Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Nile 2 Zambezi - An African road trip

Davey O'Hare in a safe place on #9 Zambezi River - Zambia

Two of the worlds most impressive rivers are found in Africa. But anyone who has attempted to make the journey to both The White Nile of Uganda and Zambia’s Zambezi in one go will soon realize they are huge distances apart from each other. An expensive airplane ride can eat up those miles in a matter of hours and is the common cure. But should you be lucky enough to make the haul across 4 countries and 2000 miles of potholes and mud ruts by car, you will lose yourself in an epic journey that makes kayaking only a portion of the whole adventure.

From Uganda we made bold decision to drive west around Lake Victoria and into the small country of Rwanda. Although this would be a shorter distance on paper, this route would eventually land us in remote western Tanzania, where roads became dots on the map - 4x4 African style.

In the beginning the drive was beautiful and paved nicely, going up into Ugandan hills until we reached the terraced hillsides of Rwanda. Here there were people everywhere including all over the road. Rwanda has one of the highest population densities in Africa and it definitely felt like it. But we should have not taken the pavement for granted, once into Tanzania nice roads vanished into dirt ruts and soon became an 800 mile thrash along Lake Tanganyika. Definitely off the beaten path.

For most of the next 4 days our sturdy Toyota Hilux was holding its own in full time 4x4 as road became legendary with stunning scenery, steep rock crawls, and nasty deep mud pools. As we climbed up and over one small mountain range, we got introduced to the meaning of "the wet season" as mother Africa decided to send a crazy tropical rain storm our way… as if we didn’t have enough to worry about. As with most storms here in Africa when it rains, it rains with authority and our road became a small river in a matter of minutes.

After a low point of thinking we would be stuck forever in the African outback, the road began to improve during our final push to the Zambian border. On our way we crossed the Malagarasi River, beautiful and ready for a multi-day expedition if you don’t mind….Hippos! One of the biggest obstacles holding back the majority of river explorations throughout, Africa are these gigantic aggressive beast who love to hang out together in flat water.

Zambia! Once on the Great Eastern road, we rejoiced in potholed pavement for the next 1000 miles and pushed long and hard to Livingstone in Zambia’s southwestern corner. As one of the 7 natural wonders of the world plummet from the countryside and into the gorge below it was refreshing to know we had arrived before the river had yet to go past ridiculously high levels. This year the river is on its way up quickly but is still providing some of the best waves in the world.

Nico Chasing - still a permanent Zambezi resident with plenty of airmiles on #8.

With the immediate possibility of the White Nile falling victim to damming, the classic Zambezi gorge represents no man’s land, a border into the abyss which separates two countries. Perhaps a dam one day far far away, but until then make sure you make the trip to one of the greatest pieces of playable big water boating on the planet.

Michelle Basso trying to settle the beast

View Zambezi River (IV-V) in a larger map