A Travellerspoint blog

Rainbows and Rapids

Spectacular Victoria Falls and white water rafting the Zambezi Rive

sunny 30 °C

(Keely typing ….)

Everyone had been looking forward to our stop in Victoria Falls; the prospect of 3 stationary days, and some much sought after free time. No driving, lots of drinking and a multitude of extreme activities for the adrenaline junkie in us all. Enthusiasm evaporated instantly on arrival by the announcement of a compulsory “truck clean” by our tour leader. We all thought he was joking. He wasn’t. So for the next two hours, under the baking hot African sun we washed (in hot water) every damn knife, pot, pan, mug, plate etc plus mopped floors, dusted cushions, wiped out lockers, scrubbed chilli bins and sorted food cupboards. The truck did look mighty clean afterwards. After the domestic chores were done we were given a presentation on all the activities available in the Vic falls area, complete with DVD footage, brochures and of course a price list. For the next hour or so Mike and I with the rest of our group, discussed, budgeted and planned our upcoming days, making sure everyone got to do what they wanted, with whom, and on which day. For us this would be white water rafting down the Zambezi on day 1, watching Hussein (crazy Bangladeshi Scotsman) bungy jump on day 2 followed by Victoria Falls and a gorge swing for Mike on day 3. When we crossed the border into Zimbabwe we obtained a single entry visa, having already decided to visit the falls from just the Zimbabwean side and not also the Zambian side. Those going over to Zambia did so on day 2 so Mike and I found ourselves by the pool with a drink in hand and not much else going on.

I jumped at the chance to go white water rafting. There had been some rumours flying around from other trucks and travellers on the road that the river was closed due to dangerously high water levels. To be told we could go rafting after all pretty much sealed the deal. Hearing the river was closed made us all want to go even more; something about wanting what you can’t have?? Only the lower half of the Zambezi was open; rapids 11-23 which provide some 3+ to 4+ grade areas – sufficiently dangerous for a novice rafter like me. 5 minutes before our pick up was due to leave, 2 of our fellow rafters were still in bed; having been up partying till the small hours – which probably wasn’t going to work out well for the rest of us as we had opted to do the self-paddle ‘team work required’ variety of rafting. The walk down to the gorge was both strenuous and pretty dangerous, made all the more difficult by our inappropriate footwear and loaded with lifejacket, helmet and paddle. Our guide ‘Meme’ put us through the drills: forward paddle, backward paddle, get down, jump out and hard paddle etc. We did these a few times for safety and then for the video man to capture us in all our choreographed and smiling glory. Mike was at the front on the right hand side, I was at the back on the left hand side. The first rapid was easy enough: slightly scary, good fun, everyone in sync (kind of) and a wave or two for the photographer running down the bank. Second rapid all hell broke loose. Meme asked us if we wanted the easy or hard way down: the boys shout ‘hard’ in unison. I wasn’t too sure but why not? What could go wrong! I’m not entirely sure what happened but when Meme yelled “get down, get down” I got down as fast as possible, both hands around the rope, paddle in one hand, head down. Luckily I managed to take one decent breath before my side of the raft lifted up and came crashing back down again upside down. Amazingly I also managed to stay holding onto the rope and my paddle. Next thing I know Meme is yelling “calm down calm down” which I think I needed to hear, gasping for breath and trying to keep my shorts from falling down as I was. A quick flip of the boat and we were all hauled back in. Now I know you’re not meant to capsize but it was awesome fun. Exciting, refreshing and hilarious. A couple of the paddles were MIA so I ended up without one being in the back as we approached the next set of rapids. The time taken to get everyone back on board must have had some serious consequences for how we were positioned going into those rapids as that wasn’t quite so fun. Again the boat capsized as soon as we hit the rapid, my side of the boat getting thrown into the air. This time though there were arms and legs everywhere, fingers slipping through the rope, paddles everywhere. Going through the next rapid while stuck under the boat wasn’t too fun, nor was gasping for breath for what seemed like minutes as we were hauled through the rapids. I could hear Meme yelling “hold on, hold on hold on” for all he was worth way before I could see him above the waves, spray and foam. The rest of the morning was pretty uneventful – some of the best moments actually spent swimming alongside the boat in the calmer stretches of river in-between rapids. As it turned out, ours was the only boat that capsized. If we had thought about it (? at all) we probably wouldn’t have had all the heavy people on the same side of the boat in the first place. Bit silly really, but such good fun and can’t wait to do it again. The walk out of the gorge was just as bad as the walk in – straight up carrying paddle, jacket and helmet. I felt a bit sorry for the two lads who were sporting killer hangovers – it had been a tough day for them what with all the paddling, swimming and then hiking but self-inflicted so we were laughing at them also.

Mike needs to be the one to describe his gorge swing, as I choose to watch the whole thing from the safety and comfort of a viewing platform. I managed to capture Mike’s jump on video and his triumphant holler at the end is pretty awesome. I wasn’t in the least bit tempted to fling myself off a cliff or a bridge or any other number of high places.

I think the photos of Victoria Falls say it all. It’s the kind of place that makes me wish I paid more attention in English when creative writing was being taught, the better to describe the scene. We were soaked to the bone within minutes but just check out that rainbow – simply stunning. We walked along a serene boardwalk, the sound of water crashing below getting louder all the time. By the time you get to the end of the path, all fences and barriers are gone. Slippery wet and slimy rocks are all that are between you and the sheer cliff face. We were again wearing inappropriate footwear so extreme care was taken to get the photos we got. The spray coming up from the falls was immense and we were obviously really concerned about ruining the camera but it seems to have held up well. No lasting damage anyway. Gilly (hopefully you will recall his lion photos from a previous blog?) took a panoramic photo of Mike and me so we will post that up just as soon as we receive it from him. The day was a bit overcast so the rainbows came and went with the sun; we were even rewarded with a few double rainbows. It was hard to prise ourselves away from the sight and head back to camp – the falls are just so pretty and I am now very much looking forward to checking out Iguacu in a few months’ time.

As awesome as our 3 days in Vic Falls was, at the end we were forced to say good-bye to 4 of our fellow truck buddies. We had picked up a few people along the way since Nairobi and now only 10 will go the distance to Cape Town.

That closes the chapter on Zimbabwe. After Vic Falls we crossed over into Botswana; first stop Chobe National Park, second stop Okovanga Delta.

P.S. In case you’re wondering the video of us capsizing is pretty funny, but we couldn’t tell who was who on it.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Check out the size of that rainbow!

Check out the size of that rainbow!

Completely soaked.  Totally stunning

Completely soaked. Totally stunning

(Mike typing ....) Gorge Swing

So as Keely mentioned, I decided that I, along with most of the group, would try my hand at free-falling off the side of the Zambezi gorge. The gorge swing is similar to a base jump, but instead of using a parachute you are strapped into a harness that swings you out over the river once you’ve completed the freefall section of the jump. It isn’t quite as intense as a bungy as you only freefall once instead of bouncing, and you don’t jump head first either, but nevertheless it’s still a fairly nerve wracking thing to do. Due to the scheduling of water rafting and various other activities, it transpired that the gorge swing was to be held on our last day in Vic Falls – this didn’t turn out to be such a good thing as it meant we had lots of time to dwell on it before hand! What made it even worse was that a couple of other people from the group ended up doing the jump on the first day and subsequently described, on multiple occasions, how terrifying it was! So after a fair bit of anxiety and with most of the group saying “Why the F*&K did we sign up for this?!” the big day finally arrived and we were transported from the campsite to the Zambezi. Two of the group had a zip line and flying fox to do before the gorge swing, so they completed those whilst the rest of us got more and more tense! Eventually it was time for the big jump – I was fourth in line so had to watch three other people go through the motions first – the whole time thinking to myself “Its only 3-4 seconds of freefall, how bad can it be”? All those that went before me managed to get up on the platform and go straight off without requiring coaxing from the staff so I was determined to do the same. So after being harnessed up, I was summoned to the platform, and I don’t mind admitting that I was quite nervous at this particular moment in time. The guide connected my harness to the swing line and told me that he would count down from 5 and that I was to jump out from the platform once he’d finished his count down. With my heart in my mouth, and feeling the substantial tug of the harness and swing line, I inched out to the edge of the platform, having just enough time to look down at the river 110m below! 110 metres doesn’t seem that far until your standing on the edge of a cliff staring straight down! After a couple of queasy seconds, and another safety check (some of you may have seen that the Vic Falls bungy snapped during a girls jump which was only a few days before we turned up), the guide started the ominous countdown. At this point you are completely strapped in so you really have no choice but to jump anyway which is actually a good thing. So anyway the count of 1 rolled around and without any hesitation I was off! I didn’t jump out quite as far as I probably should have, but I put that down to being fairly preoccupied with the drop below. The sensation of the drop itself was incredible – everyone before me had commented on this as well, but the feeling of the wind against your face was amazing. The freefall only lasted about 3 – 4 seconds (77m), but by the time you reach the bottom of the freefall you are travelling at approx 120kph. It all happens so quickly, and before you know it the swing has kicked in and you’re flying horizontally across the river. Upon reaching the end of the swing, and enjoying an epic buzz, I let out my victory scream of Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahooooooooooooo! Once the swing had finished, they winched me back up the cliff face to be greeted with high fives, slaps on the back, and big smiles all round. So having whet my appetite for extreme adrenaline activities, the next chapter will be skydiving in Namibia – BRING IT ON!!!

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 JUMP!

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 JUMP!

Great technique Mike

Great technique Mike

Posted by Mike.Keely 23:19 Archived in Zimbabwe

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Great explanation of the jump Mike. God you had my heart in my throat just thinking about it!! Loving the pics and stories guys. Keep having fun! xx

by Jen

What dare devils you are! Prett scary stuff alright
Love Mum xx

by Jenny barnett

I thought i told you to be carefull & keep yourself safe.Some chance it seems!! love dadxx

by DAD

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