Ryan's Travels: Victoria Falls
Natural wonders have always, and will always fascinate me. Within that, waterfalls are, in my mind, the pinnacle of the natural wonders. They can be peaceful and calming or they can be violent and turbulent. With each type of falls, the way water can manipulate stone and earth is mind blowing. This is what brought me to the first stop on my Ryan’s Travels African adventure, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. This has been on a list of destinations of mine for years now. Anytime that I can see a waterfall, I’m game. Anytime that waterfall happens to be a natural wonder of the world, I will go out of my way to see it! On top of that, Victoria Falls is a short hop from popular destinations like Cape Town or Botswana.
A short geography lesson here; Victoria Falls is fed by the Zambezi river which is Africa’s fourth longest river. Along the way, it cuts a natural international boarder between several African nations. At the point where the falls dump into a massive 300+ foot gorge, it creates a boarder between Zimbabwe and Zambia. I visited the Zimbabwe side on a quick day and a half trip before moving on to the rest of my tour.
Viewing Victoria Falls in their entirety is actually tougher than I thought. The width of the gorge is not very large so getting a full top to bottom view is very difficult. It actually may be impossible, but I didn’t explore it enough to say either way. You can get a full view of one of the parts of the falls (Devil’s Cataract, pictured below), but the width at the main point of the falls, from Zimbabwe side (land side) looking towards the Zambian side (water side) is only about 100 feet, maybe less. So to take in all 300+ feet in all is very difficult, but standing so close you can still get a feel for the raw power. There is, however, a spot on the Zambian side called the Devil’s Pool where you can actually swim up to the edge of the main falls and look over into oblivion. I unfortunately didn’t have enough time on this trip to make it over there. It is an absolute MUST DO if you plan to visit this area though.
Where does all this water go? It follows its path down the mighty Zambezi for a thousand or so miles until it hits the Indian Ocean. Just after the falls, however, all the water is funneled down the narrow gorge and provides for some world class rapids. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to check them out. So I strapped on a helmet, life jacket and minimal sunscreen (I will get to that shortly) and headed off on a whitewater adventure that was a bit beyond even my comfort level at times. The rafting in Victoria Falls ranges from class 1-6, 6 being the biggest that is safely navigable, I use the term “safely” very loose as we had to walk around the level 6 rapid because they are not allowed to take commercial passengers down a rapid as dangerous as that.
So lets get to the fun bits. Firstly, the water was a perfect temperature to cool me off from the blistering 100 degree heat this time of year. Speaking of heat, take note that when applying sunscreen for a boat/rafting trip where you’re seated for long hours in the sun, don’t forget to latter up your thighs as that is often overlooked. This resulted in the tops of my legs looked like a boiled lobster about halfway through the trip. This brings me to a solid first timers recommendation, pack extra sunscreen! I left mine at the top of the gorge because I didn’t think there were spare compartments. My face cream surely washed off after about an hour into the five hour trip. Sorry I went off topic a bit, let’s get back to the fun stuff. The rapids were manageable, we only ended up flipping twice. If you have never rafted, then there isn’t really a great way to prepare you to swim a class four rapid. The whole “keep calm and just lay on your back” mentality that they stress in orientation goes straight out the window when you feel your life is on the line. As do the warnings not to ingest any of the water. “Remember, you are in Africa and there are HEAPS of parasites in the water! You will surely get diarrhea if it gets in your mouth.” Warned the manager of my hotel. That ominous warning loomed in my mind as I was coughing up and blowing water out of my nose after taking a spill on rapid number one. Excellent start, only 26 more to go. After about five hours and what would amount to a full glass of Africa’s freshest river water down the hatch, my legs were cooked to a perfect medium rare. With all the swimming I had done coupled with the non stop paddling, I really worked up an appetite and I was ready for lunch time. Our trip came to an end below rapid number 19. Lunch was being cooked and surely was putting off a delicious aroma. Problem was, lunch was waiting for us at our exit point, 400ft directly above us at the top of the gorge. One of the guides said that it should take 30-45 minutes to hike to the top, fit people could do it in maybe 20-25 minutes, pointing at me. “But I do it in 15.” He boasted proudly. I clearly took this as a challenge. So, with my life jacket still securely fastened, as if there were still a threat of drowning, I shlepped all my gear up this damn cliff side. As I approached the summit, sweat was pouring over my eyes and I was now more soaked than I was when I started. The pain from my sunburn had now been trumped by a full leg burn.
There were 18 fully graded rapids with cute names like ‘Devils Toilet Bowl,’ ‘Gnashing Jaws of Death’ and, my favorite, ‘Oblivion.’
When the guide made it to the top he asked me if I had timed it. Of course I did, “14 minutes exactly my man.” I actually did time it at 14 mins. I gave him a wink and he replied, “well, the record is 6:30 minutes.” As if to further challenge me.
In the end, it was a thrill ride that I certainly recommend and I would entertain again. The company offers three and five day trips which end up covering just over 70 miles. We ended up doing just under 17 miles in our five hour day trip. There were 18 fully graded rapids with names like “Devils Toilet Bowl, “Gnashing Jaws of Death” and, my favorite, “Oblivion.” Then, another 10 or so “freebies” as the guide called them. Botswana is our next stop. There won’t be as many thrilling types of activities, but wildlife is the main focus over the coming week!