Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Yes, yes, yes! As mentioned, I had a terrible start to the trip. Five of the six of us flew Kenya Airways as part of the Exodus package; our flight out from Heathrow to Nairobi was delayed, which meant we just made it to our connecting flight to Lusaka via Harare...but our luggage didn't. And in my case, my luggage was not with me until 3 days into the trip, which was a serious health and safety hazard for me. I've written extensively to Exodus about the problems which ensued, but I'll keep this to advice to travellers here:
1. GETTING THERE: Fly British Airways if you can; Kenya Airways are a nightmare! They misplace baggage, run late, and cancel flights when there aren’t enough people. If you do fly with Kenya Airways, pack EVERYTHING in carry-on luggage; as of October 2012, you could bring 2 x carry-ons. You should be able to fit everything in 2 carry-ons, especially if you don’t over-pack. If you do check baggage, make sure your luggage can withstand being thrown around a bit by the airlines!
2. LEVEL OF FITNESS: As I work out at the gym 3x per week, I consider myself to have a reasonable level of fitness and I would still say that the canoeing is pretty hard on the arms. Unless you have someone very strong in the back of the boat to do a lot of the rowing, be prepared for this! I didn’t hold the oars loosely enough either, so I would strongly recommend fingerless sailing gloves (I got mine on eBay for £5.99) and/or blister plasters (I developed one blister on my hand).
3. PACKING: (bear in mind this is for October weather; make adjustments accordingly) If you're travelling Kenya Airways, pack everything in carry-on! Whatever your airline, make sure you have everything you need for 2-3 days (including medication, etc) in case you get separated from your luggage! In October, it is far too hot and dry to require rain protection, pyjamas, etc. I also certainly didn’t need my sleeping bag, as it only got down to 20 degrees at night. Accept that you are going to be sweaty and dirty – don’t overpack! If I were to do the trip again, I’d wear clothes on the plane to keep me warm (and would not wear these again till my return) and I’d bring 2 pairs of shorts, 2-3 vests/t-shirts, and 3 knickers. You can rinse clothes in the river (careful of crocs!) and they’ll dry quickly overnight. There's honestly no point in changing for the time on the river because you’ll be sweaty and dirty again in 5 minutes. Some of my fellow travellers brought light weight trousers that you can zip the legs off to make shorts. Those were brilliant because it was far too hot – even at night – to bear wearing anything but the lightest weight clothes. Bring sandals that can get wet for the canoes and one pair of walking shoes (they don’t need to be walking boots – the terrain isn’t that difficult and we never walked for more than 3 hours - just something with a reasonable grip – even trainers would probably be fine); wet wipes (1 package is plenty); toilet paper (1 roll is plenty); 50% deet mosquito repellent (100ml of a pump spray type bottle was plenty); a SMALL size bottle of biodegradable soap (such as Dr Bronner’s magic soap) – you can wash yourself and your clothes in this; sun factor 30-40 (150ml should be fine – carry this in 3 x 50ml bottles for carry-on); earplugs; binoculars; headtorch; unscented lipbalm; mints to freshen breath; dry sacs to keep everything dry in the canoe; a sports bra is great for the exceptionally bumpy ride back to Lusaka; a pillow is handy (the ones provided are uncomfortable); the only reason to bring a swimsuit is for the last night at Eureka campsite - you certainly WON’T be swimming in the river (with the crocs and hippos); the canoe seats are tough on the bum, so if you can think of anything to bring to soften that, go for it! (Cycling shorts would be way too hot).
4. FOOD: As a vegetarian (and picky eater), it was hard to get enough to eat; I know this contradicts what other travellers have said, but without filling up on white bread sandwiches, I was often hungry. If I went again, I would bring a pack or two of sealed fruit/nut bars (like Jordan's) to snack on when I was hungry. Bear in mind you don't want any 'open food' in your tents (so the wild animals don't get too interested).
5. BEING EARTH FRIENDLY: I found I didn’t need a water bottle – there is no recycling or eco way to dispose of plastic in Zambia, so I used one plastic water bottle (bought the water at the airport) throughout the trip. If you bring snacks, remember to carry your rubbish with you.
6. ELECTRICITY: as it says in the trip notes, there is nowhere to charge batteries on the river. I took A LOT of photos, and brought 3 batteries, which was enough. In reality, there was actually a chance to charge batteries at the fly camp (off a big battery they had there); however, that is not guaranteed. The plugs vary but at Eureka (last night) they were British ones, not European. Maybe bring one European one in case.
7. OTHER SUGGESTIONS: Ask the guides for African food if you want to try it. We were not given the opportunity and I was sad about that. They do get supplies boated in half-way through the camping, so you’d need to ask if you want something. It certainly isn’t guaranteed you’ll get it, but it’s worth asking! If you’re new to canoeing, ask for technique instructions, like how to hold the paddle and which hand should be doing the work, so that you’ll maximise your efficiency and minimise your pain.