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Dec. 30

There’s a small path to the river from the last village, the truck can’t go. The villagers say it’s 20 km, but the GPS says 12. To rent bikes from the village, we have to take a rider too, so the longer the trail, and more time we have the bikes, the more they can charge. It’s a good deal, really, for everyone. They get a week’s or more wage from some crazy muzungu’s, and we get to ride bikes instead of walk. 50 meters down the track on the brakeless, veering, bike, I knew who was getting a better deal.


Eventually, an open plain of waving grass, a dugout canoe pulled high into the grass, and the river, borne under a distant, electric storm. Two km downstream, thunderstorm booming overhead, the flash of a crocodile charging from the grass and into the water. To Ben and me, it seemed nearly 3 meters. To Pedro, less than 2. An example of the significance of perspective, but either way, we all sprinted away.


Jan. 1

New years day, final 25 km of upper Kalingwishi River. Yesterday started with massive cataracts and portages, ended with heavy rain and small NYE celebration under a smaller rock. One falls early today, then flat water through overhanging, greener than green rainforest with explosions of red, pink, and yellow flowers, constant bird song, and little conversation. Take-out in small village and walk out 12 km on road too bad for the truck, only to meet it at a pontoon ferry, stuck with two tires on the pontoon, two in the mud, and deep water between.


Jan. 6

Under Chipembe Bridge, the Kalingwishi is much bigger, darker, and slower than the crystal clear, steep upper section. Two-hundred or more of the community around the bridge crowded onto it and rushed from one side to the other as we passed below on our way here, Lumangwe falls. 30 meters, it’s a big falls. Ben liked it, but the three boat tests were not convincing; one disappeared for 26 minutes behind falls, second came out twice-dented from impact, and third disappeared until this morning.


Jan. 7

Heavy rain this morning, and late start, but sun came eventually. I made the first descent of Kabweluma falls the prior day at sunset, through a symphony of sunlight and water vapor. Today, just Ben and Pedro took their boats above the falls and I set mine below for safety. Pedro took a line I thought would put him directly on rocks from 13 meters. Lucky, he found a deeper spot, but still glanced off the bottom with the biggest piton of his life. Ben next, took a more committing line in the middle that looked too good to leave without running. I went back to the top with my boat, boofed down to a sore neck, and got in the truck to Kundawika Falls.


Jan. 8

Mopani bees.


Jan. 9

It’s not often I think I would regret walking away from a falls or rapid. Objective indifference, I think, has kept me pretty safe and healthy. I’ve walked away from more big falls and rapids than I’ve run, knowing well that I would never return to the place, but never losing sleep over the decisions. Today, as I stood at the top of Kundawika falls, I had that rare feeling; I have to run it. I watched Ben paddle over and come out safely after a little beating, then I stood alone at the top, watching the water color change from rains higher on the river. Clear tannin-brown to murky, muddy brown. Sometimes it seems like we work a lot for little pay-off, but it’s all legitimized when time slows as you’re staring down the barrel of a big falls. When you’re in that flow, aware of and appreciating that moment of intense stillness, you’re alone on this planet.


Jan. 11

Today, making final preparations for the Lufubu River through Mbala National Park and into Lake Tanganyika. First, we’ll visit some guiding outfits to try to secure our shuttle, and as much as we’ve checked the map, the logistics remain vague. It’s sure to be very remote and fairly steep. The few reports we’ve heard of the area confirm this.


We don’t know much else; it’s kind of like our whole trip condensed into one river, so we can be sure things won’t go smoothly. We don’t know if the roads to the river will be passable, having only seen two reported trips in the last year, one by motorcycle. We’re not sure if rafting through croc and hippo dangers to meet an arranged motor boat at a specific time on Lake Tanganyika is a good idea. We’ve definitely learned though, that things will go according to plan, that the destination is but a brief point on the journey, and the adventure is golden, you just have to let it be.

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