There are few things as humbling as seeing how water, over time, can shape the earth. The Zambezi River passes over a cracked and crazed bit of old volcanic rock and eats its way through these cracks to shape and reshape itself. The floor of this part of the world was a smear of lava. Not an atmosphere jarring explosion but a slow oozing of molten earth until the region was frosted like a chocolate cake. It has taken half a million years to create the Victoria Falls – that is because there were eight locations for this cataract before today’s gorge was formed and today’s rim was accepted by the river. And, it is quite visible today that the river is on the move again; eating away at the weakest point of its rocky edge and creating a deep gash that will eventually gather all the water and become a new and spectacular cataract.
When on tour I think our (Smithsonian Journeys) itineraries are good enough – I don’t try to sell add-ons to our travelers. But, at Victoria Falls I do mention that the view of the falls and the ancient gorges below the current waterfall is best seen during a helicopter ride. It is money well spent. It displays the eons that the planet has been here. It shows the tens of thousands of years that the river has worn its way to the sea. It is a sobering look into time – and yet it also gives you an idea of what is ahead for the river and rock.
The famous explorer and missionary (not very succesful at either) David Livingstone was the first European to hear and see the falls. He arrived at low water and was brought to the top edge by local fisherman. For many years after seeing the falls he tried to develop a river-based economy in the region. He brought boats from England and found another thing he wasn’t good at … however, he did a great deal to slow and stop the slave trade. The image on the right shows two of the men, Sussi and Chuma, who traveled with Livingstone for many years and eventually carried his body to the coast, about 1000 miles from where he died, so he could return to England to be buried among other great men. Their choice to carry him to his people is a story of friendship and hope. Imagine what would have happened to two black Africans found carrying the folded and wrapped body of a white man in the 1870s. It is a great story.