The first thing I should admit is that I wasn’t exactly canoeing down the Zambezi. Rather, as the lone wildebeest of the group, I’d been put in the guide’s boat and was admiring his broad shoulders and efficient paddling. And pretending to be paddling hard myself every time he turned around to ask how I was getting along. Obviously.
If you’re considering a boat safari the main thing to know is that it usually isn’t terribly hard work, even when you’re actually paddling yourself. You’re usually headed downstream, following the current with stops to inspect interesting birds, take a walking safari to stretch your legs or take a snooze on a sandbank. A snooze on a sandbank? On the ground? Was this safe, I enquired? What about thehipposandthecrocsandthesnakesand….? Well, nothing on safari is guaranteed safe (though crossing a road in London or New York isn’t 100% safe either), but I can confirm that once I got over my terrors I spent a blissful hour under the trees, listening to the lullaby of a fish eagle’s call and desperately hoping that I hadn’t snored in public.
When we first embarked on our canoe safari we were briefed about how to behave if we fell into the water (“Don’t do it”), but the closest we came to hippo was admiring the mighty tusks of a distant yawn. At night we were advised to keep close to the tents (hippos hop out to graze the riverbanks after dark), counted shooting stars, and chatted to our guides about life in the bush.
By day, life adapted a gentle rhythm. A somewhat early start, grumbling offset by a gloriously early sunrise, followed by a morning’s paddling on our canoe safari. Lunch (“Oh- I shouldn’t have a glass of wine. OK, I will then”) and then snooze. Later, a walking safari watching eagles and ellies and eland. (If the latter doesn’t sound too exciting, imagine an animal that can weigh nearly a tonne jumping a pile of logs taller than a man). Later, sundowners, dinner, and bed, being sung to sleep by crickets and chomping hippos.
In all- a boat safari is probably something I’d combine with a big-game fix to make sure you get enough cat sightings in, but absolutely magical in its own right and not to be missed.