A Walk around Victoria Falls

The tour had ended, and I was on my own in Victoria Falls. My next mission was to visit the Falls from the ground. The Falls cross the boundary between Zimbabwe, where I was staying, and Zambia.

The park around the Falls starts at one end with a statue of David Livingstone, and has a paved path that connects a series of viewing points, until one reaches the place where the Zambezi River separates the two sides, and the pathway ends.

“Mosi oa-Tunya” is the local name for the Falls: “Smoke that Thunders.” The Falls create a continual mist that rises above the falls, looking like smoke from a fire. It’s visible for quite a distance.

The Zambezi River flows about 2700 km (about 1,700 miles) from its source to the sea, and the Falls are positioned almost exactly midway. The Zambezi plummets over a sharp cliff into a narrow gorge below. The fall varies from 233 feet to 360 feet along the width of the Falls, which is 5,577 feet.

There are six different “falls,” five in Zimbabwe, and one in Zambia, that have names: Devil’s Cataract, Main Falls, Rainbow Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and Armchair Falls, all in Zimbabwe, and the Eastern Cataract in Zambia. The flow rate varies from 6,000 cubic meters per second in the high water season (April/May,) and 500 cubic meters per second in the low water season (October/November.)

I began with David Livingstone, and followed the path along the entire Zimbabwe side of the Falls.

Walking up the side for a short way:

And then along the path – there were thirteen stops along the way.

And then the “smoke:”

Reaching the end of the Zimbabwe side. I could see the Zambia side by the end.

I was quite soaked by the end of the walk. The mist blowing off of the Falls was very heavy. I was also tired – the Falls are wide, and the path would go along for a ways and then cut in to include a viewpoint. The actual walking was about 1.5 times the actual width of this side of the Falls.

The bridge marks the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia. I would cross that bridge another day – it was late in the afternoon, I was soaked (my shoes are a much lighter brown when they are dry,) and I was hungry!

I had gotten a “Kaza” visa when we entered Zimbabwe, a special type of visa that allowed me to cross the border without having to purchase another visa from Zambia. The Kaza visa cost more than the regular Zimbabwean visa, but not as much as two separate visas.

The next day, I could have hired a taxi to take me to Zambia, but because that involved crossing a border, it seemed easier to walk. It turned out that I may not have guessed correctly.

Walking across the bridge meant walking through a veritable gauntlet of people, mostly men, who wanted to sell you anything – hats, bracelets made of electrical cables, bracelets made of copper plumbing tubing, necklaces made of who-knows-what, carvings, scarves, etc.

A woman alone is an especially attractive target, unfortunately. I suppose the theory (or experience) is that women are more interested or perhaps, more likely to give in, hoping to escape. It becomes a contest of wills.

I made it to Zambia without spending anything on souvenirs, but then I encountered the young man who wanted to “guide” me around the Falls on the Zambia side. I knew it was going to end up in a request/expectation of a gratuity of some kind because, well, just because I knew.

I made him earn it, though, by taking the walk down the steep hill to the side of the rapids where the water coming over the Falls funnels into a narrow channel that is the continuation of the Zambezi River. It’s a rough trail at the bottom, very rocky, and the water is equally rough and very swift. I suppose someone might survive a fall in by riding the rapids to a place further downriver, but I wouldn’t take odds on it.

It is so rough and rocky that there is a park ranger near the bottom that records the names and nationalities of people who follow the trail beyond that point. I suppose, since he also noted our return, it’s so they can make sure everyone comes back and know who it is that didn’t.

But we made it back to the top, so no next-of-kin notifications were necessary, although I was very tired by the time I got there. Pictures of the Zambia side follow at the end of this post.

Along the way, I learned that the Victoria Falls Bridge was designed by the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company of the U.K. It was part of John Cecil Rhodes’ vision of a railway running from Cape Town to Cairo. His idea was to build it close to the Falls so that passengers would feel the spray and get a close view of the Falls.

The bridge is 198 meters long, and 128 meters above the river. It was opened in 1905 by Professor George Darwin, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. The bridge is also one of the highest bungee jumps in the world for those of you who are inclined toward such things.

As I was leaving the park and approaching the gauntlet of souvenir sellers, I spotted someone I knew was another tourist, a man I had seen visiting the various view points. I caught up to him and asked if I could walk with him across the bridge to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls again. He said it would be fine.

His name was Jean-Paul and he was from France, it turned out, and a decent speaker of English. He and I chatted about the Falls, Zimbabwe, the village, etc. A pleasant enough conversation, but the best part was when the souvenir sellers approached, he told them “no,” and they went away! I didn’t have to say a word. It was such a relief!

If only a blow-up doll would work so well! I suppose it might – souvenir sellers might think I was too “strange” to approach, but it would also probably keep potential friends away, too. No help there.

Jean-Paul’s hotel came first, so I had to walk the last two blocks by myself, and that meant two blocks of fending off souvenir sellers, but it was over soon, and I was back at the Victoria Falls Rest Camp.

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