Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is both a grand natural spectacle and a dreary little town. It is difficult to walk two steps in town without someone trying to sell you a wood carving, some jewelry or change money at supposedly rock bottom rates. The falls, of course, are the only reason anyone comes here (though in recent years companies have offered whitewater rafting, bungee jumping and a host of other activities – for a sample, see the Zambezi River page).

The falls are definitely worth the trip. From the ground, it is impossible to see the whole of them at once. To make matters even more difficult, the spray was so intense when I was there that sometimes I couldn't see the falls when I was standing in front of them. The thick spray feels like a moderate rainstorm and can get one dripping wet in short order unless precautions are taken. Because of the constant spray, the area around the falls actually qualifies as a rain forest, even though it is in the middle of some very dry country. The spray, together with the roar of the falls that can be heard for miles, caused ancient inhabitants to name the falls "Mosi-oa-Tunya," the smoke that thunders. The famous spray also figured in the location of the bridge across the Zambezi River into Zambia. Cecil Rhodes, the builder of the bridge, wanted the bridge so close to falls that his passengers would be able to feel the spray. The spray causes beautiful rainbows in the area of the falls, and beautiful sunsets as well.

Because of the spray and the expanse of the falls, I found it very difficult to take photographs that did justice to the majesty of the scene. The best I was able to do was to take to the air in a helicopter for some shots.

The first European to see the falls was Dr. Livingstone, an early explorer and missionary in this part of Africa. His statue stands by the falls and a nearby town in Zambia is named in his honor.

From Victoria Falls, it is possible to walk across the bridge into Zambia. This walk offers some different views of the falls, but aside from that there is little reason to go (except for some exercise). The walk is several miles across the bridge and adjoining roads and requires clearing customs and immigration on both ends (U.S. citizens need a visa to enter Zambia, but can get one at the border). From the bridge one can also watch the bungee jumps, who take off from 110 meters above the water.

While in Victoria Falls, I stayed at the Ilala Lodge, which was very comfortable and well appointed. The lodge also offered some of my first glimpses at African wildlife. I spotted both mongoose and warthogs in the yard outside my door. Also, one day during lunch, a young elephant came onto the grounds and casually pushed over a fair sized tree. He took a few bites, then moved on to some other snack. Just down the road from the lodge, there is a shortcut one can take to reach the falls. On one of my trips, two young elephants had taken over the path and refused to let anyone by. The standoff continued for ten minutes or more until the humans gave up, and retraced their steps in order to take the long way around. Nobody messes with elephants!

Related page: Zambezi River