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View from the edge at Victoria Falls ....

By Bill Cummings, 8/24/13

The 350–foot deep gorge into which Africa’s huge Zambezi River drops was formed not by erosion, but through an earthquake, millions of years ago. Official estimates are that up to 300 million gallons of water per second drop with a thunder-like roar over the mile–wide falls.

Enjoy spectacular Victoria Falls, along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, in south central Africa. This is where our intrepid party from Winchester, Massachusetts, really did find out about “living life on the edge,” as this great river crashed down around us on its way to the Indian Ocean. During the rainy season, spiraling mist from the falls can reportedly be seen some 30 miles away.

Surely, the greatest thrill in almost anyone's lifetime would have to be swimming in one of Africa's longest rivers, the mighty Zambezi, along the upper edge of Victoria Falls on the Zambian side. After doing so ourselves, we learned that, during the last 50 years, dozens of mostly foreign visitors have died in this spectacular place – one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The prevailing theory seems to be "tourists deserve the "right" to risk their lives."

Several times each day during the dry season, groups of five trourists each travel downstream by small boat from the luxurious Livingstone Hotel to Livingstone Island. Then, they swim and crab walk about 200 yards to a much quieter spot in the raging Zambeze River called "Devil's Pool," adjacent to a tiny island, directly at the edge of the falls.

Alternatively, many of their friends watch the adventure unfold from the shore. Reportedly, the guides accommodate several thousand visitors per year to Devil's Pool. Joyce and I were there with two of our more adventurous Winchester friends, Dr. and Mrs. Arlan and Alice Fuller. Joyce decided, however, that on this particular day, August, 24, 2013, we needed at least one responsible group member to stay ashore.

So, the Fullers and I, plus another couple from South Africa and our two guides, set out across the slippery volcanic rock to the edge of the river, just a few yards from where the water crashed downward. Beautiful double rainbows sparkled in the dense mist, which periodically roiled up from the canyon floor below. (Swimming shoes should be a requirement, but no one required much of anything, but cash.)

We swam about 100 yards upstream, and then cross-current. There was a red safety rope to grab, for anyone who found. Fortunately, all were strong enough swimmers, and we followed our guide's instructions very carefully.

Alternatively swimming and then slogging over shallow spots on the slippery volcanic rock, the experience was at every moment treacherous. It was also very easy to be distracted by the awesome beauty surrounding us on all sides. The day we visited happened to be the first day since February that the water flow was low enough that the Falls could be "open for business."

The rope-less bungy jump

Devil’s Pool itself is about 10 feet deep, with a natural three or four foot thick wall at the edge of the drop off. The goal is to enjoy the thrill of looking down from the absolute edge of the falls, while avoiding what the guide described as the "rope-less bungee jump."

One at a time, we slid on our bellies to the edge, in four or five inches of fast-moving water. The guide, in turn, held each of us by our legs. "Don't worry, I've got you," he urged, with boundless confidence.

WOW, as we hung on in disbelief, watching the huge Zambezi River crash down 108 meters.

While diving head first from a 200 foot-high bungee bridge, in 2001 in New Zealand, had a considerably higher “fear factor” for me, the experience of being in the water at the top of Victoria Falls was far more moving, after the fact. The awesome beauty of everything around us made us feel so extremely small, after facing mortal danger from every direction, including the crocodile-infested waters of the Zambezi.

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