“Welcome to Africa my river people. You must begin to exercise your flexibility in all ways: mentally, physically and spiritually. When we push off the beach, you will climb many rungs down from the top of the food chain.” The trip leader spoke with a huge smile on his thin, very tanned face, but with absolute seriousness in his eyes. Continuing the welcome speech, you could hear our TL’s fading Scottish accent behind the many years spent boating all over the world where his language was now that of the river. We looked at each other knowing this speech was coming from someone who has seen shit hit the fan. I grabbed my phone to start an audio recording for posterity’s sake.
Later that evening in the only hotel in town, we took advantage of the sketchy internet to write some emails home attempting to explain our new knowledge of the next 34 days, to the ones we love but ultimately just telling them we love them. Nervously we repacked our drybags while talking over the TL’s welcome speech, stopping every now and then to wonder in awe how tomorrow we were pushing off in an attempt to be the first successful, full descent of the Blue Nile from its source at Lake Tana to the Sahara desert on the South Sudanese border. And the TL had just told our group more ways we could die than I could count on both hands.
We had already driven through the raging political turmoil taking place in Ethiopia at the time. The government, in giving permission to large Chinese contractors to factory farm the rural lands, was displacing and disrupting local life to the breaking point. The riots and uprisings across the countryside had been kept hush-hush from the global media.
We learned in the welcome speech that two weeks prior to our arrival in Addis Ababa, a western journalist had been killed while documenting the military suppression of the riots. The country was still under curfew. We had waited four days for our bus driver to finally feel safe enough to agree to drive us 12 hours across the rural lands to Bahir Dar. When we did make the drive, the smoldering wreckage of burnt-out vehicles, flipped-over busses, and Molotov-cocktailed buildings all flashed through the windows. We crossed our fingers and hoped we wouldn’t be next…
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Editor’s Note: Guest contributor Scott Lacy is a Colorado native, raised on western rivers each summer and Nordic skiing every winter. A graduate of Dartmouth College, today, he’s a professional biathlete based in Bozeman, Montana. In between a full-time ski training schedule, he has a paddling passion for promoting backyard adventures, preferably car/gas-free, and raising awareness on the importance of clean watersheds and increasing water usage issues. Follow Scott on Instagram: @scottysbiscotti.