Four days in a canoe on the mighty Zambezi River is an experience I will savor forever. It was one of those adventures where everything fell into place and although not all the experiences were positive, they did enhance the overall excitement and awe the river provided each of us.
The Zambezi had shown us wildlife in all its glory; playful, caring, and dangerous. It had offered us a seminar, with examples, in the appropriate amount of respect that it expects from those accessing her current.
We felt schooled not only in how to behave in an element not our own but also in how to carry those lessons back to a more familiar environment. They were lessons in basic awareness, compassion, and understanding that is so often missing in the modern world.
On the river I felt a freedom and sense of awe that seldom overwhelms me anymore but feels incredible when it does. It’s that sense you get when you discover a part of yourself or the world you live in, for the very first time.
The familiarity we have with being top of the food chain, predator supreme, conqueror of all, is immediately wiped away as you glide unarmed between herds of hippo, past crocodiles motionless on sandbanks but with one single eye tracking your course. You are in their home and without movement they let you know that in the wild we are just another animal.
I kept a detailed journal and the following is an extract from it.
It is the night; Tuesday February 10th.
“I am laying here under my mosquito net writing this entry by moonlight. My bed is the sand and my ceiling the sky. All around camp are the sounds of nature.
The four of us are camped on the Zambezi River and as we elected to sleep out in the open we have only our sleeping bags and a mosquito net; the sand of the river bank is the cushion. Directly in front of camp is a herd of hippo which actually have come onto the land; where they are at this time I have no idea, except I can still hear their sounds. Deep grunts and snorts.
It is amazing laying here. The full moon is providing light. It has cooled off considerably and the roar of the lions which seems to be getting closer is truly incredible. Without being melodramatic, I am laying here in a net, the guide is asleep and lions are nearby.
I did read however that if you hear a lion roar he is probably not hungry otherwise he would not be alerting others of his whereabouts. I don’t know exactly what it is I am attempting to write down here, but I do know that this is a special night.
Two hippo’s are right by the camp now. They won’t come up because they know we’re here. They saw us arrive, eat, and make camp.
Everything has gone deathly quiet now, not a sound, hang on, one of the team is snoring.
The lion’s roar is incredible, deep, guttural, full of breath . I have heard it before but when you are in the open it’s a whole different type of incredible. In a zoo or when you are in a car you are completely safe. That is not to say I feel unsafe now, it’s just more on the edge of danger. The balancing of the scales has shifted from being in my favor.
I am now part of the system rather than a spectator of it and it is this that excites me and makes me unable to sleep. Not because of fear but because I love it. This is what I wanted to do in Africa and I’m doing it.
Even if it’s only for a few nights…I am canoeing down the Zambezi past hippos who are not too happy with my presence, past untold amounts of crocs, in water you cannot dangle a limb for fear of losing it only to sleep at night in the open with these same creatures plus many more.
It is an experience I have never had before. I am going to savor it.”
The following morning I woke and again reached for my journal and added this.
“It was indeed a special night, even if only for me. Special in the sense of luck or is it my guardian angel. The African night did finally lull me into sleep and as it turns out that was probably very fortunate.
On preparing our beds at night we always placed our bags inside the mosquito netting to protect them from thieves we had heard about from neighboring Zambia. Some time between 1:00 AM and 6:00 AM the neighboring Zambians made a quiet run for the goods of our camp.
The Zambezi River separates the country of Zambia and Zimbabwe. We were camped on a small island in the middle. All members of the party lost bags, cameras, clothes, and film. I lost nothing.
Kristin (Norwegian) was good-humored about it having lost everything except the t-shirt and underwear she was sleeping in. Dan (USA) lost all his film and clothes, along with footwear and toiletries. He remained quiet as was his usual demeanor. Steven (NZ) who also lost everything adopts the testosterone macho approach. Advocating death by forcing the Zambian thieves to swim the river until the crocodiles eat them; so he can photograph the event…”Action Photos” Steve proclaims.
Me, well I’m glad to have lost nothing. I touch my head in a “touch wood” symbolic gesture. Hopefully it is an omen for the rest of my trip.”
We paddle on, further down the Zambezi. Our load was lighter.