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    • Day 54

      Victoria Falls Day 4

      January 17, 2020 in Zimbabwe ⋅ ☁️ 26 °C

      The activities at Victoria Falls kept coming thick and fast - I made another early start for my first experience of white water rafting. After a light breakfast, seven of us Oasis Overland travellers (Scott, Lauren, Vincent, Ian, Kristin, Tigger, Brian) boarded a large safari vehicle along with about 12 other tourists and travellers. We drove to the Lookout Cafe where we were given a thorough safety debriefing and signed the usual legal disclaimer forms. We headed out into the national park for several kilometres and parked up at buildings high huge Zambezi river gorge. We were given our helmets, paddles, and life jackets and then had a long, steep and slippery trek all the way down to the bottom of the gorge. The seven of us Oasis Overlanders all boarded the same big white water inflatable raft. We set out onto the water, with incredible views of the tree filled, almost vertical, hundred metre high gorge. We were on a huge bend in the gorge. The guide gave us all some quick tuition paddling the boat, how to hang on to the raft by holding onto the side rope, and what to do of we went for the 'short' swim - one person goes overboard and needs pulling back on - or the long swim - the whole boat goes over and everyone needs to climb back on. I was feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension as I had never done this before and wasn't sure how difficult it would be to stay on the boat. We then set off down the river gorge with two other boats and several kayaker guides who rode each rapid first and then waited at the end of the rapids to pick up any people who got flipped out of their boat. Our guide explained that we would be shooting rapids numbered 11-24 so we would be shooting 13 rapids - unlucky for some! We hit the first rapid which was a grade 2 rapid (grade 0 = easy - grade 5 = very hard). We rode through the wild water and river waves pushing us up and down and buffeting us from side to side. We kept paddling and made it through with the guide shouting instructions about when to paddle and when to stop paddling. I felt a wonderful exhilaration riding the rapids and feeling the warm river water surging over me. The river gorge sides seemed impossibly high and the view was just astonishing. We then approached a more scary grade 4 rapids. These rapids really tested our metal as we received a strong wave from the side which sent us all sideways and nearly tipped thr boat over. We made it through and the adrenaline fuelled sense of exhilaration was even stronger. The pointed out a small crocodile basking on a rock by the river as we paddled past in calmer waters. We passed a couple more smaller rapids and then approached a grade 5 rapid called the 'Washing Machine'. There was a hole in the waters that we had to avoid to prevent the boat capsiziog. If the guide shouted 'get down's we had to hunker down and hold the. side rope for fear life. Once again our boat was tossed around by the surging and swelling river waves, but we were now paddling better as a team through the rapids and we made it through without too much danger. Next we had two grade 4 rapids in close succession called 'Terminator 1 and 2'. This was the most challenging rapids we experienced. The river waves we faced were enormous. The front of the boat went low down into the water and then smashed up high into the waves. We then got a big impact on the left hand side by a wave which nearly knocked a few people out the boat. The guide kept turning the boat around during the rapids to get us to wave to another guide on the bank who was taking a video of all of us rafting. We next approached grade 2 rapid. The first boat through managed to capsize and all the occupants were tossed out and had to pull themselves back into the boat after it had been righted. We had long stretches of calm water where we could paddle gently and admire the spectacular gorge scenery. We passed some lovely yellow sand river beaches where you could camp on a 5 day trip down the Zambezi gorges. Some people voluntarily jumped into the river for a swim at the calmer points on the river. We continued to ride the rapids all the way to rapid number 24. I absolutely loved my first experience of white water rafting and being in such an ancient and awe inspiring place as the Zambezi river gorges leading away from the falls. We saw another larger crocodile basking with its jaws open on a rock just before we paddled our boats into the river bank for the long, steep, rocky and exhausting climb back up to the the top of the river gorge. We were served lunch and drinks at the top, before reboarding our safari vehicle and returning through the national park and back to our campsite.
      It was time for the next stage of my last adventurous day at Victoria Falls. I walked up to see Joy at the Backpackers who organised all our activities for Victoria Falls to see if it would be possible to re-book my helicopter flight that got cancelled the previous day. Joy said that there had been no flights earlier that day due to the bad weather but that they had just re-started flights and managed to book me on the next flight. I was picked up at the campsite reception and driven to the airport for the flight. We picked up two Dutch men along the way who I would be sharing the flight with. However, the storm clouds were gathering again and it looked like it would inevitably rain again soon. We arrived at the airport and went through the checking in procedures and safety briefing. It was going to be touch and go as to whether the flight would go ahead. The helicopter landed and, to my relief, we were ushered out to the helicopter. My light weight was to my advantage compared to the large Dutch men as I was invited to sit in the front seat for better weight distribution. I therefore had an all around view for the flight and could even see through a window on the floor of the helicopter. We put on our flight helmets and seat belts and the pilot gently manoeuvred the helicopter into the air. I had never been in a helicopter before and it was a majestic feeling to rise up into the air and head towards the Victoria Falls. I could the great Zambezi river gorge stretching out across the national park which was filled with trees as far as the eye could see. We approached the falls which was shining with the white water coming over the falls even though rain was approaching. The falls seemed impossibly long and the gorge strangely narrow following a great cleft in the bedrock was created by volcanic activity over 200 million years ago. The helicopter made several passes over the falls so that I could see them from every angle. I could see the water coming over the edge of the falls right along their length and see the great swirls of mist rising above the great gorge. I could look down on Livingstone island and see the Devil's Pool that we swam out to - it looked even more of a terrifying drop from above. It was a truly mesmerising sight and a wonderful way to take in the sheer magnitude of this wonder of nature. After what seemed like a lot longer than the actual 15 minute flight we returned over the national park and back to the airport. The pilot pointed out elephants wandering and giraffe feeding on trees as we flew back and it was amazing to see these animals from the air. The pilot slowly landed the helicopter and I ducked under the rotating blades and returned to the airport buildings exhilarated by what I'd seen during the flight. We were driven back to our campsites and I took in the experiences of the day.
      I then showered and rested before going our for a group meal with my fellow travellers where I indulged in some celebratory cocktails (strawberry mojitos).. We then moved on to a late bar at a backpackers hostel where, after dancing a bit to the music, I finally ran out of all energy and returned to the campsite to get some well needed sleep before another busy day travelling to Chobe Wildife park in Botswana.
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