Story and photographs by Chris Korbulic
The plane skids and I lurch forward as the wheels hit the ground and the reverse thrust kicks in to slow our careening down the runway before pulling into a rather arbitrary gate. The heat hits me even though I’m three seats away from an open door, the bright African sun is beaming in through the dust, and soon I’m standing out in the red African dirt. This feels right. Then, before I’ve had time to make sense of a missing bag, I’ve met up with the crew, jumped into Pete’s truck, and driven to a crocodile farm, or crocodile reserve, as they like to call it. I haven’t seen one of these ugly, primeval beasts for a long time, since I saw one far too close and personal nearly a year ago. My palms sweat and I feel the skin tighten on the back of my neck. Already I’m facing one of the things I came to challenge; not necessarily crocodiles in the flesh, but the inevitability of facing the unknown, of staring it down and charging ahead. I get the chills, but I can’t look away.
Today, while Ben [Stookesberry] dealt with some logistics, I followed Pedro [Oliva] down the Zambezi below Victoria Falls where most rapids are fun, splashy rides where you can spin around and surf a wave, high-five your buddy and carry on, but there are always lines that push it a little bit. I looked upstream to the Minus Rapids above where we put in, where rapids rage right at the base of Victoria Falls, and knew that’s where I wanted to go. I used to wonder why people are compelled to put themselves back into high-risk situations again and again, and though I now feel like I understand a little, it’s an understanding that defies articulation. I felt it again today when I dropped into rapid # 9, aka Commercial Suicide, where Pedro and I paddled in the crashing waves, and were tossed and lifted again and again by the rhythmic swells. As always on big water, I was awed by the river’s graceful power, how, once in its current, any attempt to escape is useless. That’s how the last year, since I last saw that croc, has felt.
Tomorrow, we’ll make final preparations and pack the truck to head into Angola. First though, we’ll visit the consulate here in Zambia to secure our visas. We’ve seen some grand BBC world weather reports; forecasts are vague, but we’re assured it’s going to be hot and wet. The previous night’s rains confirm this.
And that’s it. We don’t know much else. We really have no idea if we’ll be granted entry into Angola, international appeal not passing through the embassy doors. We don’t know if these rains will make the objective rivers too high, brown and raging to attempt or make roads impassible. We don’t know if entering a country, fraught with recent civil war and the world’s largest number of remaining and active land mines is a good idea at all. A few things we can assume, though: no matter where we end up, we’re in for a proper adventure, and all of us will be a bit different afterward. This begs the question, one that many have answered in some way and most will pursue until their final day: Why do this and what do we want to accomplish? We hope that with our collective experience and preparation for the road ahead, we’ll be able to find answers to this question, and have our best days ever.
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