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Rafting the Zambezi

17 January 2012

We had a four night stopover in Livingstone which is focused around the Victoria Falls but has also become established as something of an activity centre with options ranging from white water rafting, elephant riding, encounters with Lions and scenic flights or bungee jumps.

After enjoying white water rafting on the Nile in Uganda I was keen to go again – particularly because I had heard that rafting on the Zambezi was the most terrifying experience available on the trip from several people who had done this, so I opted to go rafting (without Anna), have an encounter with lions (with Anna, see the report here) and take a day trip to Zimbabwe to see that side of the falls.

Although several people from our truck took the option for half a day (doing rapids 1-12 of 24) the whole day attracted a hard core 9 of us for the bargain price of an extra $30.  Whilst the first 12 rapids probably contained the best experiences, the remaining 12 were certainly well worth the money, particularly as the last was a grade 1-2 for which we jumped out of the rafts and floated down.

There were a lot more rapids on the Zambezi than on the Nile (24 compared to 8) but each individual rapid often contained several sections to it meaning you were often on white water for longer periods whereas the rapids in Uganda were short and sharp (on four out of eight we flipped within 30 seconds) and separated by long stretches of open water.

We flipped three times in the course of our day on the Zambezi, the last being the most impressive.  Going hard into the centre of a grade five rapid, we paddled hard into a rough of water and then crested two waves in quick succession.  Everyone thought we had survived the rapid until the guide shouted “get down”.  The nose of the raft broke into a third wave and rose up to a ninety degree angle before folding back on itself.  As the integrity of the raft reasserted itself, everyone on the front of the raft was disloged and fell back down the raft, tumbling into the water.  I was right at the back and had Kim the Korean crash into my face before I too fell in the water.  A bruising but exhilarating experience!

Overall, I felt more satisfied after the Zambezi rafting because we often felt at times that we were properly rafting rather than just ploughing into a whirlpool to be tipped into the water.  Uganda felt more like white water survival whereas we felt as thought the match against the Zambezi was more of a draw.

We used the company recommended by Acacia as having a good safety record.  Although we felt at the time that their prices were a little steep we signed up as a group and did not come to regret it.  Speaking to fellow travellers other companies also have good safety records but without the premium applied by companies recommended by Acacia.

Just as a follow up to this, most of us who did the raft developed overnight vomiting and diarrhoea, as a result of consuming some of the Zambezi water.  I recovered quickly but unfortunately Pete, one of our traveling buddies, had to miss his lion encounter – so best not to plan this the day before your main experience of a life time!

UPDATE: I initially drafted this post by a pool in Sihanoukville (dodgy place, but a lovely hotel and place to rest whilst Anna learned to dive – see Learn to windsurf in an hour. I didn’t have any of our pictures, but think they show how great the experience was:

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