Upper Zambezi Canoe Trip

by Chris De Veer

Compared to the Lower Zambezi, the still waters of the wide Upper Zambezi gave me the feeling of being on a lake rather than the mighty Zambezi that had tossed me around like a rag doll yesterday. However, adrenaline still coursed through my veins as I kept my eyes out for crocodiles and hippos surfacing near the canoe.

The morning was chilly, especially in the open bed of the truck carrying us and the canoes. We drove about an hour or so from town, into the Zambezi National Park. The road wasn’t too bad and the scenery was about person-high bushes, shrubs, and the scattered tall tree. It was mostly brown – it is winter and the dry season down here – and we saw a small herd of water buffalo checking us out as we drove slowly by.

At the river, we disturbed a group of baboons, but otherwise, we sat on the beautiful banks of the not-so-mighty-looking Zambezi. Here, the river is wide and dotted with hundreds of small, sandy islands that disappear at the height of the rainy season. For now, we enjoyed out breakfast and a safety brief before going for a lazy paddle.

I felt a little disappointed at first. We didn’t get on the water until the sun was well above the horizon and we didn’t see too many animals at first. Just a few birds, really. Then, our guide spotted a few hippos. These guys can move quick in the water and are pretty territorial, so we gave them wide berth.

A little later, we rounded the corner and, voila!, two elephants at the water’s edge. We quietly maneuvered the canoes so we could watch and take photos. I would say the elephants were no more than 50 to 100 meters away. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring my laser range finder to give you the exact distance.

We saw a few more elephants on the far bank of the river. You could tell they had been in the water because they were two toned. Light for about the top one-sixth of their body and dark the rest of the way down. When I saw the elephants, I felt the trip was worth it.

Just being outside in the sun, paddling on the river was great. The air is clean and the water cool – although you don’t go in because you might tempt a crocodile to nibble gently on your toes. I could easily have spent another day or two on the river, just watching the banks go by.

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