Livingstone – gateway to the Zambezi & Victoria Falls

Kenya Airways starts new flights to Livingstone this month, bringing one of the world’s natural wonders to its ever-growing network of African routes. To mark the occasion, we’ve splashed out on a special 12-page feature celebrating the town, the river and the waterfall

Falling for Livingstone
Travelling to Zambia and not visiting Victoria Falls is like bypassing Colorado’s Grand Canyon or Egypt’s pyramids. Not only is it one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls – the Zambezi River crashing 100m into a chasm stretching 1.7km in length – but it is also the undisputed adventure capital of southern Africa. The clouds of spray billowing from the Falls can be seen from as far away as 30km.

Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘The Smoke that Thunders’, was how the local Makololo people described it – and explorers were equally spellbound. ‘Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight,’ wrote Dr David Livingstone when, in 1855, he became the first European to explore the area around the Falls.

Nowadays, you can fly like an angel over the site – courtesy of a light aircraft, helicopter, microlight or parachute. You can take a leap of faith from the Victoria Falls Bridge on one of the world’s highest bungee jumps. You can raft rapids in the zigzagging chasm downstream, known as Batoka Gorge, or canoe calmer stretches of the Upper Zambezi.

But Victoria Falls is not solely the realm of adrenalin addicts. Livingstone offers an intriguing glimpse into the region’s colonial past. There are several cultural and craft centres as well as museums on both the Zambian side of Victoria Falls and in the Zimbabwean town named after it. For wildlife enthusiasts, Mosi-oa-Tunya and Zambezi National Parks support a variety of species, including elephant, buffalo and giraffe.


Dr Livingstone, I presume?
Kenya Airways’ new flights to Livingstone this month are particularly appropriate, since 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dr David Livingstone. After some gutsy bundu-bashing, writer Josaya Wasonga catches up with the explorer, missionary, medic and anti-slavery campaigner

Dr Livingstone, what are you doing in this swamp? We were supposed to rendezvous at Seyyid’s stockade, about 210 miles south… eighteen months ago.  Mr Josaya, I presume. My apologies. Our guide Ben Ali misled us away up to the north in spite of my protests… he declared that was the correct path. We had much woodcutting, and found that our course was to enable him to visit one of his wives – a comely Makondé woman! He brought her to call on me, and I had to be polite to the lady, though we lost a day by the zigzag.

Speaking of which, Sir, such selfish indulgences must besmirch the costly sacrifices you make. When I came back to Africa I took with me, as part of my very scant travelling equipment, a number of letters which I received from friends at different times in England. I lighted on a telegram today that read: “Your mother died at noon on the 18th June.” That was in 1866: it affected me not a little.

A poodle, Chitané, keeps yelping at me, as Dr Livingstone pensively runs his fingers through his grey mop. His servant, Chuma – sensing my uneasiness – strokes the poodle, quieting it.

Chuma: Do not fear, my friend; Chitané can’t bite.  But his barks can, Chuma. Not too long ago Chitané chased the dogs of Makoa village with unrelenting fury. His fierce looks inspired terror among the wretched pariah curs of a yellow and white colour. Those looks were entirely owing to it being difficult to distinguish at which end his head or tail lay! He enjoyed the chase of the yelping curs immensely… but if one of them had turned he would have bolted the other way.

Still, he’s the most annoying little creature I’ve ever met.  I beg to differ. The most annoying award goes to the mosquito. The miserable and sleepless night that only one mosquito inside the curtain can cause is so well known, and has been so often described, that it is needless to describe it here.

Sir, mosquitoes aside, this land is known as the Dark Continent, and its inhabitants known in not-so-pleasant terms. What is it that really brings you here? I shall make this beautiful land better known, which is an essential part of the process by which it will become the pleasant haunts of men. It is impossible to describe its rich luxuriance, but most of it is running to waste through slave trade and internal wars.

I was coming to that. Chuma was sold into slavery by his relatives. Any chance of a family reunion? Well, a woman turned up here and persuaded Chuma that she was his aunt. He wanted to give her at once a length of calico and beads, and wished me to cut his pay down for the purpose. It shows a most forgiving disposition on the part of these boys to make presents to those who, if genuine relations, actually sold them.

Children forgiving adults for an offence like that must be hard. And I can think of another hard one… in jest, though. When we were teaching adults the alphabet, they felt it a hard task. “Give me medicine; I shall drink it to make me understand it,” was their earnest entreaty.

Sir, today is 1 January 1868. What is your New Year resolution? It’s a petition; not a resolution. “Almighty Father, forgive the sins of the past year for Thy Son’s sake. Help me to be more profitable during this year. If I am to die this year prepare me for it.”

Chuma: Amen!

Disclaimer: Although this is a spoof interview, the responses attributed to Dr David Livingstone are his, verbatim, except for several adjuncts used by the writer to drive the dialogue. The excerpts are taken from The Last Journals of David Livingstone.