Victoria Falls

We are getting to the end of our trip now, but we still have a few days in Victoria Falls to conclude our adventure.

We flew to Victoria Falls  from Johannesburg on a South African Airlines Airbus A330, arriving just after lunch. It looked as if most people on the plane were also tourists as I could hardly see any people who looked to be ‘locals’ on the flight. There is a brand new airport here at Vic Falls and it’s much nicer than the old shed-like structure that I remember from a previous visit. (it hasn’t done anything to speed up the bureaucratic immigration process however).

Victoria Falls is in Zimbabwe and although the country is in dire economic straits, the tourism in this town is one of the major sources of income for the country. It is no good going to any of the banks right now as they don’t hasvd any money and all the ATM are dry. Some time ago, Zimbabwe moved away from its own highly inflating currency and now bases its currency on the US$.

It is a very safe town and we can see lots of tourist police in the main street. They recognise the financial value of tourists, unlike the police who man roadblocks on the highways and who will pull up drivers for briberies based on spurious infringements such as wearing your sunglasses on a cloudy day.

Afteer we arrived here, we headed down to the river for a cruise on the Zambezi River. This is the fourth largest river in Africa after the Nile, Congo and another river that I forget. At the moment (mid winter), it is in high water and carrying huge volumes of water to the East.  Here at the town of Vic Falls is its most noted feature, Victoria Falls. Across the there side of the river in Zambia is the town of Livingstone but the falls are more spectacular on this side. You can see the spray rising from the falls for miles.

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We travelled for a few kilometres upstream enjoying some occasional glimpses of wildlife – giraffe and hippos. Then we drifted down the river for almost an hour as we listened to a local historian tell us the history of David Livingstone. He is certainly the ‘hero’ of this part of the world.

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You can read all about David Livingstone in Wikipedia. He was a great explorer, missionary and liberator. He spent many years exploring this area of Africa and he also found the source of the Nile River. Part of his story is also based in Zanzibar although I don’t think that Livingstone ever went there.

In the middle of the talk, I actually found the answer to a couple of questions that I had been pondering upon.  I had previously been to Zanzibar which in the 1860 / 70’s was the headquarters of Arab slavery. Slaves were traded from there to the Middle East and Asia. (The was long after the slave trade to the America’s had been outlawed). The Anglican cathedral in Zanzibar is built right on the old site of the slave market. Near the alter is a round stone, set into the floor, that marks the exact place where the slaves were chained. On the side wall is a wooden cross commemorating Livingstone’s life and work. I didn’t understand the history of the cross nor exactly how Livingstone was able to stop this rampant human trafficking. Now i do!

Firstly, In relation to the cross, David Livingstone died in 1873 at the age of 60 in Chief Chitambo’s village at Ilala, southeast of Lake Bangweulu, in present-day Zambia, from malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery. His loyal porters Chuma and Susi removed his heart and buried it under a tree near the spot where he died.. The cross in the cathedral is made of timber from the same tree.

(The rest of his remains were carried, together with his journal, over 1,600 km by Chuma and Susi to the coastal town of Bagamoyo, where they were returned by ship to Britain for burial. In London, his body lay in repose at No.1 Savile Row, then the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society, prior to interment at Westminster Abbey).

Secondly, Livingstone had been ‘kidnapped’ by Arab slave traders after discovering hundreds of murdered bodies in the river he was exploring. They did not want to kill him and turn him into a martyr, but instead they kept him away from others for six years so that the could not expose their trade. He had joined up with them because of his mission to find the source of the Nile which he did not want to abandon. Over this period, he wrote 42 letters to his mentor, an Anglican Bishop in England. None of them ever reached him. Fortunately he had written a duplicate of each letter and when he was discovered by Henry Morton Stanley, he was able to pass them on to him. When they were finally read in England, the parliamentarian Wilberforce caused a warship to be sent to Zanzibar, The Arab Sheik surrendered and the slave trade was finished.

It was indeed a fascinating story, not only because of Livingstone’s fame but also because our boat was drifting past the very site of a village where some of his porters and exploration party originated from.

Our day finished with a vivid sunset over the river and we returned to our hotel for dinner.

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