Swimming in Devils Pool within the Smoke that Thunders
I look out across the Zambezi River and see what at first looks like smoke towards the end of the river but it actually is mist coming from Victoria Falls, the second highest falls in the world. Victoria Falls was named by David Livingstone who first came to the island beside the falls on November 16, 1855. However, the local people have their own name for this place, which I think is far more appropriate, “The Smoke that Thunders.”
We embark on our journey from the shore beside the famous Royal Livingstone Hotel. It was a short trip to the island. We walked to the cliff where Livingstone stood and looked out at the falls. When Livingstone witnessed the falls for the first time he said, “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
It was lovely. Cliffs so steep and water misting up in all directions. We observe the plaque in honor of Dr. Livingstone and then make our way west on a trail lined with dry grasses. A double rainbow circles the falls where we are heading.
We come to the edge of the river and prepare to climb into the water. We wade in and after a few steps, we push off with our feet and glide toward the basalt rocks in the center of the river. It is a short swim to the rocks that are covered with water half of the year. It is only possible to reach Devil’s Pool in the center of the Zambezi from August to January each year. After the rains, the falls are too high and fast to reach this special area.
We reach the center and carefully maneuver the sharp jagged basalt rocks worn by years of the powerful moving water. My lifeguard explains where to jump in the pool near the face of the falls. “Jump out. It is too shallow right there.” He points to the three to four foot area under the water near the rocks. “Jump there. Where the water is greener. I will go first. Watch were I step to get to the jumping off point.” He walks out carefully and then jumps. He glides out to the edge of the falls and positions himself.
“Okay. Now you can go.” He points and verbally guides my every step to the edge. “Your left foot needs to be where your right foot is standing.” I reposition and look up. He stands ready. I jump.
Upon resurfacing I swim out to the edge. We sit and look around from all directions. “If something bites your feet, they are just fish. All you have to do is move your feet and they will go away.” A little later he guides me to turn and look over the edge. “Don’t worry….I will hold your foot the entire time.”
I turn and put my arms over the falls. It may be the low water season but I feel the water move powerfully over the cliff. I see the mist rise and the water shoot giant splashes up from the rock all the way down the side of the cliff. I hear the water crash over the side. I see the river below and small falls in every direction beneath. The double rainbow I saw earlier circle all the way around the falls. I grasp the full meaning of Livingstone’s statement when viewing the falls for the first time and I am sure that there are angels watching with me.