Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is more than 5,000 feet wide and 300 feet tall, making it the world's greatest sheet of falling water. Photo: Mark Sissons, Special To The Chronicle

Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is more than 5,000 feet wide and 300 feet tall, making it the world’s greatest sheet of falling water. Photo: Mark Sissons, Special To The Chronicle

As infinity pools go, this one might be a little too literal for comfort.

Pressing my back against a rocky ledge just beneath the surface, I glance over my shoulder into the abyss – towering plumes billowing from the immense cauldron of Batoka Gorge 300 feet below. Just a few inches of granite prevents me from being swept by the current over the edge of the world’s largest waterfall.

I’m in Devil’s Pool, a natural formation on the Zambian lip of Victoria Falls. During the dry season, from September to December, a rock barrier forms an eddy, allowing adventurous tourists to safely swim right up to where the Zambezi becomes a chasm twice the height of Niagara Falls.

It’s about as close as you can get to this Natural Wonder of the World and live to talk about it.

In 1855, after pitching camp on the tiny island on the edge of a different falls that still bears his name, Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone first approached Mosi-oa-Tunya, the “Smoke that Thunders” – the local term for Victoria Falls – by dugout canoe.

Today’s travelers take flight over Victoria Falls in fixed-wing planes and helicopters. They kayak, raft and use personal watercraft along the 80 miles of white-water gorges beneath the falls. And they strap on bungee cords to jump off the bridge straddling Zambia and Zimbabwe.

But as Zambia’s gateway to Victoria Falls and the surrounding Zambezi region, the town of Livingstone and the river itself offer more than aquatic and aerial thrills for adrenalin junkies. Modern explorers find remnants of the elegance (and excesses) of colonial Africa sharing riverbanks with villages where the culture is 10 times older (some of it little changed since the good doctor trekked through), as well as wildlife and newer socially conscious and ecologically savvy resorts – all stops on the river Livingstone himself affectionately called “God’s Highway.”
In Livingstone’s words

Livingstone, who opened Central Africa to other missionaries, hunters and traders in the hope that “Christian commerce” would hasten the end of the slave trade, was the first European to write about Victoria Falls.

“Creeping with awe to the verge, I peered down into a large rent which had been made from bank to bank of the broad Zambezi … the most wonderful sight I had witnessed in Africa,” he recounted in his book, “Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa.”

“The whole scene was extremely beautiful … no one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

Founded in 1905 as one of the first white settlements in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), the town of Livingstone was a former staging point to the interior of the continent and served as the capital from 1911 to 1935 (when it was moved to Lusaka). Much of this crossroads city retains its colonial-era character, with many wide, tree-lined streets occupied by buildings from the first decade of the last century.

At the Livingstone Museum, opened in 1930, I soak up the culture of the local Bantu people through a series of fascinating ethnographic, archaeological and natural history exhibits. A comprehensive collection of Livingstone memorabilia is also on display – everything from his medical and musical instruments to hand-drawn maps and personal journals. (There’s even a replica of the arm bone used to identify his corpse after it was shipped back to England.)
Everything on sale

In bustling Maramba Market, on the outskirts of town, the heart of an African village still beats. Everything is on sale here: chitengies (brightly colored fabric), barrels of rice, stacks of fruit and vegetables, curios, kitchenware made out of old car parts, chickens, fresh fish and huge bales of secondhand clothing.

From : Following-Dr-Livingstone

By Mark Sissons

9 January 2014