Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Living on the edge

The world's most daring infinity pool is an adrenalin rush

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LIVINGSTONE, Zambia -- Crazy or brave? That's what I wonder as I slide down slick wet rocks and slip into a refreshing eddy of the upper Zambezi River, mere metres from the lip of roaring, tumbling Victoria Falls.

Our guide beckons my husband and me through the gentle current toward his station on the edge, where a submerged rock wall barrier prevents him -- and us -- from being pushed by the almighty water over the world's largest waterfall.

That would surely be certain death, but it would be swift. It's a 100-metre drop to the gorge below, in a torrent flowing at least 300 cubic metres per second. In rainy season, the falls stretch a remarkable 1,700 metres across the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe (well over twice the width of Niagara's Horseshoe Falls). But in November, it's the tail end of dry season, and the falls course in a concentrated torrent primarily over the Zimbabwe side.

It's not prime time to see the fury of the falls, but it is the best time to go beyond seeing and actually experience its majestic force. This is possible from Devil's Pool, adjacent to tiny Livingstone Island, famous as the place from which Dr. David Livingstone first saw Mosi-oa-Tunya (local name meaning The Smoke That Thunders) in 1855. Last year marked the bicentennial of the famous African explorer's Scottish birth, the first white man to discover the falls, which he named for Queen Victoria.

To walk in Livingstone's footsteps on the Zambian World Heritage Site in the middle of the river and take a dip in the relative safety of naturally formed Devil's Pool (only possible during lower water), you must take a tour operated by Zambia's Tongabezi Lodge, which is also open to non-guests.

Once on the island, reached by a quick boat transfer from the Royal Livingstone Hotel downstream through fast-moving channels dotted with giant hippos, guides hustle our small group across the hot, rocky isle, stopping en route at a spectacular falls lookout for photos.

After depositing belongings in baskets at the river's edge and cameras in a dry bag to be carried to the pool, guides help guests one by one over the rocks and into the river (best to wear water shoes), where there's a rope to hang onto if needed. A swim across the channel is followed by a hand-holding human chain to traverse underwater rocks, stepping exactly where the guide does. Then we scramble on top of a rocky mound, below which swirls the pool. A little to our right, a cloud of mist rises from the thundering main torrent as the river is sucked over the precipice.

Pool time is orchestrated, with guides watching and directing participants' every move with rope barriers, just in case, outside the pool where the current picks up. It's as safe as you can likely make such an activity, but this would never be allowed in litigious North America.

When it's our turn, in we go eagerly. Less than one metre from the edge, we perch on the Devil's Armchair, immersed to our necks in swirling water heading for its downhill journey, and then push our bellies onto the flat rock shelf and wiggle toward the edge, a guide holding our feet to prevent an accidental slip.

Another guide stands fearlessly above, asking us to pose for photos in various silly positions.

When we nervously peer over the lip, we're rewarded with an unbelievably close, top-down perspective of a cascading waterfall from its very origin to the churning basin far below, its immense thundering power reverberating in our chests.

It's an adrenalin rush unlike any other and truly a once-in-the-world opportunity.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 E4

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