Captain’s Log-6 October 2015-Scouting the Falls

Starting the walking safari machetes swinging, to clear a way through the undergrowth.

Starting into the walking portion of our little safari, machetes swinging to clear a way through the undergrowth.

There is a beautiful waterfall near here that I spotted from the air and have wanted to go to for a very long time. It is only 6 miles from Nyankunde on the GPS in the plane but that’s a very straight line. On the ground nothing is straight or flat, the road is bad, it peters out to a motorcycle trail and then to a mere foot path through the bush. I had talked to a couple of the robust pilots and doctors about going to scout it out some day and they all said “Just tell me the day and I am there”.

That would have been the good plan. Scouting is usually a hard thing and there is almost always a better way to do things than the first way. But when we were sitting around the table at Joey and Kathleen Martin’s house at dinner on Friday night, they said,” Jon, our sister is leaving for the States on Monday and she would really like to do something fun before she leaves. Could you please take us to the falls tomorrow?” What could I say? It wasn’t the smartest thing, but I went ahead and told Cher we would be gone about 2 or 3 hours. So we left on our little “3 hour tour” around 8:00 the next morning. Joey, Kathleen, Deana, the 2 little girls Dorothy and Hannah, and little baby Levi. Not exactly the intrepid explorer team I had envisioned for a recon hike, but I figured what can go wrong? We can always turn back when they get half tired.

As we drove along the little-used village road and then through high grass that brushed the sides of the 4X4 Toyota, we came to a bridge. It was very rickety and the rotting boards that allowed motorcycles to cross had to be realigned to match the pickup’s wheel base. We had the women and children get out and walk across and then Joey lined up the boards. Our little adventure was shaping up nicely. We stopped at the CME bush clinic in Sezabo village where I had seen a walking trail into the adjoining valley that the falls was at the top of and people came out of the woodwork to see what the mzungus wanted in their village. When we told them we wanted to see the falls, three of them said they would take us there. The nurse who runs the clinic said it was close. Maybe a 20 minute walk. That sounded good from my estimate of distance in relation to terrain that I had previously walked around Nyankunde. But my only personal observations of this route were from the air, and I might mention here that things often look a lot smaller from the air going 150 knots an hour. And the nurse had never actually been to the falls.

We all took a drink and were off on our walk. Everyone was doing well and having fun.   The overcast provided a nice level of shade so we didn’t overheat in the equatorial African sun. After a kilometer or so of walking and greeting folks we came to a hut where a couple of guys sat talking and when we told them of our mission they said “Oh, no Mzungus have been here for many years. Maybe 15 years. We will take you.” This sounded good too, so they grabbed their machetes and we were off. Within 5 minutes of walking they were hacking branches and grass to make a trail for us as the terrain started climbing gently up. There were small openings with banana trees but the vegetation changed to a rain forest riverine thickness quite quickly. As the trail started down toward the river we could hear falling water and for a bit I really thought we could be getting close. But we weren’t to the falls yet. It was just the place in the river where we were supposed to cross to the other side. The rocks were incredibly slippery and crossing while carrying the girls was interesting. They were not too thrilled with the fire bucket brigade fashion by which they were passed across. After I slipped and fell in up to my camera I didn’t mind being the guy in the gap to help others over. We walked on and on, up and down, crossing the stream over and over.   I really admired the Martins who were carrying the kids all the way. We moved slowly because a trail had to be cut and, even so, it was still hard work and humid. And the ladies were getting tired. Each time I asked our guides how far they said, “Not far, just around this corner.” Corners came and went. I could see Martins were getting tired and thought we had come to their half way point. I said this to the men and they said it is “right here”. I told Martins to rest a bit while I went to see what “right here” looked like. The guides and I walked right along the river in a canyon where the bush was still thick and I could hear falling water. Finally we broke out into an opening and could see upstream about 60 meters to a small falls that ran over a rock with about a 30 degree slope. It was beautiful with a small pool at the base of it and rocks and tropical vegetation all around. I turned to go get Martins when one of the men that had gone ahead to find a ‘path’ onward slipped from the top of the falls. I watched him slide and bounce all the way down into the pool before disappearing under the water. The other 4 guys with me assured me that he was fine but we waited way too long before his head came up for a very short breath and then he went down again. His machete bearing hand did surface but that was all and I finally said, “Hey guys, we have to help him”. We rushed across the slippery rocks and as we got ready to jump in he drifted downstream to a shallower spot and came up. He was done in and after helping him to sit up, it took him way too long to recover. I went back to get the Martins and after that rest they had no problem getting to the little falls where we took pix and talked about the best way to get back. All the guys said the best way was onward a bit and then over the very steep cliffs to the top of the ridge where there was an old road that we could walk back on. This is why you scout things before bringing the kids!

Just as our guides rush to help the man who slipped down the falls, he surfaces and floats to shallower water.

Just as our guides rush to help the man who slipped down the falls, he surfaces and floats to shallower water.

Looking at his Machete which he had managed to save, still stunned by his fall and near drowning.

Looking at his Machete which he had managed to save, still stunned by his fall and near drowning.

We endured another torturous hour of climbing up slippery rock cliffs carrying now crying kids before we realized that we were actually not heading back yet but still going to the bigger falls. They said it was the only way out. It was beautiful and it was good to have actually made it all the way to our destination, but knowing how much we had left to do was daunting and I was getting concerned for Kathleen, who had carried the baby all the way. We took a while to rest and look around and drink what water Martins had brought. With so little clean water left we finished it and filled the water bottle with the river water. It would be better than nothing if things got desperate, and at this point we had a feeling that was in the realm of possibility. There was also a bit of cheese and peanuts which Kathleen kindly shared around. But we were so thirsty it felt as if they turned to chalk in our mouths.

Everyone smiling for the picture, even the man who almost drowned.

Everyone smiling for the picture, even the man at the top who almost drowned.

We started back up the steep hill to the top and Kathleen finally gave me the baby to carry, as the trail was too slick for her to climb while carrying Levi. Next we walked through an any covered area that seemed to go on forever. They have an interesting way of not biting you till they get up far enough that they can really make you uncomfortable. I had them biting me on my back and in my pants all the way back to the car but by this point what on any other day might have been quite painful was just another annoyance. We got out much quicker than we had expected and it was all downhill to the vehicle from there.

Proof that we mad it to the big falls.  No name.  I think I will call it Cher falls.  What do you think?  Livingston named Mosi-oa-Tunya Victoria Falls!  And Cher is my queen.

Proof that we made it to the big falls. No name as far as I know.   I think I will call it Cher Falls. (Cher said, “Because she does”).  What do you think? Livingston renamed Mosi-oa-Tunya – “Victoria Falls” and Cher is my queen!

Then the men told me that we were coming to a military camp and we should stay together and be careful. As we approached the soldier on guard suddenly brandished his AK and told the men to stay where they were in a way that made us believe that he could radically change our day in a heartbeat. When I carried on and he raised the gun further and made it clear he had meant me as well. I stopped and we waited for the CO to finally come out. We told him we were the MAF pilots from Nyankunde and he was very happy to let us carry on.

I could not help but sing “10,000 Reasons for my Heart to Sing” as we carried on. Just as we walked up to the Hi-Lux, Dave Jacobsson and Kazi came driving up to check on us. Cher had not heard from us as we had been out of phone and radio contact in the next valley over and we were hours past our estimated return time. It is nice to know you have friends looking out for you. Dave had cold water and fresh rolls sent by his wife, Donna, and we were glad to have the refreshments.

As we drove home, the traumas of the day just seemed to melt away. I had brought along cold Cokes and we stopped a bit up the road to have our “coke and buns”, once again thoroughly enjoying the day. We crossed back over the bridge and then put the boards back the way we had found them. Adventures always seem to be better in the telling than in the living and we had truly had a nice little adventure.

As we drove home, the traumas of the day just seemed to melt away. I had brought along cold Cokes and we stopped a bit up the road to have our “coke and buns”, once again thoroughly enjoying the day. We crossed back over the bridge and then put the boards back the way we had found them. Adventures always seem to be better in the telling than in the living and we had truly had a nice little adventure.

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4 Responses to Captain’s Log-6 October 2015-Scouting the Falls

  1. vengesai says:

    Captain I am following you on your blog

  2. Wow, I’m glad you all ended up OK! Cher Falls it is I reckon! Wish you had a GPS trail to see where you went. One of our best adventures was 4 x 4 in the Makgadikgadi Pan years ago, (pre-GPS) with a pilot friend who had a great sense of direction in the often featureless and trackless pan. He said he knew it from flying over it so often. But then – it was dead flat and almost treeless. Different ball game!

  3. LuAnne Cadd says:

    I love, love, love this. Reminds me of other hikes I’ve been on, where the path to get there was a mystery.

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