With only one full day left of our trip, at the top of our list is a visit to Victoria Falls. After a big breakfast at the main camp with our new friends and a re-fixtured back window (these people are saints), we head off to the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park entrance to walk the boardwalks and trails across the river from Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls, or “The Smoke that Thunders,” is not only huge—incomprehensible in size from being so close to it, but also loud and WET. You get absolutely soaked walking around. David Livingstone, the first European to see Victoria Falls, was told that the steam was actually smoke from a bush fire. Imagine his surprise, when he came upon the mammoth thing. He’s quoted as saying,
“Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
And then he changed the name from Mosi-oa-Tunya to Victoria, after the Queen. We hike a trail down down down down to the Zambezi, to a place called Boiling Pot, where you can experience the falls from below and watch people bungee jumping from the Zambezi River Bridge. We have lunch on the rocks and watch for baboons because they are everywhere, and they are not scared of us at all. After a morning exploring the Falls from across the river, we head to meet our guide to experience Victoria Falls from the top—by swimming in Angel’s Pool. It’s a quick boat ride over to Livingstone Island, where we skimp down to our bathing suits and walk out onto the very tip top of the falls. As soon as we can see where we’re headed, my palms immediately get sweaty. When you imagine this activity, you imagine yourself swimming near the edge, not at the edge. The pictures we were sent when we booked the activity did not do justice to just how close you are. And even though we spent 8 days before this basically camping with wild animals, this moment of the trip might feel the most dangerous. The guides lead us in, as we hold hands in a long line. The edge is right there. It is surreal and it is terrifying. The guides say, “Come, come,” and we say (so many times), “Are you sure? You can’t be serious. Are you sure?” But the scariest part about it is certainly not the fact that you are sitting on top of one of the world’s largest waterfalls, or how quickly the current is pulling, but how the guides themselves act. To get a good picture or to help someone through the pools, they jump from rock to rock as if all that’s on the other side of them is a tiny plummet. At one point, the guides take each of us to a rock where we can stand and look over the edge. They hold our hands. It is very loud, and I yell into the guide’s ear, “How long do you think it would take to fall all the way down to the river?” He answers, “1…2…3…4…5…6.” I ask, “Has anyone ever gone over?” He says, “No, no, no.” I say, “Really? Never?” He says, “Well, no one has ever gone over from our group. Plenty of other people have gone over.” We venture into another pool, where there’s a small rock you can lean against and a few ropes to hold onto. It’s incredible, really, but no longer fun, in my opinion. There are too many thoughts like, Where am I? What am I doing? Who even are these so-called ‘guides’? and This is so stupid of me! This is not worth dying for.
It’s freezing. Once we’re through, they hand us towels, and we walk through some deep mud to an open hut. Then, the guides proceed to wash our feet in warm water (what?!), and offer us a seat at a big, round table. They serve us drinks and a buffet of delicious food as we watch the sun set over the falls. I’m still shaking. Did we just do that? It’s a beautiful boat ride back to the shore, but not before a stop at the island’s famous bathroom—the “Loo with a View”—which overlooks the falls. Basically, it’s a doorless port-o-potty right on the edge of the river. We finish the day back at Overland Missions, where we spend our last night of camping around a fire, trying to finish off any leftover food we have hanging around. We reminisce about the best trip ever. And we burn our maps. It feels like the right thing to do. The next morning, we join some of our new camp friends for tea and then head off to the airport. We drop off the truck—plus a few dents and some odors that are never coming out of that refrigerator, and minus a book on southern african mammals and a properly working differential lock. I have never smelled worse, that is for sure. I’m out of clean clothes, and when we get on the plane, the flight attendant says politely over the intercom, “We’re going to be coming through the cabin spraying some disinfectant.” I turn to Chas, “Do you think she’s doing that because we smell so bad?” It’s possible. I still haven’t washed my hair. And our clothes are soaked with that reek you can only get from sitting around a campfire for 10 days.
This trip was many things: fun, surprising, beautiful, difficult, and just huge—it’s hard to wrap my mind around it. Each day held so much. For me, those moments of pure elation were seeing the herd of elephants on our first day driving into Moremi. And finally finding our camp that first night at Xakanaxa, after we got so lost. Our savior, Toby from Chobe, pulling us out of the sandy pits after two days of being stuck. Even the getting stuck, if you can believe it. Every night around the campfire. The hippos. The Lion King soundtrack blasting from our car as we rode on the roof, and the insane amount of times we had to consider the question, “Do you think our car can make it through this body of water?” That moment, driving into Kasane, when we felt like we came from another end of the Earth, the lions, the startling immensity of Victoria Falls. It has been an epic trip.