Victoria Falls: Defeated by the smoke that thunders

Thursday June 27 2013
victoria falls

Victoria Falls is locally named Mosi au Tunya, The Smoke That Thunders. PHOTO | FILE

Our arrival at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka was marred by a long delay at the Customs office at the airport, which dampened our excitement at visiting the country’s famous Victoria Falls.

I was with a team of journalists visiting Livingstone, and though the plane had landed at Lusaka at 10 pm, it took airport authorities two hours to allow us to enter Zambia with our cameras. They said we needed clearance from the Ministry of Information and the police. 

We still had another two-hour flight to Livingstone, which is in southern Zambia, where the Victoria Falls is located. By the time we got to the Protea Hotel in Livingstone, everybody was annoyed and tired, and all we wanted was a rest.

Dinner first, however. The “village chicken” on the menu caught our eye and everyone wanted to try it. We later discovered that it is what we refer to as traditional (Kienyeji) chicken in Kenya. Andit was tastier than our own.

The hearty meal re-energised us, and we decided to have a few drinks to wind down from the long day. The hotel bar was already closed, but we managed to find an open bar at a nearby hotel.

Time flies when you’re having a good time, and before we knew it, it was 3am. We hurried off to bed, as we had been told that we needed to have clear, sober minds to visit Victoria Falls — at over 100 metres high, one drunken slip could be your last.


We got to Victoria Gate at Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, as Victoria Falls is locally known. Mosi-oa-Tunya means the “smoke that thunders” in the local Lozi language, and it’s an apt description.

Though Victoria Falls isn’t the world’s highest or widest waterfall, it is considered the largest in the world, based on its width of 1,708 metres and height of 108 metres, resulting in the world’s largest sheet of falling water.

A troop of chattering monkeys welcomed us into the park, and we could hear the distant roar of the falls. After a five minute walk on the sandy path, all was clear and Victoria Falls stood thundering, a kilometre away. As we got closer to the falls, the noise became deafening and we could hardly hear each other.

Walking towards the falls, I noticed that there were no barriers between the pathway and the cliff. No wonder it is easy for people to commit suicide here. The driver from the hotel had told us this happens almost every week. “Some bodies are never discovered,” he said.   

As we moved on we saw people coming from the falls dressed in raincoats, dripping with water.  I began to wonder why, because it wasn’t raining, when suddenly, there was a sheet of water from the side of the falls coming straight as us.  We scampered in different directions but the drops still caught us.

The tourists dressed in rain coats directed us to the coat hire; shivering, we hired the rain coats and a pair of shoes at $12. Our clothes were already soaked, but our eagerness to cross River Zambezi made us part with the few dollars that we had.

Crossing River Zambezi was terrifying. The river and the falls form part of the boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and we wanted to cross over and take photos from the Zimbabwe side.

As we teetered on the water-soaked bridge, I remembered I had been warned that if spray water got into my eyes, I could get disoriented.

The water hit us so hard it was difficult to hold onto our flimsy rain coats, let alone take the cameras out of our bags. We held on to the coat hoods to protect our heads, eyes and ears as the rest of our bodies were drenched.

Eventually, we gave up and turned back, it was just too harrowing. I didn’t want to become another statistic, lost to the “smoke that thunders.”