For some time now, Zimbabwe has stood out for the worst reasons.
Only the most fearless travelers ventured into its ungoverned territory.
The inflation of this once prosperous country spoke well of the chaos that proud President Mugabe had delivered: in 1998, it was 32% and, by the end of 2009, it had already risen to the surreal value of 516 quintillions (1030) percent, still the second worst case in history.
Prices doubled every 1.3 days.
They aggravated widespread poverty at a time when most of the population resorted to the black market and neighboring nations to survive. 60% of wildlife had disappeared due to illegal hunting and uncontrolled deforestation.
However, the frightening panorama of the country little or nothing seemed to bother the colonial-glamorous existence of the Victoria Falls hotel, installed since 1904 in the northwest corner of Zimbabwe.
Long known as "The Great Lady of the Falls. "
Victoria Falls Hotel's Former Colonial Shelter
The night is announced. Guests from the most diverse backgrounds settle in the comfortable chairs of Stanley's Terrace, scented and rejuvenated from the African afternoon walks.
Some are newcomers to the hotel.
The head of the team of native employees introduces them to the standards of the house in the classic British tone so well characterized by Steven Fry as the Jeeves of the series Jeeves & Wooster.
“And, if you allow me a final note, ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served from six to nine at the Livingstone Room and Jungle Junction restaurants.”
The surrounding architecture and decoration are faithful to the anachronistic atmosphere that lasts, inspired by the grandeur and Edwardian elegance with which the British colonists sought to feel at home.
So far from old Albion.
In addition to period furniture, there are hunting trophies, long sequences of posters that recall the glory of the British Empire.
Illustrations and photos in black and white or sepia lead to the distant past of Victoria Falls – the town – and the falls, in the company of regular guests, many of them royal or presidential, others, just famous.
David Livingstone pioneered this whole area of Africa for the future colonization of his crown.
It inspired a series of names and titles, from the hotel's most popular cocktail to the city that developed across the border with Zambia.
He did not live long enough to witness these further developments of his strange mythology.
David Livingstone. From Scotland to the Zambezian Heart of Africa
Livingstone was born in 1813 in the Scottish village of Blantyre into a Protestant family. During his teens, he felt the appeal of the missionary cause.
In 1841, he left for South Africa.
There he joined Robert Moffat of the London Missionary Society.
His work at Kuruman, the methods of Moffat and the missionary society in general, disappointed him. This disappointment led him to take his own initiatives.
Between 1852 and 1856, after nearly being devoured by a lion, he undertook an exhaustive exploration of Central and Southern Africa.
He was one of the first Westerners to cross the continent.
And he fulfilled it with departure from Luanda, Angola and arrival in Quelimane, near the mouth of the Zambezi river, Mozambique, in the Indian Ocean.
Pink Map and Luso-British Rivalry for Domination of Africa
The Portuguese Silva Porto, Hermenegildo Capelo, Roberto Ivens and Serpa Pinto had also outlined the feat.
At a certain point, he encouraged them with the objective of contributing to the fulfillment of the so-called Pink Map, the Portuguese colonization of a vast continuous area of Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, the coast of Angola to the coast of Mozambique.
At that latitude, the lethal combination of malaria, with dysentery, sleeping sickness, and fierce opposition from powerful tribes like the Lozi and Lunda, had so far thwarted all intentions.
During the crossing, Livingstone descended the Zambezi River, led by natives who revealed to him the waterfalls Smoke-of-the-Smoke (the thundering smoke),
Surrendered to the beauty and grandeur of that place, the explorer would later write: "... such lovely scenes must have been admired by the angels as they flew".
He took credit for the discovery and took the opportunity to baptize them in honor of their monarch.
However, even without the same impact and recognition, it is believed that the Portuguese explorers would have explored the area before (during the XNUMXth century) and marked the falls on various maps,
One of the most likely was the Jesuit missionary Gonçalo da Silveira (Almeirim, Portugal, 1526). Silveira landed in Sofala, Mozambique, in 1560.
At the end of that year, he dedicated himself to going up the river that the Portuguese knew as Cuama (Zambezi), in search of the capital of the Monomotapa empire, with its capital in the village that originated the current ruins of Great Zimbabwe.
In "The Lusiads“, Luís de Camões recounts how Mozambican Muslim Arabs were enraged by the priest's action and strangled him.
“See from Benomotapa the great Empire,
Of savage people, black and naked,
Where Gonçalo death and reproach
He will suffer, by his holy faith.”
Later, the Portuguese sent an expedition to avenge his death. These men did not return or report back.
Despite his tragic end, Silveira was immortalized in the colonial history of Africa.
The character José Silvestre from “The Mines of Solomon”, by H. Rider Haggard, was inspired by him.
By the action of Gonçalo da Silveira or by the work of another missionary or explorer, in the XNUMXth century there were already Portuguese maps that indicated the location of the great waterfalls of the Zambezi River, as being “mortal”.
The reasons for this remain several. The risk of falling into them for those who navigate the Zambezi.
The numerous colonies of hippos, crocodiles, elephants and other potentially lethal animals.
The Victoria Falls Hotel's main guiding reference for guests is, even today, the “white smoke” curtain seen by Livingstone from a distance.
The Risky Crossing between the Victoria Falls Hotel and Victoria Falls Povoação
We try not to lose sight of it as we move along the trail that leads to the village and the waterfalls.
The walk is cut short by unexpected complications. A herd of buffalo blocks the way.
The animals – known for their aggressiveness – only move after 20 minutes. Once the obstacle is overcome, dozens of natives approach us determined to sell us handicrafts.
We crossed the railway line and the center of little Victoria Falls. We continue towards the entrance to the enclosure.
Once inland, we are amazed at the change in vegetation, which the spraying caused by the falls makes it much denser and more luxuriant than that of the surrounding savannah.
This vegetation works as a natural veil. Soon, the dizzying view of the geological fault into which the Zambezi rushes is imposed.
Time to unravel Smoke-of-the-Smoke, Victoria Falls
While we look for the privileged perspectives of Devil's View, where the cataract concentrates a massive volume of water, the spray refreshes us.
There are six gorges that make up the Vic Falls, as they are also called.
With an average height of 108 meters, they form a fault 1700 meters long that integrates the territory of Zambia.
Each of them gives rise to distinct visuals that change as the volume of water fluctuates from the rainy season to the dry season.
We found the memorial statue of David Livingstone, which reads the peculiar motto because he was conducting: “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization".
After the discovery of the falls, Livingstone came to believe that the key to realizing those principles was navigating the Zambezi River as an inland commercial artery.
He returned to Britain to gain support for his ideas. And to publish a book about his discoveries that highlighted him as one of the leading explorers of the time.
Livingstone also began to believe that he must follow a spiritual calling that urged him to explore rather than convert.
Resigned from the London Missionary Society.
Livingstone's Inevitable Decay and Death
The British government subsidized it and Livingstone returned to his project.
The Zambezi proved invincible next to the Cahora Bassa rapids.
In the time that passed, the members of the expedition became aware of the real personality of the Scottish pioneer. They accused him of not knowing how to lead, of being temperamental, capricious. Not to tolerate criticism or disagreement.
In 1862, John Kirk, his physician wrote, "I can only conclude that Dr Livingstone is not right in the head and is a dangerous leader."
Livingstone then proves to be obstinate.Even having seen part of his assistants die and others abandoned him, he declared: “I am prepared to go anywhere, as long as it is to the front”.
For six years, David Livingstone lost touch with the outside world. The last four of his life he was ill.
His retreat intrigued the Royal Geographical Society of London and the world at large.
The New York Herald decided to send Henry Stanley to look for him. The journalist met the explorer in Ujiji, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in October 1869. There he approached him with his famous phrase “Dr Livingstone, I presume?"
Four years later, Livingstone died of malaria and internal bleeding caused by dysentery. Queen Victoria, in turn, died in January 1901.
Victoria has never traveled to southern Europe. And he never got to see “his” waterfalls.