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The Adventure Fix

On a recent trip I had it all—the best room, the best guide, the best meal, and yet something was missing. What has happened to me? Have I become that complicated? Quite the opposite in fact.

If you take an old tree and cut through the rings of time, you will find at its heart the original sapling, alive and intact. For many travellers like myself, we’ve outgrown our backpacking days, yet we still yearn at our core for the adventure we once knew. I may have graduated to boutique hotels and luxury lodges; I appreciate a glass of wine with my meals; I am sometimes even met at the airport off the plane. But I miss that taste of uncertainty, that smell of untold possibility, and the radiating warmth of post-adrenaline achievement. And so I pine once more for the Mana Pools Canoe Trail—one of Africa’s great adventures.

Many Africans do this trip every year. It begins with a charter flight to Ruckomechi air strip in Mana Pools National Park, one of Zimbabwe’s greatest natural treasures. From the air and from the ground, the wilderness is nothing short of spectacular—a rugged mountainscape with a serene river running through it. Serene and yet teeming with giant crocs and massive pods of hippos, which make the next three days and nights an exercise in extreme canoe tripping.

We travel in a small group, never more than 10, with an expert paddling guide and an armed walking guide as escorts. In the water we ride a gentle current through the Zambezi’s main artery, banging paddles against gunwales to scare submerged hippos to the surface. Other times we navigate small tributaries close to shore, while large groups of elephant, buffalo and kudu observe us with passing interest. Each day we take shore excursions on foot or by Land Rover, sighting lions and hyenas with little to no effort. Each night, we arrive at our mobile camp, with hot bucket showers, excellent bush cuisine and million-dollar views.

Adventures like these are best when bookended with a little luxury on either end (c’mon my little sapling—you’ve earned it). I suggest a night or two at Ruckomechi Camp before taking to the water, and at the end of your trip why not clean up real nice and head to Shumba Camp in Zambia’s Kafue National Park, or The Victoria Falls Hotel.

Greg Sacks has travelled from the highest end palaces to the lowliest of one-man tents and everywhere inbetween

Banging paddles against gunwales to scare submerged hippos to the surface.

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