stay with a tour.
Wildwaters’ 10 villas are connected by an elevated wooden walkway that winds seamlessly through the small island’s thick forest, ending at the main lodge. The open-air building is situated on an outcropping of rock, cooled by a breeze generated from the surrounding rapids; it offered an unrivaled view of the Mediterranean-bound waterway as it echoed past.
At the edge of Lemala Wildwaters, beyond the dining area, a natural pool — carved by the river into the pink granite over millennia — appeared to extend into the river itself. At the river’s edge, a Nile monitor lizard basked in sunlight.
My villa was the kind of space a guest would never want to leave. As I stepped out onto the wraparound porch only to realize that it was built over the river, my mind was blown: Not only could I watch the sunrise over the thunderous tumult of the Nile, but I could also watch the sunset while taking a bath. That’s right — the balcony has its own freestanding outdoor bathtub.
In addition to running the lodge, Lemala Wildwaters hosts high-octane activities such as rafting, horseback riding, ATV driving and a new bungee tower coming in July. Other upcoming updates include a tented camp and refurbishing existing villas.
The property is also part of a newly announced conservation area in addition to being part of the Nile Bank Central Forest Reserve Wildwaters. The community, as well as public and private businesses, worked together to provide special protection to “re-wild” Lemala Wildwaters’ unique location of the Nile.
The next night, after a day of whitewater rafting and enjoying a five-course meal and ample wine, I went back to my villa. There on the deck, the two-note melody of a million frogs — interwoven and hypnotic — swelled against the low roar of the Nile as it swirled a few feet below me. Soon, the full moon would rise to light up the famed river that, since sundown, had been encased in darkness.
A week earlier, in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where my African journey had begun before I continued to Lemala Wildwaters, a female mountain gorilla had grabbed my leg. Throughout my time in Uganda, I wondered how such a moment could ever be topped. As the western horizon’s edge began to glow, illuminated with moonlight, my journey reached its crescendo.
The frog’s incantation continued to grow as the midnight-black water turned deep purple, rising and surging. For a moment, the moon, the frogs, the forest and the river became one — and there on the balcony of my villa, situated on a private, rapids-wrapped island in Uganda’s beloved Nile, I filled the bathtub.
The DetailsLemala Wildwaters Lodgewww.lemalacamp.com