The Smoke that Thunders
July 13 – 15
Before embarking on our African safari, we took a few days to gear up in Livingstone, one of the larger cities (and until recently, the capital) of Zambia. Aside from our desire to sleep in one place for more than one night (something that didn’t happen often in July), we had one specific destination in this landlocked African country in mind – Victoria Falls. At the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, this waterfall gets its local name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders” in legitimate fashion. Gazing across the cleft of earth with water rocketing down both sides, creating a “smoke” of spray above for as far as the eye can see, you understand. Kind of like reverse rain.
Now imagine it’s 1855 and you’re a Scottish explorer (David Livingstone to be precise), in a canoe guided by two natives. Then, from miles away you begin to hear a strange, thunderous roar, followed by strange columns of what looks like smoke. Finally you come round the corner and see THIS.
It must have been incredible. Now, thousands of tourists from all over the world make the trip knowing what they’ll find (due to photos they’ve seen in guide books or online), but with the strange desire we have for so many things – needing to see it with our own eyes, just as Livingstone did over 100 years ago.
It’s not the highest or widest waterfall in the world, but based on its width (5,600 ft) and height (354 ft), it results in the world’s largest sheet of falling water…that’s crazy. For some closer-to-home comparisons, it’s nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls and twice the width of the Canadian side’s Horseshoe Falls. I visited Iguazu Falls (on the Argentina/Brazil border) a few years ago and felt that a bit more impressive, perhaps due to the difference of perspective. In South America, you can walk along the base of the falls (as well as the top), giving you a precise feeling of the water’s power as it thunders down around you.
We strolled the Zambian side and watched a few daredevils as they bungee jumped from the tall bridge across the border, glimpsed strange birds and monkeys scamper through the trees and even witnessed a double rainbow emerge from the mist. A beautiful (and wet) day indeed.
Also notable of our time here was our first attempt to pretend WE WEREN’T IN AFRICA. We decided to walk home from the falls for some exercise…about 10k (6 miles)…not crazy for two relatively fit, healthy adults. What we DIDN’T take into account was the power of the African sun, the absolute ABSENCE of anything to distract you from your walk (including ANY NOISE from the eerily non-existent traffic) and the fact that there are no sidewalks – all compounded by the fact that Dave and I have been together ALMOST EVERY WAKING MOMENT for TWO AND A HALF straight months so small talk possibilities are at an all-time low. Pretty sure I left half the soles of my new kicks…and my sanity…melted on the deserted pavement that day.
We took in dinner at the same location we would dine each night during our stay, Café Zambezi, where we were treated to food from the braai (their version of bbq), giving us our first taste of crocodile, nshima (a local cornmeal product that looks like a dumpling, but super bland) and peri peri spice (hot! we came to love this stuff…). Not to mention the local beer, Mosi, or “the beer that thunders.” Their words, not mine. No photos of the food, as part of the charm was dining by a single candle’s light under the stars (and Dave prohibits me from using the flash in public places). The night got cold, so they put a bucket of hot coals under each table to keep us toasty as we stuffed our faces.
Our only other adventure in the city was a trip “downtown,” taking all of about 1 hour, roundtrip (more walking – WILL WE NEVER LEARN??). Returning to our cozy hostel, we settled in by the pool, which we shared with 60 British teenage rugby players, whose charm soon waned as their cannon balls continually threatened to drench our persons, not to mention various precious electronics (EDITOR’S NOTE: As the resident “old person” in this relationship, I embraced this brief role reversal, watching Noelle play the role of the crotchety old woman, cursing those “damn hooligans” under her breath the whole time they were there.). Distractions aside, we prepared for the start of our two-week safari, beginning just across another Zambian border in Botswana. Let the games begin.