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Day 74 – Team Zambezi

5th December 2011


On gaining its independence in 1964, Zambia took its name from the great river that flows through it. Previously called Northern Rhodesia it had been another huge section of Henry Cecil Rhodes monstrous British South Africa Company. When in Zambia, one has to see the Zambezi. Watching the river tumble over Victoria Falls would probably not be enough; and one of the plethora of tourist activities on offer was a full days rafting. (For your information you can fly over it in a helicopter, plane or micro-light. You can travel down it on a raft, a kayak or a fancy lilo. You can cross it on a bridge, a raft or a zip line. You can jump towards it on a bungee or a swing, you can spend your time fishing on it, booze cruise on it, safari on it or you can walk across it and hang off the edge held only by your ankles; all for just a few dollars more.) Rafting was our ‘must do’ item and we were collected from the hostel at eight o’clock in the morning and began our journey to the falls. We’d met a girl called Georgina at Jollyboys backpackers, a place ignorant of the fact it sounds like a bar in Brighton and our then current abode. A nice name like Georgina allows you to understand instantly that she was both English and lived south of the Watford Gap.
We also met a guy called Eddie. Tall, slim, good looking with an Afro and of Afro-Asian descent he was from Angola, studying in Windhoek and holidaying on a moped. He was cool. For the first ten minutes. After those first blessed minutes all I could think was “How have you not taken a breath yet?“ We’d seen the map of his trip, we’d seen the photos he’d taken, knew all about his university course in graphic design, the miles to the litre he was getting and that he’d rafted the Zambezi twice before but it was ’just so awesome’ that he ‘just had to do it again.’ Now he was in our bus coming to spend the day telling us how it compared to his previous sojourns. Splendid.

We collected a Glaswegian couple; a sommelier and a sous-chef at a Michellin starred restaurant. They were travelling Africa before heading to work in Oz. I made a mental note that we’d need a few beers speaking to them later on.

We also met a group of four Americans, a family of four from South Africa and a few others that all in all made three boats worth of tourism that would be bobbing along the Zambezi that Monday. A protracted safety briefing ensued with a comedy guide called Tembo. Our guide, Babyface, had a complicated African name that my white tongue is too simple to repeat and he picked Georgie, Somers and I and the group of Americans as ‘Team Zambezi’ and we set off down the slopes and into the gorge. As polite conversation flowed I discovered that the US contingent were actually a group of doctors working in Rwanda and holidaying in Zambia. They comprised an orthopaedic surgeon, Josh, his wife Emily, an anaesthetist, and their two friends whose names escape me right now. They’d left their fifth companion Ali at home feeling ill. We mate a motley crew and conversation was to be none stop, water allowing, for the duration. As we clambered aboard our vessel at the ‘Boiling Pot’ rapids we joked looking at the fairly big waves in front of us. Finally, after two attempts of trying to get into the rapids we set off.

It was an absolutely brilliant day. We hit many waves and rapids, all with ridiculous names like ‘The Gnashing Jaws of Death,’ ‘Oblivion’, ‘Gullivers’ Travels’ and ‘The Washing machine.’ We always choose the most difficult or ‘dangerous’ route that was raftable. Twice we hit insurmountable waves that flexed the boat, stopping us in our tracks and lifting us first upwards and then back downwards, more upside down than we had been on entry. Hitting the water in the middle of the rapids was shockingly good fun. You’d get dragged under, the light dimmed, bubbles and muffled sounds whizzed past and then you’d hit the surface, rushing water and shouts, shocked faces and then more muffled water, some of which was in your mouth and in your airway forcing you to cough it back out and gasp for air when the light and the sound returned. Like I said, it was great fun. The buoyancy aids meant you couldn’t really go under for more than five or six seconds and being a confident swimmer they just had to be ridden until the calm water arrived. The first was a shock to the system and everyone re-boarded the boat with a true appreciation of what the river feels like. The second time we went over was in the first wave of a rapid called ‘The Mother.’ It happened quickly but there was a point when the boats angle became terminal and you knew it was game on. Then the water and the noise came. I’d hung on to the edge of the boat, so had Somers, but she decided to let go. I felt a leg under the boat kicking out but going nowhere so I grabbed it and at the end of it was a gasping Georgina. As she said thank you I watched Somers drifting around a separate corner to the one we were and couldn’t help but wonder if I’d saved the right one.

It turned out things weren’t so life or death. Laura had drifted into a little pool around the corner and the support-guy in a kayak had nipped around and was guiding her back to the boat as she held on from behind, kicking him forward, smiling as she travelled through Grade Four rapids. For the whole day we paddled down a gorge flanked by hundred metre basalt walls; we swam, we saw crocodiles, and we jumped off rock ledges into the river and generally had an absolute ball. Back at the ranch they braai’d us chicken and sausages and showed us the DVD and photos of the day. At thirty dollars apiece, they were pricey and came accompanied by a spiel about guides working on tips and piracy being naughty. Team Anglo-America worked together beautifully; five dollars each and an array of laptops and software later we had what we wanted. We gave Babyface the tip of his life and went to the bar, still discussing Land Rovers, surgery and rafting. In that order.

Elephants swam in the river as the sun set and the beers sank. We laughed at the sommelier who couldn’t get past a good beer and the sous-chef who couldn’t beat a Big-Mac. We agreed that if we can make it to Rwanda before mid-March we’d catch up with the Doctors on tour.

Posted by ibeamish 00:07 Archived in Zambia

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