Crocodiles, waterfalls and instagram content galore; our fearless Ruth embarked on a one-woman Regents peer adventure alongside Love it Live it kayaking recently, and kindly put together this guide for budding paddlers in Africa.
Things you don’t need:
After substantial personal testing…
- Neoprene anything, except arguably socks
- Woollen anything
- Short sleeved river kit (except for perhaps a shorty cag) – your arms will be crucified by the sun, unless perhaps you are actually of African descent
- Long sleeved river wear unless rated to factor 50
- Throwline (20 metres is not enough)
Things you do need:
- Excellent sense of humour
- Courage in the face of crocodiles
- Waterproof sunscreen, including for lips (ideally in tube format, to live in your Buoyancy Aid). Travelling through Johannesburg, maybe pick some good stuff up there? Note: sunscreen cannot effectively be applied to wet skin, it’s too late by then.
- Excellent shoes for the grim, steep hike out (in good condition, mine had to be mended)
- Long trousers, maybe 4 pairs
- More bras than you’d think
- Rehydration salts – twice the amount you think you need. Diralight is good.
- Maleria tabs (Malarone is, apparently, less likely to cause sunburn than doxy). Buy before you travel. Also jabs. Look into this in advance. Rabies is a course of 3 shots.
- Imodium. Two month supply. This is critical. Views differ on taking a safety Imodium before the river.
- Mosi net
- Geopress to filter river water, again completely critical. Lifestraw also available. Geopress is better, though, because you can decant into other bottles
- Dress for clubbing at Limpos
- Dress for going to the posh hotel with the zebra by the pool
- Palm rash vest with hood, maybe 2
- Running leggings for the river, maybe 2
- Hand sanitiser, ideally another tube for the BA
- After sun and lip salve
- Sleeping bag
- Screw gate carabiner(s)
- Swimming cozzy
- Head torch
- Lots of knickers
- Bug spray
- Light jumper
- Rain coat
- Lots of t-shirts for the evening
- USD in cold hard cash, for the visa. Get these in London and keep them in good condition. Fr everything else, there is Kuacha, or the waterfront takes credit card. You can get Kuacha at the ATM in Livingstone.
- 30 additional hair bobbles, a number of mine were blown off.
Nice to have:
- Go pro (did it happen if it’s not in a reel?)
- Power bank
- Additional water bottle – drink lots of water. More water. Water is nice.
- Dewerstone life shorts – cool
- Multi tool so you are helpful when the van breaks down
- Deep heat
- Safety (third) Jakob – known for his hands of God
- Glitter for Limpos
- AirTags – are the bags still in Cairo?
- Spare paddle
- Spare kit for the porters
- Own fully waterproof large dry bags eg. NRS
- Watershed dry bag
- Ear plugs
- Nose clip
Paddling the Zambezi is epic. If you thought the Inn was big, you ain’t seen anything yet. Nothing prepares you for scouting number 4. Nothing prepares you for for running 5, descending the green tongue into giant waves. Tighten your BA. Mine was nearly pulled off. Or for seeing someone else run 9 (commercial suicide).
The water is huge. Saying it’s next level does not do it justice. A strong roll will help. As will a good pair of lungs to wait for the hand of god. The heat is unimaginable. It’s blistering. 6am is a great time, also the light is beautiful. The “good walk out” is 750 vertical steps. It’s good because you don’t have to play snakes and (unstable) ladders, unlike with the other get outs. You will be shamed by the boat porters when they overtake you with two boats on a shoulder. Think about that when you decide what tip to leave at the end of the week. The environment is harsh, you likely will get sick. If you are unlucky this will be on the multi day with the vicious dam site walk out to come. On the bright side, Grandfather of the River, Sven, may come to rescue you with his air conditioned Toyota. Some people got a chopper out. The whole thing does have a James Bond quality to it.
English lacks the power to describe the awesome nature of the Zambezi Gorge. Someone will tell you about cubics per second; it’s only a number. But the force of the water is real. One of the hardest moves is the ferry at 1. This I largely avoided. Some of the best paddlers are here. Oh, and there is a life changing quality to the climb in to scout the minus rapids and standing under the falls themselves looking at the rainbows they create in the sun. You never expect to see two hippos and three zebras (crossing obviously) in the taxi back from dinner.
Things to do:
- Learn to plunge
- Learn to taily. The whirlpools will help.
- Learn to rock splat. Actually that was a mistake and a bad line on 12a.
- Rhino walk in the national park, with all the wonderful wildlife including Pumba.
- Elephant cafe, feed and pet orphaned elephants. This was totally spectacular and I couldn’t have been happier
- Learn croc formation, then stay in it!
- Sunset booze cruise, to get a good look at those hippos – speed boat transfer? Thanks Sven.
- Paddle Dane Zackson’s Antix, it’s yellow and purple
- Walk down to 1 with SEND
- Drink neat vodka and do the dancehall dagger in Limpos
Take BA, helmet and clothes for a couple of days with you in hand luggage to minimise disruption if the baggage is delayed. Upgrade to the best accommodation you can afford. It’s not easy to sleep in a tent.
Sadly, many of the rapids on this immense river are seriously endangered by the dam. There is limited time to explore the full glory and might of the Zambezi. It will open your eyes and splash your contract lenses away, which will make it harder to see the crocs!
Don’t expect everything to go smoothly. This is Africa. Do expect it to be utterly spectacular.
With thanks to Bartosz, Lowri, David, Sveta and of course mostly to Jakob, for his absolutely peerless Ruth fishing.