Under the Falls

Trip Start Sep 15, 2012
Trip End Dec 19, 2012

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Flag of Zambia  ,
Monday, October 22, 2012

A very different perspective! I think only one company does this. You walk down a side gorge, scramble over boulders along the cliff beside a Class 5 rapids, raft a short ways upstream, scramble over more boulders, and, finally, jump into a natural pool under the falls on the Zambian side (Eastern Cataract). It takes some effort to get there, but it's fun, and the swim is wonderful after the boulder scrambles.

You can see how grey it was out. Even if it had been sunny, though, you wouldn’t have seen much from down there, the mist is so thick. Our guide mentioned that the falls got the name "smoke that thunders" for the resemblance to a bush fire – like the whole gorge were full of smoke – and it really is thick like that. We could barely see past Livingstone Island, about half way across the span, and the main falls are all a ways further on the other side of the island. Fortunately, I have an underwater camera. Unfortunately, it doesn’t like to take photos above water, but at least it didn’t die the way my other one would have, so there are a few photos of the event.

No photos of the guides hauling me up by the scruff of the neck in a couple of places, at least none that I’m aware of. Who knows what the spectators at the top of the cliffs caught? I had a problem with the life jacket, both climbing over the boulders and in the water – I felt like a baby in a snowsuit, could barely move my arms, and it was so long I couldn’t straddle some of the distances between rocks, had to slide down and crawl back up. Eventually, they let me take off the jacket on the boulders; wish I could have kept it off in the pool.

You can only do this during the dry season. After the rains, the entire span is the falls, covered by deep and fast water. Elephants and hippos are sometimes swept over the falls and killed, as much drowned by the turbulent water as dashed on the rocks, and the pool we swam in ceases to exist – the whole gorge is flooded.

They aren’t kidding about being mugged by baboons on the walk down, either. The big ones are enormous.
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