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Swimming in the Devil’s Pool

THALEFANG CHARLES
Life on the edge: Traveller Charles finally ticked the Devil's Pool on his bucket list
For someone who treasure travel experiences, swimming in the Victoria Falls’ world famous Devils’ Pool has been famously missing in my huge bag of travel experiences, but these past holidays I finally tasted life on the edge of the thunder, writes intrepid traveller THALEFANG CHARLES

Finding what lies beyond your fears is an addictive feeling. Before the swimming, just being on the lip of the largest waterfall in the world, the surround sound of the gushing waterfalls on a gaping 108metres gorge will surely activate your nerves. The roar of the Mosi-oa-tunya alone is enough to humble you into a chicken. I have been there before.

In 2010 I chickened out from swimming on the edge of Victoria Falls. Well ‘chickening’ out is not such a glamorous feat, so I would say me and my travel partners retreated because we were not prepared when some suspicious looking porter invited us for a swim on the edge of the falls.

A decade later I returned to the magic that is Victoria Falls, armed with the daredevil no-retreat attitude for a big tick on my bucket-list – to swim in the Devil’s Pool.

The journey to Victoria Falls started in Kasane. Me and my travel partner decided to use the Kazungula Border through Zimbabwe because the Zambian side had discouraging self-drive tales. There were dozens of people at the border heading to Victoria Falls Carnival. And we met many of my friends and colleagues from the city (Botswana is such a small country).

Our plan of getting to the Livingstone Island was a little complex due to multiple border crossings. The Devil’s Pool is on Livingstone Island, which is on the Zambian side of the Falls. After crossing into Zimbabwe, having parted with a US$50 vehicle levy, we headed for the Falls using the Kazungula Road. To avoid another hefty levy, we parked our vehicle on the Zimbabwean side and exited Mnagangwa’s country into Lungu’s land on foot through the monumental Victoria Falls Bridge.

I always marvel at the ambitious dream of Cecil John Rhodes when I pass through that bridge. Built in 1905, it was the brainchild of Rhodes as part of his grand but unfulfilled Cape to Cairo railway plan. It is said that the legendary British imperialist told the engineers to “build the bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls”.

Crossing through this century old bridge, I wondered why Botswana and Zambia are still today struggling to complete a bridge linking their countries when a white man of yore (Rhodes) built permanent bridges deep in our jungles over 100 years ago.

After entering Zambia, we waited for our shuttle to the boat station for Livingstone Island transfer. Tongabezi Hotel is the only operator licensed to do the tours on Livingstone Island.

This is because the access into the island is severely restricted. Only 80 people – five groups of 16 visitors - are permitted each day. So the activity, which is very popular with Westerners, usually sells out even though it is not cheap – it n between $105 and $170 per person.

The Livingstone Island - the island in the thunder – was the first spot where David Livingstone was first taken to see the Mosi-oa-tunya by Bakololo warrior on a mokoro on November 16, 1855. Overawed and falsely believing he is the first European to

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see the largest waterfall in the world he wrote, “It has never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

Part of these words has been permanently engraved on the island. Livingstone was so astounded that he even gave the falls an English name in honour of the then Queen Victoria.

It is only on Livingstone Island when walking towards the lip of the falls that you get the grandeur of this Seventh Wonder of the World.

My heartbeat started to pump before I even took off my top for a swim. I got that nervous excitement of approaching a sharp edge with a curtain of water falling into a deep chasm. I love that feeling.

The Zambezi River has just started to pick up from the summer rains in the region. And contrary to those European false stories about Victoria Falls drying, there is plenty of water. But there are still exposed rocks, some slippery, others knife-sharp and some appearing like booby-traps to send us tumbling into the deep gorge. To access the natural pools on the edge, the guides lead us on a swim across the river against the current. It is generally 1.2m deep so one could actually stand and about 15metres to the side.

But the pressure and rapidity of the current needs decent swimmers. I am no good swimmer – just a brave-heart, I guess. Not that I had much of a choice because I feel that an adult black male must never be a chicken around bikini dressed white chicks, especially on an African soil.

There are two pools on the Island. One is shallow, about 1.5m wide and another one is about 4 metres deep. The deeper pool is the one colloquially referred to as Devil’s Pool. (There is another notorious, and very deep pool, named Angles’ Arm Chair elsewhere on the falls edge and our guides warned us against it saying it is not regulated and has claimed lives. That is where I retreated in 2010.)

As the water volumes rise, the Devil’s Pool can only be accessed by strong swimmers with strict guides’ supervision. Guides’ instruction for the shallow pool next to it is, “Mind the current, don’t just lift your legs”.

But it does not end there, there is fish (big and small) in the water, so the thought of being touched by something inside a natural rock pool can be a trifle uneasy especially when you are right on the edge. The only thing to remember is not to jump out when you feel a thing under the water – easier said than done. There is nothing holding you in. No ropes.

And when you are beyond all those fears, the water is awesome. The feeling of being in there is incredibly amazing. The thrill of it all is wonderful and so fulfilling that you would want to spend the whole day in there. That is why I laugh off the enquires of,  ‘Gao tshabe go loiwa?’  And I ask, what will you do if you were not afraid?



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