The Mighty Zambezi 

This morning we were up early, had a quick breakfast and were met by the guys from Wild Horizons. The name about says it all. We were off to raft the Zambezi River, down river from the Falls. The vehicle they drove up in was a huge open air rig and we were the first in. After stopping at a number of other hotels we ended up being a total of 27 adventurous souls. We drove to the company’s main starting point and were met by a good number of the rafting personnel, including Colgate, who briefed us on what was to come. We of course  had to sign the ubiquitous waiver of responsibility. Always a mite unsettling. Then he asked who wanted to ride and not paddle. With no previous consultation Dana, Dar and I instantly threw our arms in the air. No one else did. Hey, we’re no fools…. Get the experience with the only work being to hang on as tightly as possible. Sounded good to me.

They suited us all up with life vests and helmets and paddles for those who opted for that. And then we began the climb down the gorge to the river. Oh, my. I think even my daughter would be proud of me making the descent. We had some metal rung steps to begin that were so steep we had to go down them backwards as on a ladder. Then those petered out and it was all large shale rocks and narrow paths. Just when we finally saw the river I thought, “yay, we’re there.” Not so fast. We had to traverse the rocks along the side of the gorge for quite a ways. Eventually we came to the spot where they had the boats for us to board. Even that was a bit of a challenge. But we all managed to get into our assigned boats and headed out.

We had the boats with 8 riders in then plus a guide, then there was the the of us in a boat with Steve, who was not only our guide but the power for the boat, as he steered, rowed, and maneuvered the boat for all of us. Talk about strength! He said this was his 22nd year on the river. Can you imagine? He does this almost every day for 8 months then gets 4 months off. Besides the 4 rafts we also had 3 guys in small kayaks who were there to help pull us back in, rescue boats or whatever was necessary, plus another in a kayak who was the photographer, taking pictures and videos along the way. He had to paddle ahead, climb out and up on the rocks and wait for us to come by. Needless to say, we weren’t taking pictures ourselves, so no pics will accompany this post. But we did purchase the results of his labors, so at some point I’ll post some.

We started off right away going through rapid number one. There were 19 named ones to traverse plus lots of spots that Steve said didn’t count, but still threw us around a bit. With the first rapids we quickly learned the drill. Two of us were up front and one in back. When Steve said ” down” we had to scoot off the side of the raft and kneel down, gripping the rope along the side. I generally did so with a death grip. And he never had to say it twice. We got through #1 and felt, whew! We made it. That was just the beginning of our wild ride through class 1 to 5 rapids. 

In between the rapids the river was beautiful, a gorge carved out of stone, with trees now and again, but mostly at the top ridge, along with a few places where lodges were perched. We happily saw only one crocodile, a large one, sunning itself on a lower rock along the river’s edge. One boat flipped over early on, strewing at least 5 folks overboard. The three of us were feeling pretty darn good in Steve’s hands, though I’ve never been through such rapids. The water just engulfed us as we dipped down then rose up and generally got tossed around. On one set we sort of got stuck as we spun round and round. 

One boat left our little armada after rapid #10. Those in the other boats would chide us a bit for not having to paddle, but Steve’s response was,”that he had the VIPs”. Ha! I had to laugh when one guy asked me “where’s your gin and tonic?” He had no idea how apropos that was for me. 

We managed well until we got to #18, which Steve told us was the most difficult rapid. He was right. We barely got into it when, whoosh! We flipped over with the nose going right over the back end. First thing i knew I was under the boat, in the water and still hanging on. Was aware enough to let go and try to follow their original instructions. I kept getting pushed to the edge by the rocks but finally managed to get further out and swim to some of the others. Our boat had gotten wedged along the far side of the river, but luckily one of the kayakers managed to free it and pull it over to us. 

Over that excitement we climbed back into our raft but I realized that somehow I had injured my left shoulder. I could barely move my arm without pain. Hmmmm. We made it through the last rapid, #19, and pulled up to a rocky outcrop where we disembarked. And then came the climb out of the gorge. It was a lot tougher with the bum arm as it made it harder to hold my gear and try to pull myself up the rocks. Plus, it was hotter than hell – at least in the mid 90s, if not more. Fortunately for me one of the kayakers, who called himself “Capt Morgan” noticed me struggling and offered me a hand as well as giving my gear to one of the many young men running up to the top. Some in bare feet! The captain held my hand and helped me all the way to the top, as did some of the other staff for others. How wonderful! Once we were finally up I plopped down on a log under their cover. The staff had prepared lunch for us all, so we enjoyed the refreshing drinks and food. 

Once finished we were loaded back into the large vehicle and proceeded the 30K back to town.  The ride was rather jarring on the dirt road, with the wind whipping by with us in the open air. Eventually we all were deposited at our respective hotels. What an adventure!

After that we were exhausted. Dar chose to relax by the pool while Dana and I opted to take the day’s final shuttle into town in search of an ATM and a t-shirt shirt from the rafting company. We failed on both counts. The Zimbabwean currency is pretty much worthless so instead they use US dollars, but they’re in such demand that the ATM machines empty out. Sigh. And no shirts in our sizes. Sigh. Ah, well.

Back to the hotel for dinner then packing as tomorrow morning we’ll be on the move again, heading to Botswana.

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