Salute to the setting sun

Posted on 17 December 2019

Did the water thunder for you, darling? asks this month’s traveller, Anton Crone.

Forget the notion that David Livingstone discovered Victoria Falls, and don’t presume that Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders) belongs to the Batonga people, or any other people for that matter. The first to bask in the glory of this waterfall were baboons. It is theirs, it forever will be; the sanctity of this mellifluous marvel is held in their highest esteem.

Image: Anton Crone

Walk on the Livingstone Path beside the mighty gorge and you’ll find chacma baboons lining the pathway like cops at a roadblock, and they won’t budge, not for a truck-size phalanx of tourists. It’s the reason the Livingstone Path is so quiet and serene – this is one intimidating stroll.

But if you’re willing to weave your way through a maze of flea-bitten baboons, if you don’t mind the chatter of chacmas, their sharp squeals and toothy grunts, you’ll be rewarded with wonderful views of the Zambezi gorge and tumbling waters beyond.

While on the hunt for a vantage point to photograph the falls at sunset, I followed this path, enjoying the lack of tourists and the antics of the baboons, all the while checking the trajectory of the sun. Despite there being some pleasing vistas, facing north I wouldn’t be in the right position to get that classic shot. So I backtracked, stepping over a baboon in repose, brown eyes gazing up at me as she stroked her chest, and found a good spot on the edge of some rocks.

A loud grunt behind me indicated I wasn’t alone. The baboon sidled up beside me and then clambered down the rocks until he found a good perch. There, to my surprise, he balanced his forearm on his knee and gazed at the view, as Livingstone might have done were he contemplating a more palatable name for this natural wonder – mosi-oa-tunya just doesn’t roll off the English tongue.

The pensive baboon made a great photo subject for the scene. I zoomed in on him to make sure he was in focus, and through the viewfinder immediately saw that my lens wasn’t the only extended apparatus on that slope. The baboon must have been loving the grand vista for he was in full salute.

A moment later a female appeared. She stopped in front of me to take in the scene. They both gazed at the waterfall for a while, then she made her way over to him and, to the sound of thundering water, they performed the no-pants dance replete with grunts, squeals and toothy grins.

Doubting this particular scenario would make the pages of a family magazine, I hurried along to find a better spot. Eventually I came across a noisy troop of tourists at a viewpoint to the east of the gorge. No doubt they had researched the very spot from which to photograph the classic sunset shot.

It was beautiful. Looking down the entire length of the gorge, the sun was a soft orange globe filtered by the mist; an inverted exclamation point on an African dream.

As the sun sank lower, so the crowd grew bigger. The golden moment drew nigh. Cellphones were hoisted, selfie sticks crossed each other like sabres, iPads formed a mosaic of the scene, the orange orb repeated on multiple screens as if we were on a planet with seven suns.

The tourists grunted and squealed as they vied for position, as though this was the last sunset of their lives. The great orb touched the rim of the falls; the mist swallowed it whole, and it was over.  The crowds sheathed their phones and lenses. Dispersing rapidly, they made for their hotels and showers of mosquito repellent.

Left alone at this incredible waterfall I wondered which of the two, primate or human, truly appreciated the scene. The water thundered on, more melodious now without the tourist chatter. Above the crescendo I heard the satisfied grunt of a chacma. 

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