Victoria Falls by Land and Water

“Prepare to get soaked,” warned Reason, our guide and driver for the day. In anticipation of the “rain”, Reason handed out rain parkas to each of us.

Leah rocked hers!

raincoat model

“These will come in handy. You’ll see. The rain will come from all directions,” he said.

We were in for a soaker. According to a park poster, May is considered one of the heaviest high water months.

seasons of flow

All the rushing water will be amazing to see, if we can actually see it at all through the spray and mist, which can rise over 400 meters…

Bridge and spray.jpg

and be seen from a distance of 50 kilometers. Reason explained that the best viewing along the eastern rim was from numbers 1 through 8 on the path.

Reason (1)

“From 8 to 15, you will get drenched. But if the water gets too much for you, there is a detour between 8 and 9, where you can walk inland and dry off.

“What about Niagra Falls? Isn’t that the largest?” asked one of the Canadians traveling with us.

“Sorry. Not even close. Victoria Falls is double the size of Niagra Falls. While it’s not the highest falls–that stat belongs to Angel Falls in Venezuela, dropping 985 meters; and it’s not the widest falls–that record belongs to Iguazu Falls, measuring 2700 meters across, and defining the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Parguay,” Reason clarified, “it’s the volume of falling water, and a combination of everything else that makes it number one…but you will see for yourself. The path is one mile from end to end, and you guys have two hours to experience it, so let’s get wet!”

Map of the Rainforest

Those panchos looked fine for keeping clothes dry, but my biggest concern was keeping my photo gear dry, so I opted out, and wore my own rain jacket, which was roomy enough to protect my camera from moisture…or so I thought.

From Points 1 through 5 on the walk, the wetness factor–on a scale from 1 to 10–was manageable at 3 for damp. Having a chamois helped to eliminate the mist from the lens hood and camera body between shots, so my shots were still sharp.

Livingston

plaque (2)

Zambezi River

misting rainbows

But things got dicey after Point 5. By now, water was dripping from the lens filter, and focusing became nearly impossible with water constantly blowing across my frame. That’s when I switched gears and opted for a more visceral interpretation of the falls, leaning towards a painterly impression.

Chainwalk

Devil's Cataract

Rainbow Falls

Devil's Cataract drop

The falls was a dynamic spectacle, that soon became a photographic nightmare. Weather conditions had pinned the needle on the wetness scale, guaranteeing that nothing about me was dry any longer: the plastic shopping bag protecting my camera had filled with water; the monsoon had penetrated my waterproof rain jacket, soaking my clothes from within; and my chamois was useless.

That’s when I turned to my Samsung Galaxy S8, almost too slippery to hold, and captured a few panoramas…

Devil's Cataract and Cataract Island

Sun over Main Falls

Dangerpoint

The rain had abated by the time I reached the Victoria Falls Bridge at the end of the trail.

Rhodes 1903 bridge

The bridge spans the Second Gorge and connects Zimbabwe to Zambia.

Built in 1903, it was originally conceived as a railway bridge by Cecil Rhodes, an English industrialist, who left his name and colonized imprint on a country (Rhodesia, until 1979) rich in natural resources, and easily exploited for the benefit of the British Commonwealth.

The afternoon was reserved for a sunset river cruise on the Zambezi.

Sunset cruise boat

Cruising gently down the river, we drank, we ate, we partied. The captain rounded a bend in the river…

Zambezi River

and behold, the omnipresent falls spray was there to greet us.

Falls mist

Mist over Zambezi

With the day losing light, the night lillies have unfolded…

night lillies

and the hippos have gathered…

3 hippos skimming the surface

napping in the water

with all the celebrants aboard our neighboring vessels…

African Queen positioning for sunset

to toast the sunset one last time.

sunset over Zambezi River

Reigning Cats and Dogs, Part 2

When KT took the radio call alerting him of leopard tracks in the vicinity, my heart raced. Of the “Big Five” (elephants, lions, buffalo, rhinos, and leopards), leopards can be the most elusive, and consequently, the most challenging to “spot”. For one, the rosettes across their bodies make the perfect camouflage as they stealthly move through the tall grass; secondly, leopards are equally as comfortable in trees, and have been known to drag their kill into the branches to avoid any competition; and lastly, they are solitary animals, usually hunting solo unless the mother is raising her cubs.

KT quietly withdrew from the sleeping lions, and set the Land Cruiser on a new course. We off-roaded across the savanna with little regard for fields and streams, until KT hit the brakes and pointed to a patch of scrub about 100 meters to our left.

“Is it a leopard?” someone asked anxiously.

“No, but just as interesting,” he asserted. “Look through your binoculars and cameras and tell me what you see.”

hyena in the grass

I had trouble identifying the animal–even at 108mm focal length–although, KT’s telephoto vision was “spot on”. “Is it some kind of dog?” I asked.

“No,” answered KT. “Actually, this animal is more closely related to a cat. It’s a young hyena, and for some reason it’s by itself, unless the mother is nearby. And just as interesting, these animals are typically nocturnal, but this one is not. Let’s see what he’s up to.”

The Toyota crept toward the hyena causing it to retreat into higher grass. But eventually, curiosity got the better of him, and he slowly revealed himself.

hyena cub in the grass

KT killed the engine, and waited for our hyena cub to step out from his lair. It was an African stand-off. We sat patiently for minutes–both sides seemed unwilling to give an inch until KT started up the Land Cruiser. “We need to find our leopard,” he stated, and shifted into gear.

The moment we started to roll, the hyena slinked out of the grass,

hyena halo

finally showing his spots…

hyena watching

and seemingly “laughing” about his hide-and-seek victory.

Hyena cub at rest

We continued to track leopard prints through the savanna for another 15 minutes, when we happened across a pack of five African wild dogs prowling through the bush in search of their next meal,

2 dogs prowling (3)

led by its alpha male,

African Wild Dog

and alpha female.

alpha female

As if on cue, a young lechwe leapt out from the cover of the brush in front of our truck…

Leaping_Lechwe (2)

followed by a wild dog chasing at its heels. The lechwe bounded away–zigzigging as it ran for its life. Soon after, we lost sight of it behind a mound of trees. KT gave chase. He gunned the Toyota and plunged it deep into the marsh till the front wheels lost traction. But he saved face by rocking us to-and-fro and eventually releasing us from the muck.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the mound, the alpha male was finishing off the lechwe… 

after the kill

with the help of his pack, who were waiting in the brush, ready to strike once the prey was delivered.

hungry dogs

Wary of a crocodile attack, the wild dogs worked together to drag the carcass out of the water, all the while feasting on their kill…

(video is rated carniverous)

until the last traces of lechwe were consumed.

pregnant alpha female

For many, what we witnessed was more than enough. It was an amazing morning filled with terror and excitement. Our hunger to locate a leopard was largely overshadowed by the wild dogs’ appetite. KT summed it up, stating, “What you are seeing here is very rare, indeed!”

“Which is exactly how the wild dogs like their lechwe prepared,” I mused.

But the day was far from finished. During our afternoon game drive, KT, acting on a tip, drove us to a different wild dogs’ den, where the alpha female of the pack had just given birth to a litter of four pups. Finding the den was easy, but would the mother let down her guard long enough to nurse them with us in the vicinity?

KT jockeyed for position. He cut through brush and mowed over saplings with the Land Cruiser to get us close enough for a decent view of the den, although partially obstructed by the wild dogs’ protective habitat.

And then the unexpected happened…

inside the den

She leaned into the burrow and beckoned her younglings with a song of high-pitch yelps. She persuaded her brood by pulling out the first pup firmly at the scruff. The others followed willingly…

wild dog pups

for a place at the dinner table,

Nursing 3

while the vigilant dad growled and glared at us, showing us he was in charge.

alpha on guard

Mission accomplished!

Now, if only KT could get us to the hippo pond before sunset. Suddenly, there was little regard for all the ruts and sand grooves his tires found, or the sharp turns around the brush, and through a thicket with switches sweeping the sides of our canopy. We held on with our lives.

We could see the sun sinking below the grassline, and we knew it would be close, but thankfully, the hippos were still at play.

smiling hippo

And then it was lights out for the rest of the Kalahari.

grass and light