Victoria Falls

For some reason, it is important for everyone to remember that on November 16, 1855, David Livingstone “discovered” Victoria Falls.

Of course, the falls themselves had been there for millennia.  The indigenous people had know about them, and even given them the name Mosi-oa-Tunya, The Smoke that Thunders.  But nothing is real until a white man sees it, so Livingstone gets all the notoriety.

Despite the arrant chauvinism of all this, the falls themselves are truly spectacular.  Over twice as wide and twice as high as Niagara, they are more than you can absorb in one look.  You have to walk the length of them, getting soaked by the spray which in places is like rain falling UP, to fully grasp the size and scope of this natural wonder of the world.

We saw them from the ground, then saw them from the air.  The worst thing about Victoria Falls is the constant buzzing of helicopters incessantly ferrying passengers on a 13 minute tour.  The best thing about Victoria Falls is taking that noisy tour.

Cars pick you up at your hotel and drive you to the heliport, where everyone is weighed, much cash is exchanged (helicopters are expensive to buy and to operate), then six by six you get your turn at the brief flight.  If you weigh more than 95 kilos (200 lbs), you can’t sit up next to the pilot, so Brad got the honors, not me.

The pilot makes two loops of the falls, one in each direction so everybody gets a good clear view.  There is a tiny 8 inch square window you can open to stick your camera out and not have to shoot through the plexiglass.  Here’s what it looks like:

The mist rising from the falls can be seen for up to 30 miles

The mist rising from the falls can be seen for up to 30 miles.  It can rise as much as 2600 feet.

The surrounding land is so flat that from the helicopter you can see the curvature of the Earth.

The Zambezi river spreading out over a basalt base in Zambia, leading up to the falls.

The Zambezi river spreading out over a basalt base in Zambia, leading up to the falls.

 

As you come around to the front of the falls, their vastness becomes overwhelming.

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The western edge of the falls is at the bottom of this photo, the water flows to the east after it lands.

Completing the turn:

A view to the northeast, showing the immensity of the falls.

A view to the northeast, showing the immensity of the falls.

 

The island in the falls is called Cataract Island, and geologists predict that it will one day be undercut by the water and fall into the gorge below.  The basalt is extremely hard, though, and quite resistant to erosion, so it won’t be happening this month.  Or century.

 

Now a view from the east looking back

Now a view from the east looking back, with the wide Zambezi spread out behind.

 

All too soon the ride is over, and you are heading back to the landing spot. Then you look back, and see the result of the sun’s diffraction through the mist.

The entire column of mist is turned into a rainbow.

The western end of the column of mist is turned into a rainbow.

 

There is a movement in Zimbabwe to return the name of the Falls to Mosi-oa-Tunya, but it’s probably bad marketing.  David Livingstone’s “discovery” will stay Victoria Falls to the English speaking world, and that will keep the tourist dollars flowing.

It doesn’t really matter who gets the credit for finding what had always been there, what matters is how beautiful it is and how lucky we were to see it.

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