Anyone for a Dip?
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Today was a big day.
After a full and hearty breakfast at the Kingdom Hotel, I was picked up
by Jacob for my official trip to Victoria Falls
(the one I jumped the gun on yesterday). The Matthews were in the bus and I
wasted no time in telling Mr. Matthews that the U.S. Government had recovered
half of its General Motors "bailout" money from a stock sale and he was a
happier man than the day before
during the morning walk on Victoria Falls. I
saw that pool across the gorge again; the one where people were swimming
yesterday. It beckoned to me. I asked Jacob to set it up.
I was taken across the border to Zambia for the opportunity of a
lifetime. I was headed for The Devil's Pool. Leaving in Captain Vinny’s
speedboat up river from the falls, we headed in the direction of the
current...toward the Falls. Hippos wallowed nearby but I was not concentrating
on them this trip. The surface of the water seemed calm but, beneath the
surface and inside my chest, a great current beat. We reached Livingstone Island
and disembarked. This, I am told, is where Dr
Falls. It was good news to hear that this was not where Dr. Livingstone last
viewed the Falls. This island can only be visited during the dry season because
it is innundated by the raging waters during the rainy months. In other words,
the rocks upon which we stepped when we left Vinny’s speedboat would be
underwater...under rapids actually.
The roar of the falls is clear here. Victoria
Falls is named, in the local language, Mosi oa Tunya which means
“the smoke that thunders.” I have seen the smoke but, until now, I had not
really heard the thunder. Immense streams of water gush by and plummet over the
cliffs splashing into pools far, far below. It is a one hundred yard drop if it
is an inch. Humbling is the word that comes to mind.
There is here a rocky ledge on the very lip of Victoria Falls where a small natural pool of water
the water sweeps to its drop the same way there as it does farther out into the
falls. But, Collins, my guide, knows the drill.
We carefully walk over the rocks and find a spot, upstream
of the falls, to gently enter the water. It becomes deeper in this area which
is, in actuality, an eddy created by rocks. We swim...upstream a bit to arrive
at our waypoint due to the current. Next, we walk over rocks, some smooth but
most sharp beneath my feet. I am cautious here for more reasons than I can
relate to you here. The thunder of the water pounds my ears. We reach an apex
and Collins says, “Here, you jump.” He doesn’t add, “to your death.” It appears
that he should have
Me? Having leapt from an airplane and leapt from a bridge;
well, I leapt. The water in Devil’s Pool is calm but, ten feet from where I
leap, over a protecting wall of rocks, the water washes over and down. Somehow,
it is more quiet here; the noise, if it is still there, now recedes into the
background. Across the gorge on the Zimbabwe side, people gawk much as
I had the day before. I laugh. I wave. I stop and contemplate where I am. I’m
crazy. But, more craziness awaits. Collins “drifts” over to the protecting wall
itself and, well, he stands on it. This is nuts. He waves me over so, I go. I
am no more than five feet from the edge of The Victoria Falls, in the water.
Collins asks if I would like to peer over the edge
come this far. My dear friend Andy Sears would probably not have done this
part. On my belly, on top of the protective wall of rocks, worn smooth by the
centuries of water washing over them, I can peer, believe it or not, straight
down. The sight makes the view from every other precipice in my life seem like
gazing down at your feet. This is not only a drop, it is a drop being flooded
with gushing, roaring, falling white swirling foamy water. The mist is clear.
From here you see how it is created. Looking left and right and down and across
the gorge provide for me a moment of startling clarity: I am nuts. Easing back
into the pool, I follow Collins and swim to the other side. Against the current
now, it is an effort to move forward but we do. The thought of easing my
swimming strokes here seems to me to represent surrender to the water. That
would not be a good idea. I reach the far side of Devil’s Pool and provide to a
rock there a death grip that may be discovered by another tourist in a hundred
years. I am, at last, out of the current, and soon, out of the pool. Now, all
that is left is to climb out and swim back to the safety of Livingstone Island.
I am, upon arrival at dry land, invigorated, breathless and
aware of my willingness to take risks. I feel fifty again.
Served a fine lunch I am later transferred back across the
border to Zimbabwe and then
to the banks of the Zambezi
River far upriver from
the falls. The Zambezi is the border between Zambia
and is the source of the tumult that becomes the flow over the Falls. I board
the Ra-Ikane, a small but luxurious boat set for twelve guests and two crew. I
am the only guest. This happens to me a lot when I travel; I cannot explain it.
Perhaps nobody else in the world wishes to go where I go in the world.
Here Oscar and Sam cast off the lines and we take a
leisurely cruise up river. Ten minutes into our journey, we spot elephant on
side. The herd is drinking and washing and it is a tranquil moment to
counterbalance an adrenaline filled day. We see hippos and crocodiles and I
know: we are in wild Africa, a place where the
animals go where they wish and people take care to not come into conflict with
them. If one has not been to an environment such as this, one cannot imagine
what it means. We humans are not prey; except here.
I am exhausted. It is time to return to the Kingdom to
capture this day “on paper.” By reading this, I hope you can live it
vicariously through me...unless you can find a way to live it for yourself. Sky
diving, bungy jumping, glider soaring, shark swimming, zip lining, NASCAR auto
racing; none of these gave me this adrenaline rush.
For calmer news, one major story in the South African Press:
to probe Wal-Mart’s bid for Massmart: “The government has set up a
panel to investigate the effects of Wal-Mart Stores’ proposal to buy a
controlling stake in Massmart Holdings, the country’s biggest food and general
goods wholesaler. The government would consider the transaction’s effect on
local manufacturing, competition, food security, labour relations and exchange
rates. Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said yesterday. He said the
panel would “identify the relevant policy issues and implications of the
proposed acquisition, particularly from and economic development perspective.”
“The panel’s findings will inform any submission Mr. Patel
makes to the Competition Tribunal in public hearings over Wal-Mart’s planned
purchase of the owner of Game, Makro and Builders Warehouse. Unions—which have launched a broad
Anti-Wal-Mart Coalition to prevent the job losses they fear will come if the
acquisition succeeds—hope the panel’s work will boost the chance that the
tribunal will attach conditions guaranteeing jobs and other conditions to the
Now, for those of you who are fans of Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged, please know that
I brought that weighty 1000+ page tome as my reading material for this trip. I
have recently re-read two of her other books, The Fountainhead and We
the Living. Ms. Rand was over-the-top in her writings about the evils
of government, particularly government involvement in economic matters of any
kind. She was an unapologetic cheerleader for free enterprise, free markets,
unfettered entrepreneurship and the power of profit, wealth and hard work for
selfish motives. She did not see, nor would she acknowledge, that there might
be a dark side of unregulated capitalism. She said, “My philosophy, in essence,
is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral
purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and
reason as his only absolute.”
The juxtaposition of the news here (plus the history and
economy of the entire African continent) and the book is eerie. As with most
philosophers, politicians and pontificators, I agree with much of what they
have to say but firmly disagree with some of what they have to say; Rand is no different.
Interestingly enough, the name of the South African
currency: the Rand.
If these few paragraphs confuse you and you have a lot of
time on your hands, read Atlas
Shrugged and we’ll talk about it. So, you have guessed that I spent
some time reading last night.
The Internet here is intermittent. So, it seems, is the
electricity. The bureaucracy of getting and using a password to get onto the
hotels Internet Service Provider Wireless system is cumbersome, requiring
frequent trips to reception, much signing of your name and considerable
checking with, “my supervisor.” All that and, guess what: use of the internet
for one hour a day is free. Ah, bureaucracy. Ayn Rand would slam it and damn it
and knowingly nod at my frustration while my fellow travelers would simply say,
“African Time,” meaning “accept it or perish.” Acceptance of it has caused much
to perish here, I’d say.
Fortunately, today, nobody perished. Upon arrival back at my
hotel, I am told that people have died at The Devil’s Pool. Most recently, they
tell me, a guide died last year while saving a tourist.