Water Travel, Like a Local

I’ve just returned from a great trip, packrafting down about 250km of remote rivers in Nicaragua.

Packrafting is relatively new to me, but so far I love it. Because the raft is so compact, I could carry it in my backpack together with food and gear for 10 days out.

Packrafting Rio Bocay in Nicaragua
Packrafting Rio Bocay in Nicaragua

The rafting trip had fun, adventure, challenge, white-water, wild-camping and a chance to see how the local indigenous Mayangna and Miskito people live.

I have only one other water trip I can compare it with, and that is paddling down the Niger River in West Africa. For that trip, we had a local fisherman build us a pirogue, just like those the locals use. If I had had a packraft with me, I probably would have used that. But I’m glad I didn’t.

Paddling a pirogue was physically much more challenging and we encountered difficulties navigating downstream which wouldn’t have been a problem in a packraft.

But the pirogue let us experience the river as the locals do. And it brought us closer to those we met.

Paddling a Pirogue on the Niger River
Paddling a Pirogue on the Niger River

In Nicaragua, I felt we were viewed as a passing novelty; rich tourists with hi-tech products. On the Niger river, we were just two more people heading downstream.

Both ways of river travel were great. And I’m pretty sure i’ll be doing more trips in both styles…

Since i’ll be back in the UK for the rest of the year, the packraft will be seeing plenty of action in the coming months. Pirogues aren’t so common on British waterways…. Narrowboat barges though, now there’s an idea!

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Paddling on the Niger River

Take On Africa is about my journey cycling from the UK to Cape Town. However, it’s not just about the cycling. It’s about exploring the countries I travel through – exploring the people, the wildlife, the landscapes. And what could be a better way to explore the Niger river that flows over 4000km through West Africa, than by buying a local pirogue (wooden boat) and paddling down part of it?


I chose the section between Faranah and Kouroussa in Guinea, in the upper reaches of the river. Here I would get a chance to paddle through the Haut Niger National Park and hopefully see some interesting wildlife.

I saw plenty of fascinating wildlife: warthogs, antelope, duikers, snakes, vervet monkeys, baboons, chimpanzees and lots of hippos. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of species of birds.

The river trip was less a wildlife viewing experience however, but an action-packed, exciting river challenge that saw us (me and fellow cycle tourer Lars Bengtsson) negotiating rapids and shallow waters with varying degrees of success. On more than one occasion we thought we might have to abort the trip early. But we made it relatively unscathed!

Without passing a single village on the two-week and 350km paddle, I spent each night camping out on large rocks or the banks of the river. The freedom you experience of this kind of wild camping is intoxicating.

Each evening I would first put up my tent and then set about cooking on an open fire. Dinner would then usually be devoured inside the tent in order to avoid the bothersome sand-flies and tsetse flies. Laying down to rest I would then sweat for a few hours, the rocks on which we pitched our tents still radiating heat from the daily exposure to the sun’s rays. Eventually, the temperature would cool and I would drift off to sleep to the sounds of the river – crickets, frogs, fishes splashing.


But those two amazing weeks on the Niger river are over now – It’s back on the bike for now. Although, travelling through Mali I shall continue to follow the river’s path towards the fabled city of Timbuctoo.

If you would like to read more about my journey down the Niger river, I have posted a detailed day-to-day account of the trials and tribulations experienced on my website Take On Africa.

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