After a day's walking through the Zimbabwean bush in search of an elusive pack of lion and encountering a herd of buffalo (!), it was time for supper under the stars at Zambezi Life Style Camp; surely heaven on earth. "Tomorrow we are going canoeing," announced guide, Fisher. Dear reader, I was absolutely terrified (even though Fisher had eight years experience guiding groups of 10+ canoes along the length and breadth of the Mighty Zambezi) and lay in bed listening to every lion breath, hippo grunt, impala shout, baboon argument and elephant pad around camp...all night.
But I kept my feelings secret until we were at the riverbank in the early afternoon and heard; "Pam I'm putting you in a canoe with me and Ben, then Peter and Rose can go on their own together," ON THEIR OWN! WHAT IS HE THINKING? My two 'babies' (23 and 25) heading off alone into that swirling maelstrom. My white panic striken face got the message across. See, Fisher's 'getting' me now; it's almost telepathy. Truth be told, he's seen me hysterical twice (NB: I Hate Bats Entry and I can't mention the other time....I don't know you well enough yet!) and he obviously couldn't cope a third time.
I felt sick with nerves. It's not like me. I love Africa with all my being, but sometimes it does test a girl.....
Before I knew it the seating-plan had been changed, I'd got my life-jacket on, paddle in hand, and with the Camp guys giggling we were pushed out onto the water, with Rose at the front and an out-board motor called Fisher at the stern.
Peter and Ben were already having Father/Son discussions, mainly regarding what was in the coolbox, and Rose and I were soon getting the hang of it and thought we were absolutely amazing until suddenly we were going nowhere. Fisher had stopped paddling!! Oh, so you actually have to put some effort in do you? "Fisher, why do you keep tapping the canoe with your paddle?" says Rose. "So the crocs and hippos know we are here and won't come up underneath us." WHY, OH WHY, DID SHE ASK? "PETER, BASH YOUR CANOE!" "Can't hear you Ma." Such a hilarious boy!
The crocs duly didn't 'bother' us, ("Mummy, stop wacking the canoe like a demented lunatic and paddle!") but we knew they were there...lurking. What look like logs basking on the river banks vanish within a second, into the Zambezi depths, taking their beady eyes and rows of razor sharp teeth with them. You will hear horror stories of croc attacks on the river. I'm not going to relate them here, but be assured, they are not Swallows and Amazons bedtime reading or Tales of the Riverbank. This river is full of hidden killers. It is not a place to mess about. You MUST listen to your Guide. No fingers or legs trailing in the water, no rocking the boat...and keep tapping regardless of what your children tell you!
Just as the sweat was running down my back, cocktail hour was upon us. Shame! But what could be better than pulling up
to a sandbar island
where the only footprints were ours plus hippo
and hearing the plink plonk of ice dropping into a vodka and tonic. There was even a slice of lime!
The sun started to go down...after three hours on the water it was time to go home. I was actually sorry and started to relax until a hippo launched itself out of the water, it's mouth open looking like the Gateway to Hell, massive canines shining in the setting sun before its jaws snapped together like the doors of Holloway Prison. (No, I don't know what they sound like but can well imagine). And then there's that noise they make. In past blogs I've said hippos at night sound as though they are telling each other the most hilarious jokes known only to....hippos. Well, when they are this b....y close the jokes are not funny!
The camp Boys met us at the river bank, as the sun was sinking fast
the canoes were loaded and we headed back to Camp. Never did a bucket shower feel so good.
Two Germans arrived in Camp...Siegfried was keen to go canoeing. So we went again. The next day. Christine was scared to death. Well, not literally but it was close at times with only stories of mid-river cocktails bringing her round. Seating plans were changed once more with Fisher guiding/propelling our new friends, Ben and Rose in another and me with son, Peter, bringing up the rear.
Today, the water was smooth and slick.
Ben and Rose
Dear reader, I don't want to crow but I was feeling like an expert by this time and we were doing very nicely until HE decided to stop paddling and go into dream mode. "You MUST keep up with us," shouted Fisher. "And watch out for that bush!" All my terrors came flooding back while my first-born giggled. "PETER, STOP B.....G ABOUT AND START B.....Y PADDLING!"
We stopped mid-river, tying our three canoes together creating a veritable cocktail bar.
Christine was finally smiling whilst Sigfried looked as though he'd run a marathon. Bless! But, oh, it was utter bliss as we all had those, "we wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world right now" feelings.
This is the life!
Setting off once more I think we were all happily daydreaming as we slid soundlessly along.
And then we saw her. A lesser spotted...woman in a shower. In all her glory. Having a marvellous time. Full frontal, soap-a-go-go, eyes closed, in African bliss. Honestly, you couldn't make it up. I can see how it happened; husband makes camp placing your bucket shower with a view of paradise. So romantic. "Darling, why on earth would it need four sides; it's only the river out there. Look how beautiful it is and there are only beasties and birdies to see you?" NOT TONIGHT!! These seven canoeist's eyes were as wide as any bushbaby's and mouths as open as any hippos! But give that girl a medal...she just grabbed her little red towel and gave us a view of her other side!
Fisher was horrified. We were delighted. Beaching our canoes we headed up to the vehicles to find them turned into a playground. Those vervet monkeys will get into, and up to, absolutely everything! A tube of toothpaste (no, I don't know what it was doing there either) had obviously provided them with moments of sheer unadulterated ectasy and they scampered off with white moustaches!
Later, as we chatted around the fire Christine announced she wanted to, "spend the whole of next day canoeing". Sigfried had to lie down!
So what to wear canoeing along the Zambezi?
A thin long sleeved shirt (unless you are already tanned), hat, sunglasses, shorts, flip-flops. Take a kikoi or towel to cover your legs to avoid sunburn. Put suncream on at least half an hour before you start because you will sweat and sweat and sweat so you don't want it running into your eyes. I say a long sleeved shirt because life-jackets are probably one of the most uncomfortable things on the planet, especially in that heat, and you'll get red raw armpits if you are just wearing a vest. You will be provided with a dry-bag for cameras.
Have fun and do let me know how you get on.....