Some say he tired of the city and permanently moved to Siavonga. Others say he traded his soul for a speedboat and is still lost out on Lake Kariba. What is known for sure, is that Benny Blow left a part of himself in Siavonga after an adventure there.
These are excerpts from the journal entries he made on that adventure, during the Siavonga Canoe Challenge. It was held at the Eagle’s Rest Resort long ago, in June 2013…
DAY 114:50 hoursWe’ve been waiting for our transportation a while, and my attorney, London Kamwendo is getting a little antsy. He’s been a little sceptical about this trip. I assure him that I am not taking him to some strange place to be sacrificed, and that our ride would be here soon.
I don’t blame him. I too would fear for my life if my poor excuse of a journalist friend invited me to an all expenses paid trip to the beautiful Siavonga. I wasn’t certain myself, but I convinced London that, Karen, from the Eagle’s Rest Resort was real, that she had liked my article on The Kariba Music Festival so much, that she’d asked me to cover their Siavonga Canoe Challenge. I do hope this is not a hidden camera show prank.
15:15 hoursNow leaving Lusaka. London and I have been accompanied by Debs and Shamus, two paddlers participating in this year’s Canoe Challenge. They tell me that they are hoping there won’t be any pros taking part because this would be the first time they are competing. “But we’re here to have fun,” chuckles Debs.
18:30 hoursThe hills leading to our destination are studded with little jelly beans of light coming from the locals’ homes. Our vehicles headlights beam through the clouds of dust it is raising. The Eagle’s Rest is within site.
London’s fears should have been put to rest by now, because we have confirmed that Karen is indeed a real person and this trip is no practical joke. She lets us know where our room is and we get settled in.
19:00 hoursWe have supper with the paddlers. A few of them have already made their team banners. One of them reads, ‘Pirates of The Kariba’. London and I go back to the bar for a couple of Mosis before we retire.
22:25 hours22:37 hours22:42 hoursSometime after supperHad to exercise some restraint with the beers, lest I wake up with a hangover and botch up this sweet journalist gig! I had a nice chat with Karen and Mr. Steve Thompson (owner of Eagle’s Rest and Chairman of The Siavonga Tourist and Business Association).
It turns out this canoe challenge is not a death defying paddle through croc infested rapids, but a scavenger hunt of sorts. (I was secretly hoping to see someone wrestle a croc after their canoe capsized. Is that wrong?)
Mr. Thompson told me that they are trying to make people see Siavonga for the beautiful place it is. “We’re trying to change Siavonga. Not to be a representative of hotels, Kapenta fishing… none of that. We are trying to put Siavonga on the map.” — A noble cause, considering what this place has to offer.
Our room overlooks a sandy beach. If you squint real hard, you can see a small island in the distance. The water whispers something to the night sky and has such a calming effect. It’s a wonder that not more people come here…
DAY 206:15 hoursWoke up to the sound of the waves kissing the beach. I didn’t pack any soap and neither did London. I’m seriously considering using the hand soap to shower with!
We are a little late for breakfast, but we caught the ‘pep talk’ one of the paddlers was giving. He’s rubbing in the fact that his friend couldn’t down as many beers as he claimed he could in the last canoe challenge. (Sounds like the last challenge had elements of a pub crawl to it!) He’s yelling to his friend that they should win at all costs this time around.
Page and Rachael are two paddlers from Scotland. They seem willing to talk to me and answer all my questions. (Wonder if I should carry my notepad around more often, maybe I’ll get to talk to more girls…) I ask if canoe paddlers have special moves the way skateboarders or surfers do. They laugh and say their special move is to sit in the canoe. They’ve never really canoed before and they’re pretty excited.
09:00 hoursA few of the teams are out on the sand and by the water. The lake keeps love tapping the canoes. Asked if there are any frequent paddlers, Karen directs me to a man in large beach shorts. He tells me his name is Sailor (ironic, isn’t it?) Sailor tells me a little about his experiences and then points out the champion of the last canoe challenge.
Turns out our champion is Willard Kaleyanungu (I had to ask him to spell that for me), the man that was giving his friend the loud pep talk during breakfast. “It’s not just a matter of coming first. You need to collect all the items and gain the points,” he says. In the last challenge, paddlers were given twine, matches and Kapenta (sardines) and they had to bring back a fishbone and COOKED Kapenta. Willard says it was literally a challenge because you couldn’t cook or fish while paddling. “So I bought a fish and put Kapenta in some boiling water I got from one of the inns, and by the time I got back to the Eagle’s Rest, the Kapenta was cooked!”
10:30 hoursThe teams gather for a briefing before they can begin the challenge. There are nine teams of three, and each team represents a lodge, hotel or inn from around the lake; or has a different sponsor.
Karen is breaking down the rules of this year’s challenge and emphasising the need to wear life jackets at all times. She jokingly aims this safety tip at Willard and Sailor by mentioning their names.
A couple of contestants down a pint of Mosi or two before they get started. Someone remarks that it’s all good, seeing as the gas from the beer will help the paddlers float!
11:00 hoursAnd they’re off! Team Eagle’s rest has a clear lead as they all paddle away. I jump into the passenger’s side of Lucy, the photographer’s car, and we drive off to chase the paddlers by road to take photos.
First stop is Lake Kariba Inns. Lucy navigates the curves of the dusty road like a rally car driver! We can see some of the paddlers down in the lake. Lucy remarks that they’re paddling faster than she can drive. I find that hard to believe as by now I have my hands firmly clutching the side of my seat, and I’m wishing I had a second seat belt!
Clement from the Eagle’s Rest is first to arrive at The Inns. He’s ecstatic and immediately wants to try the bonus challenge. It involves picking up little tubes of macaroni with a thin stick of uncooked spaghetti. Shamus gives up on the bonus challenge soon after he arrives. It’s a little hard to crane one’s neck and drop the pasta tubes into a basket.
The paddlers frantically look for clues under tables, carpets and even the pool. Reading through the clue card, I really wonder if I could get the clues. They are not easy at all!
11:27 hoursLucy and I are now at The Bay Hotel. Lake Kariba Inns has snatched the lead from the Eagle’s Rest team. They’ve been paddling so hard they beat Lucy and I to the Bay!
There seems to be a mix-up with the clues at The Bay Hotel though. Team Kariba Inns has searched high and low, but to no avail. Eric, the young man that was charged with the task of hiding the clues denied knowledge of the canoe challenge when we got there. But he’s now rubbing his hands villainously, stating that the clues are actually ‘hidden’.
Lucy’s car raises up a cloud of dust as it hugs corners and bends at high speed in a quest to catch the paddlers before they reach the finish at the Eagle’s Rest. We had missed them at Manchinchi Bay Lodge. I mutter a prayer under my breath as the car bounces and I frantically struggle to make notes. God help us.
12:10 hoursKariba Inns (The Pirates of The Kariba) arrive at the finish line first. The last bonus challenge seems almost impossible, but Ettiene from The Pirates manages to balance a smartie on a plastic straw stuck vertically on a table.
Ettiene says he had no experience canoeing until this past week. They had practiced three times on banana boats. “We got all the clues and got here first,” he says, “But Karen doesn’t want to tell me [if we’ve won]”.
All the teams have gotten to the finish before the time limit. Page and Rachael are seated by a wooden beach table sipping on Mosis (seems to be a popular drink here!) “We weren’t the brute force of the teams. We were the…brains?” they chuckle. **Note to self — carry your note pad with you forever**
15:24 hoursPeter, the ‘general damager’ of the Eagle’s Rest (his words, not mine!) is nice enough to take us out to the lake in his speedboat, ‘The Notorious’. The wind rushes at our faces as Peter cranks the steering wheel and does doughnuts on the water. I’m so getting a speedboat. Peter says, “Boats make you happy two times in your life — The day you buy it, and the day you get rid of the bloody thing!”
We head to the bar and Peter gives a heartfelt speech about Siavonga that almost brings a tear to my eye. He says Siavonga has a heartbeat and we shouldn’t ignore it. He says it could be as vibrant as the rest of Zambia. I could definitely move out here.
18:35 hoursKaren called someone to take us to The Bay for the dinner. I kinda feel like a rock star being chauffeured somewhere. It’s hard to write as the car navigates through the jelly bean lit hills, but I carried my enchanting notepad. You know, just in case…
19:25 hoursMr. Thompson gives a short history of The Canoe Challenge, which started in 2008 as a pub crawl. But due to ‘health and safety’ reasons, the rules had to change a little. He thanks Bwabi River Lodge for allowing them to use their canoes and mentions that the money raised would go toward the education of Namumu Community School and Katalumba.
Karen asks for silence as she announces the results of the challenge in reverse. Someone from a table somewhere shouts out, “We’ve won!” Pure speculation.
In 9th place was Blue Span Steel; Eagle’s Rest came in 7th even though they had started out in the lead; and in first place were Ettiene and Willard’s team, The Pirates of The Kariba (Kariba Inns).
There’s a certain feeling in the air. Everyone is joyful and laughter occasionally escapes the mouth of a paddler. DJ Draicko was invited from Lusaka to come and set the mood with his music. Mission accomplished.
DAY 3*14:00 hours*We are on our way back to Lusaka now. I will definitely be coming back to Siavonga and the Eagle’s Rest!
Shamus and Debs are with us again. They offer us Mosis as we recap the events of our adventure. We debate a couple of things, but one thing we do agree on is that we all had a great time. I look outside the car window as the tall dry grass frantically waves at me, and I’m taken back to a conversation we had at the bar with Mr. Thompson the other night.
London asked what ‘EMIT AGNOVAIS’ meant (it was written on a sign above the analogue wall clock at the bar). Mr. Thompson pointed out that it was no ordinary wall clock. Following the numbers clockwise, they count backwards from 11 to one, rather than one to 12. He said the clock actually ticked counter clockwise. “Now since the clock moves backwards, read the sign the same way…”
Thinking about that sign, I find it ironic. Because it really is Siavonga’s Time… You can read more about Siavonga here.
Phots credited to Mr. Steve Thompson