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Pole to Pole

Day 117: Livingstone to Victoria Falls

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleSleep for an hour with the help of two paracetamol tablets, then painfully and fitfully for two or three more hours fighting against sticky heat (the air-conditioning being completely ineffectual) and sharp pain from my ribcage whenever I try to turn over. At three o'clock I give up, manoeuvre myself awkwardly out of bed and begin to make some assessment of what was in my missing bag. Torches, my favourite boots, my favourite sweater, my personal diary (though not, thank God, my notebooks). What has vanished, to my great relief, is Dr Baela's bark. I feel a little better, almost immediately.

At nine o'clock in the morning we clear Zambian Customs and make our way across the Victoria Falls Bridge, which marks the border with Zimbabwe. Constructed nearly ninety years ago it is a road, rail and pedestrian bridge and, for today only, something more than that. A group of people are proposing to throw themselves off the bridge on lengths of elastic, in what the organizers, an outfit called Kiwi Extreme, believe to be the first ever bungi jump in Africa. Bungi, I'm told by Byron, the leader of the team, who has a world record jump of over 800 feet to his credit, is an Indonesian word for the particular rubbery twine they use in their descents. Having nearly given my life to the Zambesi I am not at all tempted to fling myself upside-down into a gorge, but I recognize someone who is. It's Conrad, our organizer from yesterday. Slim and insubstantial beside the chunky white men in beer-brand T-shirts who seem to make up the bulk of the jumpers, he grins nervously as a red towel is wrapped around his ankles and the rope lashed carefully over it. Tied only by his feet, he climbs onto the parapet of the bridge, moistens his lips, murmurs something - I think it's 'goodbye' - and hurls himself out and away from the bridge. As he goes he flings his arms out, plummeting in a Christlike free-fall nearly 300 feet to the river below. Then, when he looks set for certain death, he freezes for a split-second, and begins to return rapidly back towards us.

We leave Conrad bouncing up and down in the Zambesi Gorge, and make our way across into Zimbabwe.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 117
  • Country/sea: Zimbabwe
  • Place: Victoria Falls
  • Book page no: 260

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