What Guides do in the Off-Season – An Adventure on the Zambezi River
By Tim Keresey • December 3, 2018
Any of our guides here at Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours will tell you that one of the best parts of being a river guide is being able to take our guests to an incredible place that they’ve never been before and give them an adventure that they’ll never forget. One of our guides, Ellen, recently went on an incredible adventure of her own almost 10,000 miles away! She spent a week in Livingstone, Zambia to witness the annual Zambezi River Fest, and to do some kayaking below the world renowned Victoria Falls. Ellen had an amazing experience over the week that she was there, and we thought this was such a cool exploit that we had to share some of the details of her trip with our readers.
After a few days of travel and a nine-hour time difference, Ellen arrived in Livingstone, a city along the Zambezi River that makes up the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. Livingstone is used to a lot of visitors because it is home to Victoria Falls at about twice the height of Niagara Falls, and over twice the length, Victoria Falls boasts the title of the world’s largest waterfall. Most visitors to the area get to experience the falls from the top, but the rapids in the gorge below are where the river folk play.
The annual River Fest began on the day Ellen arrived and met up with her friends. Boaters from all over the world come to experience this one-in-a-million location for river fun. She watched the rafting race down the rapids, and subsequent carnage show, where boaters take on the biggest parts of the rapids that are guaranteed to flip them. Afterward, she and her friends went on a river cruise and safari on which she got to see hippos, elephants, a leopard, and other incredible wildlife that Africa is so famous for.
The next day, it was time for kayaking. Ellen joined her friends, some locals, and other kayakers from around the world, for what she described as, “a once in a lifetime experience.” The rapids on the Zambezi River below Victoria Falls are very big and very fast. It was flowing at around 30,000 to 40,000 CFS. For comparison, high water on the Animas River here in Durango rarely tops 6,000 CFS. Despite the big fast and water, Ellen says that it wasn’t too scary. “Because there is so much water and it’s moving so fast, if you did go swimming, you would usually get flushed out pretty quickly and pop up in calm water. There was less risk of getting caught in recirculating water or pinned against the bottom than there is on lower volume rivers.” Besides, it was hard not to focus on the incredible setting. Looking up-river from where she was kayaking gave Ellen a view of what she described as, “this overwhelmingly beautiful, misty, rainbow-filled gorge.” Not many people get to experience that view of the massive falls, and the uniqueness of that experience was not lost on Ellen. “It was definitely something special that I will never forget.”
Other than the incredible backdrop and major river exciting that the Zambezi offered, Ellen says her favorite part of the trip was the friends she met. There was Sean, the owner of the hostel she stayed in, Makumba and his porters who make their living carrying rafts and kayaks from the top of the gorge down to the river and back, and Mia from Denmark who was the only other woman in the group of kayakers. “It was really cool to experience a completely new culture and meet all these people after traveling halfway around the world, who are out here on a river making their living and having a great time on a river, just like we do in Colorado.”
Personally, for Ellen, it was a growing experience as well. “We tend to put ourselves in a bubble and alienate others, but when you go on a trip like this and experience somewhere completely new and take yourself out of your comfort zone it really puts the world into perspective. Also, it can be hard, sometimes, to feel included as a woman in an industry and activity that is so overwhelmingly dominated by men, but after an adventure like this, I definitely feel more a part of the culture than I did before.”
So what’s next for Ellen? a 21 day trip down the Grand Canyon! There’s no shortage of crazy river adventures to go on, and luckily, we here at Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours get to offer the best of those in the Southwest United States. Come next Spring, Ellen will be back to guiding and you can ask her more about her amazing experiences on your very own river adventure!