Sunday Times


- © Tam­lin Wight­man The Edge · Zambia · Africa · Victoria Falls · Iceland · England · Zimbabwe · Hunter S. Thompson · Bravehearts

There is a cliff in Zam­bia that con­nects life and death. A re­verse stair­way to heaven. A por­tal to the next world. Over the edge of it plum­mets Africa’s fourth-long­est river, in that spec­tac­u­lar sight known as Vic­to­ria Falls. The oc­ca­sional hip­popota­mus and croc­o­dile are known to dance too close to this edge, while feed­ing on the sides or while caught in the strong gush of the Zam­bezi River af­ter heavy rains.

Per­haps they were Hunter S Thomp­son read­ers and, like me, en­ticed by those words, “The Edge … There is no hon­est way to ex­plain it be­cause the only peo­ple who re­ally know where it is are the ones who have gone over.

“The oth­ers – the liv­ing – are those who pushed their con­trol as far as they could han­dle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did what­ever they had to when it came time to choose be­tween Now and Later. But the edge is still out there.”

I wanted to see if I had what it took to at least peer over it. The Edge.

I took a boat from the main­land to Liv­ing­stone Is­land, which sits on the verge of the Falls, in the mid­dle of the Zam­bezi. Close to the is­land and in the drier sea­sons, when wa­ter lev­els are low, two nat­u­ral in­fin­ity pools ap­pear right on the rim of the world won­der.

The one goes by the name of Devil’s Pool, but I had sur­vived it be­fore. This time, I was af­ter An­gel’s Pool.

In this dry time of year, the lip of the cliff edge juts out, cre­at­ing a small pool that the Zam­bezi flows into and over, be­fore drop­ping 103 me­tres. It’s this fine lip that stops you, the­o­ret­i­cally, from tum­bling over.

I bat­ted away thoughts of those four-legged Brave­hearts who had “gone over” and not “pulled back”.

Bare­foot, in a polka­dot cos­tume, with a GoPro strapped to my ch­est, I joined a group of three for­eign­ers and two lo­cal guides, step­ping over slip­pery rocks, through the Zam­bezi shal­lows to that daunt­ing hole in the earth.

I am not afraid of heights. I can­not say the same for my travel com­pan­ions.

One was an el­derly chap from a quiet sub­urb in Eng­land. One was a young Aussie with tat­toos and long hair, male. The last was an “I know ev­ery­thing. Hear me roar!” type. Male.

All three stood around the side of the pool, shiv­er­ing but oth­er­wise frozen in fear (I might be over-drama­tis­ing. It’s pos­si­ble that all they were do­ing was tak­ing in the view).

Next, I re­mem­ber the men clutch­ing onto the blue rope for dear life — the last string keep­ing them closer to life than death — and me, polka­dots, long skip­ping curls and a “Make my day” at­ti­tude, hop­ping into the pool and emerg­ing on the other side, rein-free.

I slid up next to a guide on the cliff’s seat and saw it: the mag­nif­i­cence of Mosi-oa-Tunya.

The rain­bow across fierce white spray. The smoke. The Zam­bezi con­tin­u­ing down­stream in wild rapids. I heard it: the thun­der, con­stant and more daunt­ing up close.

On the other side of the river, on­look­ers from Zim­babwe waved at us. I waved too and turned back to see the men, sud­denly, gung-ho and dunk­ing their heads un­der the mini wa­ter­fall made by the river stream­ing into our pool.

Our tribe was now all gig­gles and guf­faws as tiny fish nib­bled on our toes un­der­wa­ter, like one of those Thai pedi­cures.

What was hap­pen­ing? I heard a howl em­anate from the elder and I re­alised this was the ef­fect of the Edge.

Stand­ing, sit­ting or swim­ming right on it, we were closer to death than ever be­fore but it felt, in­stead, a lot more like the great, brazen and bot­tom­less bow­els of Life it­self.

And that was all we needed. That was all we could want from the Edge, not a fish-nib­bled foot fur­ther.

Do you have a funny or quirky story about your trav­els? Send 600 words to trav­el­mag@sun­day­ and in­clude a re­cent photo of your­self for pub­li­ca­tion with the col­umn.


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