A quick note have discovered i can copy and paste from Yahoo which has spell check just in case you thought my dyslexia had been miraculously cured by the African sun don't panic i am still close to illiterate.
Canoeing down the Zambezi.
Well ladies and gents this was to prove the most terrifying experience of my life but amazing so get a cup of tea and sit down for the ride!!!
I will start at the beginning we got up early of course and were split up into teams jules steph and i were in a 3 man canoe much to our delight. Then came the safety briefing our guide a Zimbabwean guy called Ceebee with a beaming smile " there are 4 dangers on the Zambezi.
1) submerged trees (okay no worries you can tell by the way the water moves where they are)
2) floating pics of wood (no worries can see them right i know he is building up to something here )3) hippos they will attack canoes is they are surprised we try and give them a wide birth but we cant always see them so they are very dangerous but don't worry guys they are herbivores !!!! ( herbivores they may be but i don't want to be "surprising the animal which kills more people per year than any other animal in Africa thanks very much!!!) and here we go he is building up to the big one...
4) CROCS they are dangerous don't dangle your toes fingers or any other part of you in the water as they will attack if hungry!!! but don't worry guys they are shy animals and will usually dive for deep water when they see us if they are on the bank and we approach they will enter the water and look like they are swimming towards you but they are heading for deep water not for you ( okay so i have trouble with 2 parts of that statement a) they USUALLY dive for deep water what if they are hungry and fancy a bit too eat do you think cos i am big i am only a tasty snack for large crocs and the smaller ones will be intimidated by me so leave me alone or does my size just make me a tastier morsel to any passing croc big or small)
He then went into the capsize routine "if in the unfortunate event you do capsize DON'T panic do not grab hold of any other canoes because you will capsize them too and cause an even worse situation. If you are within 2-10 meters of shore swim to shore if you are 10m away from shore await rescue. life-jackets are available for you to use but it is really too hot if you can swim its up too you if you wear them. ( my thoughts were re the swimming to shore what if there is a croc or hippo in the reeds and by swimming to shore you walk straight into it or what if you are too heavy to be pulled into the canoe from the water and does wearing a life jacket prevent a croc from pulling under as easily thus increase your chance of survival it certainly would give you a bit more padding if one got you round your middle!!) Then Ceebee gave us a flash of his lovely smile and we were off.
it was decided that i would steer because i had previous canoeing experience having navigated the dangers of the River Wye last summer with sarah and dan.
We were launched into the fast flowing tributary of the Zambezi no obvious crocs or hippos but you can never be sure just the wash of a speed boat to throw you in. once we were all launched we set off down toward the main zambezi negotiation one pod of hippos on the way it soon became obvious our boat was a well oiled machine in comparison to some of the others who were doing the mzungo spin down the river but our danger was not from our paddling but from other out of control canoes broadsiding us and pushing us all into the water. We soon became experts of the handbrake turn, the emergency stop and the sprint start to get out of danger but some times they came from all sides ao steph and jules would push them away with their paddles well done girlies.
Later we kyack straight over a massive croc lying under the boat maybe 6ft long after i saw that i resolved never to look down again. There were lots of hippos grunting in the water then one yawned practically dislocating his jaw a normal sized person could have stood up between his incisors. We stopped after a few hrs for a swim. It was about 40 degrees and we were hot our guides assured us that it was perfectly safe to paddle in shallow water as crocs attack where they can easily drag you down to deep water. Initially i thought i would not swim but then the draw of the cool water got the better of me esp as those of us in our party who could not swim were having a good old fashioned water fight. So is stripped off to my pink knickers and bra and got in the lovely cool water only to be surrounded by my mates and the guides drenching me with water we are all big kids at heart huh.
We then continued on our paddle and stopped on the Zimbabwean side of the bank to collect fire wood for that night's camp fire. i asked the guide if was safe to illegally collect fire wood in zim he assured me that although any fishermen found here from zambia would and are arrested by the zim parks authority that if we see them coming we would launch our canoes and paddle rapidly out of there now our little well oiled dream team canoe would be fine but i could see others of our partys just spinning in the Zimbabwean shallows till they were picked up.
We got further up the river by now on the mighty Zambezi which is a very wide river, the wind had really picked up and the waves were nearly lapping over the side of the boat so we stopped on an island for some R+R and possibly lunch if the wind did not die down. previously we saw a group of elephants further along this long thin island. We were at the northern tip the eles were probably 1 mile down stream or so we thought. we got all the seat covers out of the canoes and lay down under the trees for a kip. We were disturbed from our rest by one of our gang who had noticed some elephants not too far away so one of the guides got up to go over to the main group to have a look. one stayed with me and a guy called kyle under a tree the others could not have been more than 30m up the bank. Suddenly a elephant was on top of us our guide gestured for us to hide down by the bank so i duely moved down there and crouched between the bank and the canoes kyle slept. The ele must have been 10m away just staring at us the problem with eles is they have very padded feet so often you cant hear them coming and the bush was thick so you could not hear them. the other group gestured to us that we were surrounded by 50 yes 50 eles. We moved back under the tree when it seemed that the danger had passed but within 5mins a huge bull elephant came throught the bushes and kept coming til he was withing 5m from us our guide tol us to roll up into a ball on the floor but at this point kyle sits bolt upright and says "there is no danger from these elephants" what a total and utter idiot i could ahve thrown him to the corcs and my guide wanted to trottle him. you NEVER NEVER ignore what a african guide tells you to do in the bush the ele just stood there flapping his ears at us and after what felt like and eternity he backed off. wow was that scarey. we had to sit it out until all the eles had passed and then we watched as all 50 swam across the zambezi to shore amazing. After lunch the wind died down and we canoes to an island to camp on the beach. we cooked and then fell into our tents it was difficult to sleep with eles behind you and hippos and crocs in the water and their tracks from last night in the sand. We woke at 5am at dawn to a mother and baby ele outside the tent.
That day we continued our canoe down the river avoiding the beasties and stopping for swimming along the way we saw lots of eles hippos and we canoes right over a massive croc at least 6m long just lying on the river bed with maybe 1m of wate between us and it. in the late afternoon we stopped to get beer from a lodge along the way and i was sitting next to a 3 way radio the guides were carrying it crackled into life and the message came through " Mayday Mayday 15 yr old boy has been taken by a croc at ....... mayday. the reply a womans vioce "Oh my god i will inform the wildlife services" i just sat there absolutley dumbstuck. a 15yr local boy had been on the river bank and a huge croc had grabbed him and ate him. then i had to get back into the canoe to go to another island and camp on the beach. did not see any crocs but plenty of hippos. The camping spot was stunning esp as there were big forest fires lighting up the opposite bank.
In the morning when we eventually got back to camp after a short canoe, 2 flat tyres and a chat with a zambian grandma who spoke no english. i was talking to the owners of the camp site they told me what had happened to the boy ie dead and hundreds of croc attack human stories apparently 8 people had been eaten that year already on that streach of river and a 28yr old american girl had been pulled from her canoe and eated by a massive croc infront of her father and he had insisted on shotting 7 to find her body which he did inside a huge croc. they said they would never go on the zambezi in a canoe and i agree neither would i ever again. but i am glad i did and most of all that i survived will tell you all other croc stories when i see you xxxxx