Rafting the Zambezi

Victoria Falls & Rafting the Zambezi

Last week I shared a wanderlust for the world’s best waterfalls and of course the top of the list was Victoria Falls in Africa. It reminded me of the time I visited this waterfall and the experience I had.

Zimbabwe Money

It was a time of great turmoil in Zimbabwe, however we were travelling with a couple of tour guides who were locals and felt that we were in good hands with them. When they converted our money they did it on the black market to be sure we got a good rate, they handed over millions of dollars to us. For the first time in my life, and probably the last, I was a millionaire and was rolling in cash. It was 2007 (before inflation caused the currency to be banned 18 months later) and 1USD was about 750,000 Zimbabwian Dollars (while it is unbelievable the official rate was only about 30,000!) and the largest note was only 200,000 so you had to have big pockets. Though if you went shopping you were often asked for things you were wearing instead of cash. One guy came home with no shoes but a very nice little wooden statue of some sort!

Victoria Falls

Zimbabwe is a whole other story, today I want to share my experience of Victoria Falls. Staring at this magnificent natural wonder with thousand of litres of water pounding down in front of you is breathtaking. The place is full of rainbows created by the mist sprayed up from the falls.

Victoria Falls 2

In between snapping photos I was hiding my camera under my rain jacket to protect it from the water. We viewed the waterfall from Zambia too, crossing the bridge past the bungee jumpers dunking their heads in the pools below the waterfall. Victoria Falls is incredible and should be on everyone’s travel bucket list.

Ready to Raft at Victoria FallsBut my experience didn’t stop here. I decided that it would be fun to throw myself into the Zambezi River and ride the rapids down it. I had heard stories of people who had done this and come out quite badly hurt (I may have neglected to tell my parents this before we set off). Yes, I went white water rafting the Zambezi and survived.

After you climb down to the waters edge near the base of the waterfalls you jump aboard your raft. My guide for the day was named Kazi, as in kamikaze, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a sign of things to come. We got a quick how-to run down (did I mention I had never white water rafted before?!) and then all of a sudden we were off and rafting the Zambezi with Victoria Falls thundering behind us.

Rafting 2

We hurtled down the river through 24 rapids that went up to category 6 “Commercial Suicide”. Each rapid was named with titles like ‘Gnashing Jaws of Death’, ‘Judgement Day’ and ‘Three Ugly Sisters’. By far the scariest was ‘The Oblivion’ where we were by some miracle the 1 in 10 raft that comes out unscathed.

Rafting 1

There were a couple of rapids too dangerous to ride and we had to get out and walk around them, hopping across the slippery, scorching hot black rocks in the bottom of the ravine. Others were very gentle and we were allowed to jump out and swim them which was great fun. Though it was difficult scrambling back into the raft before the crocodiles got us and before we were sucked into the next, not-so-gentle, rapid that was quickly approaching.

Rafting 5

Half way through the day we stopped for a picnic lunch and cooled down a bit. After surviving four grade 5 rapids, most of the others decided to opt out of the rest of the rapids and headed home. Not me. No way. This was awesome fun! We continued to ride the rapids down the Zambezi, it was totally gnarly and one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Rafting 4At the end of the rapids we climbed out of the rafts and looked around. We were surrounded by sheer cliff faces on either side of us. To get out we had to climb this vertical rock face, 220 metres straight up. I was exhausted. I had used every muscle in my body surviving the rapids and now I had to climb up this mammoth cliff. It was hot too. The local guides bounced happily past us carrying kayaks and helmets and oars on their heads, smiling the whole way. I slowly made my way to the top, using my oar to support me and sweating like crazy under my helmet. It was a miracle I made it to the top. I think that climb was the hardest part of my day, a close second was staying awake during dinner with friends that night.

I didn’t care though, I successfully survived the biggest, meanest white water in the world, the mighty Zambezi River, in nothing more than a rubber raft!

Rafting 3

I had a massive bruise on my upper thigh where during a particularly difficult rapid our raft almost capsized and another rafter had fallen on top of me and the oar pinned under my leg. At the time I was ok, probably because I was fueled by adrenalin, but the bruise was epic, bigger than my hand, a rainbow of colours and it lasted months! Then a couple of days later I came down with dysentery from swallowing too much of the African river. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere at a safari camp in South Africa and felt like I was dying. Needless to say, after an emergency trip to the doctors, I survived that too. Zimbabwe was amazing and I left with so many memories (though thanks to the dodgy airport staff not my SD card full of photos!).

What’s the craziest thing you have ever done? Would you raft the Zambezi in the wake of the Victoria Falls?

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