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Zambezi Rush

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Zambezi Rush

Source: Sawubona October 2009

With two days to test the limits of my fear, I stood on the edge of the cliff looking down 130 m to the bottom of the deep gorge; the deep rock face that extended all the way to the falls formed over many thousands of years, as the river moved away from the falls. A group of us were being shown the magnificent Batoka Gorge by Choongo, who would be our river rafting guide. Choongo went through precautionary rules, then handed us indemnity forms to sign. A mere formality he told us, and not to worry, it was going to be a fun ride.

I started to wonder whether the idea of water rafting 500 million litres of water gushing from the Victoria Falls into the Batoka Gorge was such a great idea.

It was a beautiful June morning and the Livingstone sky dazzled blue. It was high tide and the river was full.

Strapped in wet suits and carrying helmets, life jackets and oars on our shoulders we started to descend the rock face to get to rapid 14, where we would begin. The gorge has 25 rapids which vary in class, one to six the most dangerous.

We stumbled along the almost vertical path, slipping and sliding on the sharp, slippery rocks. Panting and sweating, we met many locals along the way, attending to their chores; they greeted us cheerfully. We finally reached the river bank; now there was no time to contemplate or turn back. Choongo let us catch our breath for five seconds then instructed us to get into the raft.

Three safety kayakers were coming along with us. I got into the raft, trying to recall the rules that Choongo had gone over. “When I say forward you paddle front, when I say backward you paddle back; make sure to pay attention and look out for any of our friends who might fall into the water. We all need to help each other.”

I couldn’t remember any. I tightened my grip on the oar as we drifted away from the river bank, my mind raced, imagining sucking whirlpools and crashing rafters. I looked back at the river bank and caught the eye of one of the kayakers; he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I smiled back and somehow it relaxed me; the paranoia disappeared and Choongo instructed: “Forward!”

We rode the rapids, wave after wave, the water crashing over us, threatening to tip us over. I felt a sense of exhilaration negotiating the waves, even as the raft bucked beneath us. We paused only to take in the beautiful scenery; the lone crocodile, the small, sandy beaches and the gorge in its magnificence.

Just two more rapids and we were almost at the end of our journey; rejuvenated and drenched, adrenaline rushing through my blood, I was sad that it was almost over. We paddled forward to ride the last rapid, hitting it with force; the water crashed over us tipping three of us over and into the river. I was engulfed by darkness, panic rose in my throat, then instinct kicked in and I pushed to the surface coughing, choking and laughing. What a way to end the day.

Every bone in my body ached, I couldn’t wait to get to a hot tub and a bed. Our host at Stanley Safari Lodge was waiting for me, not with a welcoming drink but with a 10-minute time frame for me to get ready and join the others on a boat cruise and dinner at the David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa. I was not sure it would be possible to stay awake.

The Royal Livingstone and Zambezi offers comfort for lodging and activities, including a time travel experience into history on the Royal Livingstone Steam Express Train.
Watching the big orange sun dip into the horizon, coasting along the Zambezi River, gazing at hippo and downing a G&T colonial style was bliss. I considered a 3-minute massage treat in the lodge spa but passed it up for cocktails, a much preferred relaxant.
At dinner the chef came to tell us about his passion and love for food, his travels around Africa and the world, how, along the way, he picked up Arabic, African, Mediterranean influences and the religion of Islam, and used them to create culinary masterpieces.
Naturally, dinner was an exploration of many lands, brought on skewers, wrapped in pastry, tossed, basted and grilled. Divine.

If water rafting was my daredevil alter ego taking over I was not sure what super ego I would have to assume for the next action. I was strapped in a harness getting ready to drop into another part of the Batoka Gorge, much further from where we had river rafted.

Abseil Zambia manages the Zambezi Gorge Swing, rap rafting and Flying Fox activities – I was doing all of them. My guide seemed surprised to see me there; his look of shock was explained when he commented that it was very rare to see a Zambian, let alone a woman, take part in the adrenaline activities. Well, there it was, the reason fate brought me here: to prove that Zambian women adrenaline junkies exist.

Without missing a beat, I rap jumped the 54 m rock face like a pro, climbing back up to the top to the hire wire Flying Fox over 100 m across the gorge. Suspended in the air, with only a steel clasp to keep me strapped to the line, I beheld the panoramic views of the landscape – the word vast took on a new meaning.

I was then told what would happen once I dropped into the Gorge, how I would free fall for three seconds then change direction and swing till dropped at the bottom of the gorge. I was given a count – I asked them to stop and give me a minute. All I had to do was step off the ledge. I did.

On the Victoria Falls Bridge, an hour later, I heard the same comment: It was an unusual sight, a Zambian woman bungy jumping. A company representative pointed a camera in my face and I was asked: “How do you feel?” (They shot videos of all the bungee jumpers who plunged 111 m from the bridge, and took pictures as keepsakes.) I was not sure what to say – I usually ask the questions.

He took me to the edge of the bridge, tied and bundled my ankles, and started counting. I needed a minute, he gave me 30 seconds. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and I was flying like Superman, er, girl, hurtling towards the river and screaming my lungs out, the blood rushing to my head. It was over in three minutes. I took the corny pictures as a souvenir.

For the final thrill, a helicopter ride, soaring above the Zambezi; everything seemed minuscule. I could see the bridge I had jumped off, joining Zimbabwe and Zambia; I saw the line that was the main road leading into Livingstone town, the glittering Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls, and the Zambezi Sun and the Royal Livingstone Hotels, spread out on lush green settings.

Batoka Gorge, Victoria Falls, Zambezi River, Victoria Falls Bridge; all legends and all affording legendary performances. To experience them is a chance to glance into history and hold hands with a wizened part of the African earth that continues to offer unique expressions of nature.

Source: Sawubona October 2009

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