After nearly a month working at the 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa, I (at the behest of my employers) took two short tours – one to Etosha Park in Nambia and the other to Victoria Falls. Most of the group was flying home after Etosha but I had seen a photograph of Victoria Falls and was determined to see them in person before I left Africa.
I was the only passenger on the plane from Windhoek to Zimbabwe. In the U.S., the flight would have been cancelled. Instead, I was pampered by the all male crew until I suggested they just sit down and enjoy the views from the windows.
The countryside en route from the airport was more tropical than Cape Town or Namibia. The air, wetter. I was keenly aware that I had no anti-malaria medicine. Andy, the shuttle van's driver, let me sit up front and ask my thousand questions. At some point, still several miles from the town of Victoria Falls, I saw a cloud-like formation wisping over the palm trees.
"The mist from the Falls. When they're in full water, you can see the mist from 10 miles away. This is a dry time."
"Ten miles!" It was more than I could imagine.
"Do you still see them?"
Andy looked puzzled.
"Do the Falls still amaze you? I live next to a huge lake that looks different every day and at different times of the day. But sometimes I don't even notice."
He understood. "No. They're just there. Like the buildings and the road. They bring in a lot of tourists. They give me a job."
I didn't visit the Falls (they will always be capitalized by anyone who has seen them) until the next morning when I joined a group led by Sam. The Falls are in a national park, protected from fast food vendors and sellers of kitsch. No Disney animals, no neon, no soundtrack. The closest intrusion of merchandising was the swarm of locals selling bottled water in the parking lot.
We were issued plastic raincoats (to be returned at the end of the tour). A faint wet roar could be heard even above the clamor. We crossed the road to the park entrance, looked at the maps, heard the history, read the plaques and saw the statue of Livingston. All the time the roar got louder and louder. The marrow in my bones began to vibrate in sync.
The path began to get slippery. Finally, as we rounded a clump of trees, we saw the first section of the Falls -- awesome quicksilver thundering over black crags, framed by tropical foliage.
We were across the gorge from which they plummeted, safe on a natural vantage point.
Every turn in the path revealed another cascade, each stunning. And amid the thunder and mist and crystalline sparkles were rainbows. Almost every strand in this giant moving tapestry generated rainbows. Sometimes at the summit, sometimes midway, or at the base. Narrow or broad. Faint or distinct. They danced on the falling water. There were hundreds of them. How could that be? Rainbows always pierce me with awe. And they were everywhere I looked.
I used the raincoat to protect my camera, which I practically wore out.
Sam was very patient with me, always returning to guide me back to the group that had gone ahead. Never making me hurry. There was so much beauty I almost cried. I think he liked that.
It took us two hours to walk the Zimbabwe portion of the falls. There is a smaller section in Zambia but the vantage gorge was in Zimbabwe. We stood on the gorge, watching the jumpers and marveling at the great rocks of the east point of the Falls.
Finally, soaking wet, we were persuaded to turn back toward the park entrance.
Walking beside Sam, I asked if he ever got tired of the Falls. His answer was immediate and decisive.
"No m'am! I bring my family here for picnics on my days off."
Thursday, September 10, 2015
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