Friday, 3 February 2017

Indelible Memories Part 3 - Angels, Devils and Whitewater: The Power and Majesty of Victoria Falls

After the placid flow of the Okavango Delta's inlets, I was to experience the opposite with Victoria Falls and the mighty Zambezi River. Located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Known to the natives as Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning 'the smoke that thunders', one can see why the 19th century Scottish Missionary Explorer David Livingstone, historically recognised as the first European to see the falls, described the sight as 'so lovely that angels must have gazed upon it in their flight'.

Victoria Falls and rainbow, viewed from Zimbabwean side
As well as spectacular sights for the visitor when seeing the high columns of mist rising from the falls and the rainbows over the falls that it brings, over 150 years after Livingstone sighted the falls, for the modern tourist they also provide temptations of thrill-seeking with a range of extreme sports and activities. Whitewater-rafting, bungee jumping and zip-sliding are just some of the many activities to entice an adrenaline surge, but where Livingstone once though angels may have gazed, the Zambezi's flow allows visitors to get close to the edge, literally, courtesy of the Devil!

Sitting on the edge of the falls in the Devil's Pool
On the edge of the falls is the Devil's Pool, an eddy formed by a natural rock barrier, where during low season (September to December), the flow of the river is at a level where it doesn't cascade over the edge, allowing the adventurous to view the falls from right on the edge. The Devil's Pool is reached via a boat trip to Livingstone Island, where Livingtsone first glimpsed the thunderous mists of the falls. To reach the pool, a little swimming and mindfulness of walking is needed, taking care over sharp and slippery rocks, bearing in mind it is a surface resulting from the full flow of the falls during high season rather than being developed for human convenience. Stepping over and around rocks deposited by the flow of the falls during high season, one has to maintain constant awareness of each step before swimming a little to reach the Devil's Pool, where one can literally sit on the edge of the falls in safety under the supervision of a local guide and barring any attempts at selfie stunts which have unfortunately seen visitors fall to their death. By making nature your own while being mindful of your actions, making the natural rock barrier formed by the flow of the falls, one can witness the power of the flow and the smoky mists created by the falls close-up from within. A thrilling experience!

Hitting whitewater on the Zambezi
Rapids along the Zambezi made by the power and flow of the falls make it one of the world's most exciting places to go whitewater rafting. As well as it's adrenaline allure, whitewater rafting also provides the perfect opportunity to navigate nature's power and flow by making it your own. Starting from Boiling Point, at the base of the falls, the full course of the Zambezi's whitewater rafting route consists of 24 rapids, ranging from Grade 3 (moderate) to Grade 5 (very powerful). Each rapid presents a different challenge to rafters as well as a very different experience. Rather like within Zen thought, it helps to row with the flow than around or against it. In this way, a whitewater rafting excursion becomes almost analogous to a life journey. 

Being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, I often feel that each day is a new challenge, sometimes difficult, sometimes not so bad. other times it can be confusing. When negotiating a confusing challenge in whatever shape or form, sometimes I find myself having to weigh up arguments in my head between thoughts, almost like 'internal angels and devils'. The confusion often comes when not being anticipate possible consequences of being enticed by the devil's temptations, especially if it is a situation or in circumstances which I haven't previously experienced. Within a sight most likely admired by angels according to Livingstone, also lie the Devil's thrill-seeking temptations. And I was about to experience something for the first time!     


Entering Oblivion!
Just before hitting Rapid 18, we were told that there was a chance that the raft might flip. Nicknamed 'Oblivion', Rapid 18 is made up of three powerful waves. Since my first experience of whitewater rafting on Canada's Kicking Horse River in 2003 and having done it on four other previous occasions, somehow I had never previously been involved in a flip. Oblivion though was too powerful and I was caught in my first flip, which could have felt like going into oblivion, but using Oblivion's flow to guide me to calmer section of the river, I found myself able to relocate the raft so that it could be flipped back over and we could all climb back in for the next part of the journey. Whereas at one time I would have thought of such a thing as 'scary', it was a thrilling and memorable moment that occurred in a flash! 

First Wave!
Flip! 
Overturn
The relative calm after the storm
After the thrill and spill of my first flip on whitewater, the remaining rapids were much more gentle. As a person with Asperger's Syndrome, I find that the daily challenges I face, whether they be of a social, anxious or sensory nature are what can make life interesting. Opening to them, including to any setbacks that may occur with them, can thus enabled one to experience life's ups and downs with more freedom, much less constrained by fears and anxieties. In this way, setbacks e.g. depression, however awkward, can become both an opportunity to learn from and new start to a more positive period of life through what we learn by going through and overcoming them.

The two major rivers I experienced on my adventure through Southern Africa, the Okavango and Zambezi, take completely opposite journeys, one slowly grinding to a halt in a desert and one taking a more conventional and much faster path into an ocean. The different natural obstacles that the flows the two rivers encounter on their journey see them find a a path and outcome suitable to their flow. Similarly, overcoming different challenges that different people with Asperger's Syndrome and related conditions can enable them to take a lifecourse appropriate to their needs abilities with a hopefully suitable outcome. Ultimately, such life events and experiences may disappear into the past. Where they often remain in the present though, is in the form of indelible memories, which will likely remain etched on my consciousness for a long time. 

A huge thank-you to G Adventures once again, including my excellent guides DeWet Theron and Alfie Dovey.

Special thanks to Iain Harmer of African Wanderer for his insight into the life of the San (Bushmen) people.

Thanks also to Safari Par Excellence for a fantastic experience of Victoria Falls and the Zambezi. 

Rafting pictures courtesy of Safari Par Excellence.     

No comments:

Post a Comment