White Water Rafting on the Zambezi

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe –

We went white water rafting today, which was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve done so far. We had our pre-rafting meeting where we signed the “if you die we’re not liable” form and heard our safety talk before heading down the cliff below the Vic Falls hotel to get our lifejackets and get in the boats. We had to climb down this sheer, cliff-like path through the rocks and mud before we actually for to the river and into our boats. After another safety talk we were finally on our way. The Zambezi river is a class five white water river on the one to six rapids scale, with most of the rapids we were going to be going through ranging from a three to a five. They won’t let normal people go down class six rapids because they’re just a little too dangerous. We managed our first few rapids with no problem – we were throwing our bodies to either side of the boat (as the oarsman called out which side) in am attempt to keep the boat from flipping. When we got to rapid number six (they’re all numbered) that’s where the fun began.

When we were going into the rapid our boat hit a rock and spun around backwards before going in. With none of us prepared for that turn when we hit the first rapid the girls at the back of the boat (now the front) didn’t know which way to throw their weight. Once we hit the rapid Rich went flying out of the boat, along with Judy, sot the two of them did the rapid in freestyle, freeform manner. Rich went whizzing by the boat and I missed grabbing him, but I did get a hold of Judy’s arm and tried to pull her into the boat. The only problem was that the current had a hold of her and pulled her under the boat. So there I was, holding onto Judy’s arm while her head was pinned under the water under the boat. After a couple of seconds in that position my lifeguarding sense told me that holding on to Judy while she was forcibly submerged probably wasn’t the smartest thing to be doing. I let go of her, she got pulled under the boat and popped out on the surface a few yards down where someone else grabbed her and pulled her into the boat. After everyone was accounted for we continued rafting through the white water (save rapid number nine which was too dangerous for us to go down so we had to carry the boat around it.)

Had a lunch break up in this oasis on the side of the gorge. We had small pools of water to relax in, shaded by the lush canopy of the surrounding woods – it was such a change from the excitement of the Zambezi. After lunch we had only rapids eleven through twenty one to conquer, and conquer then we did, save rapid eighteen. We were well practiced in keeping most everyone in the boat. (Rich decided the ropes had been greased before we started, for he was the one who kept flying out of the boat.) I fell out on rapid eleven but managed to maintain my hold on the rope so Rich just hoisted me back in without much hassle. We had a few people fall out here and there – that was until we hit rapid number eighteen.

Rapid eighteen is called “Oblivion” and is the wildest rapid you go on during the trip. It consists of three waves, the first two manageable, but the third . . . don’t even think about it. We eased our way towards the top of the rapid and slowly started gaining speed as the water rushed over the rocks to form the top of the rapid. Hit the first wave and dove to the front of the boat to keep the nose down. No problem with the second wave either. Hit the third wave and the boat swung vertically straight up in the air. White water came pouring over the top of the boat making it impossible to see or do anything. Brenda and Raewyn were sucked out of the bot on my left, then all of a sudden the boat just wasn’t there any longer. I realized I was in the river so I took a deep breath, ready to go under. The current had a hold of me and pulled me under the water, but as I was going down I felt this hand grab my lifejacket and pull me back up to the surface. It was Rich, and once I’d surfaced he asked me where the boat was. He knew he didn’t have a hold of the boat, but he thought I did so he pulled me up to find out about it.

We floated down the river until we caught up with the boat which had only three people in it – the oarsman, Luck & Jessica. It was so strange flying out of the boat – we really didn’t know what had happened so we had to go to the Ilala Lodge that evening to see the videotaped account of that thirty second part of our lives. After everyone was accounted for we paddled down the river for our last three rapids. The rapids we so weak (especially after number eighteen) that our oarsman even let me, then Brenda and Judy row the boat for a while. We hit the shore after the twenty first rapid only to be faced with a climb that even the most fit person would have problems with. It was another sheer cliff face, and after rafting all day, climbing the equivalent of forty stories didn’t appeal to me.

Everyone was dying when they finally made it up, but at least everyone did make it! We got the shuttle back to Vic Falls and after dinner and viewing the video of the day’s events it was off to bed.

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