The rain, when it came, was not entirely unpleasant; the relative temperatures of both water and air were more than bearable and the darkening skies made the brooding hills seem even more dramatic. In a remarkably uncharacteristic display of forward planning, I had even thought to bring my backpack’s impermeable cover to protect my belongings from the elements. The worst of what was clearly an incoming thunderstorm, as testified by two quick forks of lightning, appeared to be heading east and over the mountains to my left. I wasn’t in any immediate danger. Nevertheless, the undeniable fact remained that I was hopelessly lost in a one man kayak somewhere in the middle of Lake Bunyonyi in southwestern Uganda, two hours from nightfall and with no-one else to be seen in any direction.

Today was exactly the kind of day I had imagined and hoped for when first planning this voyage. For reasons unknown even to myself, my concept of ultimate freedom has always equated to floating on a vast expanse of water with only a thin hull of rotomolded polyethylene separating me from the murky depths lurking beneath. With only two previous outings to my name in forty-one years of existence I can hardly lay claim to kayaking pedigree of Olympic proportions, but the mere thought of dipping paddle into water has always conjured feelings of peace and tranquility. I could barely contain my excitement.

The plan for the day was straightforward: I was to launch my flagship vessel into the lake at 10:00 sharp and head for the eco-resort of Byoona Amagara on Itambira Island, where I would have a well-deserved organic lunch of locally-grown produce and an ice cold beer in the sun. My stomach pleasantly sated and muscles reinvigorated, I would gently glide back home along the many inlet indentations of this stunningly picturesque lake, my bronzed seafaring skin glistening in the afternoon sunshine. During the course of the six hours on the water, I would redress my inner disequilibrium, understand the purpose to my life, and find a solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem.

The alarm bells ought to have been ringing after needing to ask the sixth canoe taxi for directions to Itambira, as every new inlet and island passed resembled the previous. But so childlike and innocent was my joy at finally fulfilling this long-held dream that any concern was consigned overboard. My lunchtime destination was reached in the time frame I had estimated, the avocado salad and fruit platter were as tasty as they were fresh, and the beer coursed cold down my throat with the taste of athletic achievement. Content with the general state of affairs, I pushed off from the island and rediscovered the lake.

With the afternoon rain, however, came the wind. Whilst the waves generated by the passing squall did not genuinely jeopardise my stability, they did disrupt my naval orientation. Further backing my long-held conviction that I would be a liability in charge of any form of transport, I missed an island turn and paddled for an hour in the wrong direction before realising my misnavigation. With dusk but a couple of hours away and no canoe taxi or other lake traffic to be seen, my zen-like tranquility was being increasingly replaced by a sense of apprehension and foreboding. But then came the call.

“Mzungu! Mzungu!”

Not for the first time did I find myself interrupted mid-reverie by the now familiar East African expression for a white man, although on this occasion I had to concede that I was more than a little relieved to hear it. A group of young children on the shore some distance behind me had understood my predicament and was calling me over – to point me in the right direction, I assumed. As I rotated 180 degrees and paddled my way towards them, I quickly noticed that the tallest boy was holding a plastic football and nearly capsized out of giddy excitement. Forgetting the primary concern that was finding my way home, I beached the kayak and hopped onto land asking for the ball.

Within seconds, we were engaged in a frenetic game of three-a-side using our tshirts for goal posts, my heart singing with the joys of childhood nostalgia. Tackles flew firmly but fairly, goals were celebrated and congratulated with equal enthusiasm, and sides were changed twice so as to allow all the children to play with the mzungu. That they spoke very little English only served to make the moment even more perfect, and we played with the insouciance of sweet innocence for twenty of the most magical minutes of this trip so far. Exhausted but elated, I shook every single player’s hand and returned to the kayak to start my long paddle home. Two of the boys accompanied me in their traditional canoe for about ten minutes, until they were sure that I could not err again. With a final wave, they turned around and left me alone on the lake. What a day.

What could possibly go wrong?

Lunch with a view

Making it back just before nightfall, as planned ahem…

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