The blog has been pretty silent because I’ve been on the road trip of a life time: From Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, through Botswana to Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, then across the bridge to Livingstone, Zambia and back again. If you like that social justice stuff, check back later. If you like travel, stay tuned…
You can hear it before you see it. It reminded me of when I’ve stayed in a beach house, the kind where the sea is just a few steps outside your door, and you’re lulled to sleep every night by the rushing slosh of waves. But it isn’t the sea. We’re in the middle of an open plain, flat as far as the eye can see. There is no ocean. The sound is the sound of the Zambezi river throwing itself over a cliff again and again and again and plummeting to the bottom almost three thousand meters below. 6 million cubic feet of water (we were there at high water level) falling off a cliff thunders so loudly you can hear it many kilometers away. We fell asleep every night listening to that thunder.
And you can see it– not the falls, but the spray from the falls–smoking up and hovering over the town. Mosi oa tunya. The Smoke that Thunders.
We went to see it in early July, when the water level is highest. We wore rain jackets, and hoped for a good view of the falls. There were a few good view points of the early bits of the falls. But when we get closer to the main falls, we had to wait for a change in the breeze to blow the spray in another direction so we could get a view, there was so much spray. That just made the glimpses we got even more special. (And it means we’ll have to go back).
There are no railings. Just slippery pathways and small acacia fences. There are bushes and trees so for the most part you don’t feel like you’ll fall off. We saw a photo of Queen Elizabeth visiting in the 1950s when there weren’t even little acacia fences. Just British pompousness in the form of a sign forbidding people to pass. (Never mind you’ll plummet to your death by stepping off the path. “Common sense will not keep the natives away. We must have a sign.”)
Rainbow Falls, right towards the end, has a view point with no fences. It’s marked as a “danger point” on the maps. It’s just a pile of rocks, with the spray of the falls bucketing down in torrents. Some of our party decided to skip that point, but David and I went. It was like standing outside in a rain storm, the water was thudding down on us so hard. But when we climbed the rock and looked behind us, there was the biggest rainbow we had ever seen. It was so bright it looked like it was solid.
Standing by ourselves at danger point number 15, being drenched by the spray of Victoria Falls (the spray that shoots up 60 feet into the air then falls down in sheets like rain), it was like coming face to face with the heart of Africa, the heart that pounds life into the arteries that carry life in thin strands across the dry land. Being drenched in rain and wrapped in rainbows, hundreds of rainbows, was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.
I was reminded later by David as we lay awake that night talking about it of Baba Amos who goes to my parents church. He is Zambian. He told David that his favorite thing to do in the world was to visit Victoria falls. He lived many hours away from the falls, but he would travel there by bus, and by taxi and by foot, and pray for all the villages he passed through, pray for people he saw, pray for his country, pray for Africa. And at the end of his journey he would arrive at the Smoke that Thunders.
John talks about the temple of heaven being filled with the smoke of the glory of God, about rainbows encircling his throne. I think I know what he means.
For you curious people, a map of the Victoria Falls Zimbabwe side, you can click the photo to enlarge it: