A Day at Victoria Falls

Words by Simeon Gready - November 2014

On our only full day in Livingstone, we signed up for the free shuttle to Victoria Falls, an unmissable attraction that sits at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. We arrived with the Dutch tourism lecturer and his students, who recommended that we first head down to the bridge that separated the two countries from which we’d be able to look out over the river and towards the waterfall. We strolled down, often accompanied by traders and vendors attempting to sell us little trinkets at “a very good price,” reaching the busy bridge as the sun was rising higher and hotter into the cloudless blue sky.

As we moved along the bridge, the “thunder” of the falling water, as the Dutch tourism lecturer liked to call it, reached our ears. It was a magnificent sound, echoing off the steep cliffs and reverberating ominously all around us. The river over which the bridge lay ran somewhat half-heartedly, given the low-water level at the time due to the fact that the rainy season was supposedly three weeks late; thick green foliage covered the rocky cliffs on either side added to this predictably picturesque setting. From the bridge, we watched bungee jumpers launch themselves towards the water below and white water rafters slalom around corners in the deeper parts of the river.

We soon walked back from the bridge to enter the park from the Zambian side. After debating whether to bribe one of the officers to take us a place to where we could swim, on his somewhat unsubtle offer, we decided to go it alone and explore to the best of our ability. We had, admittedly, been warned that it was best to see the Falls from the Zimbabwean side, especially given the low-water level, and this proved to true: as surmised by many there, it was asserted that we could “piss a stream bigger than the waterfalls seen from the Zambian side.” All the while, however, we heard the menacing thunder of crashing water in the distance, drawing us closer.

Eventually, while making our way through the walkways in the Zambian park, we rounded a corner and, in the distance, we saw the source of the thunder. Far over on the Zimbabwean side, we saw the rising steam circling from where the water glides over the edge of the waterfall and rumbles onto the rocks below. Directly in front of the steam stood the people on the Zimbabwean side, who clearly had the perfect view, and you almost sense their amusement when we imagined they looked back towards us craning our necks and zooming our cameras to get a glimpse of the phenomenon.

Once our necks were at breaking point, we walked back to the entrance of the park, before deciding to take a route round to the top of the falls where the water usually flows furiously. At this point, it was running thin and low, such that there was ample space to clamber our way across the top and look down, and perhaps get closer to the river on the Zimbabwean side. It was actually much easier than we thought – the only sticking point being the number of tour guides who offered and almost demanded that they take us across, in exchange for a tip, and us refusing on the basis that we could see perfectly well where we were going.

Having shook off the tour guides, we moseyed our way across the rocks, dried moss crunching underneath our flip-flops. It was a beautiful walk: you could see where the water, at high-level, had cut through the rocks, gorging small nooks and crannies that we had to jump and slide around. Rock pools lay deep in the ground, more than one in which we could swim, justifying the decision not to bribe the officer at the park entrance. We were able to stand right above the waterfalls on the Zambian side, meanwhile noting that, contrary to what we had thought earlier, the water was in far greater quantity than we could ever piss. The sound of thunderous water continued ahead of us, motivating us forward.

Suddenly, we were much closer to the waterfall than we had been across the ravine. We were directly across from the Zimbabwe side, such that their amusement was imagined no more, and we edged ever closer, where, at this point, my cockiness got the better of me. I had been jumping and sliding across rocks in my flip-flops while simultaneously jotting down notes in my notebook, not paying complete attention to the rocks. Just then, as I stepped on the edge of a small pool two metres away from where the rock fell away into the nothingness below, my flip-flop slipped from underneath me and I slapped down hard into the shallow water; my notebook went flying out of my hand, landing precariously on the edge of one of the mini waterfalls. Luckily, I was able to quickly scramble to retrieve the sodden pages, although I would have to spend the rest of the afternoon drying it out before I could write in it again. It was the epitome of graciousness, and I’m the sure the tour guides would have had a few choice words to say about it.

Once I’d regained my feet, though not my pride, we drove on towards the thunder. At this point, we had as good a view as we’d seen so far, revelling in the beauty of the sights and sounds of one of the most beautiful natural attractions in Africa. Our merry and independent exploration had to end at some point though, and it soon did as a man called Jackson rushed out to stop us crossing through a private lodge, on the other side of which lay the river. We meandered slightly, hoping he would disappear so that we could rush through, but he stood fast. Our liberating adventure was worth the mission, however, and we happily headed back over the moss-covered rocks towards the Zambian park.

Halfway back across the top we decided to stop for a well deserved and much needed swim in one of the larger rock pools. It was there we had lunch, and I remember it as one of the most stunning settings in which to do so: the hot sun was on our backs while we lounged in the cool water, satisfied with the long and hard day’s adventures; no other person was around except for a local kid fishing in an adjacent rock pool, as dirt billowed through our toes and tadpoles nipped at our ankles. Sharp rocks lay in the foreground with a deep green forest in the background; all the while, the overpowering water thundered soothingly a couple hundred metres away. It was exhilarating and invigorating and relaxing and tranquil all in one.

It was there we chilled for an hour or so, before, lazily content, we sauntered across to the park entrance and caught a taxi back to Jollyboys. Our relaxed demeanour could not last: the next day we were to head back to the station to catch a bus to the manic pace of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and the next leg of our already epic journey.