It’s really fascinating to try and imagine what went through the minds of those whose first notion of the Victoria Falls was the thunderous plume of mist on the horizon. The sights beheld by David Livingstone and those before him must have prompted befuddlement, bewilderment, fear and awe as they trepidatiously approached source of the billowing “smoke” and its accompanying roar. For no matter how many pictures one has seen or stories one has heard or what expectations one might hold, the first sighting this of extraordinary natural phenomenon cannot help but simply astound.
The falls really are impressive, even in one of the driest seasons in decades which saw the mammoth curtain of water halve in size. The vastness of the snaking gorge and the depth of the chasm are almost impossible to grasp. We were fortunate enough to be visiting the Zimbabwean side of the falls which provided the spectacular views not seen on the Zambian side in what was close to drought conditions.
The sonorous grumble produced by the millions of litres crashing down can be heard from a distance of 40 kilometres, while the spray and mist emitted rises to a height of over 400 meters and can be seen from a distance of 50 kilometres. Hence the local description Mosi-o-Tunya meaning “the smoke that thunders”.
I was sent to have a gander at a couple of the lodges on the river. My husband persuaded me that an intimate knowledge of the Victoria Falls was essential personal development, so he tagged along.
We flew into Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side, as opposed to Livingstone on the Zambian side. Each side provides different aspects of the falls and both have camps and hotels catering to tourist, though nothing like the gaudy structures that blight the surrounds of her American cousin, the Niagara Falls, once described to me by a Canadian client as a dribbling tap in comparison.
Our first port of call was the Pioneers Camp, a beautifully appointed tented camp on a quiet stretch of the river bank. Nestled under large, shady trees, with a natural spring-line, Mpala Jena, running through the site, the Pioneers Camp is not only an attraction for tourist but for wildlife as well, as we discovered when chased briefly by a breeding herd of elephants in the camp. We survived unscathed, though my husband has proclaimed to having developed an innate fear of swift moving large grey things, fortunately not referring to me. Apart from this encounter and the discovery of leopard paw prints on our veranda, Pioneers Camp proved to be singularly relaxing, attested to by the delicious food on offer and the hours of luxuriant wallowing in the Zambezi river.
From there our arduous research dragged us to the even more luxurious Elephant Camp, which is on a private concession in the within the Masuwe River and Zambezi Gorge. Here we upgraded our wallowing to frolicking in the splash pools overlooking the African bush to the plume of mist beyond. We had a rather more convivial engagement with the wildlife. An introduction to Sylvester the Cheetah who is not only a most charming chap, but is also the only cheetah I know who has his own Facebook page – with more friends than I do, I noticed. My husband stared down his pachydermal fears by patting a very amiable group of elephants but with a withering eye and a nervous chuckle.
And the falls roared!