As we drove towards Livingstone we could see the spray of Victoria Falls reaching up into the sky like bushfire smoke, clouds of mist swirling and rising, such was the power of the water tumbling over that gash in the earth.
The Grotto was our home for a few nights, an old colonial home on a large plot that an ex-Kiwi known only by the name of Grubby runs as a campsite. We couldn't help but think that staying at Grubby's Grotto was a classy place to be!
Although the view of Vic Falls from the Zimbabwe side is more extensive, the problems of getting over the border with visas and the like, meant we had to be satisfied with just the spectacular view from the Zambian side. We went armed with raingear and umbrellas and cameras in plastic bags and headed down the path to the viewing areas. There are mercifully few fences in the way, and you need no warnings to be careful!
The first sight of the Falls close up is breathtaking - a huge wall of cascading water from the flat water-filled land at the top to the depths that you could only imagine are there. Venture further along the path and the "rain" sets in, steady rain mixed with the mist that is thrown up vertically from the crashing, boiling water at the base of the Falls. It soaks through everything and keeping cameras dry is a challenge. The rising mist comes in waves, at times blocking the view of the falls to a vague, almost absent shadow, then clearing for a short while to reveal the cataract in all its magnificence. A narrow footbridge leads you across a chasm, in the depths of which a channel carries the water away to the Zambezi River downstream, and over to the top of a precipitous island with more (and even wetter) viewing areas. Look down over the edge of the bridge and, in the sunshine, full rainbows arch across the rain forest vegetation growing out from the cliff sides below. A treat we couldn't see (wrong phase!) was to visit the Falls by full moon and see the rainbows generated at night.
Outside the Falls area were the usual craft stalls selling carvings, drums, jewellery, cloth - and when you asked for them, Zimbabwe currency. That unfortunate country had just released its latest banknote - for ten trillion dollars. We bought a selection of notes, making us rich beyond imagining, ranging from a mere fifty million dollars up. It says a great deal about how worthless the currency is when the traders were willing, indeed eager, to get a US dollar in their hand rather than any denomination of Zim banknote.
We could walk across the road bridge towards Zimbabwe (the border is a painted line in the middle of the bridge), watch the bungee jumping into the gorge and see the Falls from this wider but slightly more distant point. From the Zambian border post on, and on the bridge itself, we were approached many times by Zimbabweans trying to sell us more currency, carved giraffes and masks. Unlike other traders in this part of Africa where saying no thanks a couple of times will suffice, these people kept on. In their voices you could hear an undertone of desperation that was genuine - how would they survive if we didn't buy something, anything, for even a dollar. We spoke to a white woman later who had been born in Zim and had stayed. She said that friends overseas often commented that things in Zim couldn't be as bad as the papers say. Her reply was that things are a hundred times worse than any paper reports. She quoted a report that a government minister was told that if things continued this way that, instead of 12 million people, there would only be 6 million people in the country - his reply was that 6 million are easier to govern...
That evening we went on a cruise boat from the top of the Falls upriver to watch the sun set with a beverage or two in hand. We opted for the cheap cruise! Commonly referred to as the Booze Cruise and very popular, for obvious reasons, with the younger travellers, it was free drinks of any kind plus a barbeque on deck. Fortunately for us old farts, there were only about 8 others on board, amongst them a mix of Norwegian, Canadian, English, US and Australian, all of them terrific company. After spending a little time getting the splinters out of our backsides from the seats in the open truck that picked us up, we wasted no time in settling down on the top deck, to watch the sun turn orange, the birds fly by, the crocs slither into the water and the hippos wallow and yawn by the bank.
There are many things to do in Livingstone - many which appeal to braver and more energetic souls than us: white-water rafting, bungee jumping, skydiving - so many in fact that some people forget to visit the Falls! For our adventurous activity, we went looking for White Rhinos on foot. We were picked up in yet another open safari truck, but it was pouring and, despite the roof (it leaked), we were soaked before we even got to the Mosi-oa-Tunga National Park. We hung around in the rangers' hut at the entrance gate for about an hour and, as it started to clear, headed down the road in the truck to a bush track where we turned off. We were accompanied by Tony, our guide, originally from Brisbane but who left Oz back in 1979, and two local rangers carrying a tracking device and 2 AK47s. We walked and walked through swollen creeks, muddy animal trails, thick and spiny bushes and long, damp grass. And then, there he was, a large male, blotched in red from the mud all over his bulky body. Two females were close by as well, and with voices at a whisper and the gun-carrying men between us and the animals, we walked along, following the group of three as they grazed their way along the low valley. As we crested a small hill, the animals were there in front of us, no more than 20 metres away, the view unobstructed by grass or trees. As the camera clicked, they turned their attention our way, but seemed content for the moment to simply keep us in view. To be so close and on foot was to be in their world - it was a magic moment.