Friday, September 26, 2014

Angel's Pool and Victoria Falls

When I arrived in Livingstone, Zambia, I had one goal: to reach the Devil’s Pool on the edge of Victoria Falls. When I arrived at the park just before sunset I was ready to go but was instead told that the information I’d been given earlier about booking the trip had been wrong. This mishap, seemingly common in places in Africa, was disappointing, but provided me with the opportunity to visit another of the pools, Angel’s Pool, and to get to know a wonderful Zambian guide in the process.

While Devil’s Pool is a small eddy at the very precipice of the falls, inciting feelings of danger and adrenaline, Angel’s Pool is serene, sunken and surrounded by high walls of basalt. During the dry season, when the flow is the lowest, the walls rise 15 feet above the surface of the pool.

To get there, I hired a guide from the park who I had met that morning for 200 Kwacha, or roughly 30 dollars. His name was Obino Simwaba. Obino had been working in the park for seven years and said he loved his job. He is a bespectacled man of roughly 30 and despite his tan park ranger uniform, looks as though he could be teaching at a university. 

He began to lead me through the upper wash as the sun was setting, which is a series of small and medium sized streams separated by rock, sand, and stranded flotsam, all of which are part of the mighty Zambezi River.  We walked on dry rocks until the only path was wading through the streams, at which point we removed our shoes, and with an extended hand, Obino said, “We hold hands so we don’t fall.”

I took his hand and stepped into the surprisingly warm water onto the surprisingly slick rocks. Most of the wading distances were short, just 50-100 feet, but the algae on the rocks made crossing difficult, especially with a large backpack of camera gear on my back. Obino was steady though, diligently picking the safest and easiest path, based on years of experience.

The slippery riverbed was in stark contrast to the sharp dried moss that thickly lined the dry rock after the wading was completed. Obino, who had done this trip countless times, had feet accustomed to the surface. I picked my way gingerly, always falling slightly behind. Obino took only one detour, to quickly backtrack and tell some travelers to stay off the ledge of the falls. I noticed he had been watching them as we passed, muttering to himself “It’s not safe.”

We arrived at the Angel’s Pool about 30 minutes prior to sunset. Because of the low flow, the pool was hidden behind deep walls of basalt, and would have been difficult to find without a guide. As I explored Obino stood watch, and when I came close to the lip of the falls, he only said two words to me, “Take care.”

The water in Angel’s Pool appeared dark due to the black basalt rock that formed the basin. But it was deep and warm and calm, with my splash being perhaps the only disturbance through the entire day. As the sun dipped lower in the sky, Obino continued to stand watch, a silent sentinel constantly vigilant despite my perceived lack of danger.

The sun set lower, and as I’ve seen only here in Africa, didn’t produce a glowing orange sky, but simply became an orange and pink orb that hovered above the horizon. Obino and I watched as the sun disappeared behind the mist and the thunder that is the main falls, and then turned to pick our way back through the rocks and streams in the blue light that is the beginning of dusk. Just before we reached the final embankment, we rounded a corner in high grass, Obino in the lead, and stumbled upon a bull elephant. Obino immediately turned and brought me back from where we had come. There was no time for a photo. “These are wild animals. This is their territory. We must go around,” he said. With his guidance, we made it back to the park gate just as the light left the sky.

Angel’s Pool indeed. But who, in fact, was the angel?

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