White Water Rafting on the Zambezi River

It was my second to last day on the trip, and 14 of us signed up for a half day of paddling down rapids in the Zambezi River in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We woke early. Well, those of us who could sleep did. After hearing horror stories from our guide, much of the night was spent tossing and turning, wondering what lead us to decide that going down class 5 rapids in an unknown land was a good move. After a 45 minute, teeth chattering, early morning open air truck ride, we lined up in front of our gear. A short supply of small/medium life jackets was met with looks of worry and doubt, and my face froze when my request for a bigger helmet was answered with a suggestion to use a helmet without any padding.

As we hiked down the steep canyon side, an excited murmur hovered around the group. Hopping over trees, down rickety tree branch ladders and across warm streams, we soon found ourselves riverside. We had broken up into two groups. The first, “Team Extreme”, was made up of the eager thrill seekers of the group. They were determined to hit the biggest rapids at each stage. The second group, “Team Let’s Just Take Our Time And Not Do Anything Hasty. Oh And Don’t Forget To Put On Your Sunblock, Guys”, was a little more reserved. You bet your ass I was in that second group.

The 8 of us boarded the raft and listened as our guide broke down the paddling instructions. It was simple enough. Both forward. Right forward, Left back. Right back, left forward. Everybody Down. As we practiced our confidence grew, and we soon decided that we too would be taking on those Class 5 rapids.

We didn’t have to wait too long to utilize our skills. Not even 10 minutes into the trip we were faced with a class 5 rapid. Our newly found courage was tested as we watched Team Extreme go first and promptly be flipped by the first set of rapids. We watched as our friends tumbled into the water and realized we were about to meet the same fate. Our guide yelled out instructions but to no avail as the rough waters flipped our boat and spilled out 8 overwhelmed tourists. I grabbed onto the rope line and held on tightly. As the water raged and swept us down the river, I looked into the wide eyed faces of my friends. A few were excited, but most were covered in fear. My concern immediately went out to Em, who doesn’t know how to swim. I called out for her and looked back to see a her gripping the boat, a bit bewildered but holding on with all her strength. Two of our members were underneath the overturned boat, calculating when to make the plunge to go back under the water and out of the darkness. Soon, I felt two hands grab my life jacket and lift me up onto the overturned boat. Our guide moved effortlessly as he went from person to person, pulling them out of danger. There just wasn’t enough time to get everyone out before we hit the second set of rapids, and he again yelled at us all to get down and hold on as our upside down raft was thrown about. The whole experience was likely just one or two minutes in length, but felt more like an eternity.

The rapids eventually died down, everyone was brought back into the raft, and our only casualties were some cuts, bruises and a lost oar. The adrenaline rushed through our bodies as we raised our oars and cheered our “success”. We gathered ourselves and began paddling down the river once again, ready for the next challenge.

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Southern Africa in Pictures : A Wet and Wild Zimbabwe

The final leg of my trip went down with a splash. Listening to the grass crunch against my shoes as we walked rhinos, gazing at cave drawings of ancient man, watching juvenile elephants stomp and trumpet at uninterested wildebeest, clinging to overturned rafts in the class 5 rapids of the Zambezi River, dining on cakes and scones at high tea, and sitting under the perpetual rains caused by the crashing waters of Victoria Falls.

Frankly, it’s hard to believe my time with the overland tour is done. Never have I experienced a time in my life that went by so slowly and quickly at the same time. The hours on the truck could drag on, but now that I look back, it’s as if it all went by in the blink of an eye.

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(Above: About as close to that rhino as I’m going to get. Not seen: My scampering away like a school girl when the rhino walked towards us.)

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(Above: Our fearless overland guide, Steve, taking in the ancient drawings of the bushmen.)

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(Above left: The group shows their excitement while seeing two lioness relaxing by the side of the road. Above right : A not nearly as relaxed Kudu)

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(Above: Me, when I get out of my tent in the morning. Or a buffalo. Not sure which.)

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(Above: Elephants. Lots and lots of elephants. I miss these guys. Still hoping one will walk by my window here in London.)

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(Above: Victoria Falls, in all it’s glory. It’s an odd feeling to be rained on when there isn’t a cloud in the sky.)

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(Above: The thrill seekers of the group after either bungee or canyon swinging. I sat safely on the bridge. All man, baby!)

Southern Africa in pictures: Beautiful Botswana

From land, water and air, we took in the sights of the Okavango Delta with gusto. Canoe rides through hippo filled waterways, helicopter rides over herds of zebra and giraffe and nature walks with hungry bull elephants.

The three days on the delta were home to some of my favorite memories on the trip. Star gazing with friends, boat races with near crashes, elephants shaking trees to gain access to otherwise unreachable treats, late night dancing and playful tent pranks (elephant poop in my tent? Well played, girls. Well played.)

Botswana was also home to the most amazing photo shoot of all time. Mustaches have never looked better.

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(Above: The mustachekateers. Couldn’t ask for better travel mates.)

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(Above: Another well framed shot.)

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(Above: I call this hair style the “I don’t own a comb or look in mirrors” look. It’s going to be huge.)

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(Above: Well hello, lion. I’ll just be going the other way now)

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(Above: Views from the helicopter over the delta. My first time on a helicopter, and it was unforgettable. One of the best highlights on the entire trip.)

 

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(Above: Twinsies.)

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(Above: Behind the scenes at the photo shoot. Look at that commitment. Such professionalism.)

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(Above: Boom. All you ladies are now pregnant.)

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(Above: Celebrating our photoshoot in the manliest way ever; Chest bumps.)

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(Above: A couple of wild hipsters we found.)

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(Above: Well, hello there. Lucas wins for best face.)

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(Above: Boy band album cover)

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(Above: I have no explanation for this. This one is just weird.)

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(Above: Sexy car wash time.)

Southern Africa in pictures: Everchanging Namibia

Our time in Namibia was spent exploring canyons, scaling red dunes at sunrise, searching for tiny critters in the cool sands of Swakopmund, hiking the towering mountains of Spitzkoppe, and stalking game at the water holes in Etosha National Park.

It was also spent in a truck. Driving. A lot.

Regrettably, my computer took some damage after a long night out at the bar and I won’t be able to access many pictures until someone can recover my files for me. Thankfully, I didn’t delete ALL of my photos from my SD card. Three cheers for procrastination!

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(Above: First night camping in South Africa with Phil, my tent mate. Amazing guy, but I do question his thought processing sometimes. The following conversation occurred very late one night:

Phil : “Pssssttt……Psssttt….Larry….there are animals outside our tent…what should we do?”.

He’s obviously very nervous. The animals were right up against our tent, sniffing about.

Me: “Go to back to sleep, it’s fine”.

I roll over and close my eyes. A minute later I hear a thwapping sound against the tent.

Me: “Did you just try to punch an animal through the tent?

Phil: ” Maybe…”

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(Above: Padi and I go exploring Fish River Canyon a bit on our own. It’s the second biggest canyon in the world, behind the Grand Canyon)

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(Above: I lost most of my good pictures of Sossusvlei, Namibia when my computer died. The pictures above don’t do it justice. We woke up early and hiked up Dune 45 to watch the sunrise over the vast emptiness before us.)

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(Above: I’d take this emergency exit anytime)

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(Above: What are the chances that I meet a Swiss guy who went to the Sharks-Canucks playoff games in San Jose this year? Evidently 100%.)

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(Above: The breathtaking Spitzkoppe peaks)

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(Above: Work it, Petey.)

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(Above: The animals of the sand dunes in Swakopmund. Life is everywhere, you just need to know where to look.)

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(Above: The seals of Cape Cross. The seal colony is the only place on our trip that smelled worse than our tent.)

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(Above: A very happy Tash after she makes fun of me for being homeless. What a gal!)

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(Above: 4 amazing mustaches)

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(Above: Is it me, or do I look like a failed Las Vegas Street Magician in this picture?)

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(Above: Honey Badger, he don’t care. It just takes what it wants)

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(Above: Dirt bath time. I tried this later that night. Doesn’t work as well on humans.)

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Just Six Words

Time to switch it up again. Inspired by a gift I received; below you will find six words for each day I’ve spent on my southern Africa overland trip so far. The six words might capture an overwhelming feeling I had, a specific moment in time, or just a general description of the day. Photo gallery to follow in about a week!

6/15 – Seeking inspiration on Cape Town streets

6/16 – Barreling over tarmac towards unknown memories

6/17 – Wishing it was two weeks ago

6/18 – Exploring canyons with child-like innocence

6/19 – Day time doubts, starry night resolve

6/20 – Conquering red dunes; road side yoga

6/21 – Spilling secrets for jackals to hear

6/22- Breaking out of self-imposed shells

6/23 – Sudden realization I am collecting sunsets

6/24 – Elephant thrills and big cat kills

6/25 – Endings weigh heavier than your beginnings

6/26 – Dirty Dancing at the Silent Disco

6/27 – Making plans for an Australian Christmas

6/28 – Mint chocolate was the final straw

6/29 – Roaming bone fields in flooded lands

6/30 – Pachyderms pounding plants; Botswanians belting beats

7/1 – Clear skies and dusty photo shoots

7/2 – Awkward proposition under a moonless sky