A Zigzagging Crack in the Earth
A trip to see the Victoria Falls starts in Lusaka: postcards, guidebooks, coffee table books, and even Zambian currency all grace its image. Every conceivable angle at every time of the day for the last couple of decades has been captured. Artist’s renditions, the falls at sunrise, sundown, up close, from a helicopter, with wildlife, without wildlife, in water color, they are all there. You would think this overdose of images would some how spoil seeing it in person. It doesn’t. The falls truly are an amazing site, stunning in its grandness. A postcard doesn’t make a thundering sound when you pull it off the rack and I have yet to find a guidebook that includes mist. It is a site that requires all of the senses and is truly deserving of being 1 of the 7 wonders of the world. Who brags about seeing the Harbor of Rio De Janerio? Adding to its appeal I was unable to find one wax museum or haunted house in the surrounding area.
The poster child for the falls is famous explorer David Livingstone. Livingstone is credited as being the first European to discover the falls. There is a museum in his honor, every gift shop sells books chronicling his adventures and there are no shortages of plaques telling you where he stood to tie his shoelace or sat down for tea. Based on the various tributes around town, including the town’s namesake one envisions David slashing solo through the deep bush. The statutes and plaques all show the same pose; rugged explorer standing alone, gazing out over un-chartered territory with one leg up triumphantly on a boulder or rock.
This was not the case.
Livingstone traveled with a posse that would rival Jay Z’s. 100’s of Tenzing Norgays joined him over the course of his many expeditions and like Tenzing Norgay the spotlight was only big enough for one. Names like Sir Edmund Hillary and David Livingstone sound better alone. On his final expedition in search of the source of the Nile River he had over 50 men with him. Not only did they carry all of his goods but on his final days as he grew sick they carried him and even made his own hut at each stop. Livingstone wasn’t even in fact the first person to find the falls. Records show that when he arrived back in 1855 Portuguese traders had all ready been around the area and no doubt would have seen the falls. The major difference between Livingstone and others who had preceded him was that he wrote extensively - and much of his work was published. Livingstone also had the financial connections to make such expeditions work. One has to wonder if the Portuguese traders had brought some ink whether we’d be seeing different statues around town. Rodriques, Zambia?
Livingstone issues aside Hil and I had much more important things on our mind for our visit. A week before our trip our friend Ed gave a run down of his time in Livingstone. We were shocked to hear that the highlight of his stay was “hanging out over the falls”. Ed proceeded to recount his experience hanging over the top of the falls including traversing slippery rocks, swimming against the current and finally jumping into a jacuzzi sized pool at the top where you see first hand where all that water goes as a guide holds your ankles. Any doubt we had in Ed’s story diminished when his laptop popped open with 100 plus thumbnails of pics documenting his experience. Sure enough, there he was “hanging out over the falls”. The rest of the week leading up to our trip was spent analyzing the effectives of our front crawl.
A week later we found ourselves taking the early bus to the falls in order to drop 45USD so that we could fill our laptop with pics. I felt assured by the meeting place for the experience; “The Royal Livingstone” a 400USD a night hotel. This quickly diminished when we meet our guide who introduced himself as Eustess which with his accent comes out as “Useless”. An unfortunate name for the man that would be holding our ankles at the top of the falls. Not surprisingly everything went without a hitch and the gap between perceived and actual risk was wider than the falls themselves. The current that we so feared could have been out-swam by anyone who’d achieved a badge in any of the primary colors (including yellow). And though the current is strong at the top, the holding of the ankles is more for your peace of mind than and actual risk of going over.
So here it is, the condensed thumbnail collection: