On the edge of Victoria Falls
“No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
Stranded in Choma
Sadly, after two fantastic weeks, it was time to leave Kafue National Park and the enchanted Konkamoya Lodge. Gift drove us to the town of Choma, with Laura and Karen tagging along for the ride. In Choma we would catch a bus for Livingstone, close to Victoria Falls. But by the time we arrived it was clear the others would not make it back in time for the last ferry over the river, so we had to find a hotel for the night. The selection of dwellings in the little town was not great, but after looking around for a while we found a place that was acceptably seedy. We spent that evening sharing a bottle of wine by the murky and derelict pool outside, complete with floating debris and frogs chirping loudly along it’s edges. The next morning we said goodbye to our new friends, and set out on the road again.
Victoria Falls is not the highest, nor the widest waterfall in the world, but its length and height combined creates what is the world’s largest sheet of falling water, as the full width of Zambezi river drops into a wide gorge that crosses the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, this was the dry season, so we knew it would be much smaller than in the postcard pictures. On the Zambian side there were wide, dried up riverbeds and dizzyingly beautiful views of the river and the massive 1700 meter long gorge – into which Asle predictably lost his sunglasses while leaning over a fence. Looking across to the other end of the gorge we could see the clouds of mist rising and hear the roar that gave the falls it’s local name: Mosi-oa-Tunya – The smoke that thunders.
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Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke That thunders)
The next day we crossed the border into Zimbabwe, where most of the watery action would be at this time of year. After procuring a new pair of sunglasses for Asle at a souvenir stand, and getting past the locals selling hilarious but worthless trillion Zimbabwean dollar bills, we entered the park. As we came closer to the falls the air became increasingly humid, and soon we could hear the thundering water from the other side of the forest. Rays of sunlight shot through the mist of tiny water droplets that filled the air, falling slowly to the ground. As we walked the trail towards the viewpoint, narrow openings in the vegetation gave us glimpses of what we were about to see.
We emerged from the forest, and found ourselves on the edge of the gorge looking over to the other side at a massive curtain of falling water. The view of the Zambezi river is captivating, as it drops 108 meters down, hurling a spray of water and mist hundreds of meters up in the air – The smoke that thunders. The sun creates beautiful effects of twinkling lights and small rainbows along the walls. We walked along the edge to a high point at the end where the gorge divides and the river leaves for Zimbabwe. Here there were no fences, scarcely a trail, just us on the edge looking down into the the deep gorge and up the river, imaging what Livingstone must have felt like when he stumbled upon this natural masterpiece in 1855.
Living on the edge: The Devil’s Pool
An upside to our timing was the possibility of experiencing something you can only do in the low waters of the dry season: dipping in the Devil’s Pool – a naturally formed pool carved out by the forces of nature right at the edge of the waterfall. We joined a small group on a boat ride over the river to Livingstone Island, a tiny island from which David Livingstone first witnessed the Falls in November 1855. After a short walk we jumped into the water and swam over to some rocks close to the edge of the falls. From the rocks we took turns jumping back in, and immediately the current pushed us towards the edge with frightening speed.
But the rocky wall stopped us just short of the massive drop, and we could simply lean towards it and enjoy. It was a fantastic experience, like sitting in the ultimate infinity pool, except going over the edge here would mean certain death. The exhilarating feeling of danger was intensified by the current and the roaring sound of water falling down into the churning chasm right behind us. Still we felt reasonably safe. Our greatest fear was for our guide, who quickly jumped up on the edge, and walked almost casually across it’s slippery rocks inches from the abyss, filming us with our GoPro. Have a look at the result below:
After an excellent lunch on Livingstone Island, we took the boat back up the river, now twinkling in the light of the setting sun. Behind us the thunder of the falls was slowly fading away. We turned and watched the plumes of mist rising in the distance one last time.