‘You are late.’
‘Yes, sorry, I stuffed up the timing.’
‘No problem. The others have already headed off; we’ll take you two straight over there now. It is only two minutes to the island.’
We had scrambled down to the back of the five-star Livingstone hotel, zebras grazing on the manicured lawns, to the departure point to Livingstone Island, where we had met our guide, Alex.
Sam went straight to the point.
‘Are there hippos? Are there crocodiles? Am I going to die?’
‘Well I don’t think so, but we’ll see how we go.’
The speedboat zoomed across the swirling waters full of small eddies and rapids towards the ominous edge, demarcated by a wall of mist and an increasing roar as we approached. You wouldn’t want the engine to fail. As we approached the island I chatted with Alex about Sam’s situation. A father of two, Alex was very professional and responsible.
‘Right, we’ll get onto it. We will not take any risks with Sam. Don’t you worry.’
The boat slunk into the reeds on the shore of the island that faced upriver, and we walked up the muddy path through the dense trees and shrubs. Livingstone Island was no bigger than a small football field, an outcrop that defied the massive torrent that surrounded it on all sides.
It sat astride the edge of the falls half-way along the precipice, marking the eastern edge of the main falls. Livingstone had first seen the falls, the first non-African to do so, from this island in 1855, and named them after his queen.
Mist started to soak our clothes, as we were handed heavy green canvas ponchos in preparation for our walk to the edge. Alex personally escorted Sam and me while the others were looked after by the other guides. We got Sam to within a few metres of the edge; I started to get a bit nervous, but Alex was extremely cautious, instructing Sam where to place every footstep while firmly holding his hand.
As we sat on the rocks, the air filled with water and sound, the relentless tumble of millions of litres of water roared past. I smiled as I reflected it was like sitting astride a great beast; the river felt alive. Sam laughed.
‘What are you laughing at?’
He didn’t answer. I just think he was getting a buzz from the experience.
‘Hey Sam, you look like Yoda.’
‘No, I look like a Dementor!’
‘If you were a Dementor you could fly over the edge.’
‘NO! I don’t want to go over the edge.’
Alex patted him on the shoulder through the thick poncho.
‘Don’t worry, you’re not going over the edge, Mr Sam. I will make sure.’
We escorted Sam back to a large tent where the group were to have lunch and Alex offered to take me back to the edge separately to walk across the rocks to a pool literally on the edge of the falls. Sam could stay at the tent where other staff could keep an eye on him.
As we crossed the rocks, I spied a small wooden plank bridge, just under the water line. We needed to cross this to get to the edge. If you slipped, there was nothing to stop you going over. No barrier, no rope, nothing.
‘Are you afraid of heights?’
‘Are you ok to go across? I will help you, but don’t go if you think you might panic.’
I hesitated for a few seconds.
‘No, I won’t panic.’
We inched across the slippery boards, our feet transverse on the plank, pointing away from the falls, hand in hand. Like two giant green molluscs sliding sideways, we slid across, moving our feet only centimetres at a time. It was hard to not lean forward, but Alex’s firm grip kept me in check. On the other side we sat on rocks at the edge. I leaned over the falls and looked into the white wet abyss. I could only watch the torrent crashing down for a few seconds at a time before having to turn away and keep the vertigo in check.
After that extraordinary experience, we mollusced our way back across the plank and back to the tent where Sam was patiently waiting. The Dementor and I were seated in a separate tent to the others. While I had greatly appreciated the service given to Sam and me by Alex, we could still eat with people! Anyway, the intentions were good; they were just trying to help us out as best they could.