Africa: Rafting Day 4

Ok, I believe I was about to explain the portages we had to undertake, and how they work.

Firstly I have to say that we said goodbye to the Irish boys on the 3rd of September, the 4th day into the rafting trip.  We exchanged emails to keep in touch, and of course, to catch up again when I head over that way in 2010.

According to the dictionary, a portage is: “The act or process of transporting boats, supplies, etc., overland between navigable waterways”, which is exactly what we did, however in my definition, a portage is more justly explained as: “The act of exhausting oneself by carrying lots of heavy stuff over rocky outcrops along the river in the hot sun”.  It was hard work.  No wonder the guys who raft for a living are fit.  The first portage we did was atLower Moemba, and this was our introduction portage.  The easy one.  We simply had to carry ourselves and our valuables in the grey pelicases (water tight cases) over the rocks and wait.  We waited while Trev, Cam and Iliam did all the hard work arranging a rope line to guide the rafts along and around the rocks, without losing the raft to the river.  The reason we had to complete these portages was basically because it was too dangerous to raft those particular parts of the river.  The site of theLower Moembaportage was basically a huge drop in the river that the water plummeted over and then ran straight into the wall opposite.  The noise from the river was really loud, indicating a fairly large volume of water and the crush would be shocking if you were caught at the base of the fall.

We waited in anticipation while perched at the top of the rocky outcrop, and were all quite happy when the rafts came down without incident – for if they had flipped we were going to have to untie everything, right the raft, and tie all the gear on again!  All the while making sure we didn’t lose anything down the river.  We continued rafting until we got to the next portage site, Dam Site.  This was the major portage of the day, and is where I gleaned my definition from.  This was hard work.  At Dam Site we had to empty both rafts of gear, lug all the gear and the rafts over about 100 meters of rocks, re-load and secure the gear in the rafts, and lower them into the water again.  Now it was the middle of the day, and I’m talking a tonne of gear.  Literally!  There were our personal bags in our raft, plus the first aid kit, water bottles, paddles and our grey pelicases.  In the gear boat we had all seven days worth of ammo boxes, filled with either food to eat, or waste from days gone, the two huge chiller boxes, the kitchen barrel, spare essentials, and of course, the toilet.  And the rafts themselves.

The idea was to carry all the gear from the raft across to the point where we’d re-enter the water, return empty handed and repeat the process until we had moved everything across.  We’d been told of incidences where personal belongings would go missing between one point and the other, so I was given the easy task of “guarding” the pelicases and our personal bags until we had all the stuff ready to re-load.  I was happy with that, until I realised that if someone came to steal our goods, they would most likely be armed with some form of gun/s, as we were on the Zimbabwean side of the river.  Not so happy anymore.  Man, if anyone sprang out at me with a gun demanding our pelicases they were welcome to take as many as I could carry as far as I was concerned.  I like my camera, but not that much!  Anyway, I did get in and help carry stuff after a while, as it was hot, heavy and tiring work, and the weather had decided to become truly African that day!  Geez there was a lot of stuff.  Who would have ever thought that a trip rafting down the river and sleeping on the beach would warrant so much gear?  Wow.  There was a huge effort put in by the boys I have to admit, I wasn’t much help carrying the rafts across, I was too short…  And they weighed heaps, even empty.  It was at this stage I was especially grateful for the shoes I’d gone and purchased specially for the trip.  You had to do the straps up really tight, because they’d get really loose as soon as they were in the water, and even though they were good quality, they were still rubber, and slippery shoes and rocks are not a good combination.  We survived that portage, and after much effort and patience the gear was transported and re-loaded into the rafts and ready to go again.

Getting us into the raft and the raft back into the water was quite funny, and would have been even funnier to watch, I’m sure.  It was quite a drop into the water, even though we were past the dangerous part, the water still looked a fair way down.  Therefore, whoever was in the front of the raft had to jump in, then bounce up and down to jiggle the raft slowly over the edge and closer to the water.  Camwas holding onto the back of the raft at this stage, and I was just praying the thing wouldn’t fall all the way into the water and take off without him.  Or worse, flip over and we’d have to start again.  After the first crew got in, the next two in line had to jump in and repeat the bouncing/jiggling process, all the while inching closer and closer to the water.  It reminded me of when a tea bag gets jiggled up and down in hot water, slowly getting further submerged into the cup.  We were nearly vertical at one stage and I had visions of tumbling out and becoming a human tea bag.  Would have been funny for everyone else I’m sure!

By the time we reached our campsite that night we were all exhausted.  The energy expended during those portages was enormous, and coupled with the heat we were all ready for an early night.  That campsite was quite rocky, and was located just before the last major rapid we were going to tackle, Ghostrider.  We’d all heard stories of Ghostrider and how likely we were to come out in it, so it was decided we’d camp before it and run it in the morning, when we were all hopefully refreshed, alert and ready for a swim!  Well it’d be more like a run through a wash cycle in the machine.  What a pleasant thought to have whilst sleeping that night…

The next morning bought much excitement about Ghostrider, and a little trepidation for the boys who’d been to peer at the rapid over the other side of the campsite.  I chose not to look, thinking that if I didn’t have a preconceived idea of how bad it was going to be, it may not be as bad.  Hopefully more exiting rather than terrifying, however the looks on their faces upon their return did not instill much confidence in me!

We ate another good breakfast, except Rhys who was feeling sick.  I think it was the combination of heat and exhaustion from the portages the day before, plus the alcohol, that put him under the weather.  Plus all the river water we’d been drinking had an effect on all our stomachs at some stage during the week too.

Dave helped Cam rig up the raft again, Dave was becoming an expert by this stage, after helpingCameach morning, and they had it down pat.  We’d hand them all the gear and they’d load it up and secure it, especially well that morning in anticipation of flipping the raft in Ghostrider.  Dave and I claimed back the front positions; I wanted to have the best vantage point of this monster rapid.  We’d been told that there may come a point where we’d both be paddling in thin air, as we were bound to be either sitting on top of the wave with nothing underneath us, or be swamped by it and be going for an early morning swim!  Cam gave us instructions that if we came out we were to swim for our lives to the right of the big rock in the middle of the river, for if we missed the right side of the rock and continued on the left side we were headed straight for the next portage site, Deep Throat, and that wouldn’t be pretty for any involved.  That option involved a long swim and a mad scramble to get out of the river before you were whooshed over the edge.  And when I say swim that was the nice way of putting it; a swim meant you would be carried off down the river, being thrust up and down in the water, trying to get some air, whilst trying to stay upright and make sure you kept away from the rocks.  Basically it would be a few hundred meters of the river deciding what to do with you, before it spat you out somewhere, hopefully alive and in one piece.  The ideal option – stay in the raft!

Man, those instructions always put more than a little fear into my heart, not only was I trying to concentrate on the paddle strokes and possible instructions of over left or over right (basically jumping to one side of the raft or the other to keep it stable, depending on which way we hit the water), but just in case we flipped it I had to think about which way was up and down, and left and right.  And after all the instructions and possibilities, I wanted to enjoy the experience and get my dose of healthy fear from the rapid!  We paddled off, and saw it.  Ghostrider.  It consisted of three big waves of water, each one bigger than the one before it.  If we hit it at the right angle and at the right time, we’d sail over and be fine, if not we were in for the biggest swim of the week.  Camfound the line he wanted to take, and we paddled like mad to get it just right.  I hadn’t yet learnt to put my head down in time to take each wave, and would cop a massive dump of water in my face each time.  All part of rafting I figured!  We hit the first wave spot on, and I was keeping an ear open for instructions fromCam, along with an eye on the water ahead and another eye on Dave, to try to keep up with his paddle strokes and grab the water at the same time.  The second wave came, and we sailed over that too.  We were up on the third and I was leaning out to grab the water with my paddle, when suddenly there was no water.  My paddle flew through the air and hit the side of the raft behind me.  Lucky it didn’t hit Rhys who was sitting behind me, and I regained my balance, dug my foot in under the foot strap and tried again.  I glanced at Dave and he had the same huge grin on his face the same as me.  We were on top of the wave, staring down at a huge drop to the water below.  Talk about adrenaline dump!  WOW!

The wave delivered us safely onto the water below, without flipping us over.  We were all cheering and celebrating – we ran Ghostrider and survived it!!!  Awesome!  That’s the stuff I’m talking about, heart pumping, fear filled, excitement and adventure.  Bring it on!

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