For the past few years, I’ve been corresponding with Steve Tolan, CEO and Program Director for the Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust, in Zambia. Chipembele is the winner of the National Prize for Zambia and the International Prize in the category of Youth at the Energy Globe Awards, Austria, 2011; winner of the European Parliament STOA World Prize for Sustainable Energy, 2011.
Steve and friends recently canoed the Luangwa River in Zambia. It’s quite a story, one I think you’ll enjoy. The following is Steve’s E-mail to me. If you wish to E-mail Steve or learn more about the Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Steve and his friends kindly gave their permission to publish their story.
Greetings from Zambia. I thought you might be interested in this year's canoe trip:
This year's canoe trip started on Saturday 24th March. The two other canoes got here from Mfuwe after a three plus-hour paddle, then we all had a big breakfast at Chipembele before setting off. My paddling partner was Adam, a friend from Lusaka, and the other two canoes carried Rachel, CEO of South Luangwa Conservation Society and Ian, CEO of Conservation Lower Zambezi, plus Robin (British) and his wife Ana (Columbian vet) in another canoe, who runs the Zambian Carnivore Programme in Kafue NP,hence we were all involved in conservation in one way or another (Adam volunteers for the Wildlife Society in Lusaka).
At dusk on the first day we were soaked by a big thunderstorm and dragged our canoes up a horrible deep muddy bank to set up camp. Luckily the rain stopped within minutes and we had a lovely dry evening. The next evening it started raining heavily just after we'd finished dinner,so we had to retire to our tents at 19.10 (7:10 PM). I slept right through until heavy rain woke me at 05.30 (5:30 AM). We packed away in a dry spell, then itstarted again. I had a weird experience that day... I was paddling at the back in deep water when my paddle hit something solid. The next stroke was fine, then I hit the same object again. I shouted to Rachel and Ian following that something weird had happened and as Robin and Ana went over the same spot, a big croc came up on the surface and raced towards their canoe, driven off by them slapping their paddles at it. I think it came up under our boat to see if we were edible and I hit it twice... my hand was only a foot or so above it.
There was a scary story from the Congo last year when a world-class kayaker was taken by a huge croc, and so we were all concerned about crocs. See:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1340547/Hendrik-Coetzee-Friends-speak-horror-kayaker-dragged-craft-crocodile-Congo.html Hippos were numerous, but only one took a dislike to us, and came for our canoe but we managed to outpace it.
That evening we camped in a lovely tributary and the next day we stopped off at a hunting camp on the other side to get water. They were horrified to hear we had slept on the other bank as there are man-eating lions there that had eaten eight people last year, including a scout! The area is so dangerous that fishermen no longer sleep in the bush any more. We were assured that the crocs were friendly, as they hadn't killed anyone for THREE years!
A couple of evenings later we were eating dinner at about 20.00 hrs (8 PM) when there was a deep noise like thunder from the far bank, which was very high. We ran to the bank and shone our torches to see a huge wave coming straight at us, which washed one canoe away (but soon recovered)... a freshwater tsunami! About 40 metres of the far bank, 300 metres away, had collapsed and created the wave.
The next day we paddled until we reached a raging, steep-sided gorge. Two years ago Adam and I capsized here in dangerous, turbulent water. For the past two years Adam has always paddled at the back, with me at the front. The principle is that the strongest is in the front for power, while the one in the back steers. However, we have had two major capsizes and lots of near misses, so this year I decided to go in the back. I'm happy to say that we never overturned once, whereas the two other canoes overturned... Rach and Ian twice in 200 metres... and they've never overturned before, despite everyone else taking a swim all around them in the last two trips! I should add though that Adam and I took an easier run than the other two canoes.. the raging water and huge waves the other two canoes took was not meant to be tackled in open, heavily-laden canoes!
We have been warned many times that the pools below the many rapids contain crocs and we were all really concerned, so when the two canoes overturned, without ever hearing of the tactic before, both crews decided on a unique strategy to reduce croc attack... climb on top of
the canoe and paddle backwards! It took them about 10 minutes to reach the bank, but it worked.
That evening we were invited to spent the afternoon and evening at a lovely camp overlooking the Kawe Rapids, our next big obstacle for the next day.The gear in the other two canoes was soaked, lots of food was wasted and everything had to spread out on the ground to dry.
The following morning, after breakfast, we nervously surveyed the rapids by the camp and decided the best way through the numerous islands, trees, bushes, channels and protruding rocks. Adam and I went first and did well not to capsize. The other canoes made it safely through too. We camped that night on a lovely sandy bank. At midday the following day we arrived at Luangwa Bridge Camp, where we pulled our canoes out and had lovely food and a great night's sleep in their chalets.