Paddling down the river Nile

Saturday November 3 2018

Sarah Davis in her kayak

Sarah Davis in her kayak. PHOTO | COURTESY | SARAH DAVIS 

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Having worked in a formal environment since she was 21, at 46 Sarah Davis decided to shelve her lucrative career as a risk manager in Australia to paddle a kayak down the Nile River — from its source in the Nyungwe Forest of Rwanda all the way to where it meets the Mediterranean Sea, 6,853km later, going through Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.

Moses Gahigi sat down with her a day before she started her adventure and she shared her expectations.


What made you take up this expedition, and why the Nile?

I came up with the idea two and a half years ago. I enjoyed my work and my life was lovely back in Australia, but I realised I was looking for more fulfilment, something to bring me a sense of achievement and a personal challenge.

I wanted to do something in kayaking because that’s what I do in Australia. I am an ocean paddler, so I did some research and found out that the Nile is the longest river in the world.


The idea of paddling it was like a light bulb moment for me. I love Africa; it’s a continent I have visited on many of my holidays.

I love the idea of going down the Nile and seeing all these countries from the river, and the challenge that comes with doing this.

Two years ago I went to Uganda to see if I really want to do this. I did some white-water kayaking and I decided that I want to do it. But I’m still terrified.

I also want to use this trip to inspire women to get out of their comfort zones, go out there to overcome fear and pursue their dreams.

How far have you gone in mapping out the expedition?

We have gone to the source in Nyungwe Forest. We won’t be able to start paddling from there because it’s a very little stream. We will go to where it’s wide enough. We have a raft and a kayak. The locals have been helpful in identifying the most suitable point to set off from.

From here to Lake Victoria we shall be in a raft. All our gear will be on the raft; food, tents, everything we need. We shall also have one other person on a safety kayak.

There will be four of us from Rwanda to Lake Victoria, from there to end, I will be alone.

How long do you estimate the expedition will take?

Five to six months. Three weeks from Rwanda to Lake Victoria, about five days across Lake Victoria, then another four weeks through Uganda, six weeks in Sudan and six weeks in Egypt.

What else will you need for the trip?

It’s probably going to be harder mentally than it will be physically.

I will have to have days of rest, maybe be four or five. I will listen to my body and do what it tells me to.

What risks are you anticipating on this expedition?

The animal risks like crocodiles and hippos, the environment risks of illness and injury, situations that come from people’s perspectives, and breakage of equipment.

I have gone through each one and made sure everything is taken care of.

It is a certainty that we shall come across hippos, but we have gone through how to behave in those situations.

Has the preparation given you the confidence that you will get the fulfilment you are looking for?

Yes. I had underestimated how much I would get out of that, just how amazing everyone has been. Many people contacted me to offer advice and contacts, my family came in to support me, the generosity has been incredible.

I am blown away by the cleanliness of Rwanda; it is a country with a breadth of things to see and do. I have always known that I wanted to live a life less ordinary, it has just taken me a long time to do it.

Even if I don’t make it to the end, I am going to give it everything I have.