Victoria Falls: The Smoke that Thunders

The trip to Victoria falls, is something out of the old westerns. In the middle of a vast rain forest is an expansive panorama that literally takes your breath away.

VicFalls (photo credit: Menahem Fogel)
(photo credit: Menahem Fogel)

My high school history teacher was an Englishman by the name of Emil Beth. He was the quintessential educator of the 1960s. A tough disciplinarian, with a wry sense of humor, he instilled in us a love, a passion even, for the study of history. He had us go into the battlefield with or against Napoleon at Waterloo. We wept with Ferdinand Magellan as he passed safe and unharmed through the treacherous straights of Cape Horn on his circumnavigation of Earth. We, the people marveled with Thomas Jefferson at the completeness of the American Constitution. And we also tracked through darkest Africa with the intrepid Henry Morton Stanley until we too could say Dr. Livingstone I presume. In those days, I would have followed him to the furthest corners of the earth. But to my sorrow, at the end of 10th grade, Emil Beth left to pursue a new life in Canada. On his last day at school he gathered us together and said: Gentlemen (even though we were all of fifteen years old he always called us that, or by some personal nickname), if there is but one thing you must do in this life, go and see Victoria Falls. After I turned 50, I started reconnecting with old friends with whom I had lost contact, and I searched out my old history teacher. Thanks to the internet I tracked him down to Port McNeill, a small town near the northern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. In a 2-hour conversation that ranged from history to philosophy, I reminded him of his charge 35 years earlier, and that I had indeed fulfilled it. Id been to see Victoria Falls. I made the journey to Victoria Falls via overnight train from Bulawayo Zimbabwes second largest city. Second-class travel on Zimbabwe Rail is an experience in its own right, which I dont particularly recommend to the uninitiated. However, a twenty dollar bill and a handshake with the conductor found me in a compartment by myself, and the regular clickety-click of the wheels on the tracks combined with the slow rocking of the steam-powered train, and I was off to sleep in a flash. I arrived at Victoria Falls station which reminded me of something out of a spaghetti western - early in the morning. The first thing that you see as you step off the train is the misty spray hanging over the rain forest, along with the overwhelming rumble of the falls: Mosi-oa-Tunya The Smoke that Thunders as its called by the locals. Its an easy distance from the station to the entrance of the Victoria Falls National Park. There I was handed a plastic mackintosh and off I traipsed into the rain forest. The walk is drenching but exhilarating, the rumble turns into an ear-shattering roar, and then all of a sudden the rain forest ends

and there you stand, face to face with this expansive panorama that literally takes your breath away. I was so shocked by the enormity of this spectacle that I was only able to breathe in. I couldnt exhale! Victoria Falls are over a mile wide and more than 100m high. The racket and the spray and the sunshine and the rainbow overwhelm you completely, and the distance between you and this natural wonder of the world is all of 75 feet! You can almost reach out and touch it! In comparison you experience Niagara Falls from close but only from the side in a commercialized environment, and the Iguacu is seen from further away. Here, you are up close and extremely personal with the largest natural wonder on the planet. And what a wonder it is! There isnt an adjective thats sufficiently powerful to describe the feeling: awe-struck hardly begins to perhaps come close, maybe. Communication between people is by yelling because of the overpowering growl as millions of gallons of water plunge every minute from the Zambezi River an almost touchable distance opposite you into the abyss below. I stayed there for a few hours just taking it in and then returned to the Victoria Falls hotel, completely drenched through. After a shower and a change of clothes, I headed for the lounge where I enjoyed a most wonderful Pims No. 1 Cup and lemonade cocktail, garnished with mint leaf, cucumber and cherry. There in the lounge I heard of the moon bow from one of the waiters, a local young man who went by the name of Goodness (the meaning that Africans attach to names is worth an entire article all by itself). Everyone has seen a rainbow, he said, but how many have seen a moon bow? Tonight there is a full moon, so go out to the falls again tonight, he encouraged me, and youll see something you have never ever seen before.

He was right. I had never seen it before or ever since. For here, where the spray of the falls rises to a height of over 400 meters, on a clear full-moonlit night, the moon bow is a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. You’ll never be able to forget it!