Vignettes from Africa V – Around Victoria Falls

Victoriafalls

We're not in Africa. We're actually en route to Panama City, Pamana today. We'll talk with you from there shortly. Meantime, here's part five of a series of short vignettes from some of our past trips to Africa.

The Zambesi is the fourth largest African river after the Nile, Niger and Congo, at 2700 kilometers. It's the longest to empty into the Indian Ocean. It's mouth in Mozambique comprises a 120 kilometer wide delta.

Its source is in northwest Zambia. Above the falls it’s navigable by bigger boats to only ten kilometers upstream, at Kandahar island. It's a calm river with sandbars and islands. 84 species of fish, 415 of birds, Ebony, Fig, Mahogany, Waterberry and what they call the "Raintree" and the "Sausage Tree" as well as Ilala and Wild Date Palms.

A woman named Precious arranged us a Zambesi cruise. We climbed aboard a two-deck blue and white cruiser and found a seat with some agreeable gin-swilling Germans.

Upstream, hippos yawned, a croc lurked here or there, boats like ours chugged by. The sun ground us into the sundeck.

Just over there was the jetty where arriving passengers cleared customs on the World War II "flying boat" service from London to South Africa. Passengers would fly down here stopping at the Mediterranean, on Lake Victoria and here on the Zambesi, to stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel. The trip from London to South Africa took five days.

Everything was bigger than life. That night we dined al fresco on a meat-intensive barbecue, to the roar of the largest curtain of falling water in the world and gazed upon the gauzy band of white above us, the Milky Way, so bright it was visible at the same time as the half moon.

It was all so very, very nice, so colonial. A huge buffet, tablecloths and candles, a breeze, the roar of Victoria Falls and a mirimba band – even a stealthy cat to secretly slip some food.

•••••

The 1995 Zambian budget of 853 billion Kwatcha was approved while we walked across that bridge. We learned all about it on ZNBC's Today in Parliament on Channel 2, Zambia TV.

It was only for a few hours, but it had been good to be in Kennie Kaunda's country, just like in Bobbie Mugabe's and Danny Moi's. Kaunda is the grand old man of African politics. Turned out of office after 27 years, he gracefully accepted defeat, but his photo still graces every other wall in Zambia.

His successor, Frederick Chiluba, hasn't allowed him to retire peacefully. Chiluba recently had Kaunda in jail for "illegally addressing a rally."

In response, Kaunda told the South African Times on 5 March, "This is the most repressive regime in Africa at the moment. Chiluba has all the makings of a dictator."

•••••

The grandly named Sprayview Aerodrome is really just a strip of tar and a block building with two Pipers and a helicopter. What the marketers call the "flight of angels," because Livingstone supposedly once wrote of "scenes so lovely they must have been gazed upon by angels in flight," was, more than anything else, efficient. They came to get us at 8:30, we were in the air by 8:55 and home by 9:30.

We banked twice, soullessly, almost grimly, in left-hand circles, twice right, then flew three or four minutes upstream, above the falls, for "game viewing opportunity." Piloting the "flight of angels," like flying by Everest, is a dream job, I guess, unless it's yours.

•••••

Used to be there was only the Victoria Falls Hotel, the rail station beside it, and the post office up on the road to Bulawayo. Even the bank was in the hotel. Now though, there are a few strips of stores, a Wimpy burger and lots of outfitters for rafting and safaris.

I replaced the tennis shoes somebody stole in Kenya for six U.S. bucks at Bata. There's the Standard Chartered Bank and Zimbank, tourist shops and $uper$aver Superette, and that's about it for the town of Victoria Falls.

•••••

Back at the falls it was loud and wet and rainbows were a dime a dozen, everywhere in the spray. As you walked with the sun at your back even little personal rainbows played between you and the ground. We just got completely, totally drenched.

At Horseshoe Falls we reveled in all of Victoria Falls' full frontal fury. You feel the rumbling bass in your sternum as the Zambesi River falls off 90 degrees, for 95 meters.

A 270 degree rainbow was interrupted only by the edge of the cliff we stood on. We slogged on to the end, the eastern cataract, to gape at the chasm, Zambia across the way, the bridge downstream.

Fatigued, exhilirated, we fell alongside a couple, one of whom had on a T-shirt that read "Finland." They turned out to be Mika Lahtinen and Paula Lindeberg, Finns on a six month Southern African epic.

They'd just driven across Botswana from Windhoek, Namibia, in a green Ford Escort they bought in South Africa. We told ‘em come on, let’s go grab some Castles.

They told funny stories of third world border crossings, made better by the wide-eyed zeal of youth. They had us all laughing with the story of how the green Escort turned brown being towed across a river.

When they were new in town in Johannesburg, they'd found themselves trapped in a restaurant by a riot.

"They were yelling while we ate pies," Mika laughed.

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