That’s really all I can say about Zambia.
I’ve been looking forward to this vacation for months; I was ready to swim in Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls. I was excited for all the free mangoes that would be falling off the trees. I was ready to go buy some Chetenge (local cloth that you just wrap around yourself to make a skirt and/or dress) (pronounced: Che-teng-gay). I was ready for open air markets and passing through small villages with mud huts. Basically, I was ready for the African experience I initially imagined when I was told I’d be doing Peace Corps in Africa.
And it was all of that and so much more!
When planning our trip to Zambia, our only the only activity we planned ahead of time was to go to Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls. In case you aren’t up to date on your 7 Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls is one of them. Google it and you’ll see why. Devil’s Pool is a small pool right at the edge of the falls that has some special rock formation that allows you to swim in it without being swept over the edge. I was a little wary at first because considering how clumsy I am, it didn’t seem like a good idea to tempt death by literally swimming to the edge of a waterfall. But since I can’t let the fear of clumsily dying stop me from all exciting activities in life, I decided to go anyway. It was AMAZING! We took a boat to Livingstone Island, which is right at the edge of the falls, and from there our guide led us around the island to Devil’s Pool. We then had to do a combination of swimming and climbing on slippery rocks to get to the pool. Not only did I not get swept away while swimming, but I also didn’t fall once on the rocks! Be proud. Once we finally got to the pool, it was terrifying but exhilarating. The guide held our feet while we dangled off the edge of the falls. After about 5 seconds of that, my nerves were shot and I was pretty sure I shouldn’t tempt fate too much, so he pulled me back. But it was absolutely the BEST.
We were being given specific directions of where to swim so we didn’t get swept over the falls.
Just chilling in Devil’s Pool. No big deal.
This is where I tempt fate and don’t die!
Not getting swept off of Victoria Falls hiked up my confidence, so when it was suggested that we do White Water Rafting the next day, I was all in! When we arrived at the quick orientation before we headed down the gorge to get to the rapids, we started to realize what we were in for. First of all, the safety orientation was intense. We had to learn all these ways to successfully fall out of the raft and how to let people rescue us. Basically we had to learn how not to die in the water. That should have been our clue that this was going to be intense. When we got to the rapids (after climbing down a slippery gorge in the rain, which was a death defying stunt for me in itself), the first rapid was a level 5. Apparently it’s one of the hardest on the river to complete without losing some people or capsizing. And we didn’t want to ruin its odds, so on our first attempt I was thrown out of the raft, only to get trapped in the extremely narrow space between the raft and the rocks the rapid was trying to crash the raft into. Luckily for me, our amazingly buff and seasoned guide – Steve – pulled me back into the raft. Unluckily for me, we then decided to attempt the rapid again. This time, however, the whole raft decided to capsize instead of just throwing me out. Instead of following the golden rule of always grabbing the raft when you’ve capsized, I grabbed my friend and we happily just started floating down the river together. The safety kayakers (who stayed with us the whole time so they could rescue us each time we fell out) saved us and brought us back to the raft, where we got back in and headed to rapid #2.
Yup, that’s me on the bottom right being thrown out.
And this is our second attempt at the same rapid.
It was an accurate introduction to the rest of our day.
Did I mention we went through 25 rapids that day?
Of the 25 rapids, we capsized 3 times, and I fell out that extra time on our first rapid. Maybe that sounds like good odds, but the kayakers kept talking about how we were capsizing really violently and they hadn’t seen such dedication to spending as much time out of the raft as possible in a long time.
During the course of the day we learned many things that probably would have affected my decision to white water raft if I had known about them before signing up:
1). The Zambezi River is classified as Level 5 (out of 6) (for danger and difficulty)
2). In America, you need to be certified to go down Level 5 rapids. We went down 5 of them. I now feel like I’m certified since I didn’t die.
3). It is not uncommon to have injuries occur, such as dislocated shoulders, broken bones, and sprained limbs. In fact, we had the special boat with a stretcher on the back just in case someone broke their back.
4). It was raining the whole day. While we thought it would make the rapids more gentle, in actuality it did just the opposite. It made them very angry.
5). The rain also spurred rock slides. While we didn’t see any that were too dangerous, we were told by some kayakers that if we had succeeded in getting through the first rapid right away, we would have seen the giant rock slide at rapid #2 that went halfway across the river and most likely would have taken out our boat.
Looking back, rafting was amazing, exhilarating, terrifying, and the biggest thrill of my life. At the time, rafting was the death of me. The worst capsize by far was our last one. By that one I was more comfortable with being in the water. I knew where to grab the raft so that I wasn’t being smashed by waves. I knew how to dodge rocks. And I was more comfortable with being punched in the face by rapids that kept trying to pull me to the bottom of the river. However, our last capsize happened at the very beginning of the rapid. I bought the video of the experience because there really is no other way to convince people I did this and that it was hardcore, and if you watch it, you’ll see that we’re in the rapid for no more than two seconds before we flip. That meant that we got to swim the rest of the rapid. Swimming through rapids is not fun. Especially not when you’re holding onto a raft that keeps punching you in the face.
Luckily, after that last capsize we had a lunch break. Of course by that time, our raft was no longer happy-go-lucky, and we had stopped singing out rowing song (Rowing, Rowing, Rowing Down the River…). I’m pretty sure we were in shock.
Team Steve before we started rafting!
Team Steve after a day of rafting. If you look close enough you can see our exhausted, forced smiles and the haunted look in our eyes.
But luckily, after lunch Steve successfully guided us through the rest of the rapids without any more capsizing. That day when we finally got back to the backpackers where we were staying, my legs looked like someone had beat them with a stick. We all were walking like 80 year old women, every body part was sore, and we looked like we had lost multiple fights. But we survived.
So what I learned from my epic white water rafting adventure is: When people in Africa make you sign waivers to release them of responsibility in case you die, it’s a super big deal. That does no normally happen. So take it seriously!
After our action packed couple of days, and because every possible body part was sore, we decided to take it easy the next couple of days. And since it decided to start nonstop raining, it was very easy to do just that. We met a lot of really cool people at the Backpackers we were staying at, including some PC Volunteers from Namibia. It was so cool to get to hang out with them and share our collective weirdness. We also got to go to an open air market where I bought more fabric for Chetenges than I could ever use. And the rain storms shook the mangoes off of the trees, allowing us constant access to their deliciousness.
Shopping at a crafts’ market
When it was finally time to say goodbye to Zambia, I was definitely sad. But at the same time, I was so ready to be home in Botswana. I was ready to no longer be constantly damp. I was ready for my clothes to no longer be constantly damp. I was ready to be able to speak the little Setswana I know to the locals. I was ready to not have to think in kwacha and go back to pulas (currency). I was ready to be home, in my house in my bed.
All vacations have to end, and I think this one ended at the perfect time.
So I consider this a successful vacation. I didn’t die, even though I tempted death many times. And I was ready to come home.
Next up: Cape Town for New Years!
I hope you’re all having a fantastic holiday season! I’m envious of the Peppermint Mochas you get to drink and the sweaters you’re wearing while you hide out from blizzards. Enjoy it!