Zambezi Expedition 2012. One man and a river

13th September 2012 Zambezi Expedition 2012. One man and a river

At sixty six, David Lemon has reached the age where he should be putting his feet up and enjoying a contented old age, but after a lifetime of adventure, he finds it difficult to settle down to what others would regard as a ‘normal’ lifestyle.

Brought up in some of the remoter parts of Southern and Central Africa, Lemon is hugely experienced in bush survival and over the past three decades, has tackled the wilder parts of Central Africa in a variety of ways. In his middle forties, he rowed the length of Lake Kariba in both directions, using a ten foot, open dinghy for the purpose. His book Hobo describes that adventure and in it he writes about being driven ashore on rocky islands, holing his boat in a number of places and facing the enormous storms that Kariba continually throws at its boatmen. He also had adventures with hippopotami, crocodile and elephant, while at one stage, he was forced to operate on his big toe with a razor blade, following a bite from a night adder.

In his fifties, Lemon cycled alone from Nairobi to Cape Town, taking four and a half months over the journey and on the way he was arrested twice, beaten up by armed soldiery and suffered a severe attack of amoebic dysentery. He also had a number of accidents, but in his book Two Wheels and a Tokoloshe, Lemon cheerfully tells his readers that he had a wonderful time.

At the age of sixty one, David Lemon decided to walk around the southern shoreline of Lake Kariba, a distance of some 1200 kilometres (750 miles). Setting out in temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius, he completed the journey in 76 days and on the way, was arrested again, this time for being in the area without a permit, had a number of close encounters with dangerous wild life, lost 20 kilograms (44 lbs) in body weight and was forced to stitch up his own leg when the calf was ripped open by a branch. The book resulting from this particular adventure was Blood Sweat and Lions – a truly riveting read.

In 2010, Lemon decided to kayak the perimeter of Lake Kariba but was prevented from doing so by the authorities, who refused to allow him into Zambian waters. Undaunted by this setback, he explored the lake in his 12 foot vessel and yet again, met up with a number of adventures that might well have killed a lesser man.
“Having done three books on my adventures, I decided not to write about that one,” was his comment afterwards, although his blog account of the venture has been passed around the Internet for many months now.

But David Lemon feels that he has at least one major adventure left before he might – perhaps - be too old.


In 2012, Lemon intends to walk the entire length of the Zambezi, starting at the source near the Zambian settlement of Mwinilunga and ending where the river empties into the Indian Ocean in the tiny village of Chinde in Mozambique.
“I know the conditions well,” he told a local newspaper recently. “I know how to survive in that sort of countryside and despite my advanced age – or perhaps because of it – I have both the experience and the knowledge to get me through such a walk.”

His intention is to begin the journey toward the end of April, when the rains will be almost at an end and conditions will be cooler for the first few months of walking. By the time he reaches the Barotse plains, the waters of the Zambezi will hopefully be receding after the annual flood. He estimates that the entire journey will take him ten months, but as with any adventure of this nature, such timings are purely speculative and it could take a great deal longer.

He will travel alone and survive off what food he can carry, as well as living off the countryside and the river whenever possible. An experienced bush traveller, Lemon has no fears about living off the land, although he expects to lose a great deal of weight yet again.


The main dangers facing anyone who walks the Zambezi must always be crocodiles and mosquitoes. Crocodiles are numerous in all sections of the river and there are a number of different malarial mosquitoes throughout the region. Prophylactics will have to be taken and a wary eye kept for crocs when anywhere near the river itself.
There will also be the obvious dangers of the terrain, which in many cases is extremely rough and will necessitate steep, enervating climbs and precipitate descents, when falling could well prove fatal. In the Lower Zambezi Valley, there will be the problem of traversing very thick bush, with the attendant dangers of bumping into elephant, lion, buffalo, hippopotamus or other wild animals that could cause problems to the unwary.

In the summer months – October to March – the heat will be hugely oppressive, with daytime temperatures climbing well above 40 degrees Celsius and only falling slightly after dark. Heavy rain will add to the dangers and discomfort of traversing rough countryside and in the lower Zambezi region, tsetse flies and irritating mopani bees will add their depredations to the general discomfort of the walk.

Snakes abound in the Zambezi Valley and some of these, such as the mamba or the cobra are deadly, so once again, a wary eye will have to be kept on paths and the surrounding terrain.

In parts of Zambia, the walker will also be likely to encounter trigger-happy members of the Parks Department on anti poaching patrols and as these frequently shoot on sight at suspected poachers, they become a definite danger to the unwary. Even the buying of permits to enter these areas does not make the traveller safer. The same dangers might well apply in respect of armed bandits in both Mozambique and Angola.

But there will also be times when anyone passing along the river will enjoy some of the most incredible vistas in the world and the sheer freedom of being away from the frenetic pace of the twenty first century will make all the discomforts and dangers feel worthwhile.

NEEDS - David Lemon, his own words

My main need is for cash, as I do not want to leave my wife facing destitution during the ten – 14 months I will be away. I feel that £2500 will be more than sufficient for my needs and am willing to accept considerably less than that with considerable gratitude.

The initial problem facing the Zambezi walker is the cost of an ‘open’ air ticket, lasting over a year. This is prohibitive and the agents I have approached so far do not even feel that it can be arranged. The alternative is to book single flights to Lusaka and back, but that will also prove hugely expensive. What I need is sponsorship from an airline in the form of such a ticket or a huge parcel of air miles that might make the flights a bit more affordable.

Another major travelling problem will be getting out of Chinde at the end of the journey. The ‘town’ has little in the way of amenities and I will probably need to be uplifted by light aircraft, which again will be way beyond my financial means. There are however, a number of Zimbabwean and South African run adventure firms operating off the Mozambique coast, so if anyone knows of contacts I can approach in this regard, I will be grateful for details.
Visas required will be a double entry one for Zambia, and single entries to Angola and Mozambique. As I will be sticking to the northern bank of the river, I can avoid going into Zimbabwe, although it would be nice to cross the border at Kariba and visit friends. However, that is hardly an essential. The cost of all the necessary visas will be in the region of £350.

Where kit is concerned, a 90 litre bergen has been donated by the soldiers of 1 Rifles in the UK (it will have to be suitably disguised!) but an essential item of equipment will be a ‘packraft,’ which will cost some £400, together with a fold up paddle. After the frustrations of relying on locals to ferry me across tributaries on my Kariba walk, I intend to get myself across them all on this occasion.

A GPS (roughly £250) would also be handy and the last item of equipment I would like to have with me is a satellite telephone that doesn’t weigh too much. I shall be out of contact with my sorely taxed family for a very long time and some means of communication could well ease the worries all round. The problem is that a minimum price for these is around £550.

I will take as much dehydrated food as I can carry, including my usual staple of Pro nutro and raisins, but this tends to be extremely heavy, as does water and I will need to carry at least 10 litres of that with me at all times. Although I will be following a river, I know from experience that there will be times when I shall be a long way from water and the emotional as well as physical torments of walking when thirsty, are not feelings to be savoured – I know because I have been there before!

The rest of my equipment, I will provide myself, although a pair of Courteney boots have already been donated by the Courteney Boot Company in Bulawayo.


The Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean from that continent. The area of its basin is 1,390,000 square kilometres (540,000 sq miles), slightly less than half that of the Nile. The 3,540-kilometre-long river (2,200 miles) has its source at Mwinilunga in the north western corner of Zambia and flows through Angola, along the borders of Namibia, Botswana, into Zambia again, where it borders Zimbabwe then on to Mozambique, where it empties into the Indian Ocean at a tiny settlement called Chinde.

During the course of its travels, the river passes through some of the wildest and least developed countryside in the continent, which has made it a magnet for explorers and adventurers through the centuries. David Livingstone made the river known in the middle of the nineteenth century, but for decades before that, it provided a convenient highway for the passage of slaves, ivory and precious metal from the interior to the sea. Manuel Baretto explored large sections of the river in the seventeenth century and his writings make fascinating reading. His travels were done mainly in hopes of finding the legendary treasure city of Ophir, which was said to be somewhere in the modern country of Zimbabwe.

Frederick Courteney Selous hunted along portions of the river and he too wrote about the wildness of the Zambezi and its surrounding countryside in his books.
There have been many settlements on both banks of the river through the ages and palaeontologists have discovered relics dating back thousands of years, as well as the fossils of a number of dinosaur species.

In modern times, many books have been written about the river, including a fascinating account of its history by Michael Maine, but as far as I can research, nobody has walked the length of the Zambezi since the early nineteenth century. At that time, a number of intrepid explorers walked from coast to coast across the continent, some of them presumably using the river as a path to follow.

South African adventurer, Michael Boon was the first person to paddle a kayak the length of the river in 2002 and his feat was replicated a few years later by two young South Africans. Solo attempts to travel the length of the river have been few, although in the late nineties, a German adventurer attempted to swim it. His eventual fate is not known!


Having never sought sponsorship of any sort in the past, I am not at all sure how these requests should be tackled, but in return for whatever might be donated toward my trip, I can promise considerable publicity. Tynago Communications in Johannesburg have offered considerable publicity both before and after the walk and I am hoping to set up the same sort of arrangement with a marketing/PR agency here in the UK.

The Royal Geographical Society have given me their blessing for the venture, but not their support – a subtle difference there, I’m afraid. However, they have asked that I keep them informed where possible and give them a talk on the project – they didn’t mention payment – on my return.

I am trying to interest television companies in Britain and as my daughter in law used to produce the Holiday programme for BBC, I have high hopes that she will interest some of her former colleagues in the independent television companies in covering the venture. However, I am NOT interested in taking a camera crew with me.

There will be articles, interviews, talks and the inevitable book on my Zambezi walk, in which the generosity of my sponsors will be brought out and praised to the skies. Then of course, there will be the company satisfaction of helping the first man to walk the entire length of the Zambezi in one fell swoop.

I shall also hold a couple of fund raising evenings here prior to departure, wherein I will give full presentations on my intentions and what might be entailed in such a walk.

Any assistance or advice that might help will be hugely appreciated.