Nov 042011

Having managed to brave the bungee jump over the Victoria Falls Bridge, you’d think it would be easy to whitewater raft the river.  However, upon getting there, two things conspired against me.   First, I’d seen the river from above, and knew how sheer the cliffs were.  We were going to have to walk down the side of those to get in the river?  Uhhh….on top of that, we learned the Zambezi is considered to be the most difficult commercially-raftable river in the world, and that there were world championship events held here.  Not exactly what you want to hear when you’re already nervous about rafting for the first time.  At least I’m a strong swimmer, so that much is good!

After the mandatory safety briefing, we were divided up into groups.  There were enough people for three rafts, and thankfully the guides were excellent at sizing us up, and got things right.  The “easy” raft would just hang on while the guide did the rowing.  BORING!  The medium raft would be able to row, but the guide would help out….again, BORING!  Thankfully, we got sized up as strong or adventurous, and got put in the “advanced” raft.  There were eight of us plus the guide…and it was a fascinating mix:

The two of us, two absolutely fearless and insane Zimbabwe boys, and equally crazy expat Zimbabwean lady, a slightly less fit South African couple, and an adventurous French intern who was saving the rhinos in Zim.  This was bound to be fun!

The climb down into the gorge was a nonevent…there were some railings, it wasn’t too deep, and we were off.  We paddled around a bit, and went straight into it.  The first few Category 3 and 4 rapids were a good test…and we were confident.  We even managed to stay upright in the first Category 5.  Was awesome!  However, that’s where things began to go tits up when we flipped in one Cat 5, and then again two rapids later.  The south african lady was freaking out at this point, but we managed to keep it together.

We had a choice about 2/3 of the way through.  The rapid had three choices:  go left, and certainly flip and likely die in a Category 5++ rapid.  Go centre to a category 5, and 95% flip.  Go right, and hit it as a Category 3, and almost certainly stay upright.  We voted, and we went middle…made it almost to the end and…yup, third flip.  I think the river pushed us a good 500+ metres downriver, but it was an absolute blast.  I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun…and really want to go back!

After rafting, we had to get out of the gorge.  This would have been fine except for the fact the river had ripped one of my shoes off me.  I was forced to climb up the rocky/sandy side of the gorge with one shoe.  Between the burning hot rocks, the sand, I had to stop every 30-60 seconds and lift that foot just to prevent burning it.  It was a really unpleasant 30 minutes, but as they say it was character building and I made it.  At the top there was a good barbecue, plenty of beer, and was fun chatting with the folks we’d spent the previous few hours with.  It was clearly one of the top highlights of the trip to this point.

We got back to the hotel, rested just a little, then got picked up for our sunset river cruise on the same river.  The cruise was “above” the falls (while the rafting was “below”) so it was a chance to see the river from a totally different point of view.

First up, the native dancers that greeted us:

Then, it was on the boat cruise, which was a bit of a booze cruise – aka unlimited drinks.  The amusement stemmed from who was on the small boat.  It was us, a group of 5 older australians who were clearly entertained to be with us, and a family of four from Zimbabwe who kept to themselves while dad got absolutely hammered in the two hour cruise on some fruity cocktail, lol.

Relaxing on the river:

Up close with an elephant on the banks of the Zambezi:

Of course, what would a sunset cruise be without an amazing sunset:

After the cruise it was back to the hotel…and dinner in the hotel restaurant.  We actually had quite a decent pizza…and all things considered were pretty impressed.  They couldn’t get the credit card to process, but I figured that was what I expected in Zimbabwe.  Then, it was off to bed for an early flight the next day to South Africa and time for our big drive!

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