Wet & Wild African Canoe Safari
Each night, we camped on the banks of the river, which, I pointed out to my fellow travelers, were lined with buffalos and elephants. Not to mention lions, leopards, hyenas, baboons and tse-tse flies, lured to the Zambezi by its fresh water and lush grazing land. During stopovers, we were protected by our sturdy anti-malaria mosquito nets, although some had small holes patched with Band-aids.
None of the campsites were fenced-in and we didn't even have tents; we all slept on cots, with mosquito netting draped over our heads. I know for a fact that no one got any sleep, including John, who, in addition to fending off any night attacks from animals, had to keep the canoes from being stolen by Zambians from the other side of the river. (Oddly enough, this seemed to be his biggest fear.) The rest of us spent the nights listening to lions and hyenas roar. This was hard to ignore because the roaring always seemed to emanate from a spot 15 yards away. Why didn't the animals eat us? I'm not sure. Possibly our pungent body odors kept them at bay.
Although we never got much sleep at night, we followed the animals' lead and took naps at mid-day, when the temperature reached about 110 degreestoo scorching to canoe and too hot for the animals to hunt us.
Something happened on the third night that I'm still having flashbacks about.
Using bacon for bait, John was casting from the river bank for Tiger Fish, a cross between a salmon and a piranha. After a few minutes without a bite, he handed the line (he had no fishing pole) to Chris, the Kiwi. Chris followed John's lasso-style casting technique and landed the hook on a floating branch. While we were debating who should wade out and unsnag it, the line ran. Or I should say, something ran and decided to take our line with it.
Chris tried to hold on without burning his hands and I tried to help by taking a fork from the bottom of the canoe and wrapping it around the speeding line. We both grabbed hold of the fork and pulled until the line snapped. One heck of a big Tiger Fish, we thought.
About 3 a.m., I woke up and I heard what I thought were feet the size of videocassettes shuffling behind me. I decided I didn't want to roll over and look. Instead, I called for John, who in theory had been trained for such situations. By the time he got up and pointed his flashlight in my direction, the critter had shuffled off.
In the morning, we found tracks of a 9-foot crocodile. It had passed within two feet of my bed and, not much farther away, coughed up our fish hook, recognizable because of the orange-painted tip. We'd apparently hooked the only vegetarian croc in the Zambezi.
"We're still alive," John said, sounding almost as relieved as when we reached the take-out spot in Mana Pools National Park. Luckily, we had been polite enough to the 500 hippos we passed and unappetizing to the rest of the carnivores.
On the bus back to Kariba, it was a bit difficult to discuss the animals we'd seen during the trip. The Germans and the Dutch, who brought up the rear of the canoe convoy for the entire trip, went home having glimpsed, in addition to"hype-pecked barrons," several "wartsfogs," "gazettes," "blaboons" and "cantelopes."
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication