For years the kayaking community heard rumors of powerful whitewater in remote Angola on the scale of the mighty Zambezi River. But a horrific 27-year civil war and its aftermath had cut off the country from the outside world. Once the war ended, in 2002, the country began rebuilding itself, and visitors started to trickle in, and what they found was a place with all the makings of a major adventure destination, full of towering mountains, untouched wilderness, and big rivers. In late 2018, Dewet Michau of South Africa, Jake Holland of Great Britain, and I braved crocodile attacks, unforgiving weather, and miles of unmapped terrain to become some of the first kayakers to experience the perilous rapids of the Keve and Kwanza Rivers.
The Kwanza, pictured here, drops more than 3,000 feet through the heart of Angola to the Atlantic Ocean. Its crystal-clear waters are the lifeblood of the country—its upper reaches provide fish, drinking water, and irrigation for local communities, while farther west, it supplies energy through dam projects in the lower sections.