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Cruising on the Zambezi

Tourists enjoy a sunset boat cruise on the River Zambezi (LEFT). The Victoria Falls Bridge was built in 1905 to link Zambia with Zimbabwe  (RIGHT).  INDEPENDENT PHOTOS/RONALD MUSOKE

Victoria Falls’ spiritual showers

This section above the falls is where tour operators run several exciting activities including kayaking, canoe trips, and river cruises. The Zambezi River’s charm has attracted tourists from all over the world and provides great opportunities for game viewing and various water sports.

This region is known as the tourism capital of Zimbabwe and this was emphasized by Zimbabwean government officials at the summit.

When the summit began under the theme: “Communities for Conservation: Harnessing conservation, tourism and supporting governments,” Prisca Mupfumira, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality told the delegates they are actually in the national park—the Victoria Falls National Park.

Zimbabwean President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, also reminded the delegates how they are not far away from the Victoria Falls.

“The Victoria Falls has a local name; it is called Mosi oa Tunya or ‘the smoke that thunders’ but we call it the Victoria Falls because we did not market it at the time Dr. Livingstone visited us and showed him the falls.”

He (Dr. Livingstone) named it after the Queen of England and for purposes of tourism; we continue to call it Victoria Falls.”

“I invite you to find some time off your busy schedule to tour the nearby majestic Victoria Falls but as you get showered by the rainbow showers at the Victoria Falls, my sincere advice is that don’t get umbrellas because that spray is spiritual; we guarantee that by the time you reach your cars, you will be dry.”

And so we heeded to the president’s call after the summit. We were welcomed at the falls by a cultural troupe and curio shopkeepers and young men renting umbrellas and blue and yellow waterproof overcoats complete with hoods. My group of seven settled for the yellow overcoats.

Before going past the gate, we were asked to pay US$ 30 as we are not nationals of the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) bloc who pay US$10 less but for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of Victoria Falls, it is a negligible fee.

Usually it helps to start at the information centre which has details on how the falls were formed millions of years ago but the urge to see the world’s famous falls was too much to bear. We rushed through the rainforest canopy walking along a clear cobblestone pathway to the first Viewpoint.

At this point, on the western banks of the Zambezi is the imposing Dr. David Livingstone’s life-size memorial bronze statue.  He has relentlessly gazed in the direction of the majestic waterfalls since 1934.

As a first time visitor, this is the spot where you are guaranteed your first experience of the Zambezi as it plunges over the towering first gorge. From here you can then make your way eastwards stopping at each of the 16 viewing spots.

Though it is neither the tallest nor the longest waterfall in the world, at 355ft high and over a mile wide, and with an average flow of 33,000 cubic feet of water per second, it is certainly impressive.

Tour guides say the best time to see Victoria Falls is from May to September where one can see the spray from the falls at least 20km away.  At the time of our visit, they were not quite as spectacular as they usually are in the rainy season. Still, we were awed by the water gushing down a huge dizzying deep gorge displaying rainbows in the process.

We were drenched, sprayed and enveloped by the overhead showers of the waterfalls. For some in our group who had made-up for the worldly selfies, things became tricky as the make-up got washed off along the trail.

But true to President Mnangagwa’s promise, by the time we reached the Victoria Falls Bridge, which is the last point, we were all dry. On this trail, it is advisable that you wear, water-friendly closed-toed shoes and a waterproof poncho or raincoat as you are guaranteed to get soaked at some point along the 16 viewing points.

By the time we wound up our tour at the gigantic Victoria Falls Bridge, I was not in doubt why Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe’s cash cow. This is even so given Zimbabwe’s current economic crisis.

With Zimbabwe’s economy on the brink, tourists have been bringing in the desperately needed revenue, with the sector already contributing around 10% to GDP. Last year, there were at least 1.8 million tourist arrivals recorded by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. Converted into tourism receipts, this is quite significant revenue.

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