The last book in my humorous romantic suspense series, Tour Director Extraordinaire, is set in southern Africa. I outlined the novel in 2008 while I was traveling in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. This blog is about one of the most outstanding sights I saw there.
Victoria Falls is an amazing waterfall located on the Zambezi River, at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa. It is named as one of the seven natural wonders of the world on the 1979 CNN list. On the map below, the falls are located about in the center, where Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia come together. Botswana is slightly to the west.
THE SMOKE THAT THUNDERS
There's a good reason why it carries that name. The falls are not the highest or widest in the world, but Mosi-oa-Tunya is the largest falling sheet of water in the world. In the wet season, the full width of the Zambezi River (5,604 feet – over one mile wide) plummets straight down for 354 feet in a single sheet.
The Zambezi River, the fourth longest river in Africa, flows through six countries from central Africa to the Indian Ocean. Along the central plateau of Africa, the wide river moves through a shallow valley over a level sheet of basalt bounded by low sandstone hills far in the distance. There are many islands, increasing in number as they approach the falls.
Where are the mountains? This is the part of the uniqueness of the falls. There aren't any mountains or deep valleys as you would expect. Just flat land with a wide river…and then you see a billowy column of what looks like white smoke.
It's not smoke. It's a plume of water spray, rising sometimes a mile high and visible for 20 Kilometers, as the river drops into a deep horizontal chasm carved by the river along a fracture zone in the basalt.
Well, heck. Where does it fall to?
It plummets into a deep vertical chasm caused by water erosion over thousands of years in the fracture zones. Underneath the plateau of hard basalt, lies much softer sandstone. Where the fractures exist in the surface material, the cracks have filled with sandstone which the river has eroded.
Water pours over the edge into the first gorge, which varies in depth from 260 feet to 354 feet at the western end. The outlet is only 360 feet wide. The fracture and resulting chasms zigzag across the central stretch of the plateau. The falls are considered the dividing line between the upper- and the central-Zambezi zones. Considering that during the wet season, 540 million cubic meters of water per minute fall into the first of the Batoka Gorges, that's very restricted outlet.
From the air, during the dry season, the gorges look like this. When I was there, the river was about as dry as it gets and not that much of the width was covered with water. It was still impressive.
The Zambizi River from helicopter in dry season ▼ Satellite view of the river, the falls, and the gorges.▼
Sometimes the unpleasant places and experiences are as important in our writing as the beautiful ones. Although Victoria Falls is mentioned in the book All For A Blast Of Hot Air, the part that got the most attention was the awful airport at Victoria Falls (the name of the town) in Zimbabwe.
It may not look too bad in this photo, but I describe what it's really like in the excerpt from one of my novels: All For A Blast of Hot Air – Book 5 of the Tour Director Extraordinaire series coming out in print December 2019.
We arrived at Victoria Falls an hour and a half later, unprepared for the long wait to come. After two hours inside the worst airport I'd ever experienced, waiting for our luggage, we were tempted to abandon the bags, return immediately to South Africa and forget the safari.
At best, the airport smelled like an unwashed armpit and rotting fruit. The rest rooms were so filthy even the insects avoided them. Instead, the annoying little creatures buzzed around our heads and flew into our eyes, noses, and mouths. Another set of angry passengers swarmed the airline officials, complaining about their bags being broken into after they were checked in by the airline.
If the building had air conditioning at all, the near-hundred degree heat and ninety percent humidity rendered it useless. Oh, the fans rumbled and groaned—yes, they did. Loud enough to be distracting even above the high-pitched incessant shouting and yelling, but they did nothing to move the stale muggy air.
In seconds my clothes were more than moist and my hair assumed the appearance and texture of steel wool struck by lightning.
The facility offered no seating for passengers while the Zimbabwe customs officials went through every bag looking for anything they could tax, which took forever. Every inch of the building was old, worn, and beyond depressing.
Welcome to Victoria Falls, seventh natural wonder of the world!
"I'm not overly impressed." I panted the observation as we hauled our bags outside after the unbearable hours of torture. No luggage carts or baggage handlers to be seen anywhere. Neither one of us carried much although, for this flight, we'd packed all our electronics in our carryon bags. I'd been warned not to check such items if we ever wanted to see them again, that is. "It looked better in the photos."
Will frowned, his lips thin, and shook his head slightly, unwilling to go there.
"You think? Pfft." He spit a bug out of his mouth and held the exit door open for me while I shoved our bags through to the outside.