When taking a guided tour, the trust and confidence you put in the guide can be a matter of life and death or just the matter of having a better time. Sometimes it is assumed and never questioned – like tandem ski diving. Sometimes is very easy to question, like when someone straps and clips a bungee cord and harness to your body. But no time has the decision to trust a guide been more obvious and more critical then canoeing down the Zambezi River. Soon after putting in and giving the first hippos’ a nice wide birth, an elephant was spotted eating on the bank. What do you say if the guide asks if you want to get a closer look – Yes, or course, how cool! not thinking what that really means. Next thing I know the bow of the canoe is slightly beached and pointed at an ear flapping young bull, which is facing us from a mere 30 feet away (the top of an elephants head is about 12 feet above the ground) . If that isn’t enough to get the adrenaline pumping, then the knowledge that a bloat of hippos is snorting and grunting 20 feet to our rear and left, is heart-stopping material. And right on key, cry of a fish eagle pierced the ear – a pure African moment.
It was then that I had to make the hard decision to trust and follow our guide without hesitation, because…hippos kill and as the guide said “ the most dangerous hippo is one you cant see”. So with that we reverse paddled away from the bank, swung around and made a mad dash through a gap in the bloat, to an island to set up camp for the night – all of which was directed by Champion – our guide, who seemed to have a lot of faith in our paddling capabilities!
The 3-day paddle safari from Kariba to Churundu (Zimbabwe), does not give one the opportunity to see a lot of different animals, but it certainly allows a very intimate interaction with Africa in its most undisturbed form. No lodges, no fences, no toilets, and very few people. The only people we saw, were the very occasional Zambian fisherman, on dugouts tending to their nets. One has to respect the continuity of life as it exists, and trying to interrupt that continuity for ones own convenience of comfort, can be at your peril. Embracing it became very spiritual.
I started this story towards the end for no apparent reason. There is a lot more to tell. My sister and my arrival in Kariba, was towards the end of a very rich 3 week adventure in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
After four days in Cape Town, kicked off by New Years Eve southern hemisphere style, we headed for the town of Port Edward which sits on the Northern border of the South Africa’s Wild Coast. From Port Edward we headed south by foot on the heels of our guide – Nonhle. For 3 days we were treated to an amazing array of lush rolling hills and untamed coastline, but what I thought was the most interesting was hearing about life in this area.
Pondoland is the northeast most corner of the Eastern Cape, and his home to the Pondo people who are a smaller group within the bigger Xhosa speaking tribe. Pondo people seem to be a very proud group of people, and have done a really good job of maintaining a strong sense of community in a country and world that is easily distracted by material net worth. This part of South Africa is often described as the poorest part of the country – an accusation to which Pondo people take offense, and wonder what measure is being used for this judgement. They certainly don’t have restaurants, gyms, cars galore, sprawling suburbs, but seem to be happy and content with the life they live…I haven’t met many communities, if any, where that is the case – everyone always seems to want more. Material life aside, the one thing that really struck me was the lack of crime and violence in this area. At one point as we walked along our paths were to cross paths with a group of older teenage boys, which was a cause for concern for me, and my defensive adrenalin surged a bit. But we passed close by and there was a friendly Xhosa greeting between them and Nonhle. I immediately felt guilty for my profiling. As if sensing so, Nonchle went on to tell us that if we had run into a group like that anywhere else in the country, “there would have been trouble”.
Not being a sociologist, I can only believe Nonchle, whose theory is that Pondoland has rejected the capitalist influence that has swept across the country and the result is that a strong sense of family, respect, and self-dependence remains. Is it the last vestige of pure Ubuntu is this part of the world? Maybe, but women, don’t have much say in the matter except they do get to approve of their husband’s next wife.
After a spending the good part of the last 12 months in Africa, I can’t help but think as Captain Kirk would say, that this continent is the final frontier. I feel like I deserve to take credit for that analogy, but I see that it appears to be written everywhere, especially in the business sections. The opportunities are endless for entrepreneurs and global companies alike. The cities are breaking at the seams. There is land a plenty for those who want to check out of the chaos of western civilization. But with all this being said, final frontiers are usually a little dangerous, and yet vulnerable at the same time. This dichotomy is probably the reason that everyone – even those who live in the most upscale neighborhoods, seem to be a little bit on edge. The poor need to do whatever it takes to get their next meal, which includes targeting the rich. The rich in turn must protect their possessions and well-being. This is a vicious circle, which is too big and moves too quickly to be regulated by law alone.