I am thrilled to have appeared in Outwit Trade’s feature on how travel enriches your life.
For me, travel changed my life.
It happened in 1994. Newly divorced and single, I wanted to get away, but had no-one to go on holiday with. Rather than sitting alone on a beach like Johnny No Mates, I decided on an activity holiday. Sailing, perhaps, or hiking – something sociable.
When a magazine flopped on to my doormat advertising, ‘Rafting The Zambezi – The River of the Gods’ I signed up straight away. I didn’t bother reading the description.
I remembered something romantic about Victoria Falls and “Dr Livingstone I presume?” And since the word ‘rafting’, conjured up visions of floating along on a barn door, looking at wildlife, I thought doing it in Africa might be fun.
This was pre-internet, in 1994. I had never heard of whitewater rafting. So, what happened next came as rather a surprise…
A few people mentioned things like, “The biggest white water in the world”, “Crocodiles” and “Hippos”, but I was not worried,
“Don’t be silly. Not where we’re going!”
It was the video of enormous, churning rapids at Harare airport which finally snapped me out of my blissful ignorance.
“Oh my word – that IS where we’re going!”
Murky green waves, fifteen feet high, tossed inflatable rafts and people into the air like rag dolls. That first night, we slept under the stars on the banks of the Zambezi below Victoria Falls. Known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya – The Smoke That Thunders, we saw a lunar rainbow in the spray.
There, we were briefed on how to avoid ‘large reptiles’ (crocodiles) and were read the riot act about hippos; “They kill more people in Africa than everything else put together.”
For the next six days, we tackled a multitude of the churning rapids that I had seen on the video. I hung on for dear life as I experienced the roller-coaster ride of my life. Did I mention that it’s some of the biggest white water in the world?
It was terrifying, exhilarating, intimidating and intoxicating. I was hooked!
Yet, away from the excitement and adrenalin, I enjoyed a sweet and simple life. I had two sets of clothes; wet and dry. In the tranquillity of nature, we cooked simple food each night over a wood fire. Sometimes, sleeping out in the open, I woke and just gazed at the magnificent canopy of stars above me and understood why my ancestors worshiped the heavens.
I felt privileged to experience a landscape that most people will never see, concealed as it is by sheer, four-hundred-foot cliffs and accessible only via the violent fury of the Zambezi’s Grade Five rapids. (Grade Six rapids are extreme and often un-runnable!)
Six days and 60km later at the Kariba Dam, I was a different person. My hunger to see the world and really experience life had been fully awakened. I resolved to stop living my life in thin slices; a few weeks’ leave from work here and there was not enough.
Since then, I have travelled on six of the seven continents and rafted some of the biggest rivers in the world. In 1996, I asked my boss for ‘maternity leave’ to go backpacking around Australia and New Zealand.
I met my husband, Mark, in 1999.
“I want to go whitewater rafting!” he told me.
“I am the whitewater rafting queen!” I replied.
37 days later, we were engaged and married within the year.
Although it took until 2015 to get all the pieces in place, Mark and I finally managed to give up our jobs to travel full time with our four dogs. We now spend our summers touring in a caravan, with windsurf boards on the roof; the winters, we spend skiing.
Travel taught me that there is more to life than work-eat-sleep-repeat. It motivated me to find a way to give up the daily grind to do more of what I love. Travel also taught me that I don’t need much in the way of material things; I value experience over owning stuff – and I already have most of what I need to be happy.
This article first appeared as part of a compilation of ‘How Travel Enriches You’ on the Outwit Trade website. Click here to read my original article, along with other inspiring pieces from 48 other expert travellers.
Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far you can go.TS Eliot
Upper Moemba Falls, featured in the slideshow above, amply demonstrate why the river’s nickname is the ‘Slambezi’. I am pictured back right in what is fondly known as ‘the ejector seat!’.
To reach Upper Moemba Falls takes three days of paddling through a gorge with 400ft walls, in crocodile-infested, Grade V rapids. I feel privileged to have experienced it, since like the surface of the moon, it is a place that most people will never see in their lifetime.
I am doubly privileged, since, sadly, when the proposed Batoka Gorge hydroelectric power project goes ahead, it is something that nobody will ever see or experience again. It is yet another reason to sieze the day, since today’s opportunities may not be there tomorrow.
If you are worried about the potential damage to communities and wildlife, check out International Rivers, an organisation which aims to protect the world’s most iconic rivers and propose alternatives, which ironically, are cheaper and more sustainable. Click here to discover ways to get involved in protecting the world’s rivers.