Paddling Into the Wild

| Tamlin Wightman

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There is a scene in the film Into the Wild, when Emile Hirsh (playing Christopher McCandless) jumps into a canoe and heads down the Colorado River, riding bubbling rapids through Mexico to the Gulf of California. He goes with no training, no guide, no permit, only desire and a dream.

Maybe it’s the clever montage of slow motion scenes cut with the real-time and very frightening speed of the river, but I always feel my mind quietening and leaving my body to join his, gliding through the valley as he does. My heart leaps with his.

When he eases out into the calmer stretches and floats on the end of the river’s tail, I am taken back to our canoe trips down the Zambezi. Starting a distance upstream from Royal Chundu and paddling with the flow back to the lodge, we cover a few rapids, but mostly, we waft over still, sleepy water.

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With guides SK, Kelvin or Moses instead of Supertramp, each trip is a chance to measure myself against the power of the river and its animals. Each trip is a chance to find quiet, to be quiet, and so to see and hear more. Each trip, my heart seems to simultaneously stop and beat, furiously, as though unsure of what to do with itself. A flashing light in the night letting me know that it’s there. Very much there.

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Canoeing over the Katombora rapids and through the channels of the Zambezi’s islands is not only transformative in that it stills the soul and helps you overcome fears, but it also connects you to nature and takes you closer to the world around you. A world which, here at Royal Chundu, is aflutter with hundreds of different bird species – the African fish eagle, the rock pratincole, the skimmer – and the other animals of this river, the lifeblood of the Victoria Falls, such as the elusive otter, hippo and crocodile, the occasional giraffe or elephant herd on the riverbank.

You can opt for an inflatable canoe, with you and the guide paddling in sync, or a motorised inflatable canoe, using a combination of a 5hp motor to propel you and a paddle. Stop for a break at a picnic beneath the jackalberry trees on the riverbank, before heading back along the water to the lodge.

Below are a few images from our recent paddle down the Zambezi. Experience the calm as well as the fury of the Zambezi for yourself, on either a canoe trip at Royal Chundu or white-water rafting along the lower reaches of the river.

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