Wild, wet and wonderfulIt seems unlikely that anything would be intriguing enough to waylay me when I’m walking to Victoria Falls, already armed with a rain coat and a silly grin.
But when the gardener I’m breezing past says: “Hello, do you want to see the giraffes?” it stops me in my tracks. I’ve never had an offer like that before, so I instantly say yes and follow him into the scrubby bushes.
Zebra stroll around the glorious grounds of the Royal Livingstone Hotel on the Zambian bank of the Zambezi River, and giraffe browse on a traffic circle. Gardener Kennedy Muzala knows their favourite hangout, and leads me there while making a knocking, rattling guttural call to let them know he’s coming. It sounds like a death rattle, but it does the trick. They stand placid and perfectly still like cutout models against the bright sky as we step ever nearer. I draw so close to one that we’re looking into each other’s eyes. She’s looking down, obviously, because I’m only as tall as her elegant leg.
It feels a mighty, awe-inspiring privilege, and I quietly thank her for letting me come so close.
It seems unlikely that anything would be intriguing enough to waylay me for a second time when I’m heading for the largest waterfalls in the world, now sporting an even sillier grin. Then I spot Edward Minyoi – although it’s hard to miss him really, in his gaudy multi-coloured kilt and waistcoat, a black bowtie and a jaunty red beret. Minyoi is the resident storyteller at the Royal Livingstone, speaking enough words in a rainbow of languages to make international guests feel welcome.
Minyoi is a member of the Lozi tribe from the west of Zambia, and his outfit is called a Csiziba. When the water level rises enough to flood the plains, the tribesmen don their Csiziba and row their chief from his palace up to higher ground. That must be quite a site, men in kilts paddling a canoe across the floodplains. “We got this cultural style from the Scottish in the 18th century,” he says.
We sit by the lawns rolling down to the Zambezi, where the spray rising above the Falls changes the sky from blue to white, and I ask him to tell me a story. In English, please, not in Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Zulu, Japanese Chinese or Cockney Rhyming Slang.
I’m enthralled as he tells a vivid tale of a fisherman who was attacked by a crocodile.
Finally I’m back on the path to Victoria Falls, and nothing can waylay me now, not even a baboon that lashes out when I walk too close. I back off and take a different path, now brandishing a stubby branch as a monkey-repelling stick.
The first view of the Falls is gorgeous - a thunderous torrent of water artistically framed between trees dripping with its spray. At other viewpoints I can hear millions of litres of water crashing down just a few meters away, but I literally can’t see them for the spray that’s raining down on me. I’m laughing with the exhilaration of being absolutely drenched by the biggest waterworks on the planet.
I was last here in dry season, when the Falls on the Zambian side were dry. I can see the point where my guide and I sneaked under a fence to stand on the rocks at the top. Now the river is sweeping over those rocks, deceptively slowly until it plunges into the abyss.
The wind shifts, the air clears, and the Falls are suddenly visible again, an endless, vast unstoppable curtain, with double rainbows shimmering perfectly to one side.
Once you’ve experienced Victoria Falls from the ground you have to see them from above, with a 12-minute helicopter flip with United Air Charter. The doof-doof-doof of the choppers has become a contentious background irritation that detracts from the natural atmosphere of the Falls, but it’s an annoyance I conveniently forgive as soon as it’s my turn to fly.
The good-looking pilot puts the good-looking girl in front while we three others frump our way into the back. I’m miffed to be stuck in the middle, but once we’re flying I can see out of both side windows easily. It’s absolutely stunning. So much water, such an unstoppable force of nature.
It seems unlikely that anything could be intriguing enough to waylay me when I’m walking back from Victoria Falls in need of a towel and dry clothes. But it’s high tea time at the Royal Livingstone, with beautifully laden cake stands set out like they have been since Dr Livingstone first brought European eccentricities to the heart to Africa.
I help myself to a dainty lemon meringue pie, knowing everyone is far too polite to comment on the puddle of water I’m creating on the terrace.
Avani Victoria Falls Resort has a buffet restaurant, a vast swimming pool, a poolside restaurant, a kids’ playground and a conference centre. www.avanihotels.com/victoria-falls/
The 5-star Royal Livingstone Anantara has been named one of the best hotels in the world by Condé Nast Traveller. There’s a restaurant, luxurious lounge and terrace and floating decks ideal for sundowners. http://royal-livingstone.anantara.com/
Both hotels have spas and activity centres to organise tours of the Falls, helicopter flips, supper on the Royal Livingstone Express and game drives.