What a couple of weeks it has been in Zambia: the country celebrated 50 years of independence on the same day that 27 children drowned after a boat capsized on Lake Kariba, then our President died, then an earthquake struck North-East Zambia measuring 5.3, and, of course, in between it all was my birthday.
I was fortunate to be in Lusaka for my birthday week, which meant that I was able to gorge myself on all sorts of delicious food not available to me in my little Eastern home – Swedish, French, Italian, Indian, Thai. Due to the 50th celebrations, the Australian Ambassador was also in town, so we managed to squeeze in a breakfast and cocktail party with the delegation, as you do. However, the real highlight of the week came when I was able to fulfil my dream of going over Victoria Falls in a barrel.
Okay, that didn’t really happen, but I wasn’t far off. After a last-minute decision, a group of us decided to hire an over-priced vehicle from a random man, and drive ourselves 7 hours to Livingstone, and 7 hours back for one single purpose – to visit Devil’s Pool. From the Royal Livingstone Hotel, we jumped on a speed boat that took us down the Zambezi river, straight towards the edge of the falls where we could see the “smoke” rising from 93m below. The boat dropped us at Livingstone Island, and from there we had a short walk to the edge.
However, that view still wasn’t close enough for us. Under the guidance of our fearless leader, we plunged into the Zambezi and swam across to another small island in the middle of the gushing river. Just in case the current was too strong, a rope had been strung between the two islands, which we could grab on to in case we found ourselves getting swept away towards certain death. Fortunately, none of us needed it.
Once in the middle of the river, we stared in disbelief at our final destination. Devil’s Pool is a small pool, about 3 metres diameter that forms part of Victoria Falls’ main fall. Thanks to a simple rock lodge, there is little current in the pool, enabling you to jump in, swim around, sit on the ledge and peer over the edge of world’s biggest cascade. Of course, if you swim too far towards the right, you could easily get caught in the main current, and there would be no way to save you.
Fearlessly (actually, we were full of fear), we waded into the pool and made our way towards the ledge. The terror was rapidly replaced with awe as we gazed over the edge into the smoke, and as we watched about half a million cubic metres of water plunging to the gorge’s depths every minute just metres away from us, and as fish nibbled at our scaly feet, and as the guide stood up and walked right along the edge of the falls in order to get a good photo using my camera that dangled precariously from his wrist. It was 10 minutes of exhilaration.
As the next group came to risk death, we made our way back across the Zambezi to Livingstone Island, where we were greeted with Pimms & lemonade, and delicious High Tea. We drank, we ate, we chatted, as the horizon slowly rose towards the sun. We made it back to the Royal Livingstone Hotel just in time to watch the burning ball of fire plaster the sky with an orange glow. We were asleep by 8pm – the sign of a truly great birthday.