Goodbye and Hello

I hate goodbyes. Especially goodbyes that are going to last forever. What do you say to people when you know you’ll probably never see them again? Sandy and I joked about some of the generic goodbyes people come up with. “Have a good one,” “stay in touch,” “keep on truckin'” or my least favourite “have a good life”. My personal favourite is when you plan to meet up to say goodbye, and then plans have to change and you never see the person again. It just saves so much awkwardness.
Saying goodbye to the woo girls was sad. But I was hungover and still half asleep when Cara came climbing through our open window to say goodbye. I was nervous about the gorge swing and trying to get ready for rafting. So it didn’t feel like a goodbye.
It hit me that everyone was leaving as I watched the cab drive away with Robbo, Emily, Nick and Sandy all in the back. What now?
Now we had new people to meet. A new group to bond with. And new adventures to experience. I was so excited to keep on with the trip. We have SO many incredible things to do still, and 3 months to go! It was just sad we couldn’t do it all with our new friends by our side.
That afternoon we wandered around lost. We sat in a dingy Internet cafe with a squeaky fan, trying to catch up on the world we left behind at home. Then we sat at the pool bar with a cold beer. It felt weird just being with Kelsi. The two of us had rarely been alone together for the past month. We both kept looking around for the others to join us.
So we decided to go meet our new tour guide and sign some paperwork. Manda, our new guide was really amazing. He was accommodating, easy going, personable and really sweet. But we just kept looking back over at our old truck, with our first guide Chris, our cook Duncan and our incredible driver Elouise.
We had missed our new group meeting the night before and didn’t know anyone in our group. Manda sorted us out and let us pick out a new tent. We picked “Bush Baby #4” the most dilapidated looking tent we could find. “This one’s ours!” We announced proudly. We set it up, then walked through the campsite in search of our laundry. We walked by a table in the middle of our camping area and saw a girl sitting there alone. She looked blue. Literally. She was wet and her blue Thai pants had bled, staining her legs a bright blue colour.
“Hey, are you on our tour to Cape Town?” She was. So we did introductions in an effort find a new friend on the trip.
Gina was from Brisbane and had just spent the last few months in Mwanza volunteering with orphans. On her flight down to Vic Falls, the airline had lost all of her bags. All she had were the wet clothes that had turned her blue.
“That sucks! What are you going to DO?!” We asked.
“I’m going to sit here and have a cigarette” we laughed.
“You want some chips?”
“Yup”
We had nothing to complain about. Poor Gina had just left all of her orphan friends, lost her luggage, and sat alone in the middle of the campsite covered in blue. It was kinda funny. Especially when we then had to walk right by her, carrying all our freshly washed clothes tauntingly past her.
Gina seemed like a cool chick. Looks like we’d have at least one good friend to cause some trouble with on the second half of the trip.
Things were looking up! Let’s begin a new journey…

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The Gorge Swing

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Every time I thought about the Gorge Swing I felt faint. I kept thinking, “why in the world would I ever sign up for something like this?” The Gorge Swing is labelled as “bungee’s big brother”. It is a 70m free fall followed by a 110m swing across the gorge. It is considered 110% on the adrenaline scale. Good lord.
In the booking office, the video of the gorge swing conveniently only shows millisecond clips of the jump. The rest is just smiling faces and thumbs up from people who have just completed the jump; it looked so easy. Damn you advertising!
Either way, I had to do it. Everyone was doing it! Yes, I’m that easily peer pressured. Plus, by the time I arrived on site, they already had my money; might as well throw myself from a cliff.
It was only a couple hours after the rafting that we loaded back up in the truck and set out for the second part of our day. We arrived back at our briefing base for safety instructions. I didn’t hear a thing. I just kept staring down at the gorge in appalled horror. Was I really going to jump into that?
Finally it was time to strap ourselves into the safety equipment and walk the couple minutes to the swing. I desperately wanted to go first. Just get it over with and be done with it. But there was only enough equipment for a few people, and Kelsi wasn’t strapped in yet. We’d have to wait until other people went, then use their straps. Kelsi and I were going tandem. It was my compromise for signing up. If I’m dying, we’re doing it together.
Kelsi was pumped. I detected no fear in her voice as she calmly talked me through our jumping technique. Then we walked up to the jumping point, and I think it hit her. We were about to JUMP OFF THAT!
Surprisingly, I calmed down a little when we arrived. It looked like just one big swing. Like we would just let go, and gracefully swing to the other side of the gorge and back. No big deal.
The first couple stepped up to the platform. They shuffled to the edge, smiling and a little nervous, then the operator started the countdown.
“5…4…3…2…1”
They stepped off.
There was a bloodcurdling scream that was cut short. They fell straight down and disappeared into the bottom of the gorge. SCREW THAT!
My stomach dropped, my knees went weak. I’m sure I went ghostly white in fear. There was no graceful arc, there was no calm dismount from the platform. There was just fear. Raw fear.
Kelsi noticed it too. So did the rest of the people waiting to go. We were all either silent, or nervously laughing. Nick was standing alone by the railing with no expression on his face. This was his fear, and he was about to face it, no matter what. Sandy was stoked: just walking around like nothing had happened, taking photos for people as needed. I was just trying to stand on two feet without falling over.
Up next were Robbo and Emily. When they stepped over the edge, I was the one that screamed in horror from the safety of land. It just didn’t get better. How is it possible to drop so fast?!
Just like the first couple, Robbo and Emily came up smiling. I knew I was going to love the swing. I knew as soon as the jump was over I was going to say how amazing it was. I only had to get past the small problem of stepping off that ledge first.
Kelsi got strapped in.
We were up next.
I was in a dizzy state of mind. I kept taking deep breaths to calm myself. Kelsi was equally as nervous as we stepped over the safety rope and started walking down the platform.
“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god” I kept repeating as we shuffled our way along the plank. “I can’t look down. DON’T look down”
“Omg, I’m definitely not looking down” said Kelsi.
We had one arm wrapped around each other’s backs, holding on to the safety clip. I’m sure my free hand was shaking. I kept my head up and just looked at the clouds.
“Are you ready?” The guy at the end of the platform asked. My stomach sank. Oh god.
Then Kelsi looked down. “Shrek! I’m lookin’ down!!” We both nervously laughed.
“FIVE” the guy started.
I wasn’t ready. I take it back.
“FOUR”
All I could think of was. I better get out from the platform far enough that I don’t smash my head on the platform as I go by. How would I know when to step off if I wasn’t looking down?!
“THREE”
I’m going to throw up. Or faint. Or both.
The next thing I knew my stomach was in my throat and I was falling. I don’t even remember numbers two and one.
I felt winded, and I couldn’t breathe. There was screaming in my ears, I think it was both Kelsi and I screaming, but I was too disoriented to tell. We were falling on an angle, with Kelsi half on top of me. Apparently I just went for it right as the guy reached one and dragged Kels down with me.
I felt like I was falling forever. Just trying to catch my breath. Then all of a sudden the rope caught and we started swinging out into the gorge.
“Oooooooh myyyyyyy God!!!!!” I screamed. The fear was gone. We both started screaming and hooting in excitement!
I turned to Kelsi. “Oh my god I love you so much right now!” We hugged and screamed and shouted into the echoing gorge, slowly spinning as we flew. 110 meters we glided all the way across the gorge. Then back, over the river below.
My feet were tingly and numb. It was like a strange pins and needles and it lasted about five minutes after I was safely back on land. My hands were shaking with adrenaline. This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I LOVED it!
We swung back and forth across the gorge until finally the safety rope was close enough to hold on to and we were dragged to the top. We pressed our feet out against the rock cliff and climbed our way up the last part. When we reached the top I was still shaking with excitement and had a huge grin on my face.
“Nick, you’re going to LOVE it!” We both said. He was still very unconvinced.
Nick and Sandy were up next. Even after I’d just finished the jump, I was equally as on edge as I watched the two of them walk down the platform. It was just as crazy watching them leap and disappear into the gorge. It never gets old.
In the end, they both loved it as well. We all went to the bar for a celebratory beer before heading home. It was the final day before Nick and Sandy left us to go home. But we’d had a pretty epic day so far! The gorge swing was definitely a success, and another thing to tick off the bucket lust.

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The Zambezi Rapids

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Our early wake up time was rough. 7am and we were already on the road with stomach churning hangovers. Today we were white water rafting down the infamous Zambezi River.
During this time of year, the water levels are high in the river. This means the rapids are a little less intense; I was probably the only one happy to hear this. The Zambezi river has world class rapids. They are intense at high water and absolutely insane during the low water season. Having only been white water rafting in very low grade rapids, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with grades 4 and 5… I was a little nervous.
We started at base with a safety lecture: wear a helmet, this is how to row, and swim, and be saved. You are going to fall out. You are most likely going to flip your raft. You are going to have a great time…
It was a half hour or so drive to the starting point. Then we had to climb for twenty minutes to the bottom of the gorge. There were enough of us on the tour to fill 4 rafts with 7 people. Our boat held Kelsi and I, Robbo and Emily, Sandy and Nick, and Kate. The perfect crew.
Our guide was a young, fit, Zimbabwean guy with a great sense of humour.
“Okay, we need two strong guys at the front!” He grabbed Nick and shoved him towards the front. Then he looked Sandy up and down “no, you had too much to drink last night” he laughed and turned to Robbo “you want to be in the front?”
Robbo took two steps towards the front of the raft, slipped on a rock, and went splashing into the river. Good start. Nick grabbed him by the life jacket (as was described in our safety lecture), dunked him in the water then yanked him up towards the raft. Robbo managed an odd, armless, salmon-like wriggle onto the boat that left us in fits of laughter before the trip had even begun. They were right, we were going to have a great time.
When we’d all soaked ourselves in water, and climbed into our respective places in the raft, our guide ran through the basic instructions. “When I say forward, you row; when I say left, do this; and right, do that. When I yell ‘GET DOWN’, everyone get inside the raft and face the outside at a 90 degree angle. When I shout “JUMP OUT” everyone leap out of the boat. Understand? Okay!”
So we went through the process one at a time. “Forward!” and we rowed. “Left!” And we turned. “Get down” and we ducked inside. “Forward again!” So we jumped back up and started paddling. “Get down” we fell back down into the bottom of the raft… All of us except for Nick. Nick was so excited about the “jump out” part, that he just ejected himself from the boat and hurled himself into the river. Way to listen buddy.
When the guide saw him he just shrugged, “okay, jump out!” He took his paddle, swung it around and nailed me in the chest, knocking me backwards into the river as everyone else threw themselves from the raft. We ended up, once again, in stitches laughing.
When our failed practice was over, we headed for the first rapid. White water shot up in front of us in waves and whirlpools as we floated towards it. “Forward! Forward!” We could hear our guide yelling at us “Faster!!! Okay stop!” We pulled our paddles back and crashed our way up and down through the first rapid. Our raft tipped, and fell back against the wave, until we came safely out the other side. Success! All my fears and worries about rafting melted away. This was too much fun already!
After a couple more similar rapids we pulled over on the side of the river to do some cliff jumping. Everyone got off the rafts, climbed up the rocks and leapt into the river as the guides filmed and took photos from below. We had a great time watching everyone fling themselves from the rocks, life jackets still on, and into the water below. When it was Emily’s turn to jump, she thought the guide had said to curl into a ball when she jumped. So she took a step forward, jumped, wrapped herself into a cannonball, started shifting forward and landed with a splash…face first. Although I’m sure the landing hurt like hell, we couldn’t help bursting into another laughing fit when we found out she was ok. When all of us had a turn, it was back in the boats and time to move along.
We floated along for a minute, then braved the next rapid with ease. We paddled and turned and crouched our way through the next couple rapids without any injuries or losses. At one point, Sandy asked if he could command the boat. He had been trained in white water guiding before, and figured he could give it a shot. “Not here” said the guide. “The next couple rapids are big ones. Wait til we get further down the river.”
We had been trying to convince our guide to purposely flip our boat in the middle of a rapid since the beginning of the trip. It wasn’t going to be that great of a story if we all stayed afloat the whole time. Unfortunately, he said that he wasn’t allowed to do that; so instead, we threatened to sabotage the raft ourselves, all jumping to one side as we crashed over a wave. I’m sure he thought we were crazy.
The next rapids we were going through were three different ones in quick succession. 15, 16a and 16b (also called The Terminator). Our guide explained briefly how we were going to go through it and what to do if we fell out. “Please.” He said “do NOT fall out on these rapids. If you fall out at 15, then you have an excruciatingly long trip before we can pick you up. 16b is a grade 5 rapid. You really don’t want to have to swim your way through that. But if for some reason that happens, float down the middle. There are too many shallow rocks and whirlpools at the edge of the river.” Ok, we agreed. No flipping on this one.
So we watched the first raft go through before us. The team paddled and rose against a rapid, then crashed down out of sight, then back up again on the other side. The edge of their raft came up alongside another wave and the whole boat began tipping to the left. Paddles began to fly, people leaned in various directions, trying to counteract the movement, and then the entire raft flipped, as if in slow motion, on top of them all. Oh my god. This was going to be good.
We followed behind them and braced ourselves for the same fate. We rose and crashed and spun our way through the first part of the rapid. We paddled through the second half as quickly and as hard as we could. “FASTER! FASTER! FASTER!” Our guide wailed at the top of his lungs. We paddled as hard as we could, until we passed the point where the first boat had flipped. We continued to crash through the rapids, water splashing over us, into our mouths and eyes. “Okay guys, you are going to have to get down for this next part I think. Wait for my queue!” We bumped our way along the water for a moment, and I held my breath in anticipation. “GET DOWN! EVERYBODY, GET DOWN!”
We jumped off the edge of the raft, grabbed our paddles with both hands and faced the outside as quickly as we could. I could hardly see a thing. Arms and legs were flailing in my peripheral vision, water crashed over us, I wasn’t 100% sure which direction was up, then I looked out towards the shore, and saw a man floating down the edge of the river. I looked back; our guide was missing. “He’s gone! Our guide fell off!” someone yelled (it could have been me, who knows). By the time we had all realized what happened, Sandy jumped up at the front of the boat and threw himself towards the guide’s place at the back. Nick stood up at the front of the raft as we plowed through another rapid. He held his paddle above his head
with both arms “HECTOOOOOOR!!!” He roared in battle cry. Sandy managed to take a seat at the back of the boat “Everybody up! FORWARD!” We all jumped up and started to row. Our guide was now long gone from the boat. We had commandeered the raft and were taking charge. “FORWARD! FASTER! TO THE LEFT!” We heard Sandy shouting commands as we hurled along into the final, grade 5 “Terminator” rapid. We were at full force adrenaline by this point. All of us were yelling and shouting in incomprehensible excitement. It was chaotic. “GO!” “GO!” “TOGETHER!” This was our raft now, and we were going to take it all the way to the end of the Terminator. Despite our best efforts, we kept floating off to the right side of the river. In front of us were a bunch of jagged rocks, sticking up out of the river, behind us we could hear the muffled yelling of a man in a kayak trying to catch up with our raft. With Sandy’s guiding skills we just barely missed the rocks. As we passed them, the kayak caught up to us, and we pulled the man, kayak and all, into the raft with us. He took command for the last few seconds of the rapids, and when we all came out into the calm river on the other side, we were back into breathless laughter again.
Turns out we were the ONLY boat that didn’t flip during the set of rapids; and we did it without a guide!
Another raft had picked up our guide somewhere downriver and he was laughing just as hard when he was safely returned to the boat. When we all got back in, we paddle high-fived at a successful rapid completion!
Our adrenaline was still pumping as we continued down the river. The next rapids were fun, but nothing compared to what we’d just been through. So we rounded a couple more bends with ease, then pulled over on the side of the river to let all the rafts catch up.
“Okay guys, the next one is a big one” our guide warned. “It’s just one big wave we’ve got to go through. At low water this wave is over 18 feet high. Are you guys ready?” We had no choice really, so we started to paddle.
You could see the wave growing as we came towards it. It was huge, looming above us as if to say “go ahead, try it”.
“FORWARD!! PADDLE! GO, GO, GO!” Our guide screeched as we came closer.
The wave now towered over us. White water spraying in all directions over us. We dipped down right before we hit it, then came vaulting up against it with surprising speed. We paddled as hard as we could, pushing the boat more and more vertical as we climbed the wave. The guide was still screaming from behind us, but his voice was drowned from the sounds of the rapid.
Our boat climbed into a fully vertical position then seemed to freeze. In my mind, it was all slow motion. The boat shifted to the left and I could see everyone in the right side of the boat falling towards me. I saw water, then land, then water, then the raft, then everything was dark and silent.
I was spinning under water and had at some point lost my paddle. I wasn’t sure which way was up, so I just stayed still and hoped I would come back up to the surface. When I came up I was spewing water from my nose and mouth. Everything was dark, and I kept slamming my head into something hard. It took me a moment to realize that I was under the raft. A wave pushed the boat up for a moment and light came pouring in for just a second before crashing back down into darkness.
I pushed myself back down into the water and tried to come out from beneath the boat. I came back to the surface choking on water. I could see the raft, upside down in the river. Our guide was standing on top if it dancing. He was laughing and pointing at us as he jumped around! “Who fell off now!?” He taunted in giddy excitement.
I was still coughing up water when Sandy yelled at me to grab his hand. He pulled me towards the raft so I could hold on. Then I turned around to see Nick holding out his paddle, trying to get back to safety as well. I grabbed his paddle and dragged him back to the boat. The three of us and the guide managed to flip the raft upright again and we all climbed in. I had no idea where Kelsi was. Actually, I didn’t know where anyone else was.
We were still crashing through the rapids when we saw four life jackets bobbing down river a little ways. A man in a kayak was with them, yelling some sort of commands. When we caught up to them, they were all tangled together. Kelsi’s paddle was locked in Kate’s life jacket. They were holding hands, and they were killing themselves laughing. I leaned over and grabbed Kelsi by the life jacket.
“Baby! Baby!” she shouted “I’ve got your paddle, baby!”
So I dragged her and the two paddles, very un gracefully, into the boat and we crashed onto each other giggling. “My paddle!!!” I was so excited it wasn’t lost.
We were all safely returned to the raft, and now no longer had a leg to stand on when it came to teasing our guide about falling out. We were happy though; our raft had flipped just like we’d wanted!
The final few rapids were easy. We cruised through them, rowing here and turning there. We clung onto some of the other boats and sprayed water at each other teasingly. Then finally it was time to pull over and climb out. What a trip!
Not much was left to do… Except for climb out if the gorge! Climbing out of the gorge is like climbing up a 40 story building. It didn’t help that it was now midday and the heat was deathly hot. I didn’t realize how out of shape I was until three quarters of the way up the hill. I was faint and out of breath and drenched in sweat by the time I reached the top. Luckily, icy cold water and beer was waiting for us along with a huge lunch! We recovered, and hydrated, and filled ourselves to the brim, then hopped back in the truck to head to camp. Our hangovers were completely nonexistent. What a morning. Up next: the gorge swing!

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Victoria Falls

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We made it to the town of Vic Falls by late morning and pulled right into the adventure booking office. For many people in our group, including our woo girls, this was the last day of the trip. So we all sat together and got a quick overview of each activity available. There was an endless number of wallet emptying things to do: elephant riding, lion walks, helicopter trips, bungee jumping, zip lining, flying foxes, the gorge swing, and white water rafting, among many other things.
We signed up for the combo package of white water rafting and the gorge swing, both of which were giving me heart palpitations even as I handed over my credit card to pay. Luckily, we booked for the following day, which gave me a full 24 hours to mull over my impending doom.
For that afternoon’s activities, Kelsi, the boys and I decided to take it easy and head over to the falls to take some photos. It was only a quick five minute drive to the entrance to the park, and from there we got to explore the lookout areas on our own.
Our first glimpse of the falls was spectacular! It was a cloudless afternoon, with a rainbow in the background and tonnes of white water crashing into the gorge below. We were now standing in the Zimbabwean side of the falls, looking towards the Zambian part we had swam in just two days earlier. The pools we swam in looked even more dangerous from this side, and we could even see a small group of people on Livingstone Island about to start their tour.
There were 12 lookout points from the Zimbabwean side of the park. Each one had an even better view and a different section of the falls to look at. At one lookout point you could stand right on the edge of the cliff looking out towards the falls. You hardly even realize that the rocks just abruptly end and fall straight down to the bottom of the gorge. There were no ropes, and no park staff members to watch people; anyone was free to just walk right up to the edge and look over. Makes me wonder how many people have just fallen over the edge, never to be seen again.
The last part of the falls started to get pretty misty. We all had to cover our cameras so the water wouldn’t get in, and we were all drenched by the time we hit the final lookout. Two of our three cameras stopped working, and even though we would have loved to hang out on the rocks, looking over the falls forever, it was time to salvage the last of our electronics and head to the bar for milkshakes.
The outing was definitely worth the $30 US dollars that it cost. Unlike my experience at Iguazu Falls, Victoria Falls was almost completely void of tourists. Apart from four other Germans we ran into, the four of us were the only people at the falls that afternoon. It was amazing!
When we’d had our fill of the falls, we made our way back to the campsite to shower and relax.
For dinner that night, we had reservations for 13 at a fancy restaurant down the road called “The Palms”. Originally a romantic dinner for two for Robbo and Emily, the other 11 of us decided to crash and have a big meal all together.
We all dressed up (for the first time this trip) and sat down to a wonderful meal. The restaurant served traditional African dishes with unique types of meat. We tried ostrich, crocodile and warthog as our strange new animals, and then a few classic dishes that were out if this world. Kelsi and I started with a mouthwatering prawn, coconut and ginger soup and a chicken ratatouille type dish. For our main we tried the warthog and the most incredible beef medallions I’ve ever eaten. Between 13 of us we tried pretty much everything on the menu; everyone got to taste a little bit of each and by the end if the meal I could hardly move I’d eaten so much.
When dinner was over, a few of us moved along to the casino across the street. The place was empty, even in a Friday night, but we had a great time playing slots, black jack, and dancing at the little nightclub. Afterwards, we went back to the campsite for drinks at our chalet and a middle of the night swim in the pool. A pretty great way to spend our last night with Mel, Cara and Sarah. Miss you ladies already!

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