There is something magical about water bodies. It’s common to see people traveling long distances in pursuit of the sand, the sight of gentle waves and the cool breeze. Kicking back at the beach and sipping beverages prescribed for holiday makers vacationing in exotic destinations is absolutely sensational but not enough to quench my thirst. Any activity that can be done on the shuffled water does the trick and kayaking is definitely one of them.
What do kayaks and bicycles have in common? They are both engineless. They are propelled by their users’ physical strength. Like cycling, kayaking is healthier and environmentally friendly. It is a mode of transport that doubles as a sport. This activity enables its user to move from point A to point B while exercising. In this case, one stone kills two birds.
A kayak is a canoe-like light boat powered by a double-bladed paddle. Most kayaks have enclosed decks, although inflatable ones are growing in popularity. Kayaking and canoeing are very similar excursions. In some cases, ’canoe’ and ’kayak’ are used interchangeably but there are slight differences between the two. Canoe paddlers use single-bladed paddles and their vessels are usually open. Paddle boarding on the other hand is a hybrid product of kayaking and canoeing. You can do paddle boarding while sitting, kneeling or standing. Stand up paddle boarding requires balancing skills that take only a few minutes to develop. The three interrelated leisure pursuits improve cardiovascular fitness and strengthen different parts of the body.
Last time I kayaked, I got carried away and drifted far away from the shore. At some point, the waves got a little bigger and rougher. There are times during my grand tour of Rwanda when I find myself questioning my decisions — wondering "What have I put myself into?" This was one of those moments. When the waves threatened to sweep me to the DRC, I remembered to apply the right technique instead of fighting back. Confronting raging nature is fighting a losing battle.
Well, the lake in which my kayaking expedition took place is never that violent. I have exaggerated my encounter with ’bigger and rougher’ waves. However, there is always a surge in adrenaline whenever the kayak is shaken a little bit. This happened to me when I realized I had pushed the kayak farther than I should have. When fear kicks in, the sight of the shore serves as a much-needed consolation but when you realize that the nearest land is ten kilometers away, the said consolation melts like ice in a frying pan.
Yes, at some point, I had what I usually refer to as a ’What have I put myself into?’ moment. It is a near panic reaction I have experienced many times in some of my nerve-racking adventures.
I remember having a ’What have I put myself into?’ moment when I did canopy walk for the first time. This happened when it felt like the swinging suspension bridge, set up seventy meters above the floor of the forest, was about to turn upside down. I felt the same way when I reached the whitewater stage while canoeing along the meandering course of Mukungwa River. I had a similar reaction when I had to hold branches of trees and pull myself upper and upper while crossing the insanely challenging mubakomando stretch of Karisimbi mountain. I had that moment when I got swallowed by the deep, dark and scary Musanze Caves.
There are many more incidents that brought up that moment. During one of my Rusizi trips, I swam from Karambo peninsula toward a small island known as Karamari which happens to be in the DRC. When I realized that I had literary gone too far, the thought of a possible muscle strain far away from the shore and the possibility of having entered another country illegally made me question my decisions once again.
I am now used to kayaking and I don’t think I will ever have another ’what have I put myself into?’ moment while doing so in lakes whose waves are as gentle as Kivu and Ruhondo (my favorite kayaking destinations). As long as I don’t cross the border illegally, I will be just fine.
Kayaks were invented thousands of years ago by the Eskimos of the northern Arctic. Initially, they were used for transportation and shoreline hunting but over the years, the crafts evolved in response to the leisure and fitness needs of modern societies. The kayak found its way to Europe in the 1800s. When was it imported to this side of the world? I have no idea. What I know is that it is ideal for every thrill-seeker the world over.