EPIPHANIES FROM THE EDGE
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.
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