I really did not want to get up this morning as I was still tired from last nights partying and my lungs felt like they had been put through a cheese grater, due to chain smoking about five cigars. However, I had agreed to go white water rafting on the Zambezi river today, so I wasn't left with the option of sleeping in.
I got up and quickly dressed and asked the kitchen to make me a bacon sandwich for breakfast, and then the truck arrived to collect us. We were driven into the national park and given our safety briefing, we then had to choose our guide. Doug who was going in our boat chose the guy that gave the safety briefing which seemed like the wise choice.
After getting kitted out in our safety gear we then proceeded to hike down into the gorge carrying our paddles. This was no mean feat for me, as I had dumped my sneakers in Bulowayo, and now only had a choice of thongs or stilettos. My weak right knee only complicated matters further, by almost giving out after the first set of ultra steep metal steps. At one point when I was trying to clamber over some rocks near the river, thought I wasn't going to make it. I finally reached the bottom completely puffed out and sore and attempted to get into the raft. The guide made me go for a dunk in the water first to cool off, wise plan, as after I'd had a swim I felt right as rain.
Our guides name was Eliam, and he proceeded to teach us how to paddle our raft. I was on the left at the back, he told us how to back paddle and all the commands we would hear through out the day. He also told us what we should do in a flip situation, the most important of the details was if you ended up under the boat, you should try and get the hell out of there as soon as possible as it was the most dangerous place to be.
After our briefing we paddled around the little calm area we were in before heading to rapid one, out of nineteen rapids in this section of the river. All the rapids have names and are graded from one to six, this one was called wake up call and was rated a three plus. At least we aren't starting with a five, I thought. We paddled towards the gurgling, white terror in front of us and down we went into it. Get down! yelled Eliam about halfway into it and we all jumped down into the raft and held on to the OS line around the edge.
After we were clear of rapid number one, Eliam yelled, Everyone up! We all climbed back into position and high fived each other with the paddles. Go team Awesome! I yelled. The next rapid was only a class one, even so it looked pretty mean, I was surprised that minimal paddling was required and we just basically floated over the top of it, it was almost relaxing.
The next major rapid was a class four, it was called Morning Glory, we got a big explanation about how we needed to face the monster ahead, which I immediately forgot because I was so nervous. The rapid was made up of two holes, we had to paddle through the first one, which was a pretty major dip and then there was a get down call for the second part of the rapid, I think on the second part I had actually stated to laugh. It was a bit like the old Snowy River Rapids ride at Australia's Wonderland.
Now it was time to stop laughing and get serious, we were coming up to rapid number five, rated class five, the highest class rafters are permitted to go through, its name, Stairway to Heaven. I had survived a grade three, a grade four, one more won't hurt, will it? We went through this one last, as we approached the monster rapid, we saw it smoking, Where theres smoke, theres fire, said Eliam. Thanks mate, I thought, we needed to hear that. We sat in
our raft and watched the other boats disappear into the hole, it was then our turn, we paddled towards it, I can safely say I was glad I couldn't see what was coming. We got lucky, we went down the slope and Eliam called out, Get down! So we all jumped down and hung on for dear life. We got completely buffeted and crashed around, we were going forwards, then backwards, then sideways, half under water, half out. None the less we emerged unscathed and gave each other high fives with the paddles. I then looked back and saw the massive heaving, smoking, angry white jaws of the rapid and couldn't believe I had just been in that thing!
I love the name of the next rapid, The Devil's Toilet Bowl, a really sharp drop, followed by a boiling pot and whirlpools which are a bit difficult to get out of. Our guide announced the rapid and then said, let's hope we don't get flushed. Yeah, thanks Eliam. We went last again, and we watched raft after raft get stuck in the bowl, and paddle furiously trying to get out. We didn't get stuck though and sailed straight through the bowl, no flushing for team awesome.
We had a bit of a quite stretch after the bowl, so we jumped overboard and had a swim. We then needed to get back into the raft for out next class five, Gulliver's Travels, a world class rapid we were told. You will be very lucky not to flip over here, said Eliam. Our luck seemed to be holding and we paddled through the first part of the rapid and then had to duck and cover for the second part of it.
Rapid number eight was the Midnight Diner, with two courses on the menu, you could either pass around the side rapids which were a class three or through the middle for another class five. We had a vote, Kaylee, Amy and Caroline voted for the easy way out and Doug, Nat and I voted for the middle wave, which is apparently like hitting a brick wall. Eliam said we had to do the class three section, Doug and I were not amused, as we paddled through the now seemingly boring class three rapid. The rafts who did go through the middle of the rapid, however, all flipped over.
The rapid called Commercial suicide, at low water is actually rated a grade six, so at this point we got our feet back on dry land/hot sharp rocks and walked around this absolute heaving monster. Some of the pros in canoes actually decided to go through the damn thing, maniacs. There was certainly good reason we were walking around this rapid, I couldn't see anyone not turning over on this one. It was a really long rapids as well and it took quite a while to walk around it. We let our raft go through the rapid on its own and then went in another raft to retrieve it.
We got back into our raft and then proceeded onto our next rapid, which was only a small one, and then onto a class four called, Overland truck eater. This one I found a bit scary, as it had a giant rock in the middle of it, if we hit that, we're done. Again, we got lucky and just sailed around the rock to the right and paddled on, this time however, there was no get down call and we actually had to face the rapid head on which was a bit scary.
The next lot of rapids were a bit scary, 12A, 12B, 12C, the ugly sisters, three rapids really close together, followed by a rapid number thirteen…..The Mother a wicked class four plus with three giant waves. Eliam said, it would not be good to fall out here as it's a long section of white water and you would have to swim it on your own as there would be no chance of getting anyone back into the boat.
We went through the first sister, got buffeted around by the second and sailed through the third. Then, the Mother loomed tall and stern in front of us, as if angry we had just trampled her children. We faced her head on. We hit. As if both in slow motion and before I knew what was happening, the raft turned over from the right dumping me into the water, in the position of being under the raft. The most dangerous position to be in, thankfully, I remembered what Eliam had said, and went straight for the OS line around the edge of the raft and pulled myself out. Unfortunately for me, I pulled myself out just in time to get half a breath and come face to face with the heart of the biggest wave of the rapid.
I was hit square in the face with a wall of white raging water, I was sucked down, I couldn't get my breath, Oblivion took me. This is it, I thought, I'm going to die, I've finally met my match. Time slowed down and I couldn't get my breath. Just when I had accepted that this was death, my head broke the water's surface and I was under the raft again. I grabbed the OS line and pulled myself out. I looked at the nearest person and yelled (though I have no idea why) Yippy yi kie aye, mother fucker! I think I was high on pure Adrenalin.
Eliam managed to turn the raft back over and then haul a couple of us in before the next rapid. Once was in, I then proceeded to haul Doug in, we the proceeded to have a laugh about our flip. Eliam then said we could change spots if we wanted. Up until then I had been sitting at the very back on the left. Well I've been through a major flip, can't get any worse, so I asked Nat if I could have her spot, front right. I now had my work cut out for me as the two on the front set the pace for the rest of the team and now had to keep pace with Doug who had done this a few times before on other rivers.
We paddled onto rapid fourteen, which was a nice little test of my leadership skills on the raft and then onto the next major one, a class four called, the washing machine…as if I hadn't been in a washing machine all day already. Eliam told us we had to paddle for the entire rapid, we needed to paddle around the hole in the center, we were completely thrown around, at one point I nearly went overboard, but I over compensated and ended up in the middle of the raft with everyone else laughing at me.
Rapids 16A and 16B were named to scare us, Terminator one and two, they were both grade three plus, I again ended up in the middle of the raft. The next one was double trouble, a grade four with two big crashing waves, this time I managed to stay on the front and paddle through the rapid.
Rapid number 18, actually called Oblivion, the rapid of the day, a demon class five rapid. Eliam said, if we were ever going to flip, that we would flip here….and I'm driving, I thought. I must admit I was a bit worried about facing this one on the front, but the notion that just about everyone flips here somehow made me feel better. We headed into the rapid and there was no, get down call. We paddled as hard as we could and faced the monster waves head on. All of a sudden I saw Doug leave his seat, fly into the air and then he was gone. We found him hanging onto the raft after we had gotten out of the white water, Kaylee hauled him back into the raft. I couldn't believe I was the one who had managed to stay in position and help guide the raft to safety.
The last rapid was only a class one and we just sailed through it and then it was time to exit the raft and begin the long hard climb out of the gorge. When I say long hard climb, I mean it. It was the worst climb I think I've ever experienced. Actually, no I lie, second worst. The coloured canyon in Egypt was still the worst, but only because the so called guides took off and left me for dead and I got major sunstroke.
It took me a good hour to climb the equivalent of a forty five story building up rocky crumbing stairs, giant rocks and loose soil, wearing the wrong shoes, with my bad knee n the forty degree heat. Even if I was dead last out, I was glad I had made the climb myself. At one point, I recognized one of the boys, a guy who calls himself Titanic, carrying out a rather large woman. I don't care how hard the climb was, or for any amount of money, I would never let that happen. My pride just wouldn't allow it.
When I got to the top, I hauled myself over the edge and sat in the little hut they had set up for lunch, just being thankful that I was alive. We then climbed back into the ute and were taken back to where we were all staying. I don't know how it happened but I ended up getting conned into going out for dinner, however, I ended up with a lime slushie and an early night. I went to bed at 7:30pm, totally exhausted, with every muscle in my body burning…for the second time today, I slipped into Oblivon.