SMOKE ON THE WATER

26/06/2012.

It’s easy to get bogged down by everyday life. Routine, work, responsibilities, repetitiveness etc. Days come, days go. You move forward, but familiarity dulls the senses. It’s then that you need that bolt of lightning to jerk you out of auto pilot mode, to make you see things in a new and different way, change your perspective, unlock creativity.

Last week I was extremely fortunate and privileged to visit Zambia for 7 days. Once before did I jump over the border to Zambia at Victoria Falls for a few hours, but I haven’t visited the country before apart from that one occasion. Our plan was to visit four destinations – Victoria Falls, Sioma Falls, Mcbrides’ Camp in the Kafue National Park and Royal Zambezi Lodge on the bank of the Zambezi river across from Mana Pools in Zimbabwe – during the week and to fly a total distance of more or less 3 300km. I’ll post a blog about each destination during the coming weeks, describing our incredible journey through one of Africa’s wildest countries.

Tweefontein, Ermelo / Polokwane / Livingstone / Victoria Falls : 17 June 2012, Day 1

Not sleeping well during a night filled with anticipation and excitement , we woke to a cloudy and crisp highveld winters morning. A long day lay ahead and we had to get to Livingstone as early as possible so as to have enough time to view Victoria Falls in the afternoon.

Our traveling group were 6 people who would fly in two privately owned planes. We would meet the other plane, coming from Pretoria, at Polokwane where we would refuel and do customs. We took off from my dad’s farm, Tweefontein, near Ermelo, just after 7am and headed north. During the 1 hour flight to Polokwane we had a magnificent view of the eastern escarpment (Komati river valley as well as Mariepskop), with the sun’s rays poking holes through the high cloud. Proceedings at Polokwane were uneventful and soon we were on our way to Livingstone.

This leg would be 2 ½ hours and we passed over the Limpopo river and then just left of Francistown in Botswana and a bit later over Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. We were hampered by a steady 20 knot headwind at 12500 ft which made the flight 15 minutes longer. Excitement grew as we approached Victoria Falls and from 50km out we could see the falls’ characteristic “smoke” cloud. Soon we were over the Batoka Gorge just below the falls and I had a fantastic view from the air of the stretch of river I did white water rafting on just two years before.

Entry point for white water rafting during high water season, bottom left. Rapid 10 on the right.

Victoria Falls. Zambezi Sun Hotel next to the top part of the falls.

Even from the air I could tell that there was a lot of water in the river and it was confirmed when we turned over the falls. What a sight. I can’t think of a better description for it than The flight of angels. Seeing that 1.7km sheet of pure white water cascade into the gorge is sure to take your breath away each time you see it. We were instructed by ATC to stay above 6000 ft ASL. The falls are 2900 ft ASL.  After two turns over the falls and my camera on continuous shooting we headed to Livingstone airport just a few kilometres upstream.

Victoria Falls town situated top left corner.

Once again we sailed through customs and we were quickly on our way in a taxi to the Zambezi Sun Hotel. Check in took a bit longer than what was necessary but soon enough I was in my room and prepared for the afternoon expedition to the falls. Time was tight and I wanted to see both sides of the falls.

Don't fail me now.

I headed towards the Zambian border, got stamped and then I was on Victoria Falls bridge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Falls_Bridge Mist was spraying over the bridge as envisioned by Cecil John Rhodes and the view was incredible. The water level in the gorge below was considerably more than when I was there two years before. As luck would have it I was just in time to take a few snaps of a lunatic’s bungee jump and then I was off towards the Zimbabwean border post.

Entry into the park is R160 for SADEC residents. Be sure to have the right amount of cash ready as they never have change. I knew I wouldn’t see much of the Horseshoe and Rainbow falls (Five different waterfalls make up Victoria falls : Devil Cataract, Main falls, Horseshoe falls, Rainbow falls, and Eastern Cataract), but I nonetheless headed towards Danger Point (the most southern point on Zimbabwe’s side) where buckets of rain were duly dropped on me in a matter of seconds. When there’s less water it is a stunning spot to stand as you can see the Zambian side of the falls just across the gorge. No such luck today and I headed straight to the Main falls. For some odd reason mist hardly reaches the view points for the Main falls and as I saw it I was overcome, yes once again, with awe. Maybe it’s because South Africa isn’t a water rich country, but seeing millions of litres of water disappear into the abyss is something I can look at endlessly.

Main falls

I took a few pictures for strangers and suddenly felt a pang of sadness with not being able to share the moment with my girlfriend, who stood next to me on the very same spot just two years before. Luckily I couldn’t dwell on that thought for too long as the sun was setting and I still had to see the Zambian side before sunset. I had a little laugh as I thought of the Afrikaans description for that late time in the day, “Die son trek water”. Direct translation, “The sun pulls water”. With mist rising 300 feet into the air and the sun sitting behind it it was a very apt idiom.

Devil's Cataract and the Main falls

Rainbow Falls from the bridge

View from the Zambian side

Hopping back across the border the light was much more favourable on the bridge and the scene had a Lord Of The Rings feel to it due to the sunlight trying to penetrate the swirling mist. Dodging the last of many hawkers between the two border posts I made it to the Eastern Cataract at 4:30pm. The sun wasn’t good and I decided to make my way to the “Boiling Pot”, 130 meters below in the gorge. This is the only place at the falls I haven’t been to before. The path, steep but in a very good condition, was surrounded by lush rain forest vegetation. I was astounded by the speed at which the water was rushing by when I made it down below. The water was boiling, twisting, swirling, frothing; all in all very intimidating. It was also the best spot to get a perfect shot of the iconic bridge far up above. Dusk was approaching fast and I made the taxing but enjoyable ascent to the top.

The bridge from the boiling pot

Eastern Cataract

Seeing the Eastern Cataract bathed in the last few minutes of daylight was definitely for me one of the highlights of this trip. For some reason there were suddenly no tourists left and I had the falls to myself, if only for a few minutes.

Eastern Cataract, Zambia

Darkness finally set in and I made my way to the hotel for supper. Sipping on a Mosi Lager I thought of how incredible my day was. Victoria Falls is without a doubt my favourite place I’ve been to. Retiring to bed, my mind already raced ahead to the next day…a visit to Sioma Falls…

View more photos here : Facebook photos


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