Falling for Africa
My hands were sweating profusely and my knees were shaking as I leaned over the edge of the cement beam. I clutched the railing, the only things between me and a 300-foot drop.
“Now, you have to remember to pull the chute, after you count to 10,” my BASE jumping instructor, Nico, said to me in his thick French accent. “This is the highest waterfall in the world, so be careful. Remember, count to 10 and then pull.”
Warily, I smiled at him and looked back over the edge of the cement beam. Below me I saw jagged rocks and rushing whitewater. “On the count of three,” Nico said as he began the countdown, “One. Two. Three.”
Screaming like a little girl, I jumped off the Victoria Falls Bridge and flung myself through the air, arms flailing behind me. The wind was rushing past my body as I fell, counted to 10 and then pulled. The parachute came out quickly and safely. My hands stopped shaking when the chute began gliding through the air. Coming to a stop in the shallow water of the Zambezi River, I unhooked the chute and turned around. From the bridge, my traveling companion, Lena, started shouting in happiness. Jumping up and down to calm my nerves after the rush of adrenaline, I waded to the side of the waterfall to wait for a boat and tried to take in the whole experience. A nine-month trek in Africa was coming to a close and BASE jumping Victoria Falls was the perfect send-off.
In March of 2007, I was in Los Angeles waiting for school to start when I got a call from my best friend, Lena, with whom I had previously traveled through Europe.
“How do you feel about going with me to Africa?” Lena excitedly shrieked over the phone. “We’ll spend nine months overlanding through six countries.”
Just hearing the word “Africa,” I began thinking about a way I could fit this trip into my schedule. Two weeks later, I was en route to Luanda, Angola, the first stop on our trek through Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. After my plane landed at the Luanda Airport, I met Lena at a local Internet café. She explained our itinerary. Overlanding meant we would be renting a Jeep, hiring a guide and backpacking through the countryside with a small group. I couldn’t wait to get on the road again and quickly bid Lena goodbye, so I could check into my hotel for the night.
The next day, around sunrise, we left for the starting point of the trek. We showed up at the campsite and put our backpacks into the Jeep. Our guide was Nico, who would later coax us off the edge of the Victoria Falls Bridge. He was a French expatriate who lived in Angola. There were only two other people in our group, a middle-aged couple from England who were taking a year off to travel the world. Once they arrived we were off to Kissama National Park, a wildlife preserve 45 miles south of Luanda. Buffalo, roan antelope, eland, bushbuck and elephants greeted us as we walked through the park entrance. We rode bikes around the park and got to take pictures of the wildlife. Then we took off for our campsite.
Over the next few weeks, we saw much of Angola and Namibia. One of the most entertaining episodes of the first few months was getting stuck in the sand dunes in Botswana. All of us piled out of the Jeep and caught sight of the front driver’s-side tire caught deep in the sand. I was exhausted from a bike ride we had done in a wildlife preserve and just wanted to sit in the car and nap. Nico, Lena and I found a piece of wood and spent the next two hours covered in mud, trying to get the tire out of the sand. When we were safe from the sand dunes, we were off to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia.
During the drive through the beautiful Caprivi Strip, we saw cheetahs running in the distance. Three weeks passed by very fast. In Botswana, we got to see wildlife preserves, native villages and many different kinds of animals. Our tents became our homes, and everyone in our group was responsible for doing chores like cooking and packing up our gear when we departed. The last two months of the trip we spent in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, I got to try whitewater rafting for the first time. Throughout our trip we could choose our daily activities. Normally, the choice was between visiting a local tribe or doing an adrenaline-fueled sport. At the Batoka Gorge we were coached on whitewater rafting. After a few hours of lessons, I was ready to try it.
The water was running very fast through deep river pockets. I got in a yellow raft with my life vest fastened tightly around my body. There were eight of us in the boat and we all shoved off at the same time. Waves were crashing around us as we navigated through the water and jagged rocks. The raft almost tipped over at one point from the momentum of the surging water. After the raft was pulled to a stop, I got out determined to try all the harrowing activities on our itinerary.
We spent the last four weeks of our trip in Zambia, in national parks with amazing wildlife. I got to track a rhino in Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park and saw a leopard during a night ride. On our very last day in Zambia, we were given the option of BASE jumping at Victoria Falls National Park to end our adventure in Africa.
The trip ended far too quickly and the hardest goodbye was not to Africa but to Lena. After spending almost every day and night together the thought of going a day without seeing her made me miserable. I was smitten. Luckily, Lena felt the same. In the end, I had gone to Africa for adventure and left with a girlfriend.