10 Sep The Mist That Thunders
This is part two post of my time spent in Zambia. From the wildlife of South Luangwa I headed deeper into central Zambia to its capital, Lusaka. Not being one for major African cities, I only stayed for one night. However, Lusaka (in the limited time I spent there) did impress. It is a world of difference from Lilongwe (Malawi) and even Dar es Salam in Tanzania. Lusaka was seemingly very modern looking with big shopping plazas, clean streets, a very nice bus terminal, and kind people who didn’t gawk at the travelling muzungu. It is funny though how I deem these things as modern. I feel like the more I travel the more I become accustomed to living in the third world, to living with basic necessities, to the point where stepping into a big shiny grocery store or shopping mall feels like a uncommon treat and is almost overwhelming in a certain sense. Lusaka had this, lots of traffic lights and electricity in general, bright signs and car dealerships lined by banks and gas stations with fast food shops and restaurants everywhere. Weird.
Anyway, Lusaka was a necessary stop on the long journey down to Livingstone. Actually it took me 12 hours on a shitty bus to get from Chipata to Lusaka, which sucked. I now feel that body odor will forever remind me of cheap African public transport. Anyone travelling this route or living in Southern/East Africa will resonate with this feeling.
From Lusaka I took a much nicer bus (first class coach) to Livingstone in the South West corner of the country. Livingstone is the adventure capital of Africa and home to the thundering chasm know as Victoria Falls. Vic Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls on earth and is a consistent draw for travellers from all over the world. It spans about two kilometers across and acts as the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. You can visit the falls from both sides, however at the time of writing this I have only seen them from the Zambian side.
This area of Southern Africa also acts as a quad border point for Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe drawing lots of money with exports and imports as well as many people moving from one place to another. Livingstone, Zambia has the best set up for the independent traveller. It is the base for almost all activities available at the falls, and there are a lot. The most popular being bungee jumping 110 meters off a bridge, swinging off the same bridge from the same distance, and White Water Rafting the impressive Zambezi River. I did all three, obviously. And they were all fucking fantastic.
I want to highlight the bridge swing as it was one I knew little about and had been told was a must do from a friend of mine in Zanzibar, Mr. Tim Hadley (who used to live in Zambia). So on this suggestion I signed myself up for the bridge swing and immediately got set up in a full body harness. Little did I know at the time, the drop was the same distance as the bungee and I would feel the excruciating split second presumption that I was plummeting to my death. I guess this is what it is all about though eh. I dropped free fall 110 meters (about 4 seconds) before the rope caught tension and propelled me one hundred meters up along the far side of the Zambezi gorge. Fuckin’ hell, what a rush. My heart was pounding as I continued to swing as a human pendulum above the thundering rapids of the Zambezi below. Next up, bungee jumping. Shit this will be easy.
The bungee jumping of course I also wish to highlight for you. One of the most amazing feelings and such an adrenaline rush is the first rebound after the initial fall, when your body comes to that split second of complete weightlessness and you arch your back losing your sense of place on our planet. The point at which my childlike imagination believes would be the time warp when one disappears from our reality and is transferred into another world, one of legend and fantasy. This is that little rift in time, the disconnection of one’s self, the point just before gravity takes over and your body comes crashing back down to earth. This is adrenaline. This is bungee jumping. This is life. I highly suggest you try it at one point during your travels.
On activity day two in Livingstone I signed up for a full day White Water Rafting on the famous Zambezi River. This is something I have wanted to do ever since hearing of the river in my Adventure Tourism course and seeing the photos on Google images years ago. The Zambezi is world renowned as some of the best WW paddling found anywhere on the globe. It is number one in Africa with 25 consecutive runnable rapids, 16 being class five, 8 class four, and one class six which is un-runnable from a commercial standpoint, but possible for individual kayakers or professional paddlers. The river draws people from all over the world depending on the season and the size of the rapids. I was lucky to hit it at a really good spot weather wise. It is currently the end of the dry season in Zambia and the rapids are big and intimidating but still safe to run rafts down, with all 25 (except for the class six) being open. This had been a dream of mine for so long and I actually began to feel nervous as I picked my way barefoot down the rocks towards our awaiting raft.
To sum it up, there were seven people in our raft including our Zambian guide nicknamed Baby Face. We flipped unintentionally twice and I exited the raft intentionally an additional six times. The river was in great condition. We paddled for six hours with a short half hour break for lunch. We only exited the river once to walk around the class six rapid, number 10 of 25. Every rapid was intimidating in its own right with names like The Devil’s Toilet Bowl, Commercial Suicide, Midnight Diner, Overland Truck Eater, The Terminators I & II, etc. etc. Our crew killed it and all in all we had a great day.
It is a crazy feeling and one that is hard to explain, however I will give it a go. As you are about to enter a class five 100 meter stretch of rapid, you can feel yourself loose that certain amount of control you had before the power of the rapid takes over, your paddle now has no effect what so ever. The river is churning and throwing your raft around like it is a shirt hanging to dry in the wind. Then when the vessel is tossed vertical and you get forcefully exited from the raft, it is a fight for your life, trying desperately to stay above the surface all the while being bashed by crashing waves and twisting uncontrollably like your body is in a giant washing machine. Sounds dangerous, and to a certain extent it is, however it is also an incredible rush and to quote a semi naïve English gap year student in my boat, “I feel the most alive when I am literally closest to death”.
Now all adventure activities do have an inherent risk, however I am a firm believer that any adventure activity is also as safe as you want to make it. With White Water Rafting, there is a very specific safety briefing before every trip and an additional river briefing once on the raft. There are specific rules to follow on the river each increasing your chance of survival in an emergency situation. Also, something I love about rafting is that all guides often give a description of each rapid before entering, with info on what to do in the case of a capsize. The Zambezi was no different, with world class guides and equipment, specific safety briefings and detailed descriptions of each rapid I felt we were truly in good hands. All in all it was a great day and an experience I will not soon forget.
After the full day rafting I was shattered and needed a cold beer and a warm bed. I returned to my hostel in Livingstone and indulged in exactly that. I was asleep by 9pm and crashed solidly until 8am the next morning. From Livingstone I plan on heading just across the border into Botswana to visit the famous Chobe National Park. From there I will cross into Zimbabwe and head south towards the town of Bulawayo. I do not know what to expect from western Zimbabwe, but it is along my route and I figure it is worth checking out. From Bulawayo I will cross back into Botswana and head for Francistown to visit the local country farm of a friends parents. The road continues. For now cheers from Livingstone, Zambia!