As if rafting on the Zambezi wasn’t enough we just have to take one more close look at the mighty river, from above this time. Victoria Falls is somewhat of an adventure hub so it would be remiss to not partake in a little more of the fun on offer, wouldn’t it? Today it’s gorge swing time, and yes this is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a really big swing, simple right? Well I guess we’re about to find out, we’re pretty comfortable with heights so this should be a breeze.
The mist from the falls rises up above the tree line like smoke from a bushfire but we’re yet to see them up close, the falls themselves aren’t the only phenomenon on offer here. After the falls the mighty Zambezi begins and it’s through a sharply zig-zagging run of gorges that this great river begins its existence. The river cuts back nearly onto itself nine times leaving a series of sharp blades of land nearly 100m high, like knives sheathed against each other. Each of these sharp spines of cliff have been the site of the falls themselves in times past before a preceding rift opened up to form the new falls. It’s in the sharp walls of these clustered gorges that todays fun begins.
Getting into our harnesses we are waiting near the platform for our jump, it’s a long way down but I can’t wait to go. There’s three guys in front of us, South African, and we barely resist a cricket jibe having just won the World Cup, very proud of ourselves for our restraint. On the jump the Saffas all squeal like stuck pigs on the way down and out over the raging river, this perspective gives a staggering scope of the Zambezi and its gorges. We’re nearly 100m up at this point and the breadth of the gorge is about 90m, the misleading ‘ripples’ of the Zambezi so far below are waves big enough to swallow houses. We tell ourselves that we’re still comfortable.
I’m up first and nerves aside I can’t wait, all the years of canyoning hold me in good stead, I’m strapped in and off I jump assuming the customary show off pose as I leap. The free fall is longer than expected, 75m, the feeling of falling is scary of course but mostly exhilarating; I feel like I’m flying even if I’m doing a very poor job at it. The slack takes and the free fall is quickly turned into a rocket out over the churning waves, this is no playground swing. On 90m of rope the slow swing takes about 5 seconds but I soar at breakneck speed, the tension on the harness pins me to my extremities. With adrenaline still coursing wildly through my veins I am allowed a few slow down swings and a once in a lifetime view of one of the worlds great rivers before being hauled to the cliff edge.
Charlie’s up next and I can’t help but play it down, ‘not as bad as I thought, just like a big drop and Kalang Falls babe’ a reference to a canyon in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. With visibly relaxed posture Charlie takes the stage, we’ve canyoned Kalang Falls twice before, this should be a snap. The trick works a treat, Charlie realises a little too late that it’s an immense drop and words that launch from that innocent mouth are not for this publication; hilarious. I snap shots as best I can while I’m wetting my pants laughing, Charlie does manage a fist-pump salute at the bottom, seeing him transposed against the river gives me an even greater appreciation of its immensity, wow.
Zambezi, nailed; Gorge, nailed; lunch, about to be nailed. We have done physically little but the hyper mood we’ve literally fallen into makes us ravenous. Past the descending hoard of hawkers we bash through to the local market, a delicious warthog ciabatta and chicken burger await, food for conquering kings. Downing our delicious food we’re surrounded by that big African smile once again, the chef even comes out to have a chat and see that we’re happy with things, the warmth of Africa is truly immense. Likewise the art on display, Zimbabwe boasts a thriving artistic culture, particularly for sculpture and it somewhat kills us not to be able to take something with us. This country of such poor repute shows us so much to admire from so many differing angles.
After the fall we’re floating, the gorge swing ensures the rest of our day is spent on a cloud. That is until we get back to the hostel, the Aussie guy we met who had been falsely accused of stealing from a hawker and sucked into a corrupt police extortion had to go to court. After being held in gaol he decided to plead guilty and pay $45 to get out, in this gaol no food was provided, a torturous situation he just wanted to be away from. Rather than being let go he was further detained and forced on the next flight to South Africa. This alarming situation may have more to it than we see but in any language is a blight on this country. He was in Zimbabwe volunteering in an anti poaching organisation, I imagine he nor his friends will ever return.
More sobered we venture out for a sundowner drink at the glamorous Victoria Falls hotel, a beacon of British frontier pomp. Stately rooms, manicured lawns and imposing facades sit snugly behind security in a town it so effectively hides from. The poor reality of this vibrant country is effectively kept at arms length as we sit in obscene luxury straight from our tent, we don’t fit in at all bit it’s a little bit gorgeous, another gin please. From our seat we can see the mist of the falls roaring into the sky, yet another twist in the tail of this place that seems to be so many towns crammed into one.
From natural wonders and the heights of a great fall we are brought back to earth by the obvious contradiction of this country; yes Zimbabwe has a fair bit of baggage to get through. Genuinely striking art, natural grace, captivating people and a grand history are so sadly cowed in the face of corruption, violence and economic mis-management. This shiny bubble we are in is a small pocket to show off to the rest of the world and even here the sad underbelly of a nation that could be shining so bright is tainted for all to see. Apparently Zim is on the upswing, many believe the worst days have passed, this land of dazzling wonder looking toward a brighter day. It’s easy to see how people get so captivated with Africa, surely a wicked few can’t keep the genie in the bottle forever, here’s to rubbing the lamp.