Go to the First post in First Time in Binga
Starting from the Livingstone statue who boringly named them Victoria Falls instead of keeping the much more evocative local Smoke that Thunders name, we looked across at the Devil’s Cataract, the most dramatic of all. The water turns white as it approaches and gushes down the ravine into the deep below in a series of stages, obscured by gallons of spray. Spectacular rainbows reached across the gorge. I tried to follow some water down, moving my eyes fast enough to try to freeze frame it, but the sheer force of water made it impossible to keep track of it.
We dropped down some steps in the forest to the most remarkable viewpoint, about a third of the way down the gorge. The water from the Devil’s cataract turns a right angle into the main gorge and the other falls can be seen to the left dropping away from the Zambian side. On the Zimbabwe side, the spray was being whisked up and over the forest, high above the sheer cliffs. Because we were partly looking up at the falls here, they appeared even larger and more dramatic. From in amongst the trees, the light was a curious blue and several rainbows stood out against the spray. The incessant flow of water was mesmerizing and it was hard to drag yourself on to the next viewpoint. The other falls were larger but less charismatic, the main falls a sheet of continuous white draped across the cliffs, a few ridiculous plants clinging on to dear life on no soil and battered by high pressure jets of water. The last three falls were hardly visible, the spray on the Zimbabwe side so intense that we were just in a fog. I walked with Knowledge and Willy out to the Danger Point, the very edge of the cliffs where the river turns south into the second gorge, spanned by the famous iron bridge. We could see nothing, but the thrill of standing next to the edge on the slippery rocks being drenched in the updrafts of spray was fantastic. We walked back to Judith soaked through, I held my T-shirt out from my body in a vain attempt to let some dry air in.
Still probably the most incredible natural phenomena I have ever seen in Africa, you could not wipe the grin on my face as we headed back to Lake Kariba. Despite that, the Binga Rest Camp remains one of my most enduring memories in all my trips abroad. After a few nights in the Bronte Hotel in Harare and a curious room in Bulawayo, this was my first taste of the real Africa and I fell in love with it. Its sheer peacefulness, its sublime beauty and prospect, continue to dwell in my mind. Either morning or night, the little sounds of frogs and birds, the occasional hum of an insect flying by were all that disturbed the quiet.
Then the American’s arrived.
I’m not saying that every American is the same, and far be it for me to stereotype them, but this lot were almost insufferable. I had been in Africa a couple of weeks, and had got used to the rhythms of the lifestyle here. I was quietly taking it all in, while protecting my own sanity and methods in a few possessions and rituals. When they arrived, they brought their cultural baggage with them and dumped them in the rest camp, not just on us but on the whole area.
They were a group of opticians, ophthalmologists and dentists who spent a few weeks every year here, setting up their stalls in the hospital and treating the many people with eye and teeth problems. There was plenty of work for them. I had seen more incidence of cataracts and blindness here than anywhere else I had been, most of it river blindness. They also tried to fit false teeth to those women who had been rendered unattractive by their protective husbands. It was noble work and I salute them even now. However, it was not so much the doctors, as the huge entourage they brought with them, nurses, administrators, families, all crammed into the shared chalets and other beds.
The first morning, I was rudely awoken, not because of the usual cacophony of dawn chorus sounds, but by a bunch of kids “Oh look, Mary, is that a horse?” “ I think it is a horse, you know”. As if they hadn’t seen a horse before. I got up and washed, and went out for some fresh air before breakfast.
“Hi guys” came a shriek down the pathway. “Have you seen my electric toothbrush”.
“ I want my shirt back”
“Heh, when is breakfast”
“Are you alrighty?”
“I’m alrighty. How are you this morning?”
“I’m very well although I think I lost my contact lens”
“heh come and see this horse”
“Gee that is some horse”
It really was too much. I had grown used to having this place to myself. I walked off down the field, past the lower swimming pool and out of the gate at the bottom of the field, close to the normal-looking horse which had now become the centre of attention. When I reached the bottom road, I turned right towards the harbour, then veered down to the lake shore through some grass. There were no hippos or crocs down there, so I stood looking at the lake. I could still hear the American’s twittering up the hill.
Twenty or thirty fishing boats were drifting in from their nights light fishing. The harbour to the right was just a sheltered bay and a small jetty. Most of the boats tied up as close to the water’s edge as possible, and a human chain was passing the catch back up onto the land. They sang some quiet hymn as they worked. A few small engine noises drifted across the becalmed waters. The lights of the remaining boats looked dim in the gathering sunlight.
I looked to my left, away from the work, and saw a fish eagle swoop over a small ridge and drop. It rose again, a small silvery fish in its talons wriggled with futility, and disappeared over the trees above the fishermen. I sighed with relief. The Americans may have come and shouted but Africa was still very much here.