Across Africa on 4 wheels | Part 2

HELLO | HALLO | BWANJI | MONI | OLA

My Put Foot Rally adventure continues as we left the sea of sand in Namibia to the sea of ranging water on the Zambezi.

As we drove into Zambia, the character of the land suddenly changed into open grassy land with plenty of trees, a sight not often seen in Namibia. We headed straight to the mighty Zambezi River in Livingstone for our second check point party, Zombia Zambia. Well we didn’t head straight there; thanks to our not so trusty GPS, the man (no, not a lady) inside the GPS took us to a road that does not exist in the middle of a township. Thankfully as a South African, the idea of getting stuck in an African township in the dark is not a completely foreign experience. Although it was still a bit nerve racking as we turned onto a dirt road with tin houses pressed against each other right next to the road that seemed to get narrower and not very drivable. People stopped what they were doing and stared blankly at us as we drove past, I don’t know if it was the fact that we had a buffalo head stuck to the front of our car or the fact that we were driving down the road which could have actually been a foot path. Eventually we got to the end of the road as the last bit of sunlight disappeared and did a u-turn in the open grassy patch. A friendly local came out to ask if we were lost but the friendly situation quickly turned into a not so friendly situation where we may or may not have driven over a cat. With his accent we thought he said we drove over his ‘kid’. Our hearts stopped and tension filled the car until I turned around and saw a cat walk away. My heart went from completely stopped to pumping really fast. The local got all defensive and told us to get out of the car, my palms got clammy, my heart pounded and my breathing started to speed up as I thought about everything that could go wrong. We were in such a vulnerable place; deep in a township, in the dark and in a foreign country with no money. After apologising and giving him what money we had, he let us go. We locked all the doors and drove out of the township as fast as we could as our adrenaline pumped through our veins. Once we got to the check point party we didn’t even need to get into our zombie costumes, because after travelling the whole day, being stuck at the border and in a township we already looked like zombies. After a combination of a great meal, team mates joking around and the DJ playing good music we got back into the spirit.

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Day 2 in Zambia was our extreme rest day where we decided to go white river rafting down the Zambezi. I wasn’t too keen on doing it, but everyone else was so I wasn’t going to say no. I’ve always heard people describe rafting as fun. I crave adventure and have done lots of adventurous things like skydiving, rock climbing, jumping off cliffs but when it comes to water sports, I believe the odds are against me, because how can you control raging water? But anyway I hadn’t done something adrenaline pumping in a while (Except for the whole cat thing in the township, but that doesn’t count). The Zambezi River rapids are regarded as some of the best in the world. People from all over the world come to raft the monstrous surge of water, classed from 1 to 6 (1 being the easiest and 6 being commercial suicide), so how could I miss this opportunity. After suiting up in our life jackets and helmets we were given a pre- trip safety talk. The raft leader told us everything that could go wrong and how to survive them, So that if someone fell out of the raft we knew what to do (Wait, someone is gonna fall out?). Usually the leaders tell us all the scary stuff just because they have to, but it doesn’t often happen, I think we did everything he told us except call a helicopter (although it did cross my mind).

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In teams of 8 we all jumped into the big yellow rafts and our guide lead us through some of the drills as we practiced them on some of the small rapids. As we went down a small rapid we laughed and high fived each other when we got to quieter water. The next team went down the rapid and 2 people fell off and within a split second they were no where to be seen, it made me second guess myself because I swear I just saw 2 people fall in but nobody had come back up. About 15 seconds later they popped up and we grabbed a hold of one and pulled her into our raft. She lay on the bottom of the raft and coughed as she gasped for air with a petrified look on her face. We hadn’t even started the rafting and 2 people almost died, I was ready to get out and walk back to the car. Before I could say anything we were half way through our first rapid as I held on for dear life, OK it wasn’t that bad!

Each rapid had a horrible name like “The Mother”, “The terminator”, “Double trouble” and “Oblivion”. I don’t know why they couldn’t give them nice names like “The Rainbow” or “Bunny tail”. As we glided across the river our guide explained to us exactly what was going to happen as he made sure our life jackets were tight. In a panicked voice I asked him why he was tightening our life jackets and of course I knew the answer as he said we were coming up to “The Mother” rapid. We paddled hard as our guide chatted to us and then, suddenly, we were bouncing in a class 4 rapid. Our guide morphed into a drill sergeant as he yelled out ‘hard paddle’ followed by ‘HOLD ON, please’ . We slammed into a surge and the boat was launched into the air as we dropped like pebbles into the water. I had point zero of a second to suck in any oxygen along with half the Zambezi before I resurfaced under the dark over turned raft, I grabbed ahold of the rope on the raft and pulled myself up as I tried to catch a breath. Once we were in calm waters I looked back and all I saw were helmeted heads bobbing in the rough white water. I got back onto the raft and didn’t know if I was shaking from the cold or shaking from the fear, but hey, I still had a smile on my face unlike some men who started to have panic attacks after going down a couple more rapids. They had way too many near death experiences for one day. Another rapid that stood out for me was about the 10th rapid of the day, by that time I had started to have enough and really didn’t want to fall in again. Our guide told us to paddle as we approached the rapid, we paddled as if our lives depended on it, and, of course they did.A  2 metre high wall of water smashed into us and broke into a million little droplets. I turned my face away from the spray and held onto the rope on the side of the raft. The waves continued to push us around as though we were on a rollercoaster, but there is always that one wave that has a little bit more power, enough to overturn the raft again. I was so adamant  that I was not going to fall in again, I held onto the rope so tightly and started to run in the air as our raft was surfing vertically down the river on its side. I started to climb up in the air hoping to land on the bottom which was now the top of the raft. I wasn’t quick enough as I flew though the air and landed into the churning water still holding onto the rope but the water was so rough I couldnt get a breath between all the waves smashing against my back. Mike, who had his gopro on his helmet witnessed my whole running in the air stunt and hoped he got footage of that, and he did, so I’ll forever have footage of me thinking I am spiderman.

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That evening we all hopped onto a boat for a well needed relaxing sunset booze cruise. We drank sundowners and ate finger foods while we glided along the quiet section of the Zambezi and past some hippo yawning and splashing about and some buffalo relaxing on the river banks. We watched the sunset as the fiery red orb of light slowly sank beneath the horizon, its rays of light glimmered on the water and lit up every ripple in orange. The sky first turned to orange, then red, then dark blue, until there was nothing left but a chalky mauve. There is something very soothing and relaxing about watching the sunset while floating down the river, especially after a very interesting and tiring day where we thought we would never see a sunset again.

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The next day we went to see the largest curtain of water in the world; Victoria Falls (1708m wide). We didn’t have much time so we made our way to the bridge on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe to get a quick glimpse of the falls. On our way there I saw a puff of what I thought was smoke until I saw this ‘smoke’ had a rainbow in it. Thinking my mind was playing tricks on me I then realized that it wasn’t smoke it was the spray from the falls. The local people call it “Mosi-oa-Tunya” meaning the smoke that thunders. We quickly ran to the bridge and had a look at the giant towering column of spray surrounded by beautiful green forests.

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What followed were 3 full days of driving on what felt like the moon with potholes the size of our car (the roads were just dirt roads with patches of tar). There were tons of road works which slowed us down a lot. Between dodging pot holes we also had to dodge cows. The cows owned the roads, they would just walk onto the road and plop down for a nap and no matter how much hooting we did, the cows just didn’t respond, the only response we got was a slight turn of the head towards us and a flutter of the eyelashes with not a care in the world. Eventually we made our way to Lake Kariba (the world’s largest man-made lake and reservoir). We got there just before the sunset and what was waiting for us were 3 large towers of wood piled on the beach ready to burn and throw sparks out into the open, 3 big  potjies cooking on the coals for dinner and an ice cold Mozi beer. Unfortunately we did not make it in time to go on a cruise to see the world famous dam wall. We just had a quiet night at the bar on the beach.

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We woke up early for our second day of driving, driving, dropping into pot holes and more driving to our next over night spot. As the sun came up and lit up the road we hopped into our cars again and sat on the seat where our bum shape had moulded into the seat from sitting there for 2 long days. When we got to our next spot we went on another sunset booze cruise just so we could say we actually did something other than drive for the last 3 days. We jumped into a small canoe, cracked open a beer and were chauffeured by 2 paddlers paddling down stream along the calm, peaceful river. As we got close to the banks of the river we would see a disturbance in the calm water where a crocodile would jump in and swim away from us. We stopped on the sandy river bank of Mozambique for a quick break (We got to Mozambique before everyone else). After running across the sandy river bank it was time to head back. Row, row, row your boat upstream time. The sun was disappearing very quickly so we started to help paddle, 2 at the back and 2 at the front. We all took our feet out of the water as we got a bit nervous being stuck in a tiny boat on the river in the dark when we knew there were crocodiles in the water around us. With our heads down and arms burning as we paddled hard we could see a star reflection appear in the water one by one. When we got back to the camp we made our 3rd attempt to roast a chicken. Our first attempt at roasting our chicken ended up just being put on the braai with all our other meat because we forgot about it and had to cook it, our second chicken was confiscated in Namibia because we weren’t allowed to take meat across the border and our 3rd chicken finally got cooked in our fancy coal oven thingy and it tasted amazing, mostly because we had to wait like 3 hours for it to cook. After going to bed with a full belly we were up early and ready to head to Malawi.

Zambia felt as through it was just one long drive across the county, it just tested our long distance driving abilities and how aware we are on the road. We had to drive around pot holes, be diverted around road works, watch out for cows stepping on the road and crazy local drivers. I was a little bit disappointed because Zambia has so many world famous amazing things to see but because we took so long to travel we were not able to see everything and if we did it was only for a short amount of time. We also didn’t get the amazing social aspect of the Put Foot rally because all the teams were scattered around the country, some teams avoided the bad roads, some motored ahead to get to Malawi and we were just stuck somewhere in the middle. Zambia is definitely a country I will have to return to, to get the absolutely best experience the country has to offer.

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