If today is any indication of what the rest of our trip is like, then I may never go home. The group split up and did different activities today. Jon and I signed up for the “microlite tour” and the “gorge swing”. So a group of us got on the shuttle that came at 7:30AM and then we were off on a day of adventure. Be forewarned – this journal is a long one!
A microlight plane is similar to a hang glider, except it’s piloted by a small engine and propeller. The Microlite can hold two people – the pilot and the passenger. I got suited up in a crazy orange flight suit and climbed in behind my pilot, Kevin, for a flight over Victoria Falls. Now, I feel like I need to describe this first: you are way up in the air and wide open to the elements. Although you’re completely strapped in, this doesn’t really stop the feeling that you could plummet to your death at any second. Sort of like the beginning of a “falling” nightmare, where you look down and see the depth of the fall just before you actually fall in your dream.
Heidi, ready for takeoff
I was gripping the handlebars so tightly that my knuckles where white. So my man Kevin started chatting with me over the headset to get me to relax. And then we were over the falls and I forgot all my worries. So incredible! The falls are absolutely huge, and have so much water with such power that there is a perpetual mountain of mist over them. Niagra has nothing compared to this. And I can’t imagine seeing them any other way.
As we were flying over them, Kevin used a rainbow that moved with us as a pointer to show me the Zimbabwe side of the falls, the place where Mr. Livingston got out of his canoe just before going over, and the Zambia side of the falls. When I told him we were doing the Gorge Swing later, he pointed out that area as well. Yes, it’s a gorge, and yes, it’s high. But more on this later.
So on our way back, Kev pointed out some hippos, a crocodile, and baboons. Apparently, baboons are like rats. I was feeling much better by this point, so Kev did a few minor stunts for my entertainment. He let the engine stall so we just glided in complete silence for a minute. After that, he did the “roller coaster” where we ascended steeply and then dropped quickly. I thought my heart might drop through my stomach at one point, but then it was kind of fun. I got the impression that he could do these much steeper, but was taking it easy on me. Still, it was wonderful. After we landed, Jon took the same flight and then we boarded a shuttle to take us to the Gorge Swing.
Let me say first that both Jon and I are very frightened of heights. I don’t think ours is an unnatural feeling, just one of strong self preservation. (You know, sweaty palms and a dizzy feeling). But, for some masochistic reason that we can’t fully explain, we continue to subject ourselves to activities and sights that are located high up.
The Gorge Swing is probably the worst thing we’ve ever done. There are 3 different things to do at the Gorge: 1) The Zip Wire, 2) The Abseil, and 3) The Swing. Since we had an all-day pass, they started us the zip wire. This extends from one side of the gorge to the other. Paul – the owner – harnessed me to the high wire, and I ran across the platform and zipped across the wire. When I came to a stop, I was hanging out over the gorge until they pulled me back in. The first two times, I did it in a sitting position where the harness is attached at my belly and I could hold onto it. The next few times, I did the “superman” where the harness was attached to my back and I flew across the gorge face down. It’s quite unnerving to have nothing to hold onto while you’re staring 130m down a gorge. I had to remind myself to breathe.
Super-Heidi on the zip wire
After the zip wire, we went to the abseil which is a rappelling sort of thing. We rappelled down 54 meters down the side of the cliff into the gorge. Jon went first as he knew it was going to be difficult for him because of the height. I went next and was completely trembling by the time I got to bottom. There’s something about hanging by a rope on a side of a cliff that’s a bit nerve wracking. After the rest of our group made it down, we started the hike back up the gorge. It took about 25 minutes and was incredibly steep. We were all breathing pretty hard by the time we made it to the top, but it was worth the views.
After that, we did it all again. Only this time, it was easier. Some people when down forward (called “rap jumping”) instead of backwards, but Jon and I opted for the latter. By this point, the crazy Aussies has become quite the entertainment. Dennis had some fake teeth that look like a dentist’s nightmare. He insisted on wearing them for every activity. It was hysterical to see the reactions of the people that worked around the gorge when he would walk up with these heinous teeth. So funny! Anyway, the crazy Aussies decided to do time trials rap jumping. So we were below when they cam barreling down the cliff. Dennis was rappelling so quickly that his body started to spin in circles. Quite funny to watch from below. Afterwards, we made the trek back up the gorge again.
We sat and ate lunch in front of the gorge swing – something we had heard horror stories about all day. Basically, it’s one cable stretched from one side of the gorge to the other. In the middle of the cable is tied a second cable. The other end of the second cable is pulled back to the platform, although there is plenty of slack in the line. So, basically, one steps off the platform and free falls until the slack goes taught, and one ends up swinging back and forth over the gorge. It’s not a bungee jump – there is no bounce back from the cord. But it’s similar in that the first step to the edge of the platform is the doozy. Jon and I went tandem together and Paul estimated that we would travel at 180km/hr. No kidding. We were completely terrified, but determined to do it. So we inched our way to the end of the platform, Paul counted three…. two… one… and we stepped… and fell and fell and fell and fell and fell and finally we were swinging back and forth across the gorge. Thankful, of course, to be alive. By this point, the harnesses had definitely moved into uncomfortable places and Jon said “Hon, I don’t think we’re going to have kids”. The Aussies were below us in the gorge and caught this all on video and thought Jon’s comment was the funniest thing they’d heard all day. (For more on the Aussie Video, click here)
The crazy Aussies just before the gorge swing (note the hats taped to all of their heads!)
So we were lowered down to the bottom of the gorge, unharnessed, and we made one last trek up the gorge. We rested, drank beer, and went to meet the rest of the group on the Booze Cruise.
This was a lovely trip on the Zambezi river with unlimited drinks and dinner and wonderful sights. We saw giraffe, a little crocodile, and gorgeous sunset. The moon was practically full and at one point we could see the sunset on one side of the boat and the moonrise on the other. Quite spectacular. After the sun went down, dinner was served and the elephants came out into the marshes. I couldn’t get a picture because it was so dark, but they were amazing! I don’t think we would have seen them if the moon hadn’t been so bright. 3 of them crossed the river right in front of us.
Our second sunset in Africa – are they all like this?
As the evening went on, the Aussies drank more and the singing commenced. Next thing we knew, someone brought out a drum and we the natives on the boat started singing, and we were all dancing around the bar. Then it was time to go.
Mathilde leads the congo line
Other Interesting Things about Today:
The Aussie Video
My Finger Injury