The Smoke That Thunders
Tate Drucker is the Content Creator on the 2022 Tour d’Afrique. She checks in from Livingstone, Zambia at the start of the tour.
For a moment, as the plane descends over Livingstone, Zambia, it looks like the savanna is on fire. Grey clouds of smoke billow from the ground in enormous, engulfing plumes. Passengers lean with their faces pressed against the airplane’s windows, murmuring to each other, wondering about what it is they’re looking at. Then the pilot comes on the intercom and announces that it isn’t smoke from some great wildlife that they’re seeing. Instead, it’s Victoria Falls.
There couldn’t be a more iconic and awe-inspiring way to mark your arrival into Africa than catching that first glimpse of Victoria Falls from your airplane’s window. And for the cyclists arriving in Zambia taking part in this year’s Tour d’Afrique, which runs 4,655km from Livingstone to Gqeberha, this World Heritage Site sits ever-present in the background, never allowing its spectacular size and ferocity to be ignored or forgotten.
As the riders unbox their bikes, stretch their legs after their long flights spanning the globe, and learn about everything from identifying an elephant’s mood to how to create a toilet in the bush with just a shovel, the sound of the falls serves as a constant, distant white-noise. Its background presence adds to the feelings of excitement and adventure for the trip ahead, which is already palpable and buzzing amongst the group. Even heavy storm clouds and relentless rain aren’t bringing people down. Instead, many of them are shrugging at the mud, at the mist, and instead see it as a special challenge for an already enormous undertaking ahead.
Victoria Falls — which is locally known as “Shungu Namutitima” (meaning “Boiling Water”) or “Mosi-oa-Tunya” (meaning “Smoke That Thunders”) — is one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders. While it’s not the tallest or widest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls is considered the largest due to its sheer volume of water. On average, 500 million litres of water cascade over the falls every minute. That’s roughly the equivalent of 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools plunging over a sheer cliff every 60 seconds. And for people visiting the falls, this fact — while seemingly outlandish — is undeniable.
The winding path along the fall’s rim is constantly showered in what seems like heavy, constant, whipping rain. The power of the water once it falls and hits the river creates enormous, towering plumes, drenching the forest and anyone and everything that surrounds it. It seems to be the only place in the world where everything feels flipped upside down; where it rains from the ground up.
From where the Tour d’Afrique begins, the proximity to the falls allows for riders to embellish their days with microlight flights, white water rafting, hiking along the fall’s rim, or bungee jumping. Even sitting on the lodge’s verandah, frosty Mosi lager in hand, watching the swollen, heavy red sun sink below the misty horizon is an experience unmatched anywhere else in the world. Some spend their mornings fine tuning their gears and brakes, followed by a helicopter flight. Some spend their mornings comparing electrolyte powders and protein bars, followed by a sunset river cruise past lolling hippos and the billowing mist. And the fact that soon they’ll pedal away from Livingstone, with seven weeks and four countries ahead of them, is as ever-present and adrenaline-pumping as the raging falls that sit as the backdrop to this all.
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