Zambia. It was not a likely destination I would’ve predicted for myself, and one that I only knew so much about. But I instantly caught a strong sense of its charm. Although Livingstone is one of its more known towns, and more populated areas, it still feels quite small. Tourism is at its heartbeat, however, with the world wonder Victoria Falls on its edge, which is what lured me in.
I pulled into one of the many backpacker options. This one offered a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana. I hoped to be able to go, but they required a minimum of two people. For me, this was a solo trip. I definitely prefer traveling with company- I know many who really dig solo adventures, but I’m not among them. But, I was here on my own, making the most of my time in Africa with the nearby wonders, so I wouldn’t have passed it up! Plus, I always enjoy seeing who I meet on the go. It’s worked out well in the past.
The week-long timeframe I gave myself for Livingstone was quite generous, given its size. Despite its recognized name, the main town centre pretty much consists of a few grocery stores, shops, a post office, a curio market, and lots of vendors and buyers on the sidewalk in front of the shops. With a whole week, I didn’t really rush to see the falls, and I spent my first day on a walk through the town.
The following day, I did go to see the Victoria Falls. They were quite impressive. In comparison to the other notable waterfalls I’ve seen- Niagara and Iguazu, the Victoria Falls produced significantly more spray. It made them a bit less photograph-friendly, but a lot more, um… interactive. Being around the Vic Falls was like being in a torrential downpour. While some might think the Falls suffer from the spray obscuring its visibility, it actually does a good job of owning the upward rainfall it produces. It was christened “The Smoke that Thunders” by David Livingstone himself, and its equivalent in the local language, Mosi Oa Tuya, lent its name to everything in Livingstone- from the national park, to the main road, the shopping centre across from the hostel, and even Zambia’s most known lager.
The walk around the park was practically a visit to a waterpark- except a lot more wild. I’d been warned to bring a poncho, but I underestimated the utility of an “emergency poncho” I had packed. When I removed it from its wrapper, it provided little more protection than a few grocery bags. I ended up paying a bit to rent a thicker raincoat. Worth it, in my book. I gave my old, futile rain gear to my camera, to keep it safe, and walked through the park.
Hoards of monkeys ruled the park. They did not fear people, and they were everywhere. The baboons were quite large, as well, and had the ugliest butts. Not an ideal place to carry food around at all. I steered clear of their malcontent, while managing to get quite a few up-close-and-personal shots.
The other device of thrills was the Knife Point Bridge. It was a steel bridge, directly across from the Falls, that went over the drop off to the lower Zambezi river. Going over meant falling the height of the falls, and survival would be a literal miracle. The bridge led to the rest of the park, so I braved it. The bridge was narrow and thin enough, but the challenge came from the falls. The constant spray and winds rallied upon the bridge as I walked across, carefully gripping both sides. The steel surface of its path didn’t seem the most ideal for getting wet, either. It was rather terrifying, and a German woman in front of me held on to the sides with a death grip as she slowly and timidly made her way across. I felt sorry for her, but also wished she’d hurry up. The less time we spent on this bridge, the better.
After crossing the bridge, and spending hours taking ample amounts of photos, I found my way to the drop of the falls, and sat along the banks with some locals, who used the upper Zambezi to relax and swim. I sat for hours, watching.
The next day I decided to get a taste for Zambian culture by walking into a Zambian church. The David Livingstone Memorial Presbyterian Church was right next to the hostel, and it was named after the town’s namesake, so I figured it’d be a good option. The sermon was a long one, as they tend to be in African churches, but afterwards, they all sought to meet me, and offered prayer for me as I traveled. So that was cool.
The day after proved to be ample for hanging around the hostel and meeting fellow travelers. Zambia attracts a lot of Brits. It was a former British colony itself, back in its “Northern Rhodesia” phase. These days, the British presence was friendlier, and I met a few NGO workers doing awesome things. One guy was studying import tax policies by interviewing Zambian exporters, in hopes of reforming British policies to promote more fair wages. Another couple was doing something similar to me- helping at an orphanage, close to the Congo border. My roommate for the weekend was a visiting pastor from Zimbabwe. He was really nice. Zimbabweans have really won me over during my time in Africa, the ones I’ve met have been the warmest people.
Speaking of Zimbabwe, I’d been hoping to go. I wanted to see the Falls from both sides, and two thirds sit in Zimbabwean territory. But how to get there? The answer was simple. Take a walk. But one does not simply walk into Zimbabwe? Apparently one does.
I returned to the Zambian entrance to the Falls, and found that the border was less than 100 meters away. An easy walk. Customs was incredibly lax, and allowed me to very easily walk onto the bridge over the Zambezi, which connected the nations. From this bridge, many people choose to bungee jump, although I had no luck in witnessing one on that day. Walking across the painted border into Zimbabwe was a cinch. The only annoyance were the many touts that swamped the bridge- and all of Zambias borders, really. Wanting to sell off Zambian copper, carvings of hippos, or my personal favorite- the old collapsed Zimbabwean bank notes of billions of dollars, these guys could be pretty agressive. Somehow, I mastered the art of waving them off pretty easily, while still being graceful and friendly. Part of the fun was responding to their standard name-and-country questioning differently each time. With each different tout, I became Michael from Mexico, Jacob from Nicaragua, and so on.
I continued towards the falls, where there were more monkeys, even closer and more assertive than before. I ran into a couple of Scandinavian tourists who were closely photographing a group of them. They told me how one of the monkeys made off with their Go-Pro, lying idly on the ground. They didn’t say how, but they managed to retrieve the camera, and to their luck, it had been recording… some authentic monkey-shot footage.
One path was marked “Best Photographic Trail,” which sounded good to me. It ended up being a long climb down the jungle. I made my way slowly, appreciating how I was at that moment in the midst of a Sub-Saharan jungle. An hour’s walk led all the way to the bottom of the waterfall. The area, dubbed Boiling Pot, married the different flows of the fall into a whirlpool, with a very strong downward current. It made the edge of the pot an ideal jacuzzi, as it was warm and the strong opposing currents kept away hippos, crocodiles, and other creatures. It wasn’t anywhere you’d want to be caught, though. The center was a whirlpool with a constant flush.
I hiked my way back up, which was incredibly tiring, and led to some stare downs with monkeys. I couldn’t believe how much energy it took to get back up.
I relaxed that evening at the hostel, and treated myself to a whole pizza from Olga’s Italian Corner- a very authentic restaurant and guest house that provided jobs, training, and support for disadvantaged Zambians. The Italian NGO operated with the diocese, and made awesomely authentic Italian food. I ate to a good day’s outing, and also to the news that a group was planning to do the Chobe Park trip the following day- my last day in Livingstone. Perfect!