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Following Livingstone's Trail

Livingstone, Zambia

Having finally made my way from Lethlakane, where I said so long to Mum and Dad, to Kasane I was all set to cross the border between Botswana and Zambia, but not before a rather testing night in my tent.

When it rains in Africa it rains, and when that rain is a tropical storm anybody not in a watertight location finds out about it, as I did on this fateful night. Reports of rain heading towards the area were not wrong, and knowing the rain was imminent I decided to settle into my tent before they arrived. No sooner had I zipped up the door than the first smatterings of rain could be heard on the waterproof cover of my tent.

As the rain intensified the rumbles of thunder grew louder, accompanied by constant flashes of lightening, until finally the storm was literally above my head. The combination of the noise of the thunder and the violent streaks of lightening gave me some idea as to what it would be like to be at the heart of a bomb raid, minus the actual bombs that is. With the wind howling my tent was under a major attack from the elements, and as I expected the first leak began at the door.

Four hours of rain later, seven full cups of water caught from the leaks and the storm had passed, giving me the chance to poke my head out and asses the damage. I was greeted by the sight of mud rivers running either side of my tent, leaving me questioning my desire to pack up camp and head to Zambia in a little under six hours time. After a brief sleep I awoke to find the rivers had ceased flowing and the sun was doing its best to fight through the clouds.

This was all the encouragement I needed and before long I was packed up and on my way to the Zambian border - which is one of the wildest, unorganised operations I have ever come across. The fact there is no bridge over the Zambezi, which separates Zambia from Botswana, makes life there very interesting. A ferry goes back and forth all day long, taking one lorry, one car and as many people as can cram onto it, creating chaos every time it docks. Due to only being able to take one lorry at a time there are, on both sides of the river, seemingly endless queues of lorries waiting to cross. Talking to one driver he explained when it's busy he can expect to sit and wait for anywhere between two and three weeks just to cross the river!

Finally in Zambia it was straight to Livingstone, where I was based for a week. The main focus of being here was of course to visit Vic Falls, which was quite an experience, especially given it was the tail end of the rainy season and the level of the river was higher than usual. From my backpackers I could see the mist that is thrown up by the falls, known as 'the smoke that thunders', as it literally looks like the smoke from a massive fire, combined with the sound of the waterfall itself.

After a few days of relaxing in Livingstone, and letting my tent dry out, it was off to the falls - which included a failed attempt to go to Zimbabwe for a day. Despite having been told a fair amount about the falls nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced. As I said the falls throw up great plumes of mist, and due to the high water levels at this time of year they can all but make the falls disappear behind a white veil of water. Due to this when I first got there I couldn't actually see the falls, that was until the wind blew the mist away revealing the most magnificent sight.

I couldn't help but think what Livingstone himself must have thought when he stumbled across the falls - not knowing he was going to find them and just stumbling across them. As far as explorers and travellers go Livingstone is right up there in my list of heroes, one of the real trailblazers in that sense. At 1700m wide and 107m deep the falls are a wonderful force of nature, one that left me realising just how small and insignificant we as a race are in comparison to the natural elements.

With the first sightings of the falls out of the way it was time to cross 'The Knife-edge Bridge', in order to walk down to the far end of the stretch of land that forms the gorge where the falls dump the masses of water that flows over them. It is at the bridge where the mist thrown up is at it's worst, resulting in going from bone dry to saturated in under a second. It made the storm in Botswana seem like a light shower, but unlike in Botswana I was more than happy to be in the middle of it.

Once over the bridge there are two paths, the one that takes you right along the front of the gorge and continues the drenching process, and then a relatively dry one. Obviously I opted for the wet route, reasoning that it couldn't get any worse than the bridge - clearly I was wrong. It went from torrential rain to someone holding a power hose above my head as I walked along, which given the setting gave me a feeling of total freedom as the water washed over me.

I left the falls feeling totally invigorated, if not a little damp, but safe in the knowledge I had seen one of the true wonders of Africa.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on May 8, 2009 from Livingstone, Zambia
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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