On day 9 of my southern African adventure I whitewater rafted in Zimbabwe.
I know, I can’t believe it either. I never thought I’d whitewater raft let alone do it in Africa. Here’s my story about the time I whitewater rafted in Zimbabwe. On the Zambezi River.
The Time I Whitewater Rafted in Zimbabwe
We started our day early. I can’t remember what time any more but it was early. Regardless of the time we were still late for our ride.
But it was Africa so we still got a ride through the town of Victoria Falls and towards the Zimbabwe/Zambia border to a 70m gorge, also known as Victoria Falls.
As I stared over the fence and down, down, down into the
raging white water abyss of death Zambezi River, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the notion that I was the dumbest person in the whole world and should go home immediately.
Liam said I was just nervous.
We were joined by two other people for our ride, two tour directors who were expert paddlers. As the three chatted about the wild rapids they’ve conquered in the past I debated how to respond.
I settled on being very silent and showing no fear. It was clear I would not be able to speak because my tears of petrification would escape my eyes.
Those of you who know Roste’s are well aware we wear our emotions on our cheeks. So when I say my plan of showing no fear by not speaking didn’t work very well, those of you who know a Roste know how well I kept that little secret.
I think it was after the safety chat ended I finally could breath without consciously reminding myself.
So I was teamed up for extreme white water rafting (fitting since I’ve never white water rapid-ed before. Ever. Not even as a joke. Not even in the bathtub.) with three experienced paddlers and two guides who like flipping. I’d like to stress again how scared I was.
But don’t worry, we still had to hike down the gorge and over to the actual Victoria Falls before I had to get in the boat.
The downhill hike was…well since I was so scared most of my muscles had atrophied and I was having problems moving quickly. Some of the “trail” had handrails, and some parts were a ladder. The Africans ran down ahead of me in bare feet. More than once I had to stop because I was too nervous to continue (thought I might fall over the cliff) but then I forced myself to keep going because of two reasons.
The two reasons I kept going
- Because other people were running down the gorge in bare feet and I couldn’t bear to be out-classed
- Because if I sat down and cried Liam might think I was scared
I think it took me 20 minutes to reach the launching point and I didn’t fall off any cliffs, so I was happy with my experience so far. Then I put on my helmet and life jacket, grabbed my left-handed paddle (did I mention the guides thought it was funny I was so nervous so they kept messing with me? Like by making me test all the paddles to get a left handed one? You’d think someone who has done the amount of canoeing that I’ve done in my life wouldn’t fall for something so dumb…) and climbed into the boat.
Colgate, our guide, started off by getting us to go over the different commands and made sure we were in sync before we went out of the eddy. Then we headed upstream to go under the falls. Since it was low season the massive waterfall was only a piddly stream of water, but it was still a really intense and amazing sight. We were told in high season, the falls strength is so powerful you can’t get near. So I felt really special.
Then Colgate told us we picked the best time to go rafting because all the rapids usually rated three and four were now rated four and five.
Rating six being a waterfall.
All my happy-happy-I’m-OK feelings evaporated and my heart rate increased 200 per cent. Show no fear. Don’t speak.
But, I was already in the boat. And I was pretty much determined to be hardcore and have this experience so I tried really hard to ignore my mind, body and spirit.
I’ve never been so afraid in my life
It was strange for me, since usually I’m a big fan of having adventures and pushing myself past my limits. So I felt vulnerable and nervous and scared and all sorts of uncomfortable things.
And then Colgate started tugging on my life jacket. Everyone got a big laugh at how every time he tightened a strap you could audibly hear air exit my lungs. He also gave me a second run-down on what to do if we flipped. Just in case I had forgotten.
Once I was locked in my jacket we started for Rapid One. I clearly remember fixing my gaze forward, strengthening my grip on my paddle and planting my feet firmly in position. I was now going white water rafting down the Zambezi River.
The next five hours are a complete blur. But there is a DVD. When I see it, I’ll let you know what happened.
Suffice to say it was a tough day for the duration. Each rapid was a challenge and I spent a lot of time in the water. It was difficult to keep up with the rest of the group but I did and I was really proud at my paddling skills. As well I didn’t fall out the most, which was also something I was pleased with.
One time I thought I was under water too long, but then I broke the surface so I suppose I was fine. The videographer told me later I let go first during that flip. He was disappointed with me, apparently, but I have no idea why. He also thought it was funny I had fallen out and stayed under for a while but still came up with my paddle.
We did nine rapids, I think, and then stopped for a quick power lunch before hiking back up the gorge. I was so exhausted I honestly didn’t think I could make it up. Probably a day of heavy exercise mixed with absolute terror and trepidation doesn’t make for high energy. Did I also mention I had just got my period that morning? That probably didn’t help either.
So I made sure to go slow. I let the Africans run up ahead of me in their bare feet. I also let one of the guides take all my gear and accompany me. I think he was afraid I would fall off the cliff.
The hike back
There weren’t any ladders on the hike up, and there weren’t any handrails either. It was slow going for me and I couldn’t even fake hardcore-ness (like I usually try to do). I was done.
So me and my guide trudged slooooooowly up the gorge and chatted about Zimbabwe. His story was sad. His country is in need and seems too unorganized to get ahead. He said he was desperate to live in another country but it was nearly impossible to get a passport and no one makes enough money for a plane ticket.
I was so engrossed with his story I barely noticed when my foot slipped and I started falling over the cliff. Actually it was more like a slow slide. But don’t worry, my guide caught me and pulled me back on to the path. Quite dodgy. I was really glad he was there.
At the top of the gorge I was rewarded with refreshments and a ride back to the hostel. I decided (and announced to our entire group) I was really glad I went on this trip and was really pleased and proud that I didn’t chicken out.
And all that is true. I think my face agreed with me.
Just so we’re clear, I didn’t take any of the photos featured in today’s post. Didn’t think my camera would survive the adventure. I think it was a good decision.