Yesterday afternoon, after an exciting day of kayaking down the mighty Zambezi River, we reached the Waterfront on the edge of Livingstone, Zambia. It brought to an end another incredible leg on the TRACKS expedition – 232kms down one of Africa’s greatest rivers. And during the day, we passed the 2 500km and half-way mark – it’s all downhill from here!
While not regarded as a particularly wild river, there were certainly enough sections of white water to lift the pulse a wee bit, and in two sections, the waters were turbulent enough to get the adrenaline surging. But for the most part, the days were spent in glorious harmony with the fast-flowing waters – some serious flat water paddling, particularly when the headwinds were up (why is it when on a bicycle or kayak, the wind is always blowing directly into your face?), and then plenty of time to drift along taking in the banks sideshows.
In contrast to the kayaking in Botswana, this trip was filled with scene after scene brimming with village life – the banks of the Zambezi, particularly on the Zambian side, are packed with people. And on the upper reaches between Shesheke and Impalila Island, I was astounded at the variety and numbers of birds – sand bar after sand bar filled with African skimmers, grey-headed gulls and whiskered terns, and then there were the five rather lost looking greater flamingos. In the middle sections, the river is verged by vast floodplains, and as we glided by, large flocks of open-billed storks, black herons, and various species of egrets, ducks and geese were our constant companions.
Given the human population densities encountered, and the fact that most of the Zimbabwean side is parcelled off as hunting concessions, it was not surprising that the wildlife sightings were few and far between. In fact, from the Botswana/Zimbabwe border stretching the entire length of the Matetsi hunting blocks, we saw only two impala. We did see a few herds of elephants along the Zambian bank in the Mosi-O-Tunya National Park, and there were the expected number of hippo lurking along the entire route.
With regards to our work, there were two highlights, and we have Alan Sparrow from the Peace Parks Foundation to thank for both of them. The first was meeting and being able to interview the king and Paramount Chief from the Shesheke District. His grasp of what transfrontier conservation embraces and the manner in which he is attempting to re-empower the 70 000 or so people living within his constituency was both refreshing and exemplary. To have leaders of his calibre so deeply involved in the process gives us much hope. We thank him and his colleagues for their time, and wish them well in their endeavours.
And then today, we spent time at Toka Leya, a wonderful Wilderness Safaris camp situated on the banks of the river within the Mosi-O-Tunya park boundaries, deep in discussion with various conservation, ecotourism and community representatives. Hosted by Solly Tevera and his staff, the issues covered ranged from the nature of transfrontier conservation and the challenges of implementing KAZA to the charcoal industry and the population and global consumption debates. Our thanks go to Solly and Charles van Rensburg from Wilderness Safaris, and to Alan Sparrow for organizing this successful get together.
And now for the customary good-byes. The first to leave us were Corne Langenhoven Michael Shaplin and Armour Getling, our guests from Avis. What superb paddlers and company you guys were, and your candid humour and banter will surely rank as some of the most entertaining on the entire trip. Due to his involvement with other challenges, Wayne Duvenage was unfortunately not able to join the group. The firm support Avis has given TRACKS from the outset has been instrumental in getting us to where we are today. We are extremely grateful and many thanks indeed to all involved.
It was also a second good-bye to John Sandenbergh and his partner, Emily, from Kayaktive Adventure Safaris – many thanks for your support and leading us on our watery way. And to Tess, it’s always a highlight for me when you join us – I cannot wait for you and Liam to be back when we reach Pafuri.
James Brundige, who has taken time out to be our film-maker over the last three weeks, will leave us tomorrow, but not before he does one final scene as we cross the Victoria Falls Bridge. What a pleasure it has been sharing time and stories ranging from conservation and mountaineering to music and the cosmos with you. Thanks for your wholehearted support of TRACKS and the work we do, and we sincerely look forward to working with you again – and seeing your KAZA documentary, a piece that will no doubt be an immensely meaningful contribution to this unfolding story.
Tomorrow, it’s back in the saddle as we set off for Hwange National Park. It should take us a day’s ride to reach the park boundary, and then on to Dr. Greg Rasmussen and his Painted Dog Conservation project. Greg is well-known in conservation circles for his passionate and committed approach to wild dog conservation and bringing awareness to the plight of these endangered creatures. It’s then into the park itself where we will be hosted by Courteney Johnson and Wilderness Safaris as we walk and cycle across what is another of Africa’s iconic protected areas, and a core component to KAZA. Courteney, a long standing friend, has been instrumental in smoothing the way for our Zimbabwean leg – many thanks for that, and we look forward to seeing you in a few days’ time.