‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ were the words uttered by explorer Henry Stanley in 1871 upon finally finding the first medical missionary of African exploration. (BBC) (eyewitnesstohistory) Referenced often, I had seen Livingstone as a traveler and pioneer, never as a place in which I’d experience an adrenaline rush unlike any other before in my life.
Known to locals as Mosi-oa-tunya, or ‘the smoke that thunders’, Victoria Falls delights all senses. Bordering Zambia and Zimbabwe, this natural wonder of the world is over 1700 meters wide and descends over 100 meters into the Zambezi gorge. Considered ‘the biggest curtain of water in the world’ (discoveryuk), the water’s strength is ubiquitous while its spray alights the air. (places)
In October 2009, my husband and I had just concluded a three-week G Adventures tour of southern Africa and had a few days to spend in Livingstone, Zambia. The falls called to us. Knowing only it’s mammoth size, endless supply of rainbows and something called Devil’s Pool; we went in search of adventure and found an experience forever etched in our memory.
First, we headed to the Royal Livingstone Hotel. Contrary to our typical accommodation, this is a luxury resort. Towards the back of the property there’s a tiny boat that takes you on a short ride to Livingstone Island. This small island was first set foot on by Britain’s famous Livingstone as he shared his view of ‘scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’, when he first laid eyes on Victoria Falls. The water rushed past us. After docking we met David, our guide for the day. A kind man with gentle eyes, he took us past a changing room made of palm trees and bamboo and a hut titled ‘a loo with a view’. The sound of rushing water filled the air and droplets danced on our faces. Dumping our clothes on rocks where other visitors had done the same, we met another guide, another David, who would accompany us to the edge of reality, Devil’s Pool.
Devil’s Pool is a natural rock pool cresting on the edge of the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. During the dry season (September-January) the Zambian side of the falls is low enough for visitors to attempt the adrenaline rush of Devil’s Pool. Holding my camera gracefully aloft, David swam approximately ten meters to another group of small rocks. “Climb up this way” he said as he gestured to a large rock that placed us just above the small pool. At the far edge of the natural pool lay the actual edge of Victoria Falls. My heart jumped. The falls rumbled. My body trembled with fear. (places)
We watched a group of travelers in front of us and they lived. “Are we really doing this?” I asked my husband of nearly two months. “Absolutely-there’s no turning back now!” His Australian, ‘no worries’ attitude has always been able to put me at ease, but this time I was unconvinced. David had our camera and was ready to photograph as we could considerably be jumping to our death. He assured us we’d be fine; he “did this hundreds of times a day”, he said.
David stood on the rocks on the left, the cliff’s edge was in front of us with another guide standing ready to catch our hands if necessary and we waited our turn. Water was everywhere. David said ‘jump’, and insanely, I jumped. Landing safely in the pool my smile may have actually surpassed my ears! Mathew jumped and just caught the good side of the last rock. The rush was inexplicable. We sat, as so many did before us, on the edge leaning back to see the falls rushing over the side. The view was spectacular. Fish nibbled at our toes and we could still taste the fresh falls in our mouths. Mother Nature gifted us with a double rainbow as we steadied our breathing and swam back to our belongings. This is living on the edge.
After the jump, excitement replaced fear and our appetites returned. The aroma of freshly baked breads now mixed with the clean smell of rushing water. David ushered us over to a canopied table for a breakfast of eggs benedict, scones and tea/coffee that is fed to jumpers after their plunge. As the delicious poached eggs oozed down our shaky fingers, we shared our experiences with fellow travelers and were already planning our return to this wonder of the world. Signing the guestbook you get the opportunity to see reactions of other worldly visitors. Words such as ‘incredible experience’, and ‘best day ever’ flood the pages regardless of language or nationality.
A free shuttle from the Royal Livingstone will take you to the Zambezi Sun Hotel where you find the back entrance to the Victoria Falls craft market and the Zambian border patrol post. Be sure to have a double entry visa for Zambia if you plan to return. Here, we got our exit stamps for Zambia and walked directly into Zimbabwe! Paperwork filed, fees paid and passports stamped and we were on our way to the other side of the falls!
UNESCO’s world heritage site of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia is the sister park to Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls National Park (unesco). After a ten-meter trundle we entered the park and found the sound, spray and strength of Victoria Falls to be far greater than on the Zambian side at this time of year. The dry season’s limited water flow that allows for the spectacle of Devil’s Pool is not present on the Zimbabwean side. You heard it before you could feel it, and you felt it before you could see it. My husband was looking for roaring water, deafening falls and a booming splash and here it was. The whoosh of the water as it tumbled over the rocks could be heard from kilometers away while the never-ending spray accumulated on our sunglasses. The falls’ extraordinary power can be felt no matter where you stand. It was from this side that we were able to see kindred spirits leap into Devil’s Pool and journey a bit closer to the edge.
Hours can be spent relishing in the sights and sounds of Victoria Falls. Standing on the edge watching uninterrupted mist fill the air there’s a feeling of complete serenity. Two different countries with diverse histories are joined by the vast span of water of this natural wonder. The staggering views are different on each side. A helicopter flight will give you the overall perspective, but standing in its presence provides you with the tantalizing view and the ability to literally stand on the earth’s edge.
“Livingstone Discovers Victoria Falls, 1855,” EyeWitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2000)