It was dark. The earth shook and there was a sound like thunder. Torches were quickly swung round, illuminating two giant hurtling shapes. Fifteen silhouetted figures were caught in petrified poses of fasinated horror. Disturbed by the lights, two bull hippos veered off into the river, narrowly missing the canoes. As the water heaved and splashed, there were gasps and the realization that Charlie was ready to draw his gun! No 'virtual' excitment here. This was real, and five nights into our adventure we stood in dark disarray with months of anticipated fear behind us, and five more days to go.
We were canoe/camping part of the Zambezi River on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, with the help of our guide, Charles, and Lloyd, an apprentice guide. That night we had set up camp on a sandy island. A row of green dome shaped tents and a semicircle of camp stools made 'home' around three metal tables, gas cookers, and an array of large sturdy buckets, boxes, pots, pans and kettles. The general bustle of transforming the flat packed cargo of nine canoes into a three dimensional village for the night had died down with the heat. Dinner and wine had relaxed everyone after the days hard paddle. The red ball of sun had performed its magical rainbow trick in the sky and as fleeces were donned, we experienced the intense silence of one of Africa's remotest places, capped by a darkness pinpricked with graphic astronomy.
The charging hippos were a sharp reminder that we were trespassing in animal country. They were disputing territory, unaware until the last minute that we were in the way. It had always been impossible not to be aware that hippos would be a major feature in this adventure. For the first few days, lack of understanding on our part had turned every pod we encountered into a menacing terror. Before we set off, Charles had explained that we should always keep our canoes in single file behind him and be very quick if he ordered us to go to the bank or turn round! No one had queried that suggestion! The knowledge that hippos are vegaterian did nothing to dispel the fact that they could bite through the side of a canoe and tip you into a river occupied by crocodiles.
It was this kind of thing that kept several minds busy as we waited for our plane at Gatwick on Thursday 14th June 2001. We were a mixed bunch of canoeists, gathered together by the efforts of one man, from all around the country. Mark Feather had had the foresight to realize that the next solar eclipse zone of totality would be at Mana Pools on the Zambezi, and had turned into reality the idea of combining this event with a canoe safari. There were fifteen of us coming, some as strangers, from quite disparate locations; dry bags and paddle bags indicating that we had a common intent. By the time we arrived in the departure lounge, we were missing only one female member of our group. Eager to demonstrate their fear of nothing, several chaps put themselves in danger by interviewing all the single ladies in order to track down our missing person, Vic Brown, only to find that she had been sitting close behind us all the time. At the check in desk, Air Zimbabwe had a sort of 'Blind Date' approach to seating people, but as most of our party seemed happy with their current partners we rearranged ourselves and settled down for a fairly sleepless but not too turbulent 10 hour night flight. The sunrise that heralded our first views of Africa was a spectacular taste of what lay in store, and a short stopover at Victoria Falls Airport revealed that the sun was hot and the long shadows deep indigo, even at 7.30 in the morning.
Victoria Falls Airport proved to be a popular place to disembark, so those of us who were continuing to Harare, and who weren't called Margaret, grabbed an empty window seat. Below us, we could see the spray from Victoria Falls, and mile upon mile of traffic free brown roads trailing through endless bush land. Harare International Airport is new, gleaming and air-conditioned, until, like us, you need an internal flight to Kariba. We were lead to a large shed, by an ever-increasing number of smiling porters wearing tabards proclaiming N.H.S. I rather suspect that this means "we're Not Harare Staff actually but if we are jolly then you will give us all generous tips!" We checked in at a trestle table and took up positions on plastic seating, from where we could see our luggage being loaded, unloaded and loaded, on and off a tiny plane - there seemed to be a problem! Too much weight! Would three of us please travel in a separate plane that would be rerouted to accommodate us? No problem. Three volunteers watched as the rest of the group disappeared into the blue, while a wheel was changed on the second aircraft. The pilots were smart, cheerful friendly, and optimistic but it was not their personalities alone which made a few hearts skip a beat on plane one. Unaware of the presence of a co-pilot on the little fifteen seater aircraft, the group were somewhat put out when their pilot suddenly left his seat and started dishing out sandwiches! On plane two, Margaret, myself and Mark described the whole spectrum of enjoyment - sheer hell, sheer heaven, and he who has done it before in an even smaller plane! At Kariba, an over enthusiastic airport staff loaded a bit too much luggage onto two open safari jeeps, leaving the remaining passengers on the plane with not quite enough, and we bumped and rattled our way to the Kariba Breezes Hotel on the edge of Lake Kariba, only to find that our expected straw hut type accommodation hadn't yet been built. So we wallowed, happy as hippos in mud, in large airy en suite rooms with balconies overlooking the lake, flying squirrels swinging in the trees, and mongoose, monkeys, hornbills, lizards and water monitors closer than the T.V. screen in your own living room!
Given the fact that we were about to embark on an adventure which had caused excitement, doubts, fears, packing problems, health concerns, and countless jabs, over the passed year, it was not surprising that it was a quiet bunch of people who met at the hotel pool that afternoon. The journey had been good but tiring, and the hippos were still getting bigger in our minds. Everyone was keen to get paddling and make it REAL!
The soles of my boots were wet with Zambezi water as Mavis and I sat enjoying the shade of a rocky outcrop. The pool in front of us rippled out to join the vast shining river that headed towards the distant mountains. Behind us, the earth was parched and dry, but in front, water swerved ceaselessly around islands of tan polished boulders. Flickers of scarlet, blue, and yellow delighted us as damselflies, dragonflies, and butterflies hovered near, and the first fish eagle of the trip hung in the pristine sky overhead. Looking tiny, across the river, the dark shape of a Zambian in a dug out canoe watched the events on our side of the river. Nine blue canoes lay parallel on the white sand. A team of porters helped Charles and Lloyd load the boats with massive amounts of heavy kit as fifteen keen canoeists, who had been instructed to stay in the shade, watched with pretended patience. We had been up and ready early that morning, watching baboons busily ripping the luggage off someone else's truck, at the hotel. One elephant sighting and one Spar shopping experience later we had been busily ripping the luggage off our own trucks at the head of the Kariba Gorge, 6 kms below the Kariba Dam. The porters, bare footed, and heads piled high with kit made easy work of the steep rocky track down which we picked our way in boots. Our first sighting of the Zambezi had been a patch of blue shining through the prolific unfamiliar foliage. We wanted to be on it, but first, with the packing now complete, a picnic lunch was laid out for us to eat. Then, at long last we were on the water, paddles at the ready and poised for action, eagerly eyeing up the white bits when - oh no! - We were told to raft up! It was a bit unexpected and there was a miffed ripple of disappointment not to be getting our paddles wet immediately. It all looked so beautiful and peaceful. It was hard to imagine the dangers lurking under the water, waiting with big snappy jaws for people with unknown ability in unfamiliar boats to hit an unseen tree stump! As we clung tightly onto each other's boats, the 2 rafts drifted and swirled along in the boiling waters of the steep sided gorge for a couple of hours. The short paddle that followed was executed, on my part, with a sort of breathless denial! Adjusting my lower hand on the paddle so that it wouldn't be mistaken for a fish by a crocodile, I dared myself to look but tried to pretend that those weren't really hippos over there. I knew it! Holding my breath had made me invisible! I landed safely at Nyamoumba Island feeling more confident about tomorrow!
That night, by candlelight, over rice, chicken curry and squash a la surprise, Charles and Lloyd told us tales of Mad Max, a hippo with a score of 27 tipped canoes, Psychotic Simon, the canoe following hippo, and two stretches of river nicknamed Hippo City and Death Valley. Surely they were just winding us up! As we ate we could hear an elephant tearing at a tree not so far away and the briefing that night had included worrying warnings about impoverished but non-violent Zambians coming across the river to rob us, not to mention the dangers of wild animals wandering around the camp after dark. We had also seen a very large crocodile on the island, which may have accounted for the mysterious disappearance of Mark's beer, which he had placed in the river to cool!
Sunday 17th June. Charles banged his paddle on the side of his canoe. A hundred large brown heads popped up out of the water for a quarter of a mile in all directions. Eyes stared. Mountainous brown bodies arose from 2' of water and lumbered grudgingly into the depths, only to disappear mysteriously, who knew where! Our blue snake of canoes hugged the bank, those at the front convinced that they were more scared than those at the back who were convinced that they were more scared than those at the front! A lone hippo reared up quite close out of the water and smashed down creating a wash that set the boats rocking. We zigzagged cautiously around the pods, listening to Charles banging his paddle and strained to see the response. Then suddenly: "Go to the bank!" "Go to the bank!" "Go to the bank!" echoed down the line. We all waited and watched as the massive shiny bodies moved out into the deeper water, but we didn't go forward. Charles knew there was still danger. One hippo remained and couldn't be hurried because she had a baby. Last night's fears had become past tense!
It was the danger that made the routine rituals of unloading the boats, setting out the mealtime stools, and fighting Bob for a turn at the washing up buckets both bizarre and comforting. Each night, the sunset, the serenading cicadas, and the wide-open space of cloudless starry sky were unhindered by mosquitoes and unhidden by flysheets. The mosquito net tents were quick and simple to erect and didn't need pegging. Nightfall brought with it the sounds of Africa. Roaring lions and laughing hyenas could be heard accompanied by the banging and clanging of pots and pans from nearby Zambian villages across the river. Each morning we awoke to a new view lit by a spectacular sunrise, and the cheerful voice of Lloyd calling "tea lovers may come and get their tea". For the first few days, the canoe/camper's natural instinct to pack his/her own boat with his/her own kit was thwarted as Charles and Lloyd manfully endeavoured to organize weight distribution. But the team's accumulative experience soon became apparent and our little village appeared and disappeared each dusk and dawn, with lessening confusion over bags and belongings. Sometimes we camped on islands and sometimes on the mainland riverbank. A few of the islands were very flat and treeless. Darkness was the only cover for a private pee, but with darkness the sounds of the hippos came louder and closer. You could aim at dusk for a visible loo destination but, take too long and forget your torch and the journey back through the darkness would seem like a hundred miles!
Monday's breakfast of fruit, beans with onions and peppers, fried egg, bacon, and bread was part of the routine, with Jax's tall figure becoming a familiar sight behind the bacon griddle. The food was organized and cooked for us and Monday brought us to the first re-supply stop at Chirundu near the construction site of the new Zimbabwe/Zambia bridge. It was a remote place but the river 'grapevine' brought vervet monkeys for our lunch crumbs and a seller of solar eclipse T shirts who went away happy after we all made our purchases! When the fresh stocks arrived Charles and Lloyd packed it all away into the canoes, Alistair and Alison again ending up with the heaviest boat, loaded down with two huge cold boxes heavily packed with ice and provisions.
The water level in the river is governed by the weakening state of the Kariba Dam wall. The planned island stopover for Monday night was under water, so we landed instead on a convenient sandbar. Every morning our line of canoes set off from camp in pure air and a pleasant temperature under clear sky. Fleeces were soon discarded as the sun came up. It was challenging following Charles and his particular style of paddling, trying not to bump the boat in front and straining to see any wildlife on the banks. It wasn't the nippiest of entourages for a guide to lead on a wildlife safari. We were a larger than normal group and often by the time the front canoeists had spotted the crocodile or water monitor sunning itself on the bank, it would have slid into the water as the end of the queue reached the place. Bumping between boats became commonplace as cries of "Ease off!" were mistaken for cries of "He's off!" By Tuesday it was clear that, apart from hippos, we were going to see and be seen by more eclipse seekers than wild animals as the riverbanks at Mana Pools filled up with cars and tents. It seemed a good reason to paddle on the Zambian side of the river, where the Zambian children ran along the bank waving and the women called out "Hello! How are you?" We understood that some of the villages avoided famine very well by using their skill in catching and trading fish, but we also learnt about the prices paid to hunt the animals in Zimbabwe, and in spite of the many new village water pumps, we were not convinced that the killing was justified or that the money was going were it was most needed.
A lone monkey stared in wide-eyed disbelief as a group of English people set up tables and stools for a picnic underneath a killer bee's nest. Charlie posed as Eros on top of a large pointed termite mound, while the usually perfectly coordinated Lloyd giggled with frustration as he tried to learn the basics of ball juggling with two palm nut seeds. The monkey remained aloof and glanced nervously at a distant herd of grazing impala to see if they would turn into white coated men! But at least these strange people left crumbs when they packed up and went on their way!
That night the tables and stools were set up beneath a cathedral like lattice roof of Ana tree branches, ghostlike against the black sky. We glimpsed the stars and listened to bats. Camped on the mainland for once, the possibility of nighttime prowlers with big paws was a good reason not to have a final drink before bedtime. I was lulled to sleep by the gentle and repetitive strains of Charles's mbira music drifting across from his tent; only to be awoken again by the sight of Jax and Terry's tent moving position! Well, whatever it was, it was big and dome shaped. Rather like the back end of an elephant I suppose. Anyway, you can't see very clearly with your eyes shut and your head buried under a roll mat! On waking, there were at least 9 different birdsongs to be heard and the silhouettes of acacia and mahogany trees were dark against the red morning sky. Jax's first words on Wednesday were " there was something large clomping about!" and the morning trek to find a loo spot revealed that something bigger had beaten me to it! Only 17 paces from the tent there lay an enormous fresh heap of elephant dung which baboons and jackals had spread asunder while looking for undigested seeds and nuts.
The river traffic drastically increased on Wednesday. So far, we had seen a couple of dugouts on the distant Zambian bank, and a smaller group of open boaters who were having their kit transported for them by motorboat. There must have been more of these groups gathering for the eclipse because half a dozen motorboats were now cruising up and down. The wash from one of these, ignorant of his danger to canoeists, had Charlie angrily waving his paddle as we all diverted from our route to ride the waves. Charles was more accustomed to a different kind of danger and when, that same day, a crocodile all but snapped the blade from his paddle in a frenzy of red splash and teeth, he grinned and squeaked, "Did you see that?" With the eclipse growing closer, our guide had to improvise stopovers on islands. Blackpool came to the Zambezi as a whole score of lights shone across from the mainland to where we were camped. That night discreet toilet visits were once again a matter of trusting people not to look, but the threat of big cat visits were lessened with the river as a moat! It was the evening of the hippo charge, and with the peace already shattered we made the transition from silent petrification to a passable impersonation of a rowdy football crowd in a surprisingly short space of time. Our circle of chairs became a stadium for some hilarious games which brought out the competitive streak in the chaps as they balanced on bottles and twisted themselves around canoe paddles, but not before Diane had challenged their manhood by demonstrating it first.
Eclipse day dawned with an outstanding sunrise and Lloyd shouting "eclipse!" already as the sun came up directly behind a lone tree. We paddled early in the pale morning air, land and trees silhouetted darkly against the pastel shades of the rising light. The silence was so intense you could hear the breeze. We moved slowly through the water, aware only of the plop of the paddles and the call of the white fronted plover at the waters edge. In a flash a crocodile snapped out of the water and the plover was silent too! A deep purple Goliath Heron posed for us and then took off, the sun picking out a green shine on its back as it flew away. We were heading for another supply stop, a possible shower, breakfast, and a real toilet with a seat, at the Mana Pools Main Camping area. Tents, camper vans, people, more people, camper vans and tents, lined the banks in anticipation of the eclipse. Charles and Lloyd had never seen anything like it. The supply truck was late again, giving the photographers and bird watchers time to explore the fantastic wealth of winged entertainment. A Golden Oriole glowed against the blue of the sky and flashes of turquoise turned out to be Starlings. Goliath Heron, Tawny Eagles and Black Shouldered Kites were all to be found in the area whilst African Jacanas and water monitors patrolled a nearby pool. The delay meant that Charles had to think on his feet again. He was determined that we should be able to view the eclipse in private away from the other crowds, but also wanted to find somewhere where there were animals for us to observe. Time was short. The best island was prohibited. There was an enormous pod of hippos in the way. But, never mind. We went there anyway! Its barrenness, whilst not convenient for conveniencing, proved to be a fantastic bonus to eclipse viewing, giving an entire 360-degree vantage point of a horizon that turned red for 360 degrees!
Together with the sparkling extravaganza happening in the night/day sky above, the strange green light, the whooping and baying of the human element, the casual shrug and grunt of the unimpressed hippos, the champange, the group photo in our recently aquired eclipse T shirts, and Lloyd wanting everyone to drink hot tea and wear warm eclipse jackets because he'd read that that was the correct thing to do, it was a memorable and relaxing day.
That night they closed the gates of the Kariba Dam! The water level in the channel to escape our island had fallen too low to paddle the boats! People were in the water pushing and pulling canoes. No one mentioned crocs. They would have been lynched! The supply delays and the lazy eclipse day had put us way behind schedule, but the shallow water continued to eat away at the time gained by an early 6.30 a.m. start. The hippos too were determined to punish us for using their island for our frivolities, and perversely wouldn't move. The lone figure of Charles could be seen ahead of us, standing upright in his canoe, legs astride, arms aloft, shaking his paddle menacingly, looking for all the world like a stick insect asking a mountain to move out of its way. The results were grudging and we could feel the grudge each time we edged along the bank.
To our left, hippos. To our right, a riverbank that intermittently dropped large chunks of its crumbly overhanging self into the water. Giant twisted tree roots jutted crazily from the disappearing land, their knotted nobbliness festooned with swathes of delicate sunlit spider’s webs. Instead of eclipse seekers we began to see baboons and monkeys. A herd of impala leapt and bounced daintily, while waterbuck browsed on the opposite bank, but we left them without a photo call as time was pressing. As we enjoyed the last half hour of what was our longest and most tiring day on the river, water buffalo grazed silhouetted against an evenings failing light and rising mist. Those who ventured off into the woods that night with their solar showers were entertained by aerobatic Nightjars as they twisted and turned chasing moths and other larger insects. The scenery was changing and the following day we would have to tackle the Mupata Gorge. We knew that each afternoon a strong wind picked up and funnelled through the gorge creating large waves and making paddling extremely hard work. Anxiety pushed us on to do 36 miles that Friday. A hilarious lunch stop broke the tension. Determined to continue the routine of a proper lunch time picnic no matter what, we plunged knee deep into a bank of gorgeous, oozy, squelchy mud and teetered the fifty yards or so with tables, stools, buckets, boxes and picnic accoutrements to the only bit of shade for miles around, where we ate salad sandwiches on wobbly seats and pointed at kudu, before teetering back the fifty yards or so, appetites satisfied and somewhat browner from the shorts down!
A crown of white Zambezi droplets splashed out from the end of my paddle as it broke the surface of the dark water by our canoe. In front, Pete and Val’s canoe cut a V, which pointed towards a rippling procession of boats trailing ahead in the pink and blue silky water. The front boat, looking tiny and in silhouette had a figure that occasionally stood up or banged the side of his canoe with his paddle. The odd bump from behind reminded us to keep moving as we scanned the banks for visible signs of the arguing baboons. We travelled straight towards the rising sun and its golden reflection in the water.
Our packing skills were by now honed to a fine art and the 5 a.m. wake up call from Diane and Jon on Saturday had done the trick and returned us back to schedule by breakfast. The sand was warm, smooth and clean, the shadows long and deep, and there was the smell of bacon as Jax took up her position at the griddle, observed by gem like birds from the branches above. Everything was green, blue and golden and there were still no nasty insects to speak of. The clatter of pots and pans and the cheerful sound of voices gave way once again to the gentle splosh of paddles as we entered the Gorge. The wind picked up as promised but only enough to make the paddling more interesting and then died again for a long siesta on another tropical island. It was an easy paddle to the night’s camp. It’s a wonder that such a mixture of folk made it to day 9 of such an exciting adventure without some dissent. Charles’s unexpected intention to finish a day early caused puzzlement and much debate during which we all became individuals again and bared some of our personalities. A group decision was finally made to continue as planned and follow our original itinerary, but the beautiful sand bar was filled with a sad and awkward silence because of misunderstandings. The sudden wind, which came from nowhere, was sent to distract us. By morning the tents were 2 inches deep in sand. Nobody slept as the wind howled. Those with their eyes open witnessed James battling sand and tent along the howling beach after nearly being launched into the river in the middle of the night without a boat! It is appropriate that the word ‘sadness’ comes somewhere near the end of the alphabet of human qualities. ‘Tenacity’ followed as everyone set to to pick up the strong threads of enjoyment, along with all the plates, stools and barrels, which had been scattered by the night’s winds.
It was unbelievable that the last full day of paddling had arrived. My perfect world was about to end. A village, which packed away into canoes in a warm sunny climate where tent pegs, fly sheets and raincoats, weren’t necessary. All meals were cooked for me and I awoke every morning to find a new view appearing from a pink mist hanging over the river. No traffic, no television and just enough real excitement to keep the heart pounding. It was a beautiful day. The scenery had become mountainous and more wooded as we entered the gorge. There were fewer hippos, which meant that there was time to notice the bare white ghost trees, the polished fat grandeur of the baobab trees and the comical hanging pods dangling from the aptly named sausage trees. There was time for a long siesta and the discovery by those brave enough to go wandering of the pink and purple jigsaw barked African Chestnut Tree. Wandering off away from the main group on your own was always heart stopping at any time of the day, always wondering, always fearful of what you might bump into in the bush. On the way to the final pitch at Red Cliff a pair of elephants on the Zambian bank was a welcome sight in the distance.
Crikey! I was standing next to a fresh set of elephant’s footprints at Red Cliff on the last morning. Maybe it was just as well they only came close in the night while we slept! The remaining bottle of champagne had been used to toast Mark and Charles at the ‘last supper’ and Lloyd had staggered everyone with his staggering display of staggering juggling with Alistair’s luminous balls. As the laughter settled Charles told African folk tales and it was riveting listening to his soft, careful pronunciations in the dark with the candles flickering in their improvised plastic bottle holders. But here we were, Mozambique in the distance, on the last short leg of our journey. It was our last chance to watch the floating weeds, imagine rock faces in the rock faces, and marvel at how the villagers managed to survive with so little. We passed allotments and women doing washing in the river. A boy chased after us in his crude dug out and a man paddled out to ask for food, but then, all too soon, the porters were waiting at Kanyemba to unpack the boats and load them onto trailers while we ate breakfast and prepared for the long and bumpy drive back to Kariba.
Charlie's question Do you have roads like this in England? wasn't just referring to the road surface! After 8 hours of dead straight earth track with no junctions, through hundreds of miles of bush land, the journey back to Kariba was hardly the equivalent of a twenty-minute bump and jolt through the likes of Broxa forest back home! It was this drive that helped me to understand the meaning of the words vastness and remoteness. Occasionally we passed by small clearings revealing villages of six to ten neat round mud, brick and stick houses with pointed grass roofs. These were, for the most part, arranged around a well kempt central area and a water pump purchased by the villagers with money from animal hunters and foreign aid. As we rattled by, waving, the contrast between them and us was rather startling. I wondered if this was their only impression of foreigners dirty and scruffy, tediously dressed in browns and greens, and slumped in the back of open trucks, but still bravely smiling! A woman, brightly clad in red patterns, patiently waited for our dust cloud to settle before climbing back onto her bike, with a baby swaddled to her back. How far do they go on their bikes? What if they get a puncture? In the entire drive we passed only three other vehicles and the only other breaks in the bush land scenery were a scattering of dried up riverbeds.
No one had expected the tsetse fly to be such fun! Charles had told us that we would soon learn the ‘tsetse dance’ on this drive as the flies started to land on us. I was so grateful every time someone hit me! There were several successful control methods being implemented in some parts, but at the tsetse border control post, the single puff of spray from a can of insect repellent into the back of our open truck didn’t strike us as having been fantastically well thought out!
The end of the track brought us to the Clouds End Filling Station, a main road and the presence of traffic again, some of which was crumpled in a mess across the side of the only steep hill for miles to test the brakes of speeding lorries! Debris from other examples of this regular occurrance littered various sites along the hill and two drivers sat forlornly in the road. The steep climb rewarding us with views over Lake Kariba, and, the final stretch of our journey gave us a fleeting herd of zebra and an elephant crossing the road in front of us. That evening, two things happened. We discovered that we'd been on Zimbabwe national television during the news coverage of the eclipse and the Kariba Breezes Hotel ran out of hot water!
The Kariba Dam Wall is an amazing sight. The lake suddenly comes to a curved stop followed by a massive sheer drop. Fish Eagles collect here and swoop down into the gorge at the bottom of the dam wall to catch fish. We stood watching this spectacle for some time, after a visit to the dam's museum. A lack of tourists due to the troubles in Zimbabwe meant that the souvenier peddlers were delighted to see us as Charles cleverly steered us in their direction during the sight seeing tour he'd organised for our final day. It was hard not to leave with truck loads of carvings and textiles. But it was easy to leave with our heads full of thoughts and memories, which will be different for each of us, I'm sure. My final treats that evening were dainty lizards, dragonflies with cobweb wings and tiny quilted bodies, and my first ever show by glow worms shimmering magically out of the darkness.
It was time to leave it all behind. The expressive sing songy voices of Stanley and King, the drivers of our 'air conditioned' coach, rose and fell in companionable chat as they aimed the front of the coach at the back of anything that got in its way, before overtaking at speed as soon as the verges were wide enough! Things flashed by. Breeze block houses with baboons sitting on corrugated tin roofs; a red brick school with children in smart blue shirts and bare feet having lessons in the sunshine; a sign reading" Don't tease the wild animals"; controlled fires and blackened scrub; people collecting sticks or just sitting by the road side; mountains, hills, an overgrown side road called 'Utopia Road'! The bush land gradually changed to farmland with large herds of cows and efficient watering systems over acres and acres of maize. We watched our last sunset develop behind a suburban skyline crisscrossed with overhead power lines as the coach hurtled towards Harare. It was now dark and the city lights and buildings blotted out the sky and the stars. The traffic noise grew and it was impossible to come to terms with the fact that we were still in the same country that had given us our adventure. We could only imagine our little village of green tents, the gentle plop of paddles in Zambezi water, the indignant grunt of hippos, the trust we had put in Charles, Lloyd's cheerful laugh and the fear that we had experienced over the last ten days. But as we boarded the plane this time, we knew that it had all been real! I am sure that Margaret has summed it up for many of us in her paragraph below:-
"I wouldn't have believed that two weeks could affect me so much. It wasn't the people and it wasn't the canoeing and it wasn't the animals, but something really touched me. I have had a lot of trouble adjusting to life back in England. I should have been full of it from the moment I landed, but I wasn't. When people asked if I had a good time I just replied, "Yes great thanks" when I should have been launching into a three-hour monologue on everything I had seen and all the things which had happened. Writing a diary has really helped. It has helped me to remember all the great things I saw and the loverly people I had met. However something about Africa has deeply affected me and I can't pin it down but I doubt it will ever leave me; and although it has left me feeling slightly empty; I hope it never does." Margaret
"......Mark, thankyou so much for inviting us to join the canoe safari on the Zambezi. As you now we had 22 months in which to prepare and as time went by we became so excited about the proposed trip that I wondered if the anticipation would become better than the reality. In fact nothing coulld be further from the truth. We left Zimbabwe with very warm memories of a beautiful country, such friendly paople, a stunning river and a very healthy respect for hippo's!!" Mavis and Bob
Many thanks to Mark for all the time and effort he put into organising such a wonderful trip.
Words by Heather Stacey and photographs from members of the group. Thankyou to those who have contributed.