First Ascent kayakers Chris Korbulic and Ben Stookesberry along with Pedro Oliva are in Zambia to tackle new rapids. This is the second post in a series of stories. Follow the Kaiak III Expedition and see where they guys are on their DeLorme digital map page. -EB Editor
Story and photographs by Chris Korbulic
The view from here is like a hallucination. The light is bent, and makes the space just behind my eyes hurt a little. I can hear my heart beat, which is surprising because I’m standing at the base of Victoria Falls, above the Minus Rapids, where the sound is amplified not just in volume, but in intensity by the black gorge walls, so much so that it’s shaking my brain inside my skull. It’s thundering all around and carrying on like it has for only about 250,000 years, making the falls a geological infant. But just long enough, it seems, to polish every rock to a shining, icy-like finish. A pair of porters has taken my kayak, for which we’re all thankful; I get to take photos and walk with little weight and they supplement their income. But by the time we’re at the top of the rapids, we’re both questioning whether or not it was a good idea.
I remember flying in a couple days ago, fresh from some heavy snows in California, and seeing this part of the gorge. The rapids looked big from 1,000 meters up, so why am I surprised that they look so big from 10? False sense of security, I guess, and self-preservation in some sick twist of the words. But I mean these rapids are huge, bigger than I’ve seen in a long time and I’m nervous. My stomach is knotting, but it’s refreshing to feel my nerves again, and that’s why I came. Fortunately, that transforms into intense speculation of the rapid with Ben and Pedro, after which I watch their mostly clean descents. I stretch a little, consider that I haven’t really paddled in about a month, shrug and then follow with a mildly successful descent.
At the bottom of the rapids is the man who is making this whole trip possible, Pete Meredith. He was Hendri [Coetzee]‘s best mate, brought him on the river for the first time, and is now our guiding light. The Zambezi was his home from the late 1980s into the 90s, when there was little tourist infrastructure and you had to beware lions and leopards on a walk home from the bar. Pets were scarce, but limits on the possibilities of adventure were scarcer. It was the perfect setting for the two to build a bond, a river-borne brotherhood, on and off the river.
It’s a far cry from that wild place now, with supermarkets, hotels and paved streets that easily accommodate Pete’s overland truck, our home for the next month. Its 54-inch tires glide down the main street, but it’s made for the roughest roads in Africa. We’ve tested it a little, but we’ll really take it there soon. It’s an old Kenyan military vehicle; and Pete has made some upgrades that, while certainly increasing comfort, don’t quite turn it into a sleeper cabin. After driving it from Kenya to Uganda and now to Zambia, all signs point to reliability. It carries everything we need, but for eight people, there’s no room for anything less than absolutely necessary. And, trust me, industrial sized Nutella is necessary.
I woke up this morning to a sputtering, struggling Cummins diesel engine. Pete cleaned the fuel filter and lines of muck, then bled, primed and tried the engine again. Nothing. Wait a few minutes. Nothing. Then … something. One of the other two guests where we’re camping is a diesel mechanic. Rob, it seems, is here to save the day. I held an improvised funnel contraption and a tube spitting diesel and oil while Rob pumped and unscrewed and poured and repeated to no avail. Rob was supposed to leave today, but instead wants to make sure we get on our feet again and on the road. We must have done something right to warrant him staying here with us—but not enough to completely secure visas for Angola. So now we to wait, wish and eat Nutella.
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