Feature

This week’s travel dream: The thunder of Victoria Falls

Locals call Victoria Falls, where Zambia's Zambezi River makes a 300-foot drop, "the Smoke That Thunders."

The lion may stand above all other animals, but the true king of the African jungle is water, said Peter Mandel in The Philadelphia Inquirer. I see this firsthand in Livingstone, a historic colonial city in Zambia where my wife and I are staying. Our lodge is near Africa’s fourth-largest river, the wide Zambezi, which gives life to the astounding creatures here, quenching “the thirst of hippos, elephants, and squadrons of exotic birds before exploding into spray for the 300-foot drop at Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe border.” Locals call the falls Mosi-oa-Tunya—“the Smoke That Thunders.” But the rainy season has barely begun when we arrive; the falls are elegant, their thunder still to come.

Elephant herds are commonly seen along nearby riverbanks, and we hire a guide to help us find more wondrous animals in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. We spot “a few shy zebras and, eventually, a herd of sand-colored giraffes” before our car passes some huts that appear to have been systematically demolished. Our guide, who’s a bit of a mumbler, pins the blame on some of the great beasts we’ve come to see. “People stayed here, and the elephants became angry,” he says. He seems embarrassed to have to explain that the pachyderms encountered human inhabitants engaging in sex and didn’t approve.

Later, under a sky turning brown at the horizon, my wife and I are paddled upriver by a second guide. As our dugout canoe pushes against the current, “crocodiles slink around near the banks,” and “every log or rock we pass looks like it might be ready to bite.” A crash of thunder sounds as we step ashore near Mushekwa village, “a cluster of thatched-roofed huts where locals keep to traditional ways.” Edith, a village elder, gives us a tour, pointing out trees used for medicines. Suddenly, there’s a “spattering and then a waterfall of rain,” dissolving the village’s red-clay paths into “blood-colored rivulets of mud.” Amid this display of nature’s fierce power, singing can be heard between thunderclaps. Edith claps her hands, smiles, and says, “When it is wet, Mushekwa is glad.”

At the Royal Chundu lodge near Victoria Falls (www.royalchundu.com), doubles start at $390 a night per person.

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