Takeaway

The Livingstone diaries

Dency Mathew | Updated on March 10, 2018
A small reserve in Mukuni helps breed the big cats for release into protected areas, as well as help the locals learn more about these species.

A small reserve in Mukuni helps breed the big cats for release into protected areas, as well as help the locals learn more about these species.

Legends of the Falls: Admiring the Victoria Falls ( also called Mosi-oa-Tunya or the ‘smoke that thunders’) from a microlight aircraft. Photo: Dency Mathew

Legends of the Falls: Admiring the Victoria Falls ( also called Mosi-oa-Tunya or the ‘smoke that thunders’) from a microlight aircraft. Photo: Dency Mathew

Wildlife and Victoria Falls serve up a heady dose of adventure in this quarter of Zambia

“So, are you ready to live it up in Livingstone?” asked my guide and driver Philip as he drove me to my hotel from the airport. I nodded gleefully. This bustling colonial town — home to about 1,20,000 people — has in recent years developed a reputation for being the Mecca of adventure sports in Africa. And after spending a week in Zambia, chasing leopards and lions in the wild, I chose Livingstone to satiate the thrill-seeker in me.

Preview to adventure: Walking the cheetah

My first stop was the Mukuni Big 5, a place known for lion and cheetah walks. I am usually wary of places known to poach their animals from the wild, but Mukuni was different. It is a small reserve that helps breed the big cats for release into protected areas, as well as help the locals learn more about these species.

As I saw the majestic cheetah walk towards me on a leash, I froze, briefly. Soon the guide brought the predator close to me and asked me to caress it like a dog. “Caress, did you say?” I thought he was joking. He insisted I would be fine. Trusting him, I touched the cheetah’s thick, spotted fur with bare hands. After a few blank stares, Suzie, as she was called, began to lick my wrist. The first lick caught me off-guard — I had not expected it to be razor-sharp. A cheetah’s tongue is rough and it took me a while to get used to what felt like sand paper rubbing against my skin. Soon enough I took her for a walk.

All through the walk, Suzie seemed calm and slow for an animal that is known to be the fastest on the planet. Certainly, walks were just not her thing; as a parting gift, she took off, demonstrating the legendary speed of her species, leaving behind only clouds of dust and memories of a special morning.

Flight of angels

In 1855, when the legendary explorer Dr David Livingstone journeyed through Africa, he discovered the Victoria Falls, one of the most beautiful and majestic wonders of the world. In tribute, the city was named after him. However, long before the Scottish explorer found the falls and named it after Queen Victoria, it was called Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning “the smoke that thunders”. The largest falls in the world — 108m high and 1,708m long — the Victoria plummets down the Zambezi gorge with one million litres of water every second.

As I walked towards the Falls, I was greeted by a massive cloud of mist that obscured the view. I meandered through the Knife Edge Bridge to get a better view, and soon I felt the spray. A rain poncho notwithstanding, I was drenched head to toe. It was exhilarating to be standing so close to such a powerful presence. But it wasn’t until I got a bird’s-eye view of the Falls that I grasped the enormity of it.

My next destination was the Batoka Sky Adventures aerodrome for a microlight flight across the “the smoke that thunders”. The microlight is built like a hang-glider with two seats and a propeller suspended from a boomerang-shaped wing. A ride in this two-seater can be quite nerve-wracking as there is only a seat belt that keeps you from falling off the open aircraft. But perched in the sky, with the Falls spread below, I forgot my fears for a few moments. A beautiful rainbow arched above the waters, played its part too. My pilot Richard said that if you see the rainbow at Vic Falls, it follows you everywhere.

Leap of faith

The next day, for the grand finale to my trip, I chose to do the Gorge Swing at the Victoria Falls Bridge. Constructed in 1905, it connects Zambia and Zimbabwe and is considered no man’s land.

As we approached the spot on the bridge where the adventure activities take place, Philip asked if I was wearing a Nyami Nyami pendant for protection. Nyami Nyami is considered the god of the Zambezi river. He is said to be its protector but his wrath can also cause floods and deaths. Before I could get too worried, Philip quipped, “You probably have his blessings already, so just enjoy your jump. But if you end up in the river, just avoid the crocodiles.”

As my harness was tightened and I was escorted to the edge of an extended platform for my jump, I looked down at the gorgeous valley below me. But before I could appreciate more of its beauty, I heard the countdown and had to jump down for a 365 ft free-fall that lasted five seconds. As I swung from one side of the gorge to another, I couldn’t help feeling grateful, not only to Nyami Nyami for protecting me, but also for the picture-perfect view. And just like what my microlight pilot promised, I saw the rainbow again.

Travel Log

Get there:

Ethiopian Airlines connects to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. From Lusaka, fly Proflight Airlines (local airline) to Livingstone in less than one hour.

Stay

Livingstone has several luxury and budget stay options. If you want to stay close to the Vic Falls, then choose AVANI Victoria Falls Resort or Royal Livingstone. For something different, choose David Livingstone Safari Lodge or Tongabezi.

Activities

Each of the activities can be booked privately online or through tour agents like Sigo Adventures.

What more to do: Go white water rafting along the Zambezi; ride quad bikes along bush trails; zip line through the Vic Falls; sunset river cruise on African Queen; luxury train ride by the Vic Falls on the Royal Livingstone Express.

Tip

Visit Mukuni Village for some cultural learning.

Dency Mathew is a Mumbai-based travel writer

Published on September 23, 2016

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