The Smoke that Thunders: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia
My first glimpse of the majestic Victoria Falls was from the plane. That's how massive they are. They are neither the tallest nor the widest falls in the world, yet they are classified as the largest – due to the sheer amount of water. And, unlike Niagara and Iguazu, the cataracts fall on a gorge. The strength with which the water fall is tremendous, and, coupled with the heat, causes the evaporation of what looks like a gigantic wall of smoke several meters up into the air (during the rainy season). It was the enormous plume of water that I could clearly see from the plane.
Not quite the achievement, it seems, since the noise of Victoria Falls can be heard from a distance of 40 kilometers, while the spray and mist from the falling water is rising to a height of over 400 meters and can be seen from a distance of 50 kilometers.
This was two years ago in Zambia. I stayed at the shore of the Zambezi river, in a lovely old colonial-style hotel where zebra constantly grazed by the pool and gazelles pranced about the property. It felt like returning to an era now only present in movies, and irreal movies at that.
And then the falls. Striking doesn't begin to describe them. It is like nothing seen before, and it beggars belief. Sprayed head to toe in Zambezi water, I fell in love with this wonder of nature. And yet, most of the falls are actually found on the Zimbabwe side, so my curiosity was piqued.
However, during that period, crossing into Zimbabwe was considered extremely dangerous. I was eventually dissuaded, but I never gave up hope of witnessing Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwean side.
This year, I made it to Zimbabwe.
Now, don't get me wrong. Victoria Falls from Zambia are an unparalleled experience and will forever be in love with the country. But Zimbabwe, well Zimbabwe is a whole other story. The amount of water in Zambia had blown my mind. In Zimbabwe, it completely took my breath away. At one point, the amount of mist on the air makes it rain. Actual, heavy rainfall on just a small portion of earth. Two minutes in the storm, and then it's clear skies again.
The amount of water also creates a constant rainbow – and at moments two! It's no wonder the locals named it 'Mosi-oa-Tunya', the Smoke that Thunders. In fact, for centuries local African tribes had a sacral fear from the waterfall. And the truth is, Victoria Falls is so uncanny, so unlike anything else, fear almost makes sense.
Victoria Falls is more than enough to merit a trip all the way the exotic southern regions of Africa, but there's so much more in Zimbabwe. It's also a wildlife sanctuary. On the shores of the Zambezi we find a lovely jungle – within the Matetsi reserve – teeming with lions, giraffes, buffalo and all the emblematic and majestic animals of Africa.
Going out on safari in Zimbabwe is particularly exciting. Since it's a thick jungle, rather than the open plains of Botswana or the Serengeti in Tanzania, the experience is more enclosed, more individual. Wildlife is spotted one by one, and the finding is an adrenaline-filled experience.
There's also a sense that all sorts of predators are lurking within the bushes and under dark trees.. we can't see them, but they can see us. And as so often happens in these exotic lands in the world, it's the unseen, that beating heart hidden beneath the verdant forest, the very core of the jungle, that keeps us coming back for more, year after year.