Livingstone and Victoria Falls

April 8. Livingstone and Victoria Falls. Yesterday, we drove out of the park to our airport to relocate to Livingstone, in Zambia, to get our first glimpse of Victoria Falls. Today we take a closer look. Pretty impressive. Big river with an abrupt and instantaneous vertical drop over a ledge. The native name means “smoke that thunders”. And it does. As we approached the airport, the pilot circled the falls. About all one could see was a big river that just ends and the cloud of spray… the smoke from the river.

            Up close and personal, it is almost overwhelming. The river plunges into a gorge but one cannot see much of the gorge because it is deep and narrow and filled with the spray. The spray presents itself as a fog that is constantly changing. So the predominant color is a curtain of white shrouded by a mist of white and any photo op is ephemeral and only briefly available. Add to this white chaos the thundering roar of the plunging water and these are compounded by the presence of water droplets falling like a heavy rain. So the viewer is enveloped in the penetrating mist of the falls as well as the rain of water from the coalesced mist droplets. And it really pours! Fortunately, the intensity and duration of the rain is constantly changing according to the whims of the breezes that I suspect are also generated by the falls itself. Most visitors simply embraced the fact of being wet – no, soaked. Many prepared by just wearing only a swim suit or maybe a T-shirt.

            The chasm is great. The history is a legend. The falls are massive. It is all very dramatic.

Wow the past several days were supposed to be relaxing. Well. They really were but I never really had much time to write. And, I have come to conclude that that Victoria Falls were not so impressive as I had expected (though still very impressive). It was big. But too big. The water came over the abrupt edge like a bully. In a rage. It was huge and powerful. So much water and so much power that it created immense storm of mist that obscured much of the view and masked the immensity of the whole. These days, the shroud of mist rose high above the falls and became a part of the landscape visible from miles away. Had we seen the falls a couple months sooner or later, it would not have been so intense or so powerful but, I suspect that the viewing may have been more satisfying.

According to Dr. Wikipedia, Victoria Falls is the world’s largest sheet of falling water. It is 5,600 feet wide and 354 feet high (this varies of course during the annual cycle). The full width of the Zambezi River plunges vertically into the deep gorge. Some may argue that the Iguazu Falls in south Brazil and Argentina are bigger or better (check out Iguazu Falls at www.billhauserbooks.com).

The evening of April 5, we took a different view of the falls. We boarded an old but refurbished train, powered by an old but refurbished steam engine. It was a delightful ride as we chugged along. Beer and wine were immediately available and the misty plume soon appeared on the horizon. We kept rolling closer and the food began rolling, too. We arrived on the bridge just before sunset. The bridge is significant because it is historically important. Sir Henry Rhodes decided that it would be good for central Africa to impress the world with an extensive railroad project that included a huge bridge across the Zambezi River within the spray range of Vic Falls. That means that the bridge allows an impressive view of the impressive falls. Also, the center of the bridge marks the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. (There is a paint mark that is Zambia and another about 1.5 meters away that marks Zimbabwe.)

The view of the falls and the gorge downstream were truly impressive. And we felt the spray that Sir H. Rhodes desired. And we enjoyed another bright red African sunset. The whole experience was a bit distracted by the roiling and intensive collection of Zimbabweans who wanted to sell their handicrafts. Or even, to trade for the mosquito repellent coil I wore on my wrist.

We reboarded the train and started back and then the food really began to appear. All five courses. All very tasty and all surprising. This was a most enjoyable and relaxing evening but it did not last long.

      By 6:30 and 7:00 the next morning, there were other things happening. Melba and Mavis took off on a quick trip to a game park in Botswana. Apparently, they had a great adventure. They needed to take a ferry to cross the Zambezi River. It turned out to be rather small and a challenge to board and disembark. The park was not well developed and the roads were soft sand so driving was not easy. The country was more open than what was more familiar for us. But they saw huge herds of buffalo, elephants, and other animals. And many birds with a big variety. They returned just in time for supper.

     Meanwhile, I was off on a fishing trip. Not just an ordinary fishing trip, but a fishing trip for tigerfish (Check Mr. Google. These are powerful predators with fanglike teeth.). Well, long story short, the fishing was good...   but... you know the rest. I did have about 10 to 12 takes but no solid hookups. I managed one to near enough for a quick look. Pretty fish. Bright golden color. Another boat was also out with two anglers. They landed one fish. No longer than 18 inches and I think, less. Small sized for the reputation of tigerfish. Apparently, the prime time (or at least, the prime time for the guide) begins in May and goes to  June, July. I was pretty well worn out but I was satisfied that I gave it all a good effort.

In the afternoon, we took yet another view of the great falls. Or at least Tere and Karel did. I stood by while they piled into a helicopter for a quick aerial view of the falls. Tere had been in  a helicopter before but this was Karel's first ride in a helicopter. Both returned with broad grins on their faces. The trip was brief but to the point. This was a truly unique way to see the falls. Karel’s pics are phenomenal.

April 7. I should point out here that while we were relaxing by the pool or in our room or eating a meal outside, we were also frequently watching zebras feeding nonchalantly nearby or monkeys chasing and rolling and investigating around the area. Once, Karel had a zebra about one zebra length away and monkeys scampering around on the roof. There were frequent reminders about being watchful and careful around monkeys and baboons. Here on the grounds, staff patrolled for monkeys with slingshots. And here, giraffes and impalas foraged around the grounds.

 On this day, we, except for Mavis, took a local tour. First stop, a local native village. This was a village about 7,000 people. Several thousand more people lived within a few kilometers away. It was located about 10 or 15 km from Livingstone. Streets were like broad sandy paths. Houses were round, about 30 feet in diameter and topped with a cone shaped roof of reeds. Walls were constructed by installing a ring of poles, each about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. These were covered with a mud plaster adobe. Each house area was encircled by a brush/reed fence. Vegetable plots filled much of the available space in and around the households.

Houses were dark and spare and space was limited. Lighting was by candlelight and water was by the bucketful. Cooking was by wood or charcoal. Usually, there was one main meal each day and maybe some bits of food at other times. Overweight was not a problem.            A small percentage of the people found work outside the village but most income was derived from sales of hand made craft items at the craft fair we attended before we left. Competition was intense and bargaining was furious. At least, the vendors stayed on their side of the table so a buyer could make an escape.

            From the village, we went on into Livingstone to visit the Livingstone Museum. As with most museums we visited, this one was a bit worn and in need of some repair and professional attention. But it was interesting and informative. It seems that Dr. Livingstone was a bit of an idealist who made several extensive trips throughout central and southern Africa with the intent of preaching the Lord and physically healing the natives. (What I wondered and was unable to determine was how permanent was his mark on the people and the land.) Through most of his trekking, he brought his wife and family with him. All of the emphasis of this presentation focused on the man and his travels and where he stopped and for how long but with no comments of his legacy for which he was devoted.

            We returned to the hotel for a short break before we had to leave for our special final event when we were all together. We took a simple but lovely and relaxing sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. We shared some wine and some snacks as the afternoon sky morphed into a spectacular red, orange, and golden sunset for our last evening together.

In the final morning together, we went together to the airport for a flight to Joburg. Where the Australians were met by a friend who operates an orphanage to the east of Joburg. They mobilized about a dozen bags of donated good in Australia for the children and they will be helping out at the facility for several days and do more sightseeing,  too.

Karel and I stayed overnight in Joburg but that afternoon, Karel enjoyed a very nice swim in the hotel pool. The first heated pool of the trip. Perhaps I should have joined her but this gave me the opportunity to catch up on some typing. Our departure flight, yesterday, was not until late in the evening so we booked a tour of the Apartheid Museum (this museum was more modern and more professional than most we visited).

Segregation and apartheid are important and powerful chapters in the history book of South Africa and this museum provides a depiction of the events along with an introduction based on impacts of slavery and labor unrest. And another important chapter depicts how apartheid was overcome and the role played by Nelson Mandela.

We are now in Atlanta waiting until we board a flight to Seattle and then home. Our first leg was 16 hours of just flying time. We have nearly 15 or 16 more total hours to go. 

May 5. At home. I am finally closing this off. Dealing with the files has been a real challenge but I enjoy our trip each time I read these stories. I hope you enjoy them, too. Sendan email if you want to talk.

            Keep in touch.

            BillKarel