The town of Livingstone at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe is one of the adventure capitals of the world. You can do everything from bungee jumping to horse riding, but one of the must-do activities is white water rafting. The Zambezi River has some of the world’s best rapids even on a scale of professional rafters. And even though I’m afraid of water, I had to try it out.
What Rafting Company to Choose for This Ultimate Adventure?
My spouse and I had been watching the white water rafting videos from YouTube for awhile before our trip. Sometimes I felt terrified watching the zodiacs flip over into the raging, white river, and sometimes I felt excited knowing I’d be there soon, to experience it myself.
Many different companies provide the white water rafting activity in Livingstone, and they all seem quite equal. Safety was the number one priority for me because of my fear of water. After comparing the companies’ web pages for awhile, we chose to go white water rafting with the Safari Par Excellence (SafPar). They seemed the most trustworthy and they had the best Trip Advisor reviews, which backed up our decision.
Getting to the River and Starting Our Adventure
While we were in Zambia, we had such a hectic schedule to visit as many places as we could and during all the hassle I almost forgot about the rafting. But the day finally came, when we were about to go to the SafPar office and join our group on the Zambezi river. I felt the tingling at the bottom of my stomach, and I wasn’t sure about was it a good or a bad one.
Soon we were all sitting at a prepping hall where the SafPar personnel showed us the security video and gave us a thorough safety prep with all the details of what to do in what situation on the river. We had a quite big group altogether so there would be three boats on the river. We were the only women in our boat crew, with four other men and our skipper, a cool guy nicknamed “Babyface”. (It was us, two quite fit looking guys from the US, one Swiss guy, and two older men from Russia.)
Next, we were adjusted by our life vests and helmets. I still felt like my stomach would want to turn over, but I refused my sudden urge to want to escape. Instead, I decided that since I had come this far, now I just had to pull this through. It was no time to run away anymore. On the contrary: it was time to conquer my fear and do something truly out of my comfort zone!
We stepped into a bus that took us to the riverfront starting point. During the short bus ride, my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I was so afraid. But when we reached the riverfront and were taking group pictures with our paddles lifted into the air in high spirits, I suddenly realized that the shaking had stopped. I guess at that point I had mentally decided to survive this adventure, no matter what.
Carrying our paddles, we walked down a short, little path down to the river, where our zodiacs were already waiting for us. The starting point was on a very rocky and steep shore and it took awhile to get everyone onboard. At this point, I was just entirely focused on doing the task and getting to the finish line in one piece at the end of the day. I wasn’t scared anymore.
Learning the Ropes of White Water Rafting
Babyface kept a quick-learning course of paddling for us before we got to head out towards the rapids. We learned to obey the different orders of who paddles and how, and how to duck and cover into the boat. Then we all jumped from the boat into the chilly river, as to “get the feeling of the water”.
Only one of our team of seven managed to climb back to the boat as like we had been described to do. It was hard, and I couldn’t get up from the water, no matter how I tried. I just didn’t have enough strength in my arms nor the right technique. So Babyface picked me up from my life vest, as he did all the others, too.
We got the hang of the paddling in the same rhythm quite soon and started our journey towards the raging rapids. I felt only concentrated while the others were quite jolly.
Tasting the Zambezi River
The sun was shining from a cloudless sky and the temperature climbed near +38C. Zambia offered us a perfect weather for a white water rafting day. We had successfully cleared the first three rapids; Babyface had given us good directions and we had sailed through them like a breeze. Then came the fourth one and caught us by surprise.
We had ducked into the boat in the middle of the white waves and I was holding on the rope on the side of the zodiac when in a fraction of a second I realized that we are flipping over! The next thing I realized, I was still holding on my paddle in the other hand, and on the rope by the other to our over-flipped zodiac and we were drifting in the river. I had caught a mouthful of the Zambezi water, was coughing it out, and I couldn’t see my spouse anywhere.
Before I had time to worry, she was suddenly beside me, and we were both struggling to get back into the boat. The rapid itself was already far behind us. Babyface lifted us back onboard and only then I realized how scared I had actually been, and how happy I was that the situation was now over.
However, Niina was now more scared than I. She was shaking all over for some time because she had been caught under the flipped-over zodiac for awhile with one of the American guys, before getting out (of there). She had briefly panicked. Luckily nothing had happened and they were both fine. But it reminded us how dangerous adventure this can potentially be. Anything can happen, and even though we knew it from the start, it made us a bit vary.
So cautious precisely, that when we were having our lunch break on the rocky shores of the river at half point of the day, we were thinking about cutting our full day rafting tour there. But eventually we decided to go all the way and I’m happy that we did. I’m so bad in quitting that I would’ve regretted it later, for sure.
It still took us some time to relax again, but eventually we even started to enjoy the ride. Looking at the beautiful cliffs on both, Zambian and Zimbabwean sides, while paddling on the river was occasionally also a soul-soothing experience. And I had got, even more, determination for trying to survive as many rapids as possible without flipping over again. And I think I shared that feeling with the rest of our team. And we did manage to go through almost all of them without falling over! All but one rapid notoriously called “Oblivion.”
Calm Before the Storm – a Rapid Called “Oblivion”
We cleared a rapid after rapid and gained some confidence along the way. We also had a relaxing break, had all our zodiacs attached and were rowed by our security boat onward on the quietly flowing river. Sitting back on the boat in the bright sun and watching the beautiful river bed flow by I had a hunch that there was still something coming our way. Something big and dangerous.
And then it was ahead of us – the notorious rapid called “Oblivion” where practically everybody flips over. Babyface gave us detailed directions and dropped us the information that on the third wave everyone usually flips over and we should all let go of the boat. This instruction sank into everyone’s mind, but instead of getting us scared, it made us more determined, if possible.
Even I wasn’t afraid, now I knew at what point exactly I should inhale my lungs as full of oxygen as possible and just hope for the best. I also made a special mental note not to hang on to the boat this time. And then we started to paddle into the thunderous rapid.
We paddled frantically through the first wave. Then through the second before reaching the third one. I took a very deep breath immediately when I heard Babyface shouting: “Get down!”. At the next moment, I was falling head first into the white waters of the Zambezi.
At first, I saw only water in front of my eyes when I held my breath and was carried by the strong currents. On the next moment, I was lifted to the surface by the wave and immediately started to scan my surroundings. I noticed that our boat was drifting very far away from me, as were all my other teammates. Somehow I had been left behind.
Remembering the instructions from the prepping at the SafPar office I just tried my best to stay in the middle of the current. Eventually, I would reach the others. Then all of a sudden I saw a rescue kayak just behind the guy and me telling me to grab the saving loop of the kayak. Hanging on the kayak, he paddled me to our zodiac in no time. I was the first one lifted back onboard by Babyface and we then paddled to collect the others, who were further away.
Other boat had already picked everyone else from the river and I waved to my spouse when we approached. She seemed relieved seeing me being alright. Everything had happened so fast that I didn’t have time to scare nor think too much.
After this rapid it was all just smooth riding on the waves until the end of our rafting adventure day. Everyone was in one piece and seemed to be pretty proud of our lucky day. I felt incredible – I had survived something that I wouldn’t have even dared to imagine to do some years back! You may call me self-sufficient now, but I think I proved that you really can do anything, if you just want it bad enough and be determined. You can conquer your fears, don’t let them keep you from doing something you desire!
We rode back to the SafPar office in an open truck through the rural villages of Zambia. The children ran towards and after our truck when we passed through their village, waving and shouting: “Hello, hello!”. This time, we were the attraction instead. During the ride, I thought I probably won’t be going white water rafting again shortly, but I didn’t think: “Never again.” It was a challenging adventure but I made it.