Friday, 29 October 2010

Sandy goes paddling on the big Zambezi.

Getting to Zambia was a mission that involved three flights and a six hour bus journey (that broke down) spread over three days making it a tiring place to get to. To then to find out your kayak hasn’t showed up made it very annoying. 

However it is an amazing once you are there and the Zambezi River turned out to be just as legendary as everyone made out, even if it wasn’t quite as warm as I had hoped for. I stayed in Livingstone, situated in the South of Zambia, right beside one of the seven wonders of the world, Mosi o Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders) or Victoria Falls. Above the falls the countryside is lush and green supporting loads of wildlife like hippos, crocodiles, elephants and giraffe. But once the river has plummeted over the 108m drop it enters a deep gorge making walking in and out difficult and once in you are faced with huge rapids and a couple of crocodiles that survived falling off the falls and watch you as you paddle past.

The water levels were a lot higher than normal meaning a few of well known features were washed out, such as the pour over at number 5 and the surf wave at 12b and it did make river running much more tricky with the amount and size of the boils and whirlpools that where a lot larger than anything I had experienced before. This meant that sometimes when you where online a boil could appear and push you a couple meters to the left or right and meant that a good kicking would be in order. 

I had a great time on the river trying to make it down the rapids without flipping. The rapids are numbered 1 to 25, with the biggest rapids between 1 and 10. My first day on this section I was lead by Will Clark who hadn’t been on the river for a couple of years so when he announces that he thinks the line is left but isn’t sure it makes it pretty intense. We made it down safely though with huge smiles after each rapid. 

I managed to also do a four day multi day trip down the river. This is one of the most beautiful trips I have done where we camped on bright white beaches in luxury with a support raft providing steaks for dinner cooked over a fire followed by gin and tonics as we watched the sun set. It was great to travel down the river and do so many rapids while spend that amount of time on the river. However on the drive back we did manage to get break the 4x4 and get a puncture so the two hour trip took around five! 

Another highlight of the trip was swimming in a natural pool above the falls where you can swim right up to the lip of the falls and peer over while the water runs past you and over the edge. It’s amazing getting that close to the edge but still swimming about safely. 

That swim marked the end of my trip and so I packed up and headed home and back in time for University to start again. 

Sandy x

Thanks to Level Six for all their support

and cheers to Will Clark and Nick Roberts for the sweet photos.

 All Content Copyright.

Friday, 8 October 2010

The White Nile, Uganda 2010

Arriving in Africa was awesome, Entebbe Uganda greeted us with sun and smiles, and a fair amount of stares, although 8 or so play boats probably wouldn’t go unnoticed anywhere! We loaded all our boats and kit onto the Mutatu (the Ugandan minibus for which nothing is ever too big or too heavy), and set off for the Hairy Lemon – one of the islands on the Nile, run by a South African guy named Paul (an absolute legend). The noise of all the insects and frogs was amazingly loud as we arrived in the dark and set up camp. Waking up there was probably the coolest wake up ever, I had no idea how beautiful the island was or how cool the views from the various little beaches were, as we had arrived in the dark.

The first 2 weeks of my Ugandan adventure were spent on a Love It Live It course, getting used to the waters random boils and thick eddylines and being taught how to surf. I had been fairly unsure as to how great an idea it was for me to head off to the White Nile when I had only started kayaking the October before and I was still swimming more than I was rolling. However, Emily and Will (our coaches) were awesome and really patient, and helped me get my roll, it took a good week or so but we got there in the end. Emily and Will were super coaches, and after many an afternoon spent at the Special and Superhole we were all pretty happly surfing and pulling out our various tricks. . .flat spins for me. Also I loved how good Emily was, as I hadn’t come across many girls who could give the boys a run for their money.

So the course finished and most of the guys went home, then it was me and the boys, Nick, Dom, Andrew and the guys from Aber Uni, Joe and James. They were all so nice to me and really helped me learn, by making me lead down the rapids even Grade 5’s, and definitely taking me out of my comfort zone. But I loved it!

 The river is so deep and warm that it’s not that unpleasant being upside down –bar maybe on silverback, generally though you have plenty of time to get yourself sorted. On my first day I nearly swam, I went to grab my deck after probably the twelfth attempt at a roll then made myself try one more time and came straight up, determined to roll. I only swam once in the whole trip. Stupid Pour over on Rib Cage Left!



The White Nile is all about the big volume stuff, prime example being Silverback, at first I didn’t get how people actually enjoyed running it, I just found it uncomfortable with water being forced up my nose and my arms being wrenched about, the struggle to roll up between waves and the general lack of oxygen. However the more times I ran it and the better I became, I started to have a little more of a say on what happened to me rather than just getting a beating, I’d definitely say it was my favourite rapid. 

There is another rapid that runs parallel to Silverback called Jungle Book, which is more slidey alpine stuff, well that’s all the boys had to say before we took it on one day, “just read and run Debs” I was super nervous, but nailed it, and did the fastest roll of my life as everyone had said how you do not want to be upside down on this one. Though it didn’t go as smoothly for everyone, Joe hurt his shoulder and snapped his paddles, and James broke his too. 

I ran a few of the back channels, though I never took on Itanda, Kala Gala was enough of a thrill for me and the bottom section of Itanda, clipping the Cuban and seeing how nasty the Ashtray looks up close, I don’t think I would have been able to hold it all together doing the whole thing, but loved being chief photographer as the boys all ran it for the first time.

We stayed at two places while in Uganda, Nile River Explorers in Bujugali and the Hairy Lemon. NRE was very much the party place, and the starting point for Day 1 and the Silverback Sections. We would head off to the Lemon for recovery after the fairly brutal Funnel Fridays and spend our days on the two waves just upstream from the island or at Superhole. Mornings were spent on Club wave and as the levels rose we would head up to surf the Nile Special. As I had never surfed before surfing the Special really was something else! The feeling you got when you broke through the crashing barrier wave and soared down the smooth tongue of it. The water was moving so fast! And if you lost your edge for a split second then it would have you upside down and battling to roll up in the ferocious eddy line. The best feeling ever though! A good surf on the special, was worth all the effort it took to get on.

  So my Ugandan adventure had me extending my flights to stay for seven weeks, paddling some of the funnest waters in the world, renting boda boda’s (the taxi like motorbikes) and having run ins with the police, taking ourselves down the Day 1 section on a rented raft, a ridiculously fun all day bender featuring a slip and slide down the ramp at NRE, a Safari to Murchiston with a scary hippo attack in the middle of the night... Helping out on the Lemon, an afternoon safety boating for some tubers, improvements to my roll and confidence on the river, and generally having the best times with some of the nicest people ever! 

Debs x  

(Words and Photos by Debs Perry.)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A fishy tale....

“Oi, yer disturbing the fish!” shouted the irate fisherman from the riverbank as a loud swarm of colourful kayakers bounced and scraped their way past, through and over the rocks and pebbles of the shallow river. They ignored him and bounced on round the bend... once out sight they giggled and laughed at the red faced man in waders, flicking his rod about in frustration. “Disturbing the fish!? Yeah like yanking them out by by a sharp hook in their mouth doesn’t disturb them!’’ a few quipped sarcastically.

Well... Here is a story about Steven and Susan the Salmon who were also swimming about the river that day...

Steven had just made it back home to his birthplace after a long swim from the North Atlantic where he had spent his gap year ‘finding himself’ (apparently) but had mostly spent his time eating a lot of herring and sand eels until now he was quite fat. Steve was born out of one of a few thousand little red eggs deposited by his mother in a clearing of pebbles known as a redd. Through his life Steve went through a quite a few phases, before growing up to be the mature adult Salmon he is today.

His first phase was the Alevin stage. During this phase, he stayed in the Redd hiding from bigger fish that might eat him. Him and his siblings lived off the the remaining nutrients in his yolk sack. During this stage, Steve developed some cool new gills and became an active hunter catching little bits of floating vegetation. Three weeks after hatching he had reached the adventurous Fry stage and escaped the breeding ground in search of better tasting food and danger...

Steven soon got fed up of being a small fry being picked on and almost eaten by bigger fishes and thought it was time to develop the ability to live in salt water (Parr stage) so he could leave the river and go off pirating around the high seas. During these early days Steve and his little Atlantic salmon friends were very susceptible to predation. Half of his brothers and sisters were eaten by trout, and most of his other ones were caught by other fish and birds. It was time to get out of there and see the world. So that summer, as a young Smolt, Steve headed out with his other mates traveling about the Atlantic ocean, all the way up to greenland and other far away places.

About a year later Steve became bored of his adventures and thought it was a bout time to come home chat up a lovely lady salmon with his epic tales of sand eel hunting, seabird dodging and swimming away from Sharks! Perhaps time to think about starting a family of his own maybe. So he began an epic mission back home! It was a lot harder than when he left, he had to swim up the rapids this time, but he got there eventually, and headed for the the nice gravel beds where the water was nice and steady and chilled out cruising about checking out the girl salmon he had known as a smolt. They had grown up a bit too it seems... especially that Susan Salmon!

After plucking up the courage, Steve swam over and asked her how she was, took her for a bit of a dance about, one thing led to another, he ended up going back to her place, she popped a load of eggs everywhere while he ‘fertilized’ them if you know what I mean. Aye! Anyway after their frolicking about in the Redd they were both totally knackered, especially after their long epic home in the first place, and they hadn’t eaten a thing for weeks! So they both drifted off downstream a bit worse for wear, in search of a much needed drowning fly or two.

Steve died a few days later, he was eaten by an otter. Susan followed soon after from a broken heart and total exhaustion. But remember... their little red eggs were still in the Redd that they had cleared! Being bounced gently by the current, the little embryos inside growing slowly bigger by the day.

A few months later, on a nice, sunny day, when the river was flowing nice and low, the eggs began to pop and little bright eyed Alevins began to appear and swim about the gravel. Lots of little baby Steves and Susans!

Suddenly out of nowhere a bright green mass of plastic, flies down on them from the surface and crushes them all to smithereens!!!

The end.

All Content Copyright Ben McKeown