White Water Rafting The Zambezi
Victoria Falls Travel Blog› entry 11 of 18 › view all entries
I had chosen to go white water rafting today which started with a supplied breakfast of a bacon and egg sandwich at 8:00am. After that we were taken, by truck to the top of the Batoka gorge. From here we had to descend about 600m to the river below by foot whilst the rafting team carried all the equipment down. As the rafts were assembled we sat in anticipation on the rocks a few meters away from the river. We could see the first rapid we would attempt, a grade 3, and we watched as a group of kayakers made their way through it and carried on downstream.
Before getting into the raft we had a safety briefing during which we were told what to do in various situation. Then, we all jumped into the boat and took an ore. Our guide, Emmanuel said he wanted two strong boys at the front so I willingly volunteered before he told us that we had to work really hard to power the raft safely through the rapids. Before heading into the first rapid we practiced maneuvering the craft and some of the safety procedures, one of which was to crouch down and hold on tight when the rapids were really big.
We would cover a total of 24km which would take us through rapids 1 to 23. As some rapids were also split into a, b and c we would do 36 rapids in total, making it a full 5 hour trip down the river.
We got over the first rapid easily enough but I quickly learnt that it took a lot of effort to make the raft go where we wanted it to. I fell out on one of the early rapids and as I was thrown from the raft I felt sure that it had flipped. My mind raced as I went over what we had been told to do if we ended up under the raft but I soon surfaced to find most of the others still in the raft and they hauled me back in as I cleared my air passages of water. It turned out that the side of the raft that I was on had gone high up into the air and I had been flung out. This was the only time that I went overboard but there were plenty of other occasions where other people took a dive.
As each rapid came and went we all got better at balancing ourselfs on the boat and fell out less and less. The surge of adrenaline never slowed at the sight of an oncoming rapid rapid though. As the raft approaches a drop and all you see is a wall of water you just hand on with everything you have got. Then, as you are still been thrown around you here the voice of your guide shouting at you to get back up and paddle. We obliged as best we could knowing that it was important to maintain speed through the rapids to prevent the boat from flipping. During one particularly violent rapid one of the girls got hit on the shoulder with something so hard that it caused it to swell up straight away. She couldn't continue and had to sit in the safety boat, which took an easier line through the rapids. I also got hit in the lip with a paddle during the same rapid but it wasn't that bad. A little while later one of the boys went overboard and swallowed a lot of water and couldn't breath well enough to continue paddling, so he too had to sit in the safety boat for much of the distance.
We were all getting really hot in the raft and asked if we could take a swim. We had seen a few small crocodiles along the banks of the river but our guides assured us that they had never attacked a human before. With a mischievous smile Emmanuel guided the raft to the rocks, jumped out and signed for us to follow him. Only three of us did and he lead us up the rocks to about 6m above the river then told us to jump. There was no way to safely climb back down so with a gulp I stepped to the edge and jumped. The water was a perfect temperature and I swam a little way down stream before getting back into the boat.
There were other opportunities to swim, sometimes through the lower grade rapids, which was fun. At one point though, after swimming through a rapid I got caught in a current and ended up getting ahead of the raft. Emmanuel held his paddle out for me to grab but I missed it by a mere few millimeters as the current kept pulling me downstream. I knew I had to get onto the boat very quickly as there was a big rapid approaching. I could here it getting louder and louder and though I caught a glimpse of worry on Emmanuel's face, and at this point I was getting a little scare. I kept swimming towards the boat as hard as I could and they paddled towards me as hard as they could. Thankfully I got back into the boat but withing seconds of me sitting down we entered the rapid. A little close to comfort that time.
We continued our way downstream, smiling where possible for the camera. It was really hard work and towards the end there was a lot of paddling to be done as the water speed was fairly slow. I was shattered by the time we landed on the beach, where we got into a cable car (after signing an exemption form) for a seven and a half minute ride to the top of the gorge. None of the guides seemed to be worried by the fact that the doors were wide open all the way up...
At the top we were provided with food, which tasted great although after five hours of hard paddling I could have easily eaten three times as much. We were then treated to ice cold drinks on the drive home.