Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: Victoria Falls Pt1: Rafting and the incredible craft market (Feb 23-25)

Current Location: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Highlights: Victoria Falls and rafting the mighty Zambezi.
Upcoming: Actually seeing the falls, the incredible craft market, a visit into the township backyard workshops, and
our day in Zambia.
Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: S 17 58 47 LONG: E 25 49 35

This Part 1 of our Victoria Falls Edventure. The border crossing from Botswana into Zimbabwe was very smooth . I had a pleasant surprise as my British passport allowed free entry into
Zimbabwe whereas Aaron with his US passport was hit with a US$45 fee for a double entry VISA . They only wanted payment in US$ (a hard currency) as the Zimbabwe $ has become quite weak and unstable.

The highlight of our Vic Falls visit for me was rafting the Zambezi. You can take a look at the Edventure video (and some other video clips we have sent back) which is streamed form the web site, to see a crazy video clip of Aaron rafting the Zambezi a few years ago. We had already booked the rafting from a place in Botswana where we had
another pleasant surprise as the price had dropped from US$95 to US$70. Upon arrival in Vic Falls we checked into the municipal campsite and set up camp, right next to the Ladies bathroom!
There is actually a very good reason for this. The solar panel regulator had packed up a while back so the auxiliary battery (which operates the freezer etc) was not being charged while the vehicle was off. The nearest mains hookup for the freezer we could reach with our two extension cords was right next to the Ladies bathroom.

This was a cool old campsite. The water heater was an old coal stove outside the bathrooms, there was only one light in the bathrooms and most of the shower taps had no handles (the leatherman came in very handy as a substitute tap and is a must on any such trip I have decided) and everything is old and semi-run down, but it was very clean.

The day of rafting was wet and overcast, but this did not dampen my
enthusiasm in the least. I was looking forward to being completely hammered by the rapids of this mighty river and I needed some adventurous exercise and something completely mentally different. We had a safety briefing by the head guide called "Hippo" who was
hilarious, then the whole group of about 35 people got into wetsuits and loaded onto the truck for the ride down to the river. The hike down to the river was down the steep sides of the Zambezi river gorge a few kilometers down for the falls and was itself somewhat of a challenge as the path and rocks were so wet and slippery. Aaron and I were in a boat with 4 South African businessmen and our guide called "Lovemore". Lovemore gave us a stiff drilling on procedure and how to interpret his commands which ended in the command "GET
OUT". What I thought? GET OUT he shouted. So we all jumped out into the river to the laughter of the video cameraman who was to video the days rafting, and Lovemore. So off we paddled into the main current of the Zambezi at the bottom of the deep gorge, Zimbabwe on our right and Zambia on our left. The Zambezi is usually a Grade
4 river, but because of all the rain, the river level was higher and today it was only a Grade 3 with some Grade 4 rapids. The rapid are all numbered and have names like the Washing Machine, or The Terminator which describe their effect on those who raft them! We
hit rapid after rapid with stretches of calm fast flowing water in-between.

But because of the high water, none of the rapids were rough enough to tip us or pull any of us from the boat, but it was fun. Now I have to say that at this point I was in need for just a little more excitement and was determined before we set out not to finish the rafting without taking a fall into the river. So just after rapid number 16b, Terminator #2, where there was still some relatively tame rapids to come, I stood up in the boat as it rocked through some rough water, said goodbye, and leaped into the river.
I was immediately swept away for the raft and pulled downstream kept buoyant by my life vest. This was great, finally I got some action! As soon I leapt in, our safety canoeist who accompanies the raft came over to me and I hung onto the front of hi canoe as we finished the rest of the Terminator rapid. Again, this was great and I got some good dunking too! On a calm stretch we waited for the raft and I got back in with a HUGE smile on my face. We rafted the rest of the river taking pictures with the SEALIFE underwater camera then came to our exit point where first lunch, and then a 75 story climb up the gorge bank awaited. But at the top sat a HUGE cooler full of drinks.

The drive back was possibly my most memorable part of the trip. All of the guides were African, and all day they had been very professional at doing their "job". On the journey back I think they got to relax and unwind. Some of the white South African businessmen asked them to sing and in no time, the truck was filled with the voices of African men singing African songs. It was just incredible. I think we really got to see our guides being themselves in true African style. Their powerful deep voices continued to fill the truck with song for the whole journey back into town. People we passed would look up and smile or wave, not just a small grin of a smile, but GREAT BIG hearty smiles. Singing is something I think Africans do very well. It is part of their culture and lifts their spirit. It certainly lifted my spirit high and I could not help but have a big hearty smile on my face the whole ride back.

That evening we watched the video of the days rafting. They edited the clips they shot and added some introductory footage and it was brilliant. It turned out that the video guy had been on the river backs right at rapid 16b, Terminator 2 and captured my leap to freedom form the boat. We bought the video and as soon as possible, we will get it back to the IT Superteam at ASU who will put it on the site to accompany the bungy video which has recently
been posted to the "Gallery". Unfortunately, we could not bring the digital camera along on the rafting so have no picture of it!

For the next few days we got better aquatinted with Victoria Falls and the incredible craft market with Zambian woodcrafts and Zimbabwean soapstone sculptures. By the time we left I think
most of the traders at the craft market knew my name and I knew theirs. I found out that we could trade things we had, like shoes or shirts for some beautiful crafts. Aaron even walked back barefoot after trading his shoes one day and I even traded my trousers, but
I'll let you know how I walked back and go into the craftmarket, our visit into the township where many of the crafts are made, our trip into Zambia, and actually visiting the falls in Vic Falls Part 2.

No comments: