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  • Gemma Fottles

It's okay to not be an adrenaline-junkie in Zambia

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

One of the biggest draws of Zambia as one of Africa's most popular destinations is the huge host of adrenaline-fuelled activities on offer. Getting up close to African lions, the Zambia bungee jump, white water rafting on the Zambezi River, dangling yourself off the Victoria Falls in the Devil's Bath Tub... Activities that make you wonder whether or not you’re going to live another day. In short, Zambia is the best place in the world for the die-hard adrenaline junkie. But what about those that aren't into throwing themselves off bridges or into the waters of a raging river?


Now, I’m all for getting up and doing something exciting when I'm travelling - I really am. Despite my fear of just about everything, I've still zipped across canyons in Costa Rica, camped in the open Australian Bush with nothing but a sleeping bag, skied some of the steepest slopes in Europe, and learned to scuba dive in Honduras. But honestly? Bungee jumping and things that mean staring potential death in the face are not my thing.

Currently travelling in Zambia for the next week on the penultimate leg of my travel reporter adventure with SPAR International, the other members of my travel group are in their element. They want to do everything. I want to look at the scenery from a safer perspective. We compromised, and I decided I would join the group and go white water rafting on the Zambezi River.

This is why I hate peer pressure when travelling: my experience on the Zambezi River confirmed every fear I ever had about white water rafting... and then some.

The reason rafting was my chosen compromise when it came to participation in adrenaline-fuelled adventures in Zambia is mainly due to my previous experience of rafting in Australia and Slovenia. Rafting in Slovenia was tame. Almost relaxing… more like a little paddle down a mid-paced river in an over-sized dinghy. Australia was a bit scarier. The rapids were, well, real white water rapids. But it was okay.

In both of these experiences, I stayed in the boat until I decided to get out. The only time I was in the water is when I consciously decided to remove myself from inflatable safety. It was an active decision and I was prepared for it. I clung on for dear life when I thought there was even the slightest possibility of being thrown into the water, and with great success.

This is what I expected of rafting on the Zambezi river. Alas, no.

Unbeknownst to me, the Zambezi is one of the most extreme places to raft in the entire world. Even if I had have known this, I could literally never have imagined the sheer intensity of this experience.

The first half of the day of my one-day white water rafting trip in Zambia was spent semi-drowned in class 5 rapids. This, for once, is no exaggeration. Our boat wasn’t properly inflated, thus making it flimsy and giving our group of six rafting novices no chance when we hit any of the rapids.

What is the class system of rapids, I hear you ask? How bad is Class 5? For a clearer picture, being thrown out of the boat in Class 2 rapids would result in you struggling slightly in the water, and attempting to swim back to the raft, ultimately without panic and with complete success. Class 5? Being flung to the roaring white waters like paper dolls being thrown into the wind, gurgling for breath in TERRIFYING waters until someone comes and saves you. After the first two near-death experiences on my Zambia white water rafting experience, it’s safe to say that I wasn’t particularly enthused for the next 7 hours of close calls.

The second half of the day, however, was better. We swapped boats, I didn’t fall out again, my feet touched dry land after a few hours and I lived to tell the tale. But I will never, ever go white water rafting ever again.

What did the past few days in Zambia teach me?

It's okay to be scared of everything and peer pressure sucks. Well, that I’d had enough adrenaline with my rafting experience, and was quite content to watch from the sidelines from thereon in. I've found that when protesting activities because you are scared, or genuinely don't like the thrill, the people around you can often get frustrated. They don't understand that you actually don't like it, and that you know that if you throw yourself off that bridge tied to a piece of elastic, that you are not going to savour one second of that experience apart from the very last one when I know it's coming to an end. This leads to so much peer pressure. Even if the words aren’t spoken out loud, you can sense the pressure. The general consensus that you have to do it. Eyes screaming for you to DO IT?!!!!!!! You will regret it for the rest of your LIFE?!??!?!?!!!!

Two years ago these looks may have made me cave, and I would be crying all the way to the edge of the bungee bridge, probably throwing up on the way down, and regretting every second of it.  But no longer. I’m content with seeing other people’s pictures. I’m no adrenaline junkie. The hardest thing is not saying ‘No thanks, I’d prefer to not instil a sense of pure terror within myself today”, but trying to get everyone else to accept that it’s just not compulsory.

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