The Smoke that Thunders

 

In loving memory of my Canon Rebel T5, which met an early end at the hands of the world’s largest waterfall.

“It is raining at the falls, so if you want to rent a rain coat they are available for $3 at the park entrance.”  As our bus driver gave us a rundown on what to expect at Victoria Falls, I glanced out of the window at the bright sunny Zimbabwean afternoon.  A thin layer of sweat had formed on my forehead, and I had serious doubts that anything resembling rain was heading our way on this hot, dry day.

It was a short, dusty drive to the falls from our hotel, the Shearwater Explorers Village, and even at the entrance to the park the heat was borderline oppressive.  The entire Percussive Tours group lined up at the entrance as Jared took care of our admission.  A few people opted to rent a rain coat, but I had brought a rain jacket with me so I declined.

Once we were inside the gates, the atmosphere changed dramatically.  The roadside had been hot and dusty, and lined with the scraggly twisted sort of trees that grow in dry places.  In contrast, we were now walking through a jungle oasis.  The air was cool and damp, and we were surrounded by tropical plants.  We could hear the thundering of the falls all the way from our hotel, but now that we were close the sound was loud enough to swallow up our words if we didn’t speak loud enough.  We didn’t have a good sense of the amount of water that would soon assault us as we approached the first lookout area.  This would be the best view of the falls we would get all day, and it really was beautiful.

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Our first glimpse of Victoria Falls

At this point, I lost track of almost everybody in the group.  Caleb ran ahead to do a quick sweep of the falls before going on a nearby gorge swing, and I managed to get ahead of almost everyone else from our group of seven.  It was hard to tell where everyone was because we all had our hoods up, and our eyes were clouded with mist from the falls.  At this point it was clear that the original Lozi name for the waterfall, Mosi-oa-Tunya or The Smoke that Thunders, provided a more fitting description of what I was experiencing.  The farther I progressed along the length of the waterfall, the wetter my surroundings became.  At first it was just an inconvenient misting, but soon water was forcefully shooting upwards into the air as it hit the cliffs, and then raining back down to drench me a second time on its descent.  The force of the water was monstrous and I was glad that I had remembered to pack a rainfly for my camera.  Because of the extreme volumes of water, the best views of the falls were when the forest stood in front of them and blocked the mist.

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A view of Victoria Falls from the protection of the rainforest

Eventually the trees thinned out and there was nowhere to hide.  By then I had met up with some of the others and I packed up my camera, put a rain fly on my camera bag, and put the whole setup under my rain jacket.  I knew it would be impossible to take pictures anyway as the force of the spray had become monsoon-like.  We walked along a large viewing area with no guard rails to separate us from the edge of the precipice.  We had only intermittent sightings of the powerful waterfall.  Mostly we could see a vast wall of white haze that seemed bottomless.  We could have been standing at the edge of the world for all we could see.

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“Rain” coming from Victoria Falls

The end of the path was a bit clearer and we stopped for a few photos before turning back.

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A sliver of falls behind a thick cloud of mist

 

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The Zambezi River far below us

On the way back, we stuck to an interior trail to avoid getting soaked by the waterfall again.  The sun was beginning to set and it created a dramatic effect with the spray that was wafting into the air.

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Sunset over the rainforest

The walk through the rainforest was pleasant.  We saw some beautiful flowers and a crazy bug that looked like a hornet, but about three times the size.  Back at the entrance to the park, a little vervet monkey was eating a banana peel.  I never thought of myself es much of a monkey lover until my encounter with a curious squirrel monkey in the Peruvian Amazon, but now I think they’re delightful so I was excited to be so close to one.

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Vervet Monkey

The monkey ran off with its banana peel, and we reconnected with Caleb who regaled us with his experience at the gorge swing.  Then we made a quick stop at the nearby market to buy some souvenirs before our bus picked us up.  Our next destination was the bridge to Zambia.  It was here that I discovered that my camera had sustained water damage.  We walked onto the bridge and I snapped a few photos of a stormy sunset, but then my camera flashed me a “change battery pack” warning.  My battery was fully charged so I knew something was up.  I knew it must be water damage, but I was surprised because I had been careful about keeping my equipment dry, and had not noticed a significant amount of water getting to the camera body.  I packed the camera away and not to worry too much (not my strong suit) as we crossed the bridge.

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My camera’s last shot

We wanted to cross all the way into Zambia and get our passports stamped, so we started to walk towards no man’s land, a section of road in between the two countries that belongs to neither.  No man’s land was filled with large semi trucks moving between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and we had to walk between moving trucks as there was no reliable sidewalk.  I was starting to get that creeping feeling of doubt that overtakes you when you begin to realize something is perhaps a worse idea than you initially anticipated.   Along the way I had managed to pick up a vendor who was intent on selling me some painted wooden bowls.  Vince asked the man if he would be willing to escort us to the passport control office and back, and we agreed to buy some of his wares in exchange.  The man led us through the maze of trucks all the way over to Zambia, where we found out we could not get our passports stamped because we had neglected to get the Zimbabwean exit stamp on our way over.  We turn around and trudged back through no man’s land in the quickening darkness.  I made good on my promise and bought two bowls and a small wooden elephant, and thanked the man for escorting us through no man’s land.

Back at the bridge, our bus driver had gotten out to look for us.  Apparently the rest of the group had been back at the bus for a few minutes and were waiting on the eight of us who had attempted to cross into Zambia.  Fortunately they hadn’t had to wait long, and soon we were back at the resort where I took my camera apart to let it sit out in the vain hope that it would come back to life if it had some time to dry.  Luck was not to be on my side, but the manager of Shearwater Explorer’s Village, Victor, was incredibly helpful and even went out of his way to get me a bag of rice to try to dry my camera.

Despite the stress with my camera it had been an exciting day, and I would love to return to Victoria Falls in the future.  It was marvelous in high water, but if I ever return I will try to make sure to go in the dry season to get a different experience.

 

 

8 comments

    1. Thank You! Everything ended up mostly ok. I was able to borrow a camera for most of the rest of the trip, and I had insurance so all’s well that ends well!

  1. What a gorgeous photoessay! I like the “last shot” that your camera was able to take. There is a lone tree clinging to the side of the slope, the waterfall immediately behind him, forming sort of a center of gravity for the scene. You have a keen eye.

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