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Pole to Pole

Day 116: Livingstone

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThe morning paper reports that President Chiluba has lifted Zambia's twenty-seven-year State of Emergency. The police have been ordered to remove all road-blocks (still common in countries like Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya) and various powers of search and detention have been curtailed.

For myself and the crew another day of new experiences. If it's Saturday it must be white-water rafting, and we assemble by the swimming-pool to sign in, absolve the company taking us of any culpability and generally try to look cheerful. Basil is very silent. He has persuaded himself that the photo-opportunities outweigh the fact that he can't swim. But only just. Fraser has spent hours devising a waterproof method of recording my shouts, screams and cries. His solution is to encase tape-recorder, battery, microphone and all the wiring in a selection of condoms. 'I've never used so many in one day in my life,' he claims.

Nigel has a tiny waterproof camera on a huge harness, which sits on his shoulder like a parrot. Patti must be one of the very few who have been white-water rafting in the same week as having malaria.

The organizer of the expedition is a short, lean, bearded American called Conrad with an intense, some might say manic, look in his eyes, softened by a ready smile. We are issued with life-jackets and then briefed by Heidi, another American who manages to put over dreadful information with a disarming, gung-ho jollity. Most of what she tells us has to do with what happens when, rather than if, we are flung off the boats and into the water.

'Just let yourself go. Don't try to swim . . . When you come up to the surface be sure to take a deep breath before you go under again.'

My legs are like jelly at the end of this and Basil is white. We select our life-jackets and head for the river.

What neither Conrad nor Heidi has prepared us for is the descent into the gorge, which involves a rough 30-minute scramble, in considerable heat, over smooth and slippery boulders. Bad enough at the best of times, but with camera gear as well it delivers us to the rafts in a state of terminal exhaustion.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 116
  • Country/sea: Zambia
  • Place: Livingstone
  • Book page no: 257

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