I wrote this for a travel competition that I didn’t win. Which is understandable on lots of levels – the winning articles were way more erudite and didn’t talk about death or ash either…but as the story is very important to me, I’m going to share it on my blog anyway. Just in case anyone else is foolish enough (at my age) to jump into the Devil’s Pool at the Victoria Falls in Zambia (it had a specific word count so I had to leave lots out!):-
ANGELS AND DEVILS
The person who has made the most significant impact on my impressions of a travel experience is without doubt my father. For a start he instilled in us a love of travelling from a very early age by taking us as a family to live in Africa when we were very young and a short time later upturned our lives once more and moved us to Hong Kong where we spent many happy years.
All journeys have hidden gems of which the traveller is unaware and this was no more true than when my two brothers and I fulfilled our father’s dying wish to take his ashes back to his beloved Victoria Falls in Zambia.
Our aim was to get as close to the falls as possible. We were advised to book ourselves onto the Livingstone Island tour. All we knew of this was that we were going to have breakfast and a quick swim in some sort of pool. To get to the island by boat, you must first enter the grounds of the very splendid five star Livingstone Hotel. All clipped grass and colonial style.
A short speedboat journey later and we were met by a spectacular guide, with an even more spectacular name. “Alpha Omega” lead us along the winding path until we arrived at the falls and began to get some understanding of the enormity of the place. Noise and vapour emanated from below. We could see both the Zambian and the Zimbabwean sides of the falls. We were now immersed in the mighty “Mosi oa Tunya`’, the local name meaning “the smoke that thunders”.
We walked further round a corner only to behold the most beautiful rainbow any of us had ever seen, a double one in fact that you could almost touch. Everything started to feel a little surreal and ethereal, especially when we stumbled across the plaque to Dr Livingstone – the first European to provide a written description when he stood on the island and first observed the falls “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”.
We reached a clearing where we were told to put on our swimsuits. I was wearing an entirely inappropriate bikini that I hadn’t expected to have to expose. Given that I didn’t have much storage space in my appallingly inadequate attire, my brother put my precious parcel containing our father’s ashes into his pocket. My other brother carried our father under his hat.
“Are you all strong swimmers?” he asked and I began to worry. “RIGHT” he shouted, “you must do exactly as I say. When we get into the water, you will need to swim UP! UP! UP! Very hard and very fast before swimming ACROSS. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”. I nodded pathetically and tried very hard not to cry.
“Hold hands and follow me”. We did as we were told, carefully walking single file across the rocks. We hadn’t held hands for 30 years. If I hadn’t been so terrified, it would have been quite a sweet moment.
“NOW. GET INTO THE WATER AND SWIM!!!!! HARDER. UP. UP. UP. FASTER. HURRY UP”
I was in danger of having a heart attack.
We followed him across the top of the raging torrent and dropped further down into a shallow area, where we clambered out and caught our breath. I now resembled a drowning rat. We had a further stretch to get across, but my legs were now refusing to co-operate. The Falls are 1,688m wide and average just over 108m in height – part of a great fault system in the continental plate. Around 750 million litres of water cascade over the tip every minute and I believed we were about to do the same. Alpha Omega was in a pair of trunks but unfortunately I was too consumed with fear to appreciate the view.
We finally arrived at what I hadn’t appreciated was known as the “Devil’s Pool”. It was obvious why. It looked ridiculously far down. We were told not to jump too far to the right because we would hit a rock and not too far forward because we would go over the edge of the falls. Instead, I clambered inelegantly into the pool and was pulled by the torrent very fast towards the edge. We were literally at the top of the Victoria Falls, with the water gushing over the ledge. On top of the world. The roar of nature was violent and thunderous and we were completely awestruck by the raw, huge, immense, out of control world where you felt privileged to experience nature in it’s most basic form. Feeling like travellers before us must have felt for all eternity, uplifted and humbled, it was at this moment that we released our father into the swirling mass and said our private farewells as he cascaded over the edge, thankfully without us.
“Totseins” we said to our father, which is Zulu for “till I see you again; goodbye”.
“Zikomo For Everything”.
With emotions running high, we made our way back, observing three little elephants walking single file, holding trunk to tail, just as we were through the rock pools and it was the perfect moment; not only to be reminded that Africa makes you feel part of a life force that is so much bigger than you, but that our father was back where he belonged.