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Bushwise Tales

Excerpts from a day in the life of our own adventurer, Tim van Coller, owner of Bushwise, as he attempted to conquer the mighty Zambezi River in a kayak!

His Dream, from the age of 18, had been to paddle the Zambezi River from source to mouth. On the 18th of September 2004, at the age of 53, he started from the border post at a place called Chavuma, situated between Angola and Zambia.

His goal: to paddle the 2900km to the mouth of the mighty Zambezi, using a Prijon Sea Kayak, with 35kg of provisions and equipment, including a GPS and Satellite phone.

He was alone, and with no back-up, in the middle of Africa!

This is his story….

The first week of paddling was very hard – stiff arms, cramping muscles and time to adjust to sleeping on the ground in a one-man tent with only myself for company. After that I got into a routine, and paddled eight to ten hours a day, covering 30km on average.

Fishing was great and I was able to supplement my diet with what I caught.

For the first 300km I didn’t see another white person. Some of the local women and children ran away screaming when they saw me as I doubt they had ever seen a white man before, especially not one paddling down the river in a bright yellow kayak! Generally the locals in Zambia were extremely friendly though – very poor but generous with what they had. I used to trade fish hooks, maize and food. The scenery was spectacular with beautiful African sunsets and horizons. Peace, quiet and tranquility were something to behold.

After about five days of paddling I stopped to make myself some lunch on a fairly narrow section of the river. There were a lot of over-hanging trees and large roots in the water, which I tied my kayak onto. I sat under the shade of a large tree on my haunches wearing a large white hat with sunglasses, my life jacket and bright yellow nylon splash cover around my waist. I heard a local in a mkora paddling up the river and as he got opposite me I waved at him and said ‘Hallo!’. His eyes got huge, his mouth opened and his jaw started moving but no sound was coming out! After a few seconds I heard a high-pitched scream ‘Tokolosh, Tokolosh!’ and his mkora took off up river like a speedboat! Even after I lost sight of the mkora I could still hear him screaming ‘Tokolosh, Tokolosh!’.

The first mishap occurred at the Ngonya Falls. With the help of four locals I portaged about 8km’s, but put in too early and fell out on some grade two rapids. I wound up drifting next to the kayak in a large pool with a number of hippo and after getting out in one piece I promised myself I would portage around any future rapids/waterfalls! Paddling the rapids above Victoria Falls was exhilarating and adrenaline-charged. I didn’t see much wildlife until I got below the falls – and then elephants. I was putting up my tent on the riverbank one evening when I got the feeling that something was watching me. I looked up and saw a young elephant walking towards me. With the distance now closing between us, I turned, ran and jumped off a two metre bank towards the river. The elephant turned and gave chase with its trunk up and ears flapping, trumpeting! It got to the edge of the bank and stood there flapping its ears, trumpeting and kicking up a cloud of dust. It then walked to the tent and trashed it using his trunk and legs……

Watch out for part 2 next month when we carry on this African adventure!