Victoria Falls and their thundering beauty

Victoria Falls and their thundering beauty

Zambia does not have access to the sea, but luckily the country is crossed by the Zambezi River. 2,700 kilometers long, it is the fourth largest river in Africa after the Nile, the Congo and the Niger. The only one to create extraordinary falls: Victoria Falls. A wonder of nature.

The large market town of Livingstone is the base camp for many travelers who come to admire the Victoria Falls, located only a few kilometers away. The city is gradually seeing the return of visitors after two years of the pandemic. Less touristy and developed than its neighbor in Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls, the Livingstone region has become a relative El Dorado. The admirers of the falls participate in a welcome tourism on this side of the border.

What madness nature has created!

Falls are first a noise. The excitement kicks up a notch as you hear a terrifying rumble. The closer you get, the more the trail slips through lush vegetation. Overwhelming deluge of beauty, there they are. Not on a screen, in a travel documentary, but right before our eyes. Wonder! Joy ! We are soaked!

A few figures help to realize the magnitude of the site. Nearly 2 kilometers wide, a succession of waterfalls plunging into sometimes deep gorges of more than 100 meters. A flow that can reach more than 500 million liters per minute. The force of the impact causes the water to bounce up, which splashes up to several hundred meters high, forming a permanent fog above the site, which can be seen from afar. Yet nothing in the quiet course of the Zambezi announces its spectacular collapse. A few meters upstream, its waters flow peacefully. Boats laden with tourists glide carefree along the wild shores.

We reach another point of view on the falls from the Victoria Falls Bridge. Completed in 1905, it connects Zambia and Zimbabwe, and was to be part of the Cape to Cairo rail link, an extravagant dream of colonial times. Every day, a long line of trucks waits to cross the bridge. Loaded with copper or cobalt from mines in the north of the country, most will make their way to the port of Durban, South Africa.

The Victorian myth

What must the explorer David Livingstone have been thinking when he discovered this sight while he was looking for the sources of the Nile? In November 1855, the famous Scottish missionary was the first white man to discover the falls. He baptized them “Victoria Falls” in homage to the Queen of England. They already had a name, much more telling: Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders”.

Leaving in 1840, the Scottish explorer will spend more than thirty years in Africa. He will make three great expeditions. A crossing of the continent from east to west, an attempt to descend the Zambezi by boat, an immersion in the heart of the continent to elucidate the mystery of the sources of the Nile. Then Livingstone gave no further news. In 1869, the journalist Henry Morton Stanley was summoned by his boss who gave him an unexpected mission: “Find Livingstone!”

From Zanzibar, Stanley heads west to reach the shore of Lake Tanganyika in the footsteps of Livingstone. In 1871, the reporter found the old man in the village of Ujiji. He walks towards him while pronouncing this sentence which has become famous: “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” Happy to finally be at the center of attention, the explorer offers his friendship to Stanley.

Beneath his thick mustache, Livingstone is ill, exhausted, and concentrates most of the major tropical diseases known today. Despite everything, he retains all his spirit and liveliness, and entrusts the journalist with his diary. Together, they leave for the north of Lake Tanganyika, still in search of the sources of the Nile, which they will not find.

Stanley takes the way back alone. Livingstone does not want to return. He went one last time to the Zambian lands, where he died in 1873. We read in the history books that the companions of his last months buried his heart under a tree, then carried his embalmed body for ten months until in Bagamoyo, on the Tanzanian coast. Meanwhile, Stanley restores his image and his forgotten failures, and somehow makes Livinstone an icon. Great Britain will give him a state funeral at Westminster in 1874.

Beyond Victoria Falls and cruises on the Zambezi, Zambia is renowned for its great national parks and reserves, which offer authentic safaris for wildlife lovers. On a motorcycle, we will not be able to venture into these wide open spaces. We prefer to cut the road. Tomorrow, we leave this corner of paradise in the direction of the capital, Lusaka. Then we will go directly to Chipata, on the border with Malawi.

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