Vignettes from Africa III – Up to Victoria Falls

There's a band of five boys under a tree, all five playing xylophone-marimba-type things, their hands full of musical hammers, and a lot of smiling going on. Now there's more cumulus than blue and maybe, just maybe, rain will come. They need it keenly.

I asked a young boy, "How are you doing?"

"I am just waiting for rain, sir."


If there were no Victoria Falls here there sure wouldn't be any tourists. Flat, scrubby, hot-as-absolute-hell. Air completely still.

The instant we got to town Mirja and I did the walk down to the falls, in heavy travel mode, long sleeves and pants and all. What the hell?

We walked probably eight or nine minutes past salesmen (carved rhinos, hippos) and across the rail line that continues into Zambia. U.S. $2.50 admission was good for the day. Signs admonished you to keep strictly to the paths. In just a couple minutes, you were there.

It's hard to choose the right superlatives.

Some figures: It's seasonal, but at its peak, 12,000,000 gallons take the plunge every minute. 1,600 meters is a mile. Victoria Falls is 1691 meters wide.

It's carved from a shelf of volcanic basalt, chiseling zig zag down a fault line. It's been only 140 years – 1855 – since the first white man, David Livingstone, arrived. Grass-clad tribesmen told him of Mosi-oa-Tunya, but he named it for his queen back home. In 1905, exactly 50 years later, a rail line arrived from Cape Town on its way to Cairo. The bridge to Zambia began. By this time Cecil Rhodes was in charge, and Zambia was North Rhodesia.

We didn't care about any of that. We just lurched straight down to stand in the spray. Someone outside warned, "Oh, definitely rent a rain coat – you'll get drenched," and we did get drenched, without raincoats, and it was fabulous.


Victoria Falls has no parking lots, no dancing waters, no wax museums. Just stone pathways. We wandered the paths around the falls, through the fig and rhododendron trees. Two does teased us for awhile, and on the path back we squatted down to visit with a pack of about 20 curious suricates, sitting up on their hind legs, watching for danger, or maybe a dinner tidbit from the tourists.

At the end of the day  the spray tossed far up over the trees and the bridge to Zambia. The sky deepened pink into blue and black, and the southern cross pierced the black high and to the south. On the menu at the rooftop restaurant, crocodile thermidor for Z$45: "Enjoy a crock-tail with us."

Next: Day trip to Zambia

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