By Stephen Underhay
I was close to finishing my first year at the Red Deer Fire Department in central Alberta, Canada, when I decided to fulfil a lifelong dream of travelling to the majestical African continent. My new job was going great, but adopting a more domestic lifestyle after years of rappelling from helicopters and bush flying across northern Alberta had me daydreaming about exploring another far corner of the world. So often as a kid I had dreamed of hanging my feet over the edge of Table Mountain, Cape Town, that I decided it was time to make that happen.
Of course, no plan is without its hiccups.
It was the height of the Ebola crisis in West Africa. While there have been outbreaks of this cruel disease consistently in this part of the world for many years, western media was in a frenzy due to the several cases that had sprung up in North America. The health community had made preparations for worst-case scenarios, of which I was an active member in, so breaking the news to my colleagues and friends that I was soon headed to the afflicted continent caused … interest ... To say the least.
After weeks of reassuring my mum I wasn’t going to be doing aid work to treat those affected and that I in fact would be thousands of miles from the closest case of Ebola – I was off!
monstrous 30 hours of travel that included Red Deer, Toronto, London, Johannesburg and lastly Livingstone, Zambia. After leaving a freezing -30C at home, I stepped off the plane to a scorching +30C.
It was a blur, maybe I was rattled by the heat, the need to quickly collect my things, or scramble for cash to pay my visa. The ever-so-popular footrace through immigration and customs as well as the need to communicate with a local driver to take me to my campground to my group. I caught myself doing all of this unconsciously. Rushing.
Finally, I took a minute to look around and realize where I was.
The first couple of days in Zambia were beautiful. I met an amazing group of young people from all over the world. Some of them had been together travelling from Nairobi (almost 20 days), but they took in this Canadian like they’d known me since school. Drinking beer from the cooler box we talked about our adventures. We flung countless poisonous looking snakes off from under our feet while we took in the amazing view of elephants bathing in the Zambezi River.
It was pure bliss and an adventure that had only just begun.
While in Zambia I visited Victoria Falls, the largest sheet of falling water in the world, 16 November 2014. I felt the surge of adventure as I realized that the first European, David Livingstone, visited this site 16 November 1855. I can only imagine what he was feeling the day he saw Mosi-oa-Tunya (“The smoke that thunders,” it’s indigenous name) 159 years earlier. While I jumped in I wondered if he had been foolish enough to wade across to Devil’s Pool: A small area of slow moving water in the river accessible for a few months a year which allows you to lean over the edge and truly appreciate the sheer scale of the falls.
“Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” – Daivd Livingstone
My adventure in Africa had started off with one of the most iconic features of the natural world. Next was Botswana. The mesmerizing Chobe River and an overnight living amongst the animals in the Okavango Delta.
Stephen Underhay is a thisworldexists adventure ambassador that lives in Alberta, Canada.
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