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Tuesday 21 Feb 2012
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Whitewater rafting

Today I got my first adrenaline fix of the trip (excluding the Great White Shark Diving naturally) and opted for a Whitewater rafting session. Due to the high level of the water we could only do a half-day trip on the rapids, but I was told that the full day wasn't worth the money as it's like the half-day with a boring section tacked-on! The high-level of the water meant there was an added sense of danger as the water was deeper, stronger and you couldn't see the rocks underneath!

Whitewater rafting is a dangerous activity and the most important thing we were told at the briefing was to never loosen or take off your life-jacket as it is typically the only way they can pull you back into the boat. A girl had drowned only 2 months earlier - on her honeymoon - as she had loosened her life jacket and when they pushed her down to propel her upwards, she got sucked down by a whirlpool and was only found 3 days later. Very sad.
My only previous experience of white-water rafting was at the Iguazu Falls, but I knew this was going to be somewhat more exciting as there was a 90% chance of the boat flipping!

Whitewater rafting
Walking through jungle

Lucky I was able to get travel insurance covering Zimbabwe after all! I had trouble securing travel insurance for Zimbabwe as it's considered on a par with Afghanistan! The Zimbabweans I told this to were shocked. The media has a lot to account for.

After the briefing at the Gorge Lookout we got driven to a launch area further upstream where we had to walk down a path through jungle leading to the water. We were given a quick lesson on how to crouch down into the boat on command, how to paddle so that we turned right/left and how to fall in the water (I was used as the demonstration model when the guide flipped me in before I had a chance to protest!).

Whitewater rafting

Soon we were off. We had the option of letting the guide control the boat himself using huge oars, or of getting oars and helping to control the boat ourselves. We of course chose the latter option, although within minutes of starting I began to feel pangs of regret. It was TOUGH work paddling! I was stuck in front with the other heavy guy in our team and we were supposed to be leading the pace for the others to follow, but it turned out my team were exhausted as apparently I was going a little too fast!

We traversed many rapids and negotiated our way around whirlpools that would otherwise have sucked the entire raft down. Despite the fact we were all novices we were led through rapids up to Grade-V which is traditionally only run by Advanced-level paddlers!

The scenery was absolutely stunning. It was really the best way to see the gorge. The fact that it was so lush and green only added to the effect, making the wet season easily the best time to visit in my opinion. We passed under several lodges positioned precariously on the edge of the gorge. It's scary when you know that the gorge is gradually being eroded year by year (in fact what you see now will be very different in a few years as it will have eroded even more).

It was exhausting work and we occassionally got breaks like when we stopped on the Zambia side and got to put my hand on some Zambia rock! At least I can now say that I got to touch Zambia without getting a visa!

Whitewater rafting
Starting to lose control...

Whitewater rafting
Getting flipped over!

The staff were generally all professional (they were all black guys, with chiselled physiques.. no wonder considering the workout they go through each day), but at times it was a bit chaotic as we had to rescue one of the newer guides who had lost his kayak! He clambered aboard our boat and despite being a little guy his weight affected the front of the boat's steering where we were sitting...

... this inevitably caused us to flip!!

All I remember is the large English guy to my left being flung directly on top of me and all of us falling into the rapids, swallowing a mouthful of Zambezi in the process (not a good idea incidentally) amidst screams from the women on board! Luckily the life-jackets brought most of us to the surface instantly. My instinct was to grab hold of the boat's ropes and make sure that everyone else did the same! There was a mad panic when we realised the small English lady behind me was still under the boat... the guide quickly got down to her and pulled her out, coughing and spluttering (and almost throwing up all over the edge of the boat, and onto me!). She wasn't enjoying this at all and was freaking out.

Whitewater rafting
Drinking the Zambezi

I was having a whale of a time, but clearly the two English lads were stressing about the safety of their ladies. In the confusion I was handed two paddles, while the main guide and the little one tried to right the boat. I inevitably lost my grip on the boat's rope and started heading downstream. I reached out desperately and managed to grab hold of an outstretched paddle, which dragged me back to safety (me still holding onto the two paddles!).

Unbeknowst to me, the two guides were on top about to right the boat. This was fine had they been aware that I was directly behind them. Unfortunately they weren't. Suddenly I saw the boat flipping up in front of me, and potentially on TOP of me! I moved quickly and grabbed the rope on the side of the boat so that as the boat flipped back upright I was pulled under and over to the other side. Phew! If that boat had landed on top of me, it would have broken my neck!

The other boat that carried the 2nd group was behind us, but they didn't flip, much to the dissapointment of those on board. So while we were trying to stay alive, a bunch from the 2nd boat jumped in voluntarily, in the process ending up with worse cuts and bruises than ours. Daft!

All safe and sound, it was fairly tame after that (we flipped at a Grade V called the "Swimming Pool"). Once back on dry land there was a rather exhausting hike back up the side of the gorge and then we had a good feed. A DVD had been recorded of the day's activities and we got to preview it. The flip was dramatic and all you could hear were girl's screaming. In the final production version they replaced the screaming with death metal music. Damnit!

Afterward, shaken but not stirred, I had afternoon tea at Victoria Falls Hotel, joined by Amy whom I met the day before. I don't think I could have tackled the entire platter by myself! It was a perfect colonial setting for such an activity, the illusion being shattered by the sight of bungee jumpers hurling themselves off the bridge directly in front of us.

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Sithern Efrika

Travel blog by peterforan

Great White Shark cage diving

Great White Shark cage diving

20 days to sample the "other" down-under... a trip covering parts of South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in February. Cape Town to Vic Falls get the treatment, while I mix in a safari or two... Now where did I put that elephant gun?

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