Zambia — Livingstone & Victoria Falls

We crossed into Zambia where zebras and giraffes roamed through our campsites and monkeys stole from our tents.

I was amazed by how beautifully manicured the Livingstone campsite was — I saw one man cutting the grass by hand.

Zambia was all about adventure and the mantra was “don’t panic.”

We went whitewater rafting on the Zambezi river which flows along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The whole thing started off with a speech about how we would only get a helicopter evacuation if an injury was really life threatening.

We were each handed a helmet, life jacket and paddle and sent on our way down many stone steps and rocks to the bottom of a gorge.

We staggered onto our raft where we learned that yes, there are crocodiles in this river. I tried to press our guide for “crocodile hacks” or any type of “top ten tips for what to do when you see a crocodile” but the best I got was “don’t panic” — they’ll know if you’re heart is racing. Excellent.

I snagged a seat next to the guide, (thinking that would be the safest bet) and we set off down the river. The rapids were class 3,4 and 5 and had comforting names like “Devil’s Toilet Bowl” and “Stairway to Heaven.”

We braved most of the drops, but 6 of us flew off at the beginning of one long rapid. Only one of our guys was still in the boat to pull people in, and somehow I found myself at the back of the line with two paddles. I was swept away in the next big wave and ended up doing the rest of the class four rapid in just my life jacket. I kind of loved it.

A kayaker picked me up about 200 yards later.

The guide encouraged us to swim in some of the pools between rapids. By encouraged, I mean he yanked me (the closest to him) into the water, and told the others to join. Despite my efforts, this happened over and over.

One time, on my way down, I heard Hannah say “I think that’s a baby crocodile” but it was already too late.

A few minutes later, the guide spotted another baby crocodile so we paddled over to take a look. It was about 4 feet long. He told us not to worry — this was just a baby — it’s the grown-ups that can get up to 10 feet. But you don’t have to know much about motherhood to assume the mom was close by.

He told us excitedly that the other day he had to change the route he takes down one of the big rapids because the rock he usually banks off of had a giant crocodile on it.

I felt guilty about the piece of crocodile pizza I tried the night before and tried to think of ways to restore my karma.

After braving the last few rapids and swimming to shore, we had a 45 minute uphill climb out of the gorge on steps and ladders made of branches.

I was toast, but the view from the top was brilliant.

In the morning, we took a cycling tour around the villages near Livingstone. We saw an old woman working at the quarry who feeds her family by sitting on the ground all day and smashing rocks together to make smaller rocks.

We visited the local market where dried caterpillars abounded. We learned that women eat a certain stone made of soil to get iron in their diets. The guide gave me some to try. Just after I put it in my mouth, he told me that it meant I would be pregnant in one month. I spit it out immediately. The shopkeeper was not impressed.

Later on, a few of us did a walk with wild lion “cubs” (they were 18 months old and seemed pretty well grown). These lions are used to people but they run free and still have their natural instincts, so the instructions were “stay alert”, “don’t crouch” and again, “don’t panic”. We got sticks to distract the lions in case they started to stalk us.

It was amazing to be so up close, seeing them running, climbing trees, and playing together. But when you saw the lions running at you with that naughty look, the stick started to feel really silly. I was glad to have the trainers who the lions recognize as dominant members of their pride.

On the last morning, we swam in the Devil’s Pool. Devil’s Pool is a natural rock pool that sits right at the top of Victoria Falls — one of the largest waterfalls in the world. A boat takes you most of the way, but for the final stretch you have to take a swim of faith to a rock formation. Our guide threw a stone into the water to scare away the crocodiles. From there, you jump down into the pool where there is a notorious rock ledge just at the edge of the falls. The guide holds your ankles as one-by-one, each person swims onto that slippery ledge, reaches over, and looks down over the 110 meter drop. This is something that could only happen in Africa.

It was terrifying and exhilarating. But the Devil’s Pool was the one thing on this trip that I was most nervous about, so it feels good to have conquered it.

But I also had to say goodbye to my lovely tent-mate Hannah in Zambia.

On her last day we got a pedicure (I am a lady again!) and the whole group took a sunset cruise.

Let me take a minute to dote on Hannah and our perfect union. For starters, she was going to come on this trip with her boyfriend but when he couldn’t come, she still did the trip anyway. I obviously love her independence. Despite growing up across the world from each other, we have so many little things in common. We both drink cider and like toast with peanut butter and salt. We both read non-fiction books, write to-do lists, and read aloud when we are writing. We both use pro & con lists to make big decisions, and both picked up that habit from our moms. We both thrill seek, but get a last minute impulse to bail. We both binge watch the same TV shows, and we’re both weirdly flexible. We shared a nasty sunburn and many passionate conversations about social injustices — including the people on our truck who never offered to share a seat. Maybe most importantly, Hannah didn’t spit out my natural toothpaste when I made her try it.

It’s been so good to have a partner-in-crime, but I’m not going to panic.

Here’s to taking the rest of Africa on my own.