Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Smoke that Thunders – Welcoming the New Year

 Coming from southern Ontario, I don’t get too excited about big waterfalls, given that we have Niagara Falls within close proximity. I treated Victoria Falls as one of those ‘check it off the list’ trips, but wasn’t expecting to find it all that exciting.
The indigenous name for Victoria Falls is ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ which translates as the ‘Smoke that Thunders’. The late Scottish missionary, David Livingstone, named it ‘Victoria Falls’ in honour of his Queen. Although both names are still used, Victoria Falls prevails. As with much of history, the dark ink from the Western pen dominates narrations of days of old.
Smoke that Thunders seems like a much more accurate description than the name of a deceased European Monarch… the height and width of the waterfall forms the largest sheet of falling water in the world and makes it one of the seven natural wonders.
Hiking towards the first viewpoint, the falls come into view and I am immediately captivated. Within minutes, a rainbow forms as we take in the scenery from the cliff opposite the falls.

We eventually pry ourselves away so that we can return to the hostel before evening. We enjoy a delicious meal and discuss our goals for the upcoming year before heading out for a night ‘on the town’ in Livingstone.
In the taxi, we communicate with the taxi driver in English and broken Chichewa (Chichewa and the Zambian language of Nyasa are dialects from the Chewa ethnic group which spans across the Malawi-Zambia border). He tells us that his wife is from Malawi but doesn’t know where. In order to figure out which part she comes from, we ask him if he paid Lobola. Referred to in English as ‘bride price’, Lobola is customary only in only Malawi’s Northern Region.
This increasingly controversial tradition is said to bring families together and indicate that the man can support his wife financially. It is traditionally paid in cattle but nowadays it is becoming less frequent to give actual cows. Instead, the price is determined in cattle and then converted into cash based on the market value of the cows.
The driver tells us that he did indeed pay lobola, and we conclude that his wife is from Northern Malawi. He then proceeds to tell us that we would fetch a good price because ‘we can make coloureds’ (‘coloured’ is the widely accepted term to refer to people of mixed race, mostly black and white). He says we are each worth 10 cows, but that Elsa would fetch an additional few cows because she knows how to cook Nsima (the local staple dish).
He drops us off, and we celebrate the arrival of the new year. I feel grateful to mark the beginning of 2012 in one of the most beautiful places on earth with two wonderful women.
We wake up early the next morning and head back to the falls. We have arranged for breakfast on Livingstone Island, where David Livingstone is said to have seen the falls for the first time and the only land accessible in the middle of the falls.
Elsa - On the boat heading towards 'the smoke that thunders'

Tour Guide (Alpha Omega) & I on the way to Livingstone Island
 Our tour guide, Alpha Omega, takes us out by boat to the island on the edge of the falls. We use the rocks protruding from the water as stepping stones and are guided nervously to the edge.

Next on the itinerary is ‘Devil’s Jacuzzi’, a pool of water just before the 108 metre drop. The guide assures us that despite the pool’s location, there is an underwater wall of rock that would prevent us from going over.
I strip down to my bathing suit and tentatively climb in. The girls soon see that it is easy and follow suit. It is absolutely incredible to be in the water, peaking over the largest waterfall in the world to the thundering sound of water hitting rocks far below.

We dry off and breakfast is served in a tent on the island. After the train, warm muffins and eggs benedict are an incredible treat. What a way to spend the first day of 2012!

Ringing in the New Year - Bridge on the Bridge!

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