Zambezi – First Day on the River

03:30 and we were on the road already. The drive up from South Africa would be a long one but the excitement of what lay ahead would fuel us for the arduous drive to Zambia. I had been really looking forward to this trip for a while and I took ages in deciding between the Nile and the Zambezi and also for how long to go. Originally I had planned to stay a month as I was on a long holiday at the time but I wasn’t sure how my shoulder would fare after a month of paddling. It is almost five months now since the injury and I have not rested it too well but it feels ok. It didn’t really act up on the trip and only became a little sore on the last day. The six days I spent on the river felt a lot longer and the experience was a good one all in all. I think we accomplished a lot throughout the time we were there and really maximised our trip.


During the next five or six articles you will see some really great photos of the river and hopefully some shots of some lesser publicised rapids that you might not have seen before. All too often you see shots of rapids 5, 9 and 12b. In this series of articles you’ll get to see a few others too. You’ll get to see photos of rapids 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12b, 18 (and the small hole a little downstream from 18), 25, Open Season, Upper Moemba and Lower Moemba. This time we also managed to get some video footage and I must thank Bart, Luke and Marten for their efforts and with two of us tag teaming to the other two when running rapids, we managed to rack up some impressive shots. This first article is a little drab paddling wise but I can assure you the other articles will have enough action shots to satisfy your hunger. Once we sorted out the ‘tag-team’ system we managed to get you the goods. The first day on the river was not great in terms of taking photos and video footage but excellent otherwise… Right, back to the story!


On the way up. Early morning in South Africa.


We arrived at 08:30 at Groblers Bridge which is the border post on the South African side. That was quick and then we crossed over the Limpopo River into Botswana and to the Martins Drift border post. That too was a quick one. When we left that border post the guards stopped us for the mandatory check and then enquired about the boats. We had to produce our boat permits and they briefly scanned them through. Another more knowledgeable guy told the first officer that it was fine and we proceeded without any further difficulties. On the first part of our journey Luke had taken his time and at this point we thought we might still have a lot of time but drove on or just below the limit.


From here we drove towards Francistown and the usual fun of driving through Botswana ensued. For those that don’t know let me explain: You drive at 120 km/h. Then you see cattle, or goats, or donkeys, or a combination of three littered across the road or browsing on the grass nearby. You brake, sometimes needing to throw out the anchors properly in order to avoid these beasts. You get up to speed again in order to get the air flow back into the car to avoid falling victim to the heat. Then within a few kilometres of driving you see a sign that says 100, then 80 and then 60. You obey, because you know that the Botswanan police don’t take any nonsense and you have to pay on the spot, in Pula only. This pattern repeats itself during the next nine hundred odd kilometres… By 09:30 it was 34 degrees Celsius in the car. By 11:00 it was 39, in the shade, a lovely sunny day in Botswana.


Still on the way up. Somewhere in Botswana.


Once past Francistown we realised that we might not have as much time to make the border into Zambia by 18:00 as we originally thought. It is then that Luke decided to put a little more foot and we drove at just on and above the speed limit. The pattern of slowing down and accelerating repeated itself many, many times and at some stage we got carried away in our conversation as we headed down this hill making jokes about something we probably shouldn’t have been making jokes about. All of a sudden a uniformed police officer casually strolled into the road with an outstretched hand. Damn it! We had been caught. Things were not looking good as we hit the brakes hard and stopped in a small cloud of dust next to the tarred road.


Luke followed the officer to the laser device and enjoyed a short video of him doing 97 in a 60 zone. Looks like the video action for this trip was starting a little early! He was directed to another officer sitting in a car a few metres away in the shade. As I sat in the car I had visions of us getting overhauled with these cops. Luke handed over the 400 Pula (about 70 US dollars at the time) and then explained that we were in a hurry to make the border at Kazungula Ferry. The cop handed Luke back 200 Pula and said it was a discount for us! Hahaha. Naturally there was no receipt for any of the payment. I just love Africa. We got off very lightly though. I was caught doing 96 in a 60 zone on my bike in 1998 and the fine was almost as much, but I never paid it anyway.


In Botswana beyond Nata. Note how super flat it is here. There are some massive maize fields here!


More scenery in Botswana.


An elephant at the side of the road probably about 100km before the border at Kazungula Ferry.


With that over and done with we continued on our journey and made extra sure we were obeying the rules wherever we went. After Nata the road got a lot quieter and we would sometimes drive for a while without seeing a single person. We also managed to see some game. Because of the heat we didn’t see much though - only one elephant, a few giraffe and some other smaller game. We had about half an hour to go when we hit the border post. As fast as we could we filled out the necessary documentation and then moved on to wait for the ferry. It was the last ferry of the day and we had just made it, by the skin of our teeth. Because we were so late we let these so called ‘clearing agents’ ‘help’ us on the other side. Typically we would have told them to get lost but we were tired and in a hurry to get through as we didn’t want to spend the night at the border post!


Rows and rows of trucks lined up before the border post. These trucks can wait days until they finally get a chance to cross the mighty Zambezi at the 400m wide point known as Kazungula.


A single truck and our car. Another car can be fitted next to us and two behind the truck. That is the limit. Luckily there are two ferries doing the work. But man did invent bridges to span large tracts of water. Why not here?!?!?


Once at the Zambian border post we got the run around and spent a lot of money on various different things. We had to cough up for the ferry, then a council levy, then for third party insurance and even for carbon tax! Carbon tax? Since when does Zambia concern itself on exhaust emissions? But we paid anyway, including our ‘clearing agent’ who really wasn’t much help but more of a nuisance. At 18:45 we left the border as it was getting dark and drove the last stretch to Livingstone.


In Livingstone we easily made our way to Fawlty Towers and at 19:35 met up with the two Dutch guys, Marten Lagendijk and Bart Verkoeijen. I had ‘met’ Marty on the internet around the same time as I had met Tuomas and we had often joked about paddling trips and what not. It’s so weird to end up meeting someone that you only know from the internet and then they’re exactly the way you thought they’d be. It was fantastic to be finally in Livingstone and we immediately had a beer together and then a swim to cool down and wash off the dirt from the days’ journey. After another beer we hit the onsite Hippo’s Restaurant and enjoyed a solid meal there. Sleep came easy that night even though the temperatures were hot and our little room was like a small oven. We didn’t even have our own entrance and had to trudge through someone else’s room to get to ours. Fawlty Towers advertise a fan in every room but I guess false advertising is rife everywhere these days. So far we were not too impressed.


The following morning it was still very hot and I had slept on top of the bedding the entire night. By stroke of misfortune I had almost gotten to sleep on the top bunk and had to navigate the ladder down to the bare concrete every morning. I was feeling a lot less nervous about the river and we got our gear together in anticipation of the driver picking us up at 09:30. We waited for a very long time that morning. Once we were finally picked up and arrived at the parking lot at the falls we waited again, not a single porter was to be found. Eventually we climbed onto the water at just after 13:00 and by now I was really feeling a lot more nervous. The waiting around hadn’t helped.


Gearing up at Fawlty Towers. The trailer was loaded but somehow our driver said that he'd be back now now and that now now took a little long...


Luke and I and the two Dutchmen were accompanied by three Austrians, namely, Georg Tschojer, Mario Ploner and Florian Zauner (aka Flo). They seemed really great and it looked like we’d be a super group on the river that day!


The walk down is quite pleasant and definitely the best walk in to the river. The view onto the river with the bridge looming across the river is a site worth seeing. From the path you can see rapids two and three in the distance. From so high up they seem very small. The last bit of the path gets really rocky and it’s best to have shoes with a good grip. As one leaves the shelter of the surrounding bush one walks down irregularly shaped black rocks and you feel the heat build up quickly. The green water of the Zambezi churns below as rapid number one (Against the Wall) can be seen on the right hand side with the bridge just above rapid two a little to the left and downstream from the put-in. Everything seems so small from this vantage point. Once in the boat at river level one begins to realise that the river is far larger than it initially looks.


If climbing onto the river from the Zambian side then you do not get to run rapid number one and merely have to make a ferry across the river to the other side. If you mess up the ferry then you run the risk of paddling into the wall. As rapid number ones wave train dies down it pushes into a wall and turns a ninety degree to the right. At these levels it is not too difficult but I believe at higher levels it is a little harder, especially for the rafts. If you do go into the wall at high levels then be prepared for some serious down time, in the region of thirty seconds or more. Not a pleasant way to start the trip. At these levels we had in early November you can be reasonably sure you’ll make the ferry and the cushion wave is not too big and frightening and you’ll be lucky to make five seconds down time.


As I crossed the current I stroked hard to avoid the wall and made the eddy on the other side with ease. I could feel a certain amount of trepidation and a little bit of fear but felt a lot better now that I was on the river. When I had rafted the river in December 1999 with my dad the river had seemed so much bigger. Now that I was actually here a couple of years later it seemed a lot narrower than what I envisioned, and also a lot smaller. We approached rapid number two (The Bridge/Between Two Worlds) and waited in the eddy on river left for the next person to climb off the wave. I dropped in a missed the wave. Damn it. I was still too stiff and a little nervous. A short walk up on river right and I went for it again. This time I got on but I didn’t really do much. My play boating isn’t great but this was ridiculous! Unfortunately there is no eddy service on number two and one has to walk up. I didn’t bother again and after a few surfs from the other guys we headed the short distance down to number three.


Number three is quite narrow and a very easy rapid to run. There is a wave on the left but it needs more water for it to be retentive enough to surf. Luke tried to catch it but could not. He has surfed it at a higher level and says it is incredible. This was his third trip to the Zambezi and Luke is an accomplished big water paddler. At this point the Zambezi still looked small and only began to show its teeth on the next rapid.


Below three is another small rapid and then a calm pool as the river makes a large left turn. Rapid number four (Morning Glory) waits just after the corner and we scouted from the river right hand side. At these low levels four is a feisty rapid. It is one of the more difficult rapids to run on the river and one which can cause some bad swims and solid beatings. Our intended line was the so called ‘dragon’s back’ line and this takes you between two holes. On the right is a small but retentive hole that will beat you for a while, on the left is a larger hole that probably looks worse than what it is. If I were to choose I’d rather slip into the large hole on the left. I’m sure that after a few brief but violent seconds it will release you. We watched as Mario led the line with Flo a fair distance behind. They both didn’t have any difficulties really. It seemed ok but I knew the line would be tricky to see once on the water. Seeing as though I had taken some photos I hadn’t concentrated on their lines on the lead-in and watched Georg as he made the same line. I took some markers on the lead-in and made sure I would be on line, between the two holes.


Rapid number 4, Morning Glory.


Mario Ploner in the front (red boat) with Florian Zauner (Flo) taking up the rear in the green boat. Note that Flo is busy 'riding the dragon's back'. The hole to the left clearly visible and the smaller but more retentive hole on the right edge of the screen.


It was agreed that Luke would run in front of me to show me the line and I would follow behind and then Bart behind me. Marty opted to portage as he had taken a severe beating a few days prior to this run on the top hole on the right and taken a swim. He moved to the left side as it is far easier to portage from there. We peeled out and I took my bearings to be sure. Even though I was behind Luke I made sure I was on the left side of a little piece of foam on the first glassy wave and then over the second smaller piece of ‘white water’ on the second glassy wave. Luke disappeared in front of me but I was confident of where I was in the rapid. The Zambezi is mostly like that. If you’re on line at the top of the rapid, you’ll probably be fine! I rode up on the dragons back between the two holes and couldn’t believe how easy that had just been. Within a few metres a diagonal comes from the right feeding from right to left. Don’t punch this and just brace onto it and ride left. I did this and got onto a sweet line into the centre of the flow and kept paddling forward with my boat aimed towards the left. This is one rapid where you want to stay away from the wall on the right. I’d heard enough horror stories from Luke and some other people to be cured of going near there. After that diagonal the power of the river took my boat to warp speed and I hurtled towards the hole waiting at the bottom. It’s more of a wave/hole though and nothing to be afraid of. I couldn’t believe the speed and power suddenly of the river and immediately felt a surge of adrenalin. I had managed to ride this beast and not even flip, so far so good. My confidence was increasing and I felt a lot better about paddling the river. A few hundred metres below number four is a small rapid that doesn’t have a name but with a really bad hole on the left. You would not want to go in there! Some of the rapids that don’t have names or numbers are almost as big as some of the rapids that are named and/or numbered.


The river flows past the outlet of the power station with various little waterfalls too and then turns right down some faster flowing water and towards number five (Stairway to Heaven). Shortly before the trip I had spoken to Celliers about the river and he had warned me not to scout this one as it looked incredibly intimidating and said it would be far better to just run it. We drifted down towards the rapid but all I was greeted with was a horizon line. As we neared the lip I looked down at some huge crashing whitewater and let out a yell of delight. What a complete surprise! Where had all this water come from? It was like the river had just trebled in volume and dropped down several metres into a seething mass of water churned white. This had caught me by complete surprise and I surged forward, past the pourover and into the maw that lay below. The second big wave flipped me over but I managed to roll reasonably quickly. It felt good to have executed a swift roll in those conditions and certainly helped with my confidence. We paddled hard to the right and made our way into a small but choppy eddy. The water was surging with small waves breaking into the boat as I clambered out of my boat and onto dry land again. The eddies on the Zambezi can sometimes be a very bumpy place to be. We decided to paddle this one again.


This time we arranged that someone would take some photos but as it turned out it didn’t work out too well. I guess that’s what happens when someone doesn’t know your camera or has never used a digital SLR. Marty didn’t know that if you just hold down the shutter release that the camera will capture three frames per second, every second. I guess I should have told him, my bad. Luke decided to run the pourover and had a sweet line. Flo ran it too but managed to hit his face into his boat and his water bottle smashed right through his bottom lip. Not an ideal way to start off an adventure on the Zam. It looked very painful... I ran the normal line but again, it flipped me over. This big volume boating was all very new to me and I am used to running far lower volume rivers back home. At least there are no rocks to really worry about and the chances of encountering rocks on most of the rapids are fairly slim. If you do however, it’s not going to be pretty! The photos shown are the only other photos that we took that day. The name of the game was more just paddling the river and knowing roughly where to go for the other days.


Luke Longridge running the pourover on number 5, Stairway to Heaven. Luke was paddling his trusty large Fluid Flirt as per usual. Photo by Marten Lagendijk.


Flo running the same line but managing to stick his water bottle through his bottom lip. Ouch! Photo by Marten Lagendijk.


Adrian Tregoning running the normal centre line on number 5. I was in the new medium Fluid Nemesis, fantastic on the river! Photo by Marten Lagendijk. (the last five photos were all we had of rapid 5 on that day. I can assure you the photos in the coming articles are really incredible once everyone knew what the idea was. Stand by...)


Below five are some smaller rapids and then also a sweet eddy line on the left after the last little rapid. It is here where some fun whirlpools form and we had a good time paddling into them and getting swirled around. First impressions were very good of the fabled Zambezi River. So different to what I remembered all those years ago.


Next up was number six (Devil’s Toilet Bowl). We ran it without scouting and it went ok I guess. It’s a short rapid with two crashing waves and a nasty looking spot on the left that you would want to avoid but the lead in is super simple. There are some flat pools as the river turns to the left and then the start of the infamous number seven (Gulliver’s Travels).


We took a far right hand channel and eddied out on the right. The seven of us clambered out over the large rocks and followed our ‘guide’ for the day, Luke. He explained where ‘The Crease’ was (this is the same as the Temple of Doom) and also where Patella’s Gap forms at higher levels. When the water gets a little up The Gap starts to work and takes the consequences up to a whole new level. You would not want to go through The Gap and serious bone breakage and the likelihood of even death is a possibility. Number seven is the longest and also the most technical rapid of the stretch and not to be taken lightly. At the levels we had though it’s not too bad as the consequences are not that great. It’s just a little intimidating.


I climbed into my boat but didn’t feel too nervous. In fact I hadn’t been too nervous, in my usual way, the whole day. It seems that my fear behaves differently these days and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not. Usually my heart would beat very fast before the rapid but it just wasn’t happening. For sure it was beating but not like I had experienced maybe a year ago. Perhaps it was almost a sort of numbness that I was experiencing and just concentration of the task ahead. I don’t know. Like when I ran a big waterfall for the first time. At that time I was extremely scared and nervous. My heart was beating frantically in my chest and my hands and body were shaking. This all before even running the waterfall! Now I just get a little nervous before and once I’m in the boat I don’t feel shaky at all and a lot calmer. Usually I then start to enjoy myself and sometimes even smile or laugh going into something as it’s just so much fun. The point I reach when I decide to portage a rapid seems less defined these days for me. If I just don’t feel up to it or I cannot visualise myself running the rapid or if there is something in the rapid where I just can’t live with the potential consequences then I portage. As simple as that. Whereas previously my heart and mind would race over the thought of even running the rapid and what line to take and would I make an important move? All these stupid questions would be turned over in my head in a hurried and almost distraught sort of way. Perhaps it’s a good thing then that generally I find it far easier to portage or to run a rapid. Although not always… Kayaking is a mind game and I think one reaches a point relatively quickly where the mind plays an almost pivotal role in your kayaking.


As I peeled out of the eddy I concentrated on my strokes. At that point in time nothing else really matters except making it down to the bottom. There is a small diagonal above the crease that can flip you over but I made it through. I stroked past the right hand side of The Crease and down a green wave and into a crashing wave. Immediately I was flipped over. I’m not sure if I missed my roll on that occasion but I know when I rolled up I was within a paddles length of touching the rocks that form The Gap and I was backwards. With a quick sweep I was forward again but on entering the Land of the Giants I flipped again. This time I remember missing my roll but tucked and rolled again, still in the Land of the Giants. Again another wave knocked me over but I managed to roll up again. I looked in front of me and noticed that Marty was swimming. The waves there are absolutely huge and come from all sides. It is absolute chaos in there.


I powered towards him and he seemed perfectly fine, just a little out of breath. His paddle was near me and as they have a habit of disappearing I grabbed it as quick as I could. This proved to be a mistake as no one else had a cow’s tail on their PFD’s and I should have rather dealt with the boat. Eventually his boat made it to shore and a long and rocky walk awaited him. Gulliver’s Travels had proven to be a good one and my run had been a shocker. Oops. At my current skill levels I can honestly say that I would portage number 7 if The Gap was working. The chances of ending up in there are high if you flip near The Crease and that wouldn’t be pretty. If you’re at the Zambezi and the level is a bit higher than when we ran it then you’d probably be better off portaging seven and running the diagonal on nine. That’s what a lot of people tell me.


The next major rapid is number 8 (The Midnight Diner). Three obvious lines to choose from; far right which sneaks the main hole, right of centre where there is a window (I think this part is known as The Muncher) and then left into the meatiest part know as The Star Trekker or simply as Star Trek. The hole itself looks massive when you scout but on this, the first time for me on the river, we decided to just bomb down and I opted for the meatiest line. I had seen a fair amount of video footage of this hole but it didn’t look too bad. As I approached the lip I looked down into a deepest pit with the biggest hole I had ever seen it my paddling lifetime. I hit the meat and tucked into a melt down position but I think I may have tucked a fraction late or perhaps not enough. The most violent thrashing I’ve ever experienced ensued for the next two to three seconds. It felt as though my helmet was going to be ripped off of my head and my arms were flung around like a dog toying with a rubber doll all the while maintaining a solid grip on the paddle. Then suddenly the beating stopped and I was churned around a little as I probably floated to the surface and rolled up. My neck felt sore already and I’ve actually got to be careful since I sustained a neck injury in a car accident a few years back. But it was really good fun and I would do it the very next day all over again! It is funny to note that it was that same car accident that got me kayaking. The money from the third party insurance claim was enough for me to get my first boat. But that’s another story altogether.


There is a calm pool and then the infamous number nine (Commercial Suicide). In fact there are nice, big pools between all of the rapids, except maybe between eleven and thirteen. There was no doubt that I would portage this one. Luke had run it about four times already but decided - not today. None of the Austrians looked like they could have been convinced either. At low levels the diagonal is not open and then the rapid becomes a lot trickier. You have to drop down on the pourover somewhere on the right and then make a hard ferry to the left in order to punch the bottom hole where there is a window. If you don’t make the ferry you run the risk of hitting elbow rock which is a few metres below the bottom and on the right. If you get worked in the hole it feeds to the right and then you’ll more than likely flush into elbow rock. Not a good place to go. Scott Reinders managed to get a little dazed on this rock once and Mike Pennefather managed to split his helmet open and acquire several stitches to his skull. Not bad if you consider the amount of times that they have run nine and that Mike would plug into the middle of the bottom hole day in and day out while he was guiding there. But as I always like to say, the more you throw evens, the more likely it is to land on odds… Commercial Suicide is a beast of a rapid and a lot more intimidating in real life than on the videos. Thank goodness it has the easiest portage on the entire river, except at high levels when the bank on the right is covered. All of the other rapids are guarded with large rocks that make portaging no fun at all.


Rapid number 9, Commercial Suicide, in all it's beauty. I really love this shot.


Luke walking back to the boat after inspecting 9 for his run later on in the trip.


Not far from nine is rapid number ten (Gnashing Jaws of Death). There is a big hole in the middle at the top but easily avoidable by paddling to the left and into a crashing wave. From there on it’s just a fun wave train. Very easy, very fun! I really enjoy number ten as there is not much thinking involved and you can do some wave wheels and just generally have a great time.


The river makes a turn to the right here, through a narrow section for a few metres and then a calm pool as it meanders around and to the left. This is the home of the infamous rapid number eleven (Overland Truck Eater. Also know as Overland Engine Eater). This is where the Zambezi forms that beautiful barrelling wave that I’m sure you’ve seen in both kayaking and surfing publications. End of June to early July and about mid January is the time to catch this monster and even then it only works for just under two weeks usually. It is, however, only for the brave as the hole that forms next to the barrel is rather nasty and swimming out seems like the way to do it.


At our levels there is a very big and nasty hole at the top. On the left there forms a sort of a ‘V’ with the nasty hole just to the right. I was told that the best way to run this rapid is to almost follow the left hand side of the ‘V’ and punch the wave with a left to right momentum. Why? Because there are some really bad boils on the left hand side. They are the stuff of nightmares and you really would not want to go in there. It’s weird that one only ever sees photos of eleven when the level is high and there is that mystical barrelling wave. It is an excellent rapid and one which makes a lot of people quite nervous. Once you’ve punched the wave at the ‘V’ it is important to punch the next wave/hole too as that will push you directly to the left and take you to where you don’t want to go. It’s not as easy as it looks. I was lucky and without scouting had an upright run. It felt fantastic on only the first day on the river to pull off another upright run. Perhaps I had underestimated myself or overestimated the river.


The whole big volume boating concept was still very new to me and I had Luke trying to explain the finer things to me. One tip I can give to anyone venturing onto bigger water and that is to keep a paddle in the water. This cannot be overemphasised. Usually the water is travelling a lot faster than what you are and it is ok to have a blade in the water before you hit into a big wave or some similar feature. The tendency for people (like me) who paddle mainly low volume rivers is to not do this as generally we tend to paddle at a similar speed or at a greater speed than the water we’re on. We tend to reach over smaller foam piles and pull ourselves across but now that technique needs some modification. If your blade is not in the water before hitting an obstacle or unless you brace into it on impact then you will spend a lot of time upside down, that I can promise you. I’m no big water expert but just keep that in mind.


Below eleven are rapids 12a, 12b and 12c, the Three Ugly Sisters. From rapid number eleven down to thirteen the river has some smaller rapids in between and also some very boily sections. At high levels some dodgy whirlpools can be found here. 12a has a hole on the right with a very dodgy area behind and to the right of the hole, against the wall - easily avoided though. The water is quite pushy and boils will erupt next to you and the eddy lines move around here, sometimes making life a little interesting. 12b is the world famous surf wave. I’m sure the majority of people reading this will know a little about 12b already but let me briefly go into it. 


After 12a are some smaller rapids and the river drops down forming the wave that is simply known as 12b. A wave train follows and a reasonably large eddy on the river left side. This wave only works at low levels and already at our level the wave wasn’t that great. At a lower level the wave is steeper and the air you can get off the wave far better. This is what the word on the street was. I didn’t see anybody throw any spectacular moves on this one throughout our trip although one guide could bust some moves they weren’t that huge. Perhaps it was our lack in skill, I know my play boating is not the best. But just in case you aren’t jealous enough of the Zambezi trip then let me add that I’ll be at the coast for three weeks in December, paddling Fluid’s new surf kayak, the Element. I can’t wait. Hopefully I can improve my play boating on the waves then. Hehehe. We played a little here and then moved down through 12c, which is nothing to write home about.


The river moves directly into rapid number thirteen (The Mother), a straight forward rapid with large waves. Stay away from the wall on the right as there are some evil boils there. Marty and Bart had been at the Zam a few days prior to our arrival. Even though it is so easy Marty was telling us that he had taken a swim from the top on his first time here. Coming from a country that has almost only flat water it is amazing that they were faring so well. I suppose the rest of Europe is only a stones throw away. He experienced about a minutes worth of downtime and resurfaced more than two hundred metres from the top of the rapid. Think about that for a second. Even though we fool around on the Zambezi it must always be respected and one can easily forget what can really happen. There is no doubt that he nearly drowned there on this seemingly simple and harmless rapid. It gave him the fright of his life he tells us and I don’t doubt that for a second. Luke also said that they’ve often swam it for fun. On the one occasion a guy swam too close to the right wall and spent the entire rapid underwater, getting some serious downtime. He came up spluttering that these South Africans are crazy and that he almost drowned. I guess the answer is to just stay in your boat for as long as you can possibly stand it, and don’t swim rapids with Luke Longridge on purpose!


The river takes a few more turns and then enters into rapid number fourteen (Surprise, Surprise. Also known as the Wrestling Hole). We took out on the river left bank just above this rapid. That concluded my first day of kayaking on the mighty Zambezi River. No swims for me. I was quite stoked about that and almost a little surprised to be quite honest. The day had gone down very well with some good and bad runs but overall it was fantastic.


Initially there were no porters to be seen so some of us left our boat as they stood and others decided to be ‘clever’ and haul the boats up the steep and rocky path. I was one of the smart ones who just left my boat there and started the hike up. The path above fourteen is steep and rocky and a little unpleasant. In fact, there are no pleasant means to get out the gorge unless you have the tom for a helicopter. Which, I hasten to add, some people do actually have. The day before Ollie Grau and his group of students were all escorted back from Upper Moemba Falls via helicopter! I guess the Euro is a lot stronger than the South African Rand is. Hahaha!


Halfway up the path the porters came down and relieved some of the guys of their burdens. The rain started to fall and I looked down into the gorge with the green snake affectionately known as the Zam, making its way between the dry sides of the gorge. What a splendid place. I could not think of a better place to be at that moment in time. Once at the top I unloaded my gear and climbed into the safari type vehicle and opened up a Mosi. For that don’t know let me be the first to say that you need to refresh yourself as often as possible on Zambia’s finest beer. You won’t be sorry. After a day on the river there is nothing better than a Mosi, or two, or possibly three or maybe even five or six or seven. Their motto is: “Great Nights. Great Mornings. Great Beer.” I’m still not convinced on the whole mornings thing but yeah, great beer. That was our motto throughout the trip and we always had a good laugh whenever anyone mentioned it. I took it easy on the beer drinking on this trip as the sugar just kills my stomach. All my life I’ve been very allergic to all kinds of sugar as they upset my stomach very, very quickly. I can take a few beers but after more than about five, the next morning is rather unpleasant. Well, I’m sure you didn’t want to know that but have a heart for a fellow paddler out there.


The rain did not stop but that didn’t hamper our spirits. We relived the days’ events as we waited for the porters to return with the boats. Eventually they did and we were on our way. The drive back was freezing cold and we had run out of Mosi’s rather quickly. The windscreen wiper on the right kept falling off and our driver would stop to put it back on. After the second stop Flo decided to run ahead to keep warm as he was freezing cold. Freezin Flo. We caught up with him many, many metres down the road and were impressed with the distance he had travelled.


Back at Fawlty Towers the swimming pool was very inviting.


Luke (left) on the internet, which is free. And (right) some random boats in the court yard at Fawlty Towers. We left all our paddling gear down here and everything was fine.


Back at Fawlty Towers we made a bee line to the Funky Munky, which is just down the road. When you walk out of Fawlty Towers turn right and go down about two hundred metres. On your right you’ll find the small pizza shop that Frenchman Nico Chassing used to own. It still offers world class pizza and would put to shame a lot of ‘recognised’ shops and franchises in South Africa. After a great meal we all looked a little sleepy eyed. We walked back to the backpackers and walked into our oven. Luckily the rain had chilled the air a little and it helped a fair amount in relieving us of the oppressive heat inside that little room. Sleep came easily as the rain still came down outside. First day on the Zambezi, many more to come. Life was good.




Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Day two of the same section. This time with far more photographs… Stay tuned!