When I first found out that I was coming to Zambia, I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I had to immediately look it up on a map to find out where on earth it was. Then, as anyone else my age would, I went to Wikipedia to find out more about it. Most of the information washed over my brain without sticking, but I was thrilled to discover that Zambia is home to (part of) Victoria Falls. Those I’d at least heard of before. Did I remember that they are one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World? Not at all, but I recognized the name, and that was good enough for me.
I think I’ve explained about the first 3 months of Peace Corps service: it is a period known as ‘community entry’, and you are restricted from traveling outside of your district. This is to help you thoroughly explore your village and area and to establish a good relationship with your community. At the end of 3 months we have In-Service Training (IST) in Lusaka, and it is traditional to celebrate your newfound, post- community entry freedom by taking your first vacation. So one of my friends and I decided to spend a few days at Victoria Falls after IST. Coincidentally, two other pairs and one guy on his own decided on exactly the same thing, so Sunday after IST there were 7 of us making our way south to the falls.
It’s about a 6 hour drive (or hitch) from Lusaka to Livingstone, the city about 8km from the falls. To save you the trip to Wikipedia, Victoria Falls is on the Zambezi River, which marks the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. This means that, in order to see the entire, mile-wide waterfall, you must visit both countries, and you should consider seeing the falls to be a two-day adventure at least. There are also many other attractions in the Livingstone area, so our 4-day trip was pretty brief.
We all arrived on Sunday evening, and checked in to Jollyboys Backpacker’s Lodge. Again coincidentally, we had all made reservations at the same place: great minds think alike? Jollyboys does come highly recommended, and it deserves its reputation. The rooms are comfortable, the showers are hot (a luxury for those of us used to cold bucket baths), and the pool and lounge areas are fantastic. All of this adds up to make Jollyboys the place to stay if you are an international traveler on a budget. I probably could have spent the entire vacation just talking to the other guests, hearing tales of their travelling adventures, but we bigger, wetter plans.
Monday morning we headed out to see the Zambia side of the falls. There is a path along a spit of land running parallel to the face of the falls, and that was our first foray. Even before we could see the falls, we were soaked with mist and having to shout over the roar. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so there were rainbows everywhere we looked. And when we could finally see the falls, they were incredible. Torrents of falling water, spray blown around on the wind, rainbows haloing everything. Absolutely unbelievable. The best part of the path was the ‘Knife Edge Bridge’, where you had the falls in front, clouds of mist billowing up from below, and the rest of the river gorge behind. And rainbows everywhere.
After our walk along the falls, we took a short, steep hike to the downstream section of the river, where we ate lunch and admired the falls from afar. There, the river makes a sharp bend, and the complex eddies cause interesting waves and currents. It was almost like being on the rocky California coast- we even found a bright purple crab in a crevice. Eventually we hiked back up, did one more short trail with distant views of the falls, and headed back to the lodge.
The next day we abandoned the falls entirely and did a walking safari in one of the nearby national parks (I told you there is a lot to do in Livingstone). Accompanied by a guide and a scout, we took some meandering footpaths through hip-high grass dotted with trees. Our first game sighting was a small herd of zebra, followed by water buffalo, impala, wildebeest and one distant warthog. Then we saw the pride of the park: a family of 3 white rhino. There was a mother with her calf, accompanied by a dominant male. They were entirely unconcerned with us standing 30 feet away, frantically snapping photos. Their calm demeanor, and even their existence is a tribute to the park’s anti-poaching measures: the rhinos are under the eye of an armed scout 24 hours a day. After maybe half an hour the rhinos tromped off to find a tourist-less patch of grass, and we moved on, spotting some giraffes in the trees. All too soon our walk was over, and it was back to the lodge.
Our last day in Livingstone we went to the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls. It was an expensive adventure, with a $30 visa and a $20 park fee, but it was worth every penny. The views of the falls were even more incredible than before: closer, clearer, and more immediate. Again we had a wonderfully sunny day, accompanied by flocks of rainbows in the mist. Again we were drenched within minutes. Again we were completely awestruck by the beauty of the falls. Words or photos just cannot do them justice- Victoria Falls is something you will just have to experience firsthand.
The next day we headed back to Lusaka and our villages. But I am happy to say that, after 6 months here, I can easily point to Zambia on a map, and I have seen one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But don’t just take my word for it: I’d love to take you to see Victoria Falls for yourself.