Friday, May 27, 2011

Amid a roaring rainbow: viewing the impressive Victoria Falls

Livingstone/Victoria Falls - The merchants outside the park are selling rain capes, even though there's not a cloud in the sky.
The forest is a deep green and a hot sun is brightly beating down. Nothing is moving and the landscape is flat. And this is where there's supposed to be a gigantic waterfall?
There is very little to indicate that, barely a stone's throw away, there is a 108-metre-deep gorge, through which the waters of the 1,700-metre-wide Zambesi River will go plunging down. The only giveaway is a roaring noise.
Just one further turn in the road - and suddenly, the trees give way to reveal a view of the mighty Victoria Falls.
Beyond the barrier, the river plunges over the edge. The walls of the gorge fall away vertically and yet they are overgrown with lush vegetation. Both sides of the gorge are connected by the spectral colours of a rainbow. Depending on the angle of the light, there might even be two rainbows there together.
Whether it is the backpack traveller or the package tourist, what brings them here to the centre of southern Africa, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is a setting which could be the model for a romantic painting.
It was Scottish explorer David Livingstone, the first European to discover the falls in the year 1855, who spoke of the most marvellous view that Africa had ever offered him.
The sunlight is broken up virtually everywhere by the water's spray and converted into a rainbow. In order to view this spectacle, it is worth trying out different angles - one of them being a bird's-eye view.
The ultra-light airplane, actually just a motorised paraglider, lifts off from the runway, its steering controlled by a joystick. The pilot says he used to fly combat planes for the Zimbabwean army. Now, he flies tourists up over the waterfalls.
Some 200 metres below one's feet flows the Zambesi River. It separates Zambia from Zimbabwe and, at the Victoria Falls, slices deeply into the land. From the air, one can see the gigantic ledge of the falls all at once.
The light plane sails back over the Zambian national park Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means 'thundering smoke.' Close to the shore, elephants are grazing in the afternoon light. From the air they are hard to make out, but the silhouette of a crocodile, by contrast, is clearly to be seen in the river bed.
Then the plane lands again on the bumpy runway, located not far away from Livingstone on the Zambia side of the waterfalls. Most of the organized excursions start here. In the city, there are numerous banks and lodgings -- the good infrastructure is what attracts people.
In the Seven-Eleven in Victoria Falls Town, across the border in Zimbabwe, the offering of goods is more sparse. But the town's tourism sector has been able to recover somewhat after the political crisis of 2008.
Here and there, concealed behind the bushes on the edge of town, there are a few upmarket lodges. But there are scarcely any people to be seen on the streets. With a one-day visa for trips across the border, it is above all worthwhile to visit the national park in Zimbabwe.
In order to get over to the other side, moving from 'Zam' to 'Zim', the route leads across the Victoria Falls Bridge, 128 metres above the river. A few hundred metres back is the entrance to Victoria Falls National Park.
The air, always moist so close to the falls, helps a tropical rainforest to thrive here. The trail to the notorious Danger Point leads out of the forest and onto a field. A warning sign alerts walkers to the slippery stones along the way to the lookout point which is located directly next to the gorge.