FIELD TRIP: Zambia - Part I

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Anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge fan of CBS's 'The Amazing Race'.  They may even know that my best friend and I once applied to become contestants on the show.  We didn't get cast - BOOO!, but it doesn't stop me from thinking it could happen one day.  Certainly, it doesn't stop me from wanting to participate in some of the same adventures I've seen on 'TAR'.  Heck, half my Bucket List can be traced back to that show. Enter: Victoria Falls, Zambia.

I don't remember what the teams did that episode.  They probably bungee jumped off a bridge or took some crazy zip line across the river.  What I've never forgotten is the glory of that spectacular waterfall.  When I found myself scheduled to go on safari in Zambia, I thought to myself, 'I'm going that far.  I may as well see something else!'

Thanks to the power of the internet and solid advice from my safari guide, I was able to research and organize a two-day excursion in Livingstone, prior to joining the retreat in Mfuwe.  I figured the first day I'd be strung out from traveling and could use the time to recover from the joys of: Paris --> London, London --> Johannesburg, Johannesburg --> Livingstone.  Whew!  Nearly 20 hours of being a regular passenger!

This trip was really happening and I was thrilled to arrive for my first steps onto the continent.  Once ensconced in the Protea Hotel, I booked two tours for the following day and planned to see the falls in between activities.  After an excellent meal at the Golden Leaf Indian restaurant, I declared an early night and then woke up to spend a beautiful morning on Livingstone Island, the place where David Livingstone became the first European to ever set eyes on Victoria Falls.

I'll let the next photos speak for themselves.

An Aussie, three French tourists (bien sûr), and I joyfully took a barefoot walk through the squishy mud, after which to our amazement - and amusement - one of our guides thoroughly washed our feet before leading us to a scrumptious breakfast under a canopy.  It was so surreal to partake of eggs benedict and scones, sitting next to a massive waterfall and hear the sound of water crashing all around.

Satiated and jazzed up, once back at the meet point I asked my taxi driver to detour from our pre-arranged return to the hotel in favor of taking me straight to Victoria Falls park.  It was SO CLOSE, after all.

Officially named after Queen Victoria by Dr. Livingstone, Victoria Falls or 'Mosi-oa-Tunya'  literally means the 'Cloud that Thunders'.  More often I heard it called the 'Smoke that Thunders' because when you view the site from afar, the mist resembles billowing clouds of steam or 'smoke', as illustrated in the first photo.  Over double its height, this is like seeing Niagara Falls on steroids.  In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to double-back to the hotel to retrieve a hat and rain gear because the rain was absolutely pouring down in some sections along the walking path, but the combination of Mist + Rain + Sunshine = Tons of Rainbows.  Everywhere.  And I couldn't get enough of them.  Bad hair days be damned!

I felt I needed a short break, if only I'd had a nice place to rest while I took in all I'd witnessed so far…. And there it was.

Maybe it was the jet lag taking effect, but I began to get sentimental in reverence for this awe-inspiring setting.  I sat still and gazed at a nearby rainbow until a photo buff trespassed across my vision.  Realizing I had an hour and a half to go before pick-up back at the park's entrance, I gathered myself together and ventured toward the eastern cataract.  Each turn wielded some amazing new vantage point and then… And THEN… I came to a clearing where I saw a family crossing the Zambezi river.  What on Earth?  How were they doing that?  How are those other people taking pictures (over there)?  I want to do that!

'O.M.G.! Big mistake. Big. Huge!' to quote Vivian (aka: Julia Roberts) in 'Pretty Woman'.  Oh sure, her words run through my head now but at the time, I thought 'Cool!'

Hold that thought.  More later.  ;)

I approached the river bank and was greeted by a local named Vincent, who offered to take me across the river in order to take photographs like the others I'd seen.  'How?', I asked.  He pointed to a narrow pipeline-like dam just below the water's surface.  Oh, really?  And for the second time in a day, I found myself barefoot and crossing a river in front of a waterfall.

Gaia will protect me.  Gaia will protect me.  I chanted the mantra to myself over and over as we sidestepped our way across the dam.  Then I stepped where Vincent stepped as we picked our way across mossy stones, and I got some amazing photographs.

Vincent's confidence in me gave me impetus to push on, and I was grateful each time he showed me something new.  He suggested we keep crossing until we hit Angel's Armchair, the smaller sister of the famous Devil's Cataract.  I think he just wanted to go for a swim and have me forever immortalize it on film, but Wow!

So, why was it all a big mistake (Huge!), you ask?  Well, because I fell into the freaking Zambezi river on the way back to where we began our trek.  Oh yes, I did.

I.Fell.Into.The.Zambezi.River.

I slipped off a mossy rock and distinctly remember my head going under water.  Choice swear words hurled out of my mouth as I forgot all grace and thought only of my iPhone, my camera and Oh great, it was 'that time of the month'.  Two weeks early, thank you very much.  Not to mention, hello…  I was not that far from the edge of a raging waterfall!

The journey was long and arduous . We'd been walking for three hours and I'd become tired and frustrated that I was late returning to the car.  Would he wait for me?  Fortunately, I'd fallen in a steep pool between two boulders and was able to pull myself out with Vincent's help.  My beautiful, happy day came to a sopping wet… Wait.  I still had to get back to the car and the hotel and an evening river cruise!  After that, my only job was to stay upright.  With Gaia's support, I did.

À la prochaine….