Rafting the Zambezi & Diving with Crocs (the reptile not the shoe)

Part 3 of 4


Ok, I know it’s been a while (a loooong while) since I came back from Africa but I’m still not done telling stories about it. It was such an amazing trip I will never be able to stop talking about it. And thankfully I have notes and several hundred pictures and videos to jolt my memory. Not that I need it as the memories I made while in Africa are so vivid and memorable that they will stay with me my whole life (except for names. I’m not the best with names. Continue reading for proof).

You guys have read two posts already on my first weekend in Victoria Falls and all the fun adventures. The adventures from the second weekend were no less thrilling.


That second Saturday Eli (my high flying partner), Alex (the young Swede) and I went white water rafting down the notoriously challenging Zambezi river. The river is the fourth longest in Africa and in some parts, one of the deepest. It’s considered one of the best rivers in the world for white water rafting.


We booked the excursion, like all the others, through Adventure Zone. We arrived early in the morning at their offices and they drove us, along with three beautiful young Swedish girls to the location where we would start on the white water rafting tour. I must digress for a second: are all Swedes blue eyed, blonde and beautiful? One looked like Rosamund Pike, one I literally for a few seconds thought was Amanda Seyfried and the other was just plain gorgeous.


Anyway. At the location we met our guide, Sugar, picked out our helmets, life jackets and paddles and followed Sugar down the path to the river.


The way down, I am not gonna lie, was a bit scary and dangerous. It was extremely steep and slick. But at the same time it was really beautiful walking under the canopy of trees and vines in the rain forest (don’t quote me on that, not sure if it’s an actual rain forest but it was so damp and humid it felt like it to me!).

(I had my GoPro strapped to my chest so there are times in the following videos in which the peripheral is blocked by my life jacket. I tried to reduce the amount of that as much as I could, but it was hard and it’s all still really great content from the view of the lifejacket.)


There were a few places where I was legitimately nervous to climb down, all the while the locals who have the rafts and kayaks over their heads are basically sprinting down the mountain like it ain’t no thang. Barefoot. Seriously.


We finally made it down to the bottom of the mountain to a river inlet. We got in our rafts then Sugar and the apprentice guide paddled us out a bit into the river to give the speech on safety and paddling instructions.


Sugar told us how to row when he shouts to row “left forward, right back, etc” and how important it is for everyone to follow every direction he gives. So then he shouted “Everyone out of the raft and hold on to the rope!”


And everyone actually jumped right into the river without a moment’s hesitation. Everyone except me. I looked straight at Sugar and said “I am not going in there.” How dumb I am sometimes.


“You can’t fool me Sugar! Me and my yellow helmet are staying in the raft”

Everyone climbed back into the raft and before we started he said he had one more instruction and that was to show us all how to hold on to the rope on the outside of the raft while we are sitting inside, how to continue holding it when we flip into the river and how to grab onto someone’s life jacket to help pull them back in the raft. And guess who he used as his example: Little Miss Can’t Follow Directions. This time with everyone watching me I couldn’t refuse. And of course I made the situation worse for myself because now I was in the water all by myself. Me and the crocodiles.


They finally hauled me back into the raft and we began our journey. We were a group of four boats: two kayakers, our rubber raft and a group on another raft. One of the kayakers paddled ahead of us to find the really dangerous water swirls that can suck a person straight down to the bottom of the very deep river to warn our guide so we could avoid it. The other kayaker was videoing us.IMG_0042

Pretty much any commercial rafting has to limit the level rapids they will take customers on in order to get insurance. Usually level 5 rapids are the highest they will go. That was no different with us and in fact we started at the point in the river where we did because further north on the river the rapids had reached level 6 and 7.


Of the 15 or so rapids we went through, a good portion were level 5, with a good mix of level 4 and level 3 in between the crazy 5s. So long story short, I was just a tiny bit fearful for my life the entire time on the river. And I loved every minute of it.


We started off with a level 3 rapid which was a little scary but so much fun.


The river is great because it’s really wide and not all that rocky so there’s no fear of hitting a rock, there is just a very real danger of getting sucked into a whirlpool. And remember, this river is DEEP.


Thankfully we technically had three guides on our boat. One was our main guide Sugar, one an apprentice and another guide who was just going for a joy ride. I wish I could remember their names so we’ll just call them Apprentice and Joy (see note above about names). IMG_0090

I did say that the river isn’t rocky and it really wasn’t, except of course the rocks on the edges of the river along the banks. Sugar had told us that there aren’t many large crocodiles in this part of the river because most don’t make it alive if they fall over the Victoria Falls. So I wasn’t worried about crocodiles until I look over and see a huge beast sunning himself on a rock. We were all like “Um Sugar, you said the big crocs die when they fall over the Falls.” To which he smiled “I said most die. Some make it.” Oh ok.


We went through a couple of level 4 rapids which were fun and a good appetizer for what was coming…Then we went through three back to back rapids that built up like a crescendo: a level 3, a level 4 and a level 5.


The level 3 and 4 were fun, at this point we were used to them but then we got hit by the level 5. Sugar yelled for us to “Get down!” and so I did, much good it did me. Before I knew what was happening I was in the water but somehow I managed to hold on to the rope on the outside of the raft AND my paddle. That is a small miracle in itself. I was gasping for air but getting river instead while I tumbled about in the white swells of the water that kept hitting me over and over again. All I could do was grip as tightly as possible to the rope.


When we finally got past the worst of the rapids Sugar yelled at us to all, using the rope, get to the same side of the raft. That’s when I realized the raft was completely upside down and he was standing on top of it. We had to flip the raft right-side up by going under the raft as Sugar jumped off the side to flip it. I was not keen on the idea of going under the raft but in the end it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.


When we all made it back in the raft we all laughed about how much fun that was except poor Eli. She had gotten stuck underneath the raft when it capsized. Somehow she was able to take a breath of air and swam her way out. Poor thing was so shaken up by it but being the good sport that she is, still managed to laugh it off. And this from a girl who lives in Australia and frequently does ocean swimming competitions. In waters with sharks. Great white sharks. If something scares her, it really scares me. Suddenly being flipped and getting stuck underneath the raft under the water became my worst nightmare.


In between the rapids though the cruise along the river was beautiful. The river is huge and in such a deep gorge that it makes for amazing scenery.


On our next scary level 5, as the huge, white wave was crashing on us, I knew we were going to capsize so before we actually flipped I just jumped head first out of the raft. I wasn’t worried about the whirlpools or getting too far from the raft, all I could think about was not getting stuck under the raft.

But thankfully Apprentice was close at hand and grabbed me and pulled me back into the raft. Or it went something like that. Honestly it’s all such a whirl as you are getting slammed by wave after wave, it’s hard to know which way is up.


This series of pictures is from the first level 5 rapid

As scary as those moments are when you are gasping for air and its sheer chaos in which you really don’t know what’s going on, there’s something exhilarating and so exciting about it all. I got back on the raft grinning from ear to ear like an idiot thinking how much fun being thrown (or diving) off the raft into raging waters was.


Poor Eli. That girl could not catch a break. I found out after that she and Alex managed to hold on to the rope on the side of the raft when it flipped. But then suddenly somehow she got pulled down by a whirlpool. Reminder: The Zambezi river is deep.


In the chaos as she was pulled further down she managed to grab a hold of something: Alex’s foot. That’s how deep she was. The full length of two people. He had watched, helplessly, as she was sucked under the water so thankfully he acted quick when he felt something grab his foot. I think I may have freaked out a little bit in terror if it had been me and tried to shake her off, to be honest. Alex, thinking quickly, swung his leg as hard as he could and pulled her up from the force of the whirlpool.


Do. Not. Let. Go.

After that it was basically smooth sailing. I mean, the level 4 rapids are still pretty scary but it’s all such thrilling fun. I just recently went white water rafting in Tennessee and had a blast with my friends, but what I realized is that a level 4 rapid in Tennessee is like a level 3 rapid on the Zambezi.


The water of the Zambezi felt amazing. It was just that perfect temperature. So we were all so happy when Sugar said if we wanted, we could go “swimming” next to the raft.


What that meant was we jumped into the water and held on to the rope on the outside of the raft and held on for the ride. It was SO much fun! Cant explain why as the water was pretty smooth, it just was. Swimming with baby crocodiles, dare devil!

When we finally were done with the rapids and were just cruising along, Sugar let us jump out of the boat again to swim but this time legitimately swim without holding on to the raft.


After we all piled back in I asked if we could finally take off our helmets. He said we could so I did. I was acutely aware that I probably had really bad helmet hair. So while sitting facing the inside of the raft, I tried to dip my head back into the water to wet my hair. I am not really sure what I was thinking really as it seems I had taken for granted how high up off the water the raft really was. I ended up flipping my whole body in the air and ended up in the water. Alone again.


When I came back up to air as you can imagine everyone was dying of laughter. It’s such a shame that moment was not caught on camera. Alex and Eli didn’t let me live it down the rest of the trip. It must have been pretty funny.


We finished our rafting experience refreshed and exhausted, all at once. But remember that steep climb down to get to the river I told y’all about? Well, it was a steep, but this time unshaded three kilometer climb back up. In the noon sun.


It was not easy. We had to stop every few minutes to catch our breaths, meanwhile the locals were practically running up the mountain side carrying kayaks, rafts, paddles, etc. Put us to shame.

Oh! One piece of advice I would give is to make sure to put sunblock on all over your body. That includes your thighs. Especially your thighs. I put my animal cruelty free JĀSÖN SPF on my face, shoulders and arms but did not think to put it on my thighs. Considering how long I was in the sun for and how many times I ended up in the water, the SPF held up pretty well as I didn’t get burned on my face and shoulders.

My thighs on the other hand, a totally different story. I should have taken a picture. They were lobster red in a perfect line from my shorts. And they stayed that way for weeks. So, moral of the story, apply block all over your body.

When we FINALLY got up to the top the locals had set up a lovely lunch for us under a tent (where all this stuff came from I have no idea). And so ended the rafting portion of our day.

But we were not done with the activities.

We were driven back to the Adventure Center where we waited around for our pictures to be uploaded to a disk, then we were driven and dropped off at Victoria Falls town center.

From there we walked through the market in which you quite literally have to stare straight ahead and freeze a scowl on your face or you will get harassed by people trying to sell trinkets. Let me set the record straight though: it’s not a scary harassing, it’s more just kind of sad. And relentless.

After navigating the tunnel of wooden elephants and straw baskets we arrived at our next adventure: the Crocodile Cage Diving!!! WhoWhooo!

Since I wasn’t going to have enough time in Africa to head down to Cape Town to go cage diving with the great white sharks, I thought the next best thing would be crocodile cage diving. Even if it was in a control pond type pool. Sounds super dangerous and scary right? Well I had to go diving with some scary water creature and that was my only option!


We had made reservations, I would definitely recommend it because it gets busy enough on the weekends. We checked in, signed the waiver, got our goggles and stepped into the cage with a “guide”. They lowered the cage into the water up to our waists so we could get acclimated to the temperature as our guide instructed us how to use the mouthpiece to breathe under water.


I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t the idea of being in the water with crocodiles that freaked me out, it was having to breathe through some random device. Here’s where I go ahead and explain that I’ve never been scuba diving and have only been snorkeling I think once in my life.

Croc selfie

Anyways, he finished the tutorial and they lowered the cage further into the water so that we were fully submerged. I really tried hard breathing into the mouthpiece but was just feeling like I was suffocating. Thankfully they leave about two feet at the top so that if you are really freaking out, you can come back up for fresh air. And that’s exactly what I did.


The guide popped his head up out of the water too to check on me and thankfully he was really patient and held my hand as I practiced breathing into the mouthpiece while above the water. The thrill seeker in me died a little in that moment.

I finally got over it and went back into the water to be face to face with the crocodiles. There were three crocs in the pool pond and they were HUGE. Big and fat and long and wide and scaly.

My what large teeth you have!

Speaking of, the guide lured one of the crocs toward us with some bait and while the croc was chowing down he grabbed her foot through one of the slits and brought it into the cage so we could feel her skin. I’m not sure how I would describe it. It felt like tough blubber wrapped in tougher, scaly rubber. But soft and almost silky at the same time.


Anyway, we were under water for about 45 minutes while the crocs swam around us. There was one in particular who was pretty curious and stayed close to the cage the whole time. She was the biggest one too. Made me wonder why she liked the cage so much…


All in all, it was a neat experience and I would recommend it. When we got home that night, between the three of us I think we went through about seven bottles of aloe vera for our thighs. At least I wasn’t the only dummy in the group. Misery loves company after all.


And I loved my company that day. I’ll always remember the super exciting day when I went white water rafting in one of the most dangerous rivers in the world and crocodile diving with Eli and Alex.

Croc v Eli staring contest

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