A Long Day of Rafting: Dec-10-2013

Victoria Falls Hotel
It's currently just before 4:00pm and I'm enjoying a cup of tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel.  It's a very nice colonial style hotel with a wonderful view of the bridge (leading from Zimbabwe, to Zambia).  I was just checking out the town and wanted to see this hotel, since everyone reaves about it...however it's not even close to the Royal Livingstone in Zambia.

My morning started at 6:00 when I woke up with a vivid dream--a side effect of my Malaria meds.  I enjoyed a light breakfast of 3 pieces of toast and some orange juice.  There are 2 (or three?) rafting companies and my hotel owns one of them-Vic Falls Adventures.  The rate was very reasonable as we went through nearly 20 rapids, had a feast with beer at the end and transportation was provided to/from my hotel.

There ended up being 14 of us going rafting today.  I was the only one from my hotel...the rest were split between two other places.  Everyone was bussed to the lodge I happened to be be staying at-the rafting staff work around the lodge.  We were given very comical intro by a guy in dreads and Rasta-like gear.  He explained how we should hold onto the rescue canoes should we find ourselves being thrown from our raft, how to swim while kicking away nearby crocs, and other such safety-related things.  We all signed forms limiting the companies liability and waited for the truck to take us to go rafting.

I found out that 8 of the 14 in the group had just finished their Intrepid tour.  Their tour was very similar to mine but started in Kenya and went south, ending in Vic Falls.  They all seemed to love their experience but said some days were VERY long on the truck.  That Intrepid trip only had 8 people--those on the rafting trip.  My Nomad tour should have 18, but we'll find out tomorrow bright and early.

There were 3 others from Holland, and two native-born Zims--both white.  One is currently living in the Cayman Islands and was in Zimbabwe looking for properties as he wanted to move back.  The other guy, Rob, was born and raised in Zimbabwe.  We talked a bunch about his life--I found his life very unique.  He quit it job a couple months ago to go traveling.  The man from the Cayman Islands must have been 60+, but it's hard to say for sure as he gets a shit ton of sun and smokes like a chimney.

The majority of people on the Intrepid tour were Aussies, Two were Kiwis, 1 was a swiss.  Of the 8, 6 of them were couples, which is very unusual for that type of Intrepid tour....though when I was in South East Asia there were 2 couples traveling along.

We took a short ride and split into two groups, a group of 6 and another of 8.  I was in the group of 6, as the other group was simply the Intrepid group.  We got out helmets and lifejackets and headed down a very steep climb down towards the river.  We were at the top of the gorge and had a 700+ foot descent.  We were all drenched in sweat when we finally got to the bottom.  The fact that there were extremely steep and rusted-out panels for steps didn't make anything any easier....but the majority of the way we were forced to negotiate our path using the natural rocky formations.  We waited 20-30 minutes until our rafts were inflated.  There were 4 total rafts going out...two with our company and two with another company.

Rafting Down the Great Zambezi River, Zimbabwe

There were so many people helping set everything up.  A bunch of young shirtless locals working very hard did labor long since made obsolete in the developed world for meager salary.  Labor is so cheap that it's more cost effective to have 20 people working to carry and inflate the rafts than having 1 or 2 people and an automatic pump.  Minus 1 for efficiency BUT a big plus 1 for unemployment reduction.  Sort of reminds me of how New Jersey has employees that pump your gas for you.  Useless, yes....BUT it does reduce unemployment and keep people off the street....hint, hint Obama....seems better than welfare!

We were finally on the river by 9 or so.  The sun was blazing...my triceps/biceps got a little burned even after using waterproof 50 SPF sunblock and reapplying 3 times throughout the day.  The rapids were.....well...FUCKING INTENSE.  I've only gone white water rafting on class 5 rapids one other time, in West Virginia, and compared to what I experienced this morning/afternoon the West Virginia rapids were child's play.  Honestly, very few times in my life can I say I have felt looming death.  I've been on small airplanes that drop suddenly in the air.  It's a scary feeling but even that intense reaction soon diminishes and eventually vanishes---I'm using the word vanishes because I am not sure how to spell disappear.  I will explain my experience shortly--I try to keep these stories linear, it's the curse of being extremely logical.

There are a many rapids on the Great Zambezi and they are numbered 1 through 24.  In the 'low' season--dry season--we raft rapids 1-19.  On the 'high' season--water levels raise by ~30-50ft--we raft rapids 11-24.  Rafting in the low season is much more intense and the guides try to keep the rapids 1-9 open as long as they can, but they have certain indicators as to when they should stop running them.  These indicators are not the calibrated depth gauges one would likely use in a 1st world nation.  These guides look at certain river/rock formations and notice when they start changing (e.g. certain vortexes are too strong/week, hidden pools get covered up, etc.)

Rapid number 8 was extremely intense and our guide told us it was likely we could capsize (flip our boat).  We did.  Some got thrown from the raft and had to endure the rapid on their own--not holding onto the raft.  The rest of us climbed onto the top of the upside-down raft and finished the rapid #8 before flipping it back upright.  There were half a dozen kayakers going down the rapids alongside us solely for our protection.  They would paddle over to rafters who were off the raft.

Rapid #8 today caused all 4 rafts to either capsize or loose all their rafters.  This rapid was a 10m drop.  That's 33 feet.  One cannot emphasize enough how fucking large these rapids were.  These are amung the biggest in the world...AND we went when they were at their most brutal.

Some of the class 3 rapids were also pretty rough, there were only 3 or 4 class 4 rapids.  Some rapids were a series of 2 or 3 smaller rapids, but in America each of these 'mini' rapids would be the sole attraction in many states.  I remember Rapids 12a, 12b, and 12c--they were class 1, 2, and 4 respectively.  There were referred to as the 3 sisters.  Then came rapid #13.  Fuck you Rapid #13.  Sorry for the foul mouth...but when you hear how she treated me, you'll understand where I am coming from.

Rapid #13 was called "The Angry Mother" and she's brutal.  Our guide took 5 minutes telling us about the course we wanted to take, where to swim towards (and where to avoid) if we were thrown from the raft.  Each raft had it's own river guide, which is standard for white water rafting trips.  They helped direct the raft from behind and gave orders for us to help get through the rapids.  There were cameramen and videomen along the rocks on some of the larger class 5 rapids.  Our guide would point them out and say, "look at the cameraman and wave".

I was still waving when apparently he had told us all to "GET DOWN".  'Get Down' means stop paddling, get off the side of the raft, tuck your body inside and grab the rope along the side with both arms.  Even though everyone was thrown from the raft, I was just getting my hands on the ropes when I was thrown (because I was too busy waving to the goddamn camera).

Typically when one is thrown from the raft one can see where he or she is in relation to the rapid.  This helps one to decide where one needs to be, and when to take a breath so one could have enough O2 to 'just go with it' if being submerged is imminent.  All of this went out the door when that bitch--Angry Mother-- destroyed me.  Rapid #13 was not only a large class 5, but also a long one...meaning it wasn't just a few large jolts and then smooth water.  It was rough for what had to be nearly a 80 feet...maybe more?  I was thrown just as we entered the rapids as most people were, but I had no chance to prepare.

I have to pay for my tea and get over to the Vic Falls Adventure Agency Office in town to watch the video from today.  Usually watch it at my hotel, but since I was the only one there who went on the rafting I just said I will come to the office and spare everyone else the trip.

The video was pretty good.  I gave Rob, from Zimbabwe, $10 and he said he would rip it and post it on Dropbox for me.  They wanted $35 for the video and $25 for the pictures, or $50 for both.  Yikes!

I was thrown from the raft and didn't know which way was up.  Even though I had a lifejacket on, the rapids were too strong and I just couldn't find air.  The other guide had said count to three and don't panic.  If you've gotten to three and you still have not gotten your head above water then you're in trouble.  I wasn't counting but it seemed like 20 seconds.  Was probably more like 10, but it was scary either way.  I had the boat on top of me for a little bit...though I have no Idea for how long since I couldn't open my eyes and I no part of me was above water.  I had no clue which way was up...Thanks vestibular system, where were you when I needed you most?

I finally found air and took a big breath...but it was only half air, the other half was the Great Zembeze River.  I knew I was supposed to swim right, out of harms way.  I tried but the current was so strong I felt like I was making little/no progress.  I started to swim left towards a rock formation.  At this point all I wanted was to grab onto something.  The guys in the kayaks well yelling and pointing at me so I ditched the rock and started to swim right again.  A kayak came to get me and I wrapped my arms and legs around the bottom portion of the front of the kayak (as we were instructed) and let him take me back to the other raft.  Once we caught up to my original raft I rejoined my initial group.

I was NOT up for rafting any more, but my choices were limited....ACTUALLY I only had one choice...Keep Rafting!  There were only 4 or so class 4/5 remaining.  I wasn't as eager to wave to the cameraman after Angry Mother, Rapid #13.  One of the Aussies on the other raft has a similar 'bad experience' on that rapid.  She was under for a while and thought she was doomed.  She also hurt her leg pretty bad.  Though it was probably just a soft tissue injury.

These rapids were rough but there are safe elements.  The guides go down 7 days a week and have been doing it for years.  Also, even during low waters, the depth ranges from 30 to over 60-80 meters at some places.  This means we're 'less' likely to smack our heads/bodies against rocks under the water's surface.

The crocodiles were small.  We only saw one, and it was just over 2 feet...maybe 30 inches?  This was according to the guide who got a closer glance.  The larger crocodiles that fall over the falls die, but the small ones survive.  We saw a few local Zambians fishing and cooking the fish along the river.  They catch and cook the fish along the river and then bring them back into town to fry.  We also saw a pair of small elk (or deer-like animals).  The most amazing site was the dozens and dozens of baboons we saw along the Zimbabwe side of the gorge.  There were young baboons the size of Dexter playing with eachother...so adorable!

Our guide told us they are "nasty" animals.  He then followed up with a story of a time he accidentally left his window unlocked at his house.  Baboons had opened the windows, entered his house, and made a complete mess of everything.  They even shit in his bed.

The walk back to the top was a long one.  It was equivolent to walking up 70 flights of stairs...thanks internet!  They had warned us about the steep climb up.  To be continued...having drinks at my hotel with German guy!

Ok, back now!  Had drinks with German guy and Dutch girl....she looked a bit like Megan Fox... ;)!  I also talked with one of the rafting guides for a bit.  He was telling me sometimes he goes out 28 times a month.  He's been doing this for 18 years.  There have been 2 guides that have died and handful of tourists.  He was telling me one horrible story where there was this couple rafting together...the man loosened his girlfriend's lifejacket becuase she was complaining about it being too tight.  They both went over and she didn't come up for 3 days.

The guide has been dating his girlfriend for 6 years.  I asked if she ever came rafting with him and he said no.  He said black people, especially women don't like the water.  I found that interesting...even in Africa!

Been a long day, and I'm going to shower, try to head out for dinner somewhere other than my hotel and unwind a bit before my 14 hour carride tomorrow.  I meet up with my group/tour tomorrow morning.

I'll touch base with you later...

JUST AN FYI, this will be my last night staying in a hotel (w/ wifi). So You may not receive my postings until some time...1, 2, 3 weeks?  I'll try to post them when I'm in Zanzibar though!

Oh, an intersting note, the Megan Fox chick is also working with the "Lion Walk" and she was telling me how she helped prep the meat.  She cut apart a donkey that was still warm from the kill.  This Friday will be the first time she has to kill a chicken herself.