You are here

Get Inspired to Take on a Challenge Adventure with WVS

Wed 1st Nov 2017

Emma Harrison was one of our challengers taking on the Zambezi Canoe Challenge to raise vital funds to support animals in need! Here are her highlights from this once in a lifetime trip…

Day 1

After months of planning, our departure for Zambia was finally here. Signing up all those months ago seemed like a distant memory as I boarded the plane from Heathrow which would take me to Kenya. Several thoughts were running through my head, ‘Will I cope with the camping side of things?’ ‘Had I done enough training?’ and the most important question of all ‘What films will be available on the plane?’

The Zambezi Canoe Challenge was always going to be more than a challenge, especially for someone like me who has a) never camped before and b) never canoed before. In total, there are 13 of us taking part in the Zambezi Canoe Challenge, all of us ladies and despite most of us meeting at the airport for the first time, we all clicked instantly and I knew that this was going to be a very warm and welcoming group. Go #TeamZambezi!

Day 2

Welcome to Nairobi - we arrive shattered but happy to be on firm ground for a few hours. The first stop is to get a cup of delicious Kenyan coffee to try and keep us going. A few hours later, we finally arrive in Zambia! We climb aboard our minibus and head down towards what will be the start of our epic journey – canoeing the Zambezi River. The drive down to the river is interesting and you certainly see some intriguing sights such as the many traders who are selling their wares on the side of the road. You can buy anything from a sim card to some delicious fruit – there is definitely something for everyone.

We finally reach the river and are greeted by our guides – TK and Martin – who have been tour guides for several years and both offer a warm welcome and provide us with some essential information about what to expect on the river. To our surprise, we are going to be canoeing straight away! Time to take the plunge! There are six canoes and as well as the people, each canoe has to take luggage, tents, sleeping bags, and all the equipment we’ll need. This does make canoeing a tad difficult as you have to carry the extra weight, but all of the equipment is required and my decision to bring a second sun hat (being mindful to pack light) seems a bit irrelevant now.

We set off, I am canoeing with a lovely lady called Ann who is a vet (in fact, 80% of all of the ladies taking part in the challenge work within the veterinary industry). Following TK (with Martin bringing up the rear of the party) we head off downstream and within ten minutes spot a pod of hippos nearby. We keep a respectful distance and surprisingly they don’t seem to be particularly fussed about our presence. One does rise out of the water to get a closer look and we see instantly what a magnificent animal it really is.

TK and Martin are clearly letting us ease into the canoeing (which is pretty tricky at first!) and after an hours paddling, we pull up on a sandy bank to make camp for the night. It is getting dusky and there is still a lot of work to be done before we can relax for the evening. We all have to pull up the canoes to higher ground and it literally takes all 15 of us to pull up a canoe (complete with equipment) each time. It’s tough going, but we do it.

As well has having never camped before, I have never put up a tent before so I quickly had to learn how to put one up. The pressure is on to get the tents up before nightfall. It is a big ask, but eventually all of the tents are up and we can relax knowing that we have a cosy place to rest our heads this evening. By 9pm, we have all been up and without sleep for around 30 hours, so after dinner, it is time to retreat to the tent and fall asleep - not even the sound of the nearby hippos that a still a mere matter of feet away in the water can wake me.

Day 3

Throughout the night, we have had some visitors to the camp in the shape of elephants, buffalo and more. As it was too dark to bathe last night, the guides give us the all-clear to have a refreshing dip in the river before breakfast – another first to add to my list of things to try in Africa! Without a moment’s hesitation, I get changed and head to the water’s edge. It is glorious and a real novelty to be bathing with our nearby hippos. It is only the prospect of breakfast that gives me a final push to get out of the water.

Unfortunately, the wind is still a little too strong to start canoeing straight away, so TK and Martin take us for a little walk on the island that we have been camping on. They talk us through the tracks of the animals that have visited us throughout the night. The guides have a very impressive knowledge of the wildlife and can identify an animal from its excrement and markings in the sand – remarkable stuff.

The wind drops at last and it is time to set off. Even though the wind has dropped, it is still a lot stronger than yesterday afternoon which makes canoeing a lot harder. I can definitely feel the strain in my shoulders and we are making slower progress in comparison to yesterday, but no pain no gain! The more we canoe, the easier it gets – it is all about getting into a rhythm.

The guides want to avoid us paddling in the midday sun, so at around 11.30am, we pull up at a suitable location for the next few hours. It is a pretty quiet place apart from a few random hippos and some birds. The team were surprised to learn that we had travelled 9km that morning (it felt like a lot less believe it or not!)

After lunch, we head back into the water and make our way along the river, the wind is still quite strong, but it is definitely much better than before which makes our journey along the Zambezi slightly easier! The aim was to travel a further 11km down the river. Throughout the journey, we’ve seen some incredible wildlife. Hippos are everywhere and at one point, we are advised to get out of our canoes and walk slowly (pushing the canoes) on the edge of the Zambezi, taking care not to disturb them.

Around 30 minutes later, we come across some elephants grazing around 100 metres away. It is our first chance to see an elephant in the wild and like buses, we don’t get just one elephant, but an entire herd. We take the opportunity to watch them from our canoes and it is truly a special moment. We have seen such an amazing array of wildlife today, cormorants, impala, storks, a kingfisher and a fish-eagle! It’s amazing!

We continue on for what seems ages (despite Martin and TK’s helpful ‘only ten more minutes’ which was uttered more than once at varying times!) but eventually, we reach our camp for the night – a quiet island. Again, we have to pull up our canoes as far as we can. Apparently, the water rises to very high levels in this area and if we don’t move the canoes to higher ground, they will get completely submerged, so this is really important work.

After dinner, we gather around the fire and enjoy a drink and chat about our day and eventually head off to bed to try and get some sleep for another epic day’s canoeing tomorrow.

Day 4

We wake up in the morning to learn that there was a leopard and some lions across the water in the middle of the night. One of the guides stays awake throughout the night to ensure the safety of the participants and keeps an eye out for any wildlife that comes into or near our camp. As we are staying on an island, there is no chance of any animals crossing the river to see us, but it is exciting to know that they are there anyway.

We set off, the wind is still strong and the conditions are rough. The target today is to travel 27km which seems like a really, really long way. It is not easy but we persevere and head down the river, having to paddle extra hard in doing so. 

We have a couple of hours to recover from the strains of some hard-core canoeing a lunchtime and then head back into our canoes to continue through our journey. We marvel at how close we are getting to such incredible wildlife and head towards our next camp for the night – another sandy island. The highlight of the day (so far!) was seeing a huge elephant on the bank. He was absolutely massive and he just stood watching us – this is a slightly surreal (but completely amazing!) moment.

Arriving at camp, our priority is to get the camp shipshape and get the fire going and the tents up. We enjoy our dinner and are advised by TK that tomorrow’s schedule is to change slightly. As opposed to a full days canoeing, we will now only be doing half a day’s canoeing, but it will involve a very early start. However, this will be our last day of canoeing which is stirred up a mixture of emotions (I am slightly relieved and sad both at the same time).

Day 5

Today is going to be a tough one, so we wake up as the sun rises and set about packing up the camp. There is not time for breakfast as every minute counts as we paddle downstream. Every stretch of the Zambezi river is special in its own way. We have seen hippos and elephants, crocodiles, birds, monkeys, baboons, and impala too! In total, we have canoed 75km in just three and a half days – we are all really surprised.

At last, after what seems like hours, we climb aboard the island and drag up the canoes. Martin and TK tell us to sit by the water. We know that there will be wildlife, but nothing could have prepared us for what happened next. A herd of elephants arrive and walk towards us, closely followed by some more elephants. They drink water and look after their babies. At one point there are around 35 -40 elephants in the water in front of us. It is truly magnificent and far exceeds our expectations of wanting to see an elephant in the wild. We eat our lunch watching the elephants whilst a cute little monkey tries to steal our food. It is definitely one of the coolest lunch breaks that I have ever had.

We are staying at a camp that has proper camp beds in the tents and (oh joy!) a proper working toilet and shower. We all take advantage of the showers and have a couple of hours downtime relaxing, watching the wildlife before dinner. The plan for this evening is to go for a game drive which sounds absolutely thrilling! Our dinner was a traditional African dish called Nshima – it is made of maize and is very nice and filling. We need all the energy we can as we are off on our game drive tonight.

We boarded two safari trucks and went on our night time game drive. Unfortunately it is a full moon and the animals can see us coming from a mile away. Still, it’s another amazing experience and just the thrill of being out amongst the wildlife at night is good enough.

Day 6

Today we have a fantastic day of activity ahead of us. In the morning, we were taking part in a walking safari in the bush. Our guides continue to amaze us with their incredible knowledge and talk us through trees, bushes and animal tracks. At one point, it looks like an elephant is about to charge at us, but the guides take it all in their stride and usher us to a safe place until they can determine where the elephant intends to go.

After a few hours downtime we head off to visit a local village. We are not sure what to expect but are greeted by lots of very lovely and excitable children. We are all very humbled by how excited they are. We are invited to spend time with some of the villagers who show their homes. It’s definitely a real insight and it is inspiring to see how hard they work to produce a meal, whereas in Western culture, it is something that perhaps we take for granted. We all absolutely loved meeting these friendly and warm individuals.

Day 7

Today we are saying goodbye to our camp and are heading back up the river (the whole 75km) to where it all started – Breezers Lodge. I cannot believe how quickly this trip has gone, it has been amazing! We are not canoeing back but get to travel in a speedboat. This is a much quicker and more relaxing journey back. 

We arrive at Breezers and have a couple of hours to eat, drink and freshen up before we wave goodbye to TK and Martin and head back to Lusaka, stopping off to do a little shopping along the way.  Tomorrow is going to be a huge day as we are off to the elephant orphanage!

Day 8

After breakfast, we head out of the lodge and get to fully appreciate how beautiful the surrounding areas are. We see impala, zebras and a lovely giraffe too. The Lilayi Elephant Orphanage and Lodge are only about a 25-minute drive away from where we are staying.  Upon arrival, we are divided up into two groups. One heads off to the elephant orphanage as it is feeding time and the other – our group heads off to take part in a safari.

Our safari trucks are incredible and we got to see an array of wildlife, including antelopes, guinea fowl and wildebeest. Again, we can’t quite believe that we are seeing this first-hand. Best of all, we were allowed to park up and get pretty close to the giraffes. They are such elegant and mesmerising creatures, it was a real pleasure to see them up close!

After a brief lunch, our group headed to the elephant orphanage down the road. The orphanage is part of Game Rangers International and is an incredible project that does such amazing work for orphaned elephants. We got to watch some of the baby elephants get fed their milk as well as watch them have a little paddle in the water.  The team are amazing, they provide 24/7 care for the elephants 365 days a year. Their dedication is immense and we all have such huge respect and admiration for them. They take care of the baby elephants, getting them ready to eventually be moved to the Kafue Release Facility which is situated in the Kafue National Park. The objective of the GRI Elephant Orphanage is to follow a very specific programme of rescue, rehabilitate and release.

After what has been such an inspirational day, we head back to the Eureka Lodge for a few drinks, a BBQ and a little presentation from the lovely Jude (from Different Travel) who has been absolutely brilliant during this trip. She presents us all with a certificate of participation and gives a wonderful speech. It has been a lovely evening but we are all a bit sad that tonight is our last evening as a group!  

Without a doubt, this has been one of the most challenging, thought-provoking, inspiring experiences of my life. I have done things that I never thought that I would do, seen animals in the wild and met some amazing friends too! If you are thinking of doing an adventure challenge, I would thoroughly recommend doing one with WVS!

If you've been inspired to take on a challenge for WVS, check out our next fundraising ventures, the Thai Jungle Trek or the Jurassic Coast Weekend and help us raise vital funds for animals in need or get in touch with us if you have any questions!