Stories and Traveltips

ID #3545

Canoeing on the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe, Southern Africa.

One of the most spectacular ways to see wildlife is to canoe down the Zambezi. One can spend several days on the river, camping on the bank at night. One gets to see hippo, crocodiles, enormous elephant bulls and a menagerie of animals and birds at close quarters. Having watched a “dagga boy” (an old buffalo bull) on the bank from 5-m, I now better appreciate the meaning of the expression “to view with a jaundiced eye”. 

I once spent several days on the river at Mana Pools and was relating our experiences to Keith Campbell, a friend from Chivhu, south of Harare. He mentioned that he had done the same trip.

On their trip, they used indian-style canoes. Each contained paddlers fore and aft, with a passenger, usually feminine and attractive, in the middle. The guide was in the front of the lead canoe. In his bush outfit of khaki, vellies (leather shoes, no socks), beard, sun-tanned, and a packet of Camel in his breast pocket, he looked the part. However, he was preoccupied with his passenger and, turning round to talk to her, was not paying attention to leading the canoe flotilla – not a wise move in the bush.

A branch happened to be stuck in the mud with the point facing upstream. It was the only such branch in several hundred kilometres of river. As luck would have it, the canoe rammed into the end of the branch and the swirling waters immediately flipped it over. Cameras sank to the bottom, sleeping bags and clothes were drenched and the occupants were hanging onto the sides of the canoe, which was full of water. Keith was in the second canoe, which shortly thereafter drew up alongside.

The occupants wanted to climb into Keith’s canoe. Realizing that this would cause their canoe to capsize, he insisted that the sunken canoe should be emptied instead. This unfortunately meant that the occupants would have to remain in the crocodile-infested water during the process. Keith and company set about emptying the canoe with vigour, during which time he noticed that an Irishman who had been in the rear of the lead canoe kept alternating his grip, first holding on with one hand and then the other. Eventually the drenched passengers were able to climb back in and they made their way to the riverbank, where they spread their equipment out in the sun to dry.

Standing on the bank, Keith inquired of the Irishman why he had been alternating his grip. He explained, in a beautiful accent, that he had heard that if a shark or crocodile takes off one’s leg, the trauma is so great one is not even aware that it has happened. While hanging on with one hand, he had been feeling his leg under the water with the other hand to see whether his leg was still there!

Happily all survived to tell the tale. Alan McIver ALCanoeing

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Last update: 2014-03-28 08:06
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.1

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