I took several precautions when I visited Victoria Falls last month. I armed myself with a big stick, I hired a security guard, and I rented a heavy-duty raincoat.
At the hostel the night before there had been lots of stories about the perils that await travellers at the falls. The most terrifying of these stories relate to baboon attacks. Apparently, the park is infested with baboons who, after being taunted and fed mercilessly by tourists, have now banded together into gangs to hunt the human population.
A few months before my visit, one of my fellow interns was robbed by a baboon. A week before my visit, a guy staying at my hostel had tried to fight off an attack and had ended up in the Livingstone Emergency Room. And the day before my visit, the baboons surrounded a woman and stole her purse. Her purse contained $5,000 in cash, or so the story goes, all of which ended up in a pool at the bottom of the falls.
So I found a big stick on the ground and practiced swatting at the trees with it a few times and satisfied myself that I could maybe handle a violent baboon. If not, the security guard would be there for back up. He was actually a tour guide; I told him I didn’t care about the tour, but that he should intervene if a group of baboons were to surround us.
Shortly after I entered the park there were more warnings about heavy water spray in the areas near the falls. “You should rent a rain jacket”, the guide said. “So your camera and your clothes don’t get wet.” So I paid $1 to rent a full length rain jacket. It was sunny and hot and I felt more than a little ridiculous. But I rationalized that at least the jacket would help protect me from baboon bites. Or maybe even scare away the baboons altogether.
Ensconced in thick plastic rain gear and armed with my stick and my guide, I set off to enjoy the natural wonder that is Victoria Falls.
The falls were mesmerizing.
I am not easily impressed by waterfalls. I am even more skeptical of waterfalls that are billed as must see attractions. But Victoria Falls is amazing. The gorge seemed to extend forever, a curtain of rain. Water was everywhere. In my ears, my hair, puddled at my feet, falling from my eyelashes. I felt small and awed.
My rain jacket flapped in the wind and I was about to pull it tighter around myself when I noticed three Zambian women ahead of me. Dressed only in their kitinge, soaking wet, they were dancing in the Zambezi rain. “Lose the raincoat”, they yelled at me. “It’s more fun this way, like you are swimming in a cloud”.
So I took off the rain jacket and stood under the rain and lost myself in the Zambezi.
But I kept a firm grip on my stick.