It seems unlikely that anything would be exciting enough to waylay me when I’m walking to Victoria Falls, armed with a rain coat and a silly grin.
But when the gardener I’m strolling past says: “Hello, do you want to see the giraffes?” it stops me in my tracks. I’ve never had an offer like that before, so I instantly say yes and follow him into the bushes.
Zebra and giraffe browse freely in the grounds of the Royal Livingstone Hotel and its sister hotel, the Victoria Falls Resort, on the Zambian banks of the Zambezi River. Gardener Kennedy Muzala knows their favourite hangout and leads me there while making a knocking, guttural call to let them know he’s coming. It sounds like a death rattle, but it does the trick.
They stand perfectly still like cutout models against the bright sky, and I draw so near to one that I’m looking up into her eyes. It feels an awe-inspiring privilege, and I thank her for letting me come so close.
It seems unlikely that anything could be exciting enough to waylay me a second time on my way to Victoria Falls, now sporting an even sillier grin. But then I spot Edward Minyoi, and plans go awry again. It’s hard to miss him in his multi-coloured kilt and waistcoat with pictures of eagles on them, topped by a black bowtie and a jaunty red beret. Minyoi is the resident storyteller, speaking enough words in a rainbow of languages to make international guests feel welcome. I ask him to tell me a story - in English, please, not Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Zulu, Japanese Chinese or Cockney Rhyming Slang – and Minyoi tells fascinating tales about Zambia’s Lozi tribe.
Finally I’m back on the path to Victoria Falls and nothing can waylay me, not even a baboon that scratches my leg when I walk too close. I tried to skirt around him on the path he was occupying, but who knew that a baboon’s arms are quite that long? Once I’m out of scratching distance I spot a long, straight branch lying in the trees around me and pick it up. My baboon stick, just right for nervously waving at any future baboons that might try to waylay me.
The first view of the Falls themselves is gorgeous - a thunderous torrent of water artistically framed between trees dripping with its spray. At other viewpoints I can hear millions of litres of water crashing down, but I can’t see them for the spray raining down on me. Then the wind shifts, the air clears, and the Falls are suddenly visible again, a vast, unstoppable curtain, with double rainbows shimmering to one side. I’m laughing with the exhilaration of being drenched by the biggest waterworks on the planet.
I cross to the Zimbabwean side the next day, for much broader views of the full 1.7km width, where you can observe the Falls rather than becoming part of them.
Once you’ve experienced Victoria Falls from the left and right you have to see them from above, with a helicopter flip with United Air Charter. The doof-doof-doof of choppers has become a background irritation that detracts from the peaceful atmosphere, but it’s an annoyance I forgive as soon as it’s my turn to fly. The views are absolutely stunning. So much water, such an unstoppable force of nature.
It seems unlikely that anything could waylay me when I’m walking back from Victoria Falls in need of a towel and dry clothes. But it’s time for high tea at the Royal Livingstone, where beautiful cake stands are set out like they have been since Dr Livingstone first brought European eccentricities to the heart to Africa.
I help myself to a dainty lemon meringue pie, knowing everyone is far too polite to comment on the puddle of water I’m creating on the terrace.