Victoria Falls

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The thrill of history coming alive

The thrill of history coming alive

The thrill of history coming alive

A guided tour of the Victoria Falls Bridge provides insight as well as unexpected thrills to rival the adrenaline sports also on offer.

As a civil engineer working for the US Department of Transportation, I was interested in the differences in transport systems between the US and Zimbabwe. Street signs and roadway patching have not been modernized, yet a steel structure spanning the Victoria Falls gorge spoke of great sophistication. A tour of the bridge was a highlight of my stay.

Anyone can walk over the bridge and many take a fleeting adrenaline rush from bungee jumping off the bridge or zip lining across the canyon. What people don’t realize is that the best adrenaline rush comes with the bridge tour.

Our afternoon started with lunch at the Bridge Café, where we watched people take the bungee jump, swing and zip line. My sister and I thought we would look into zip lining once we were done with the bridge tour.

The tour started with a man seated at a drafting board working on a set of engineering plans. He introduced himself as the Site Construction Engineer for the Victoria Falls Bridge, Georges Imbault, and he had stories to tell.

The actor playing Imbault talked about the people in the town and the men that designed and worked on the construction of the bridge back in the early 1900s. He talked about them building this structure hundreds of feet above the gorge without any scaffolding. He told stories with such enthusiasm that we were spellbound, but we still had no idea what was to come.

Our thought of a bridge tour was to walk from one end to the other to look at and discuss the structure. Were we ever wrong! Harnesses were brought out. Concern was expressed by members of the party, as we were suited up and given ear pieces to hear the Site Engineer talk.

He led us out to the bridge where we discovered we were to walk along the catwalk on the north side. We were instructed how to use the snap hooks on our harness, making sure to alternate them as we moved along the safety rope.

One person’s hands began to shake so much that attaching the hooks became difficult. Two other members of the party said they didn’t think they could go through with this as they didn’t like heights. I also don’t care for heights but the civil engineer in me was thrilled and I think everybody in our group went along with it for me.

We crossed the 650 foot bridge on the catwalk constantly changing our snap hooks to ensure our safety. We climbed ladders and ducked to avoid hitting heads on the steel trusses. We admired the beauty of the structure, the falls and the river below and marveled that they built this over 100 years ago.

Imbault pointed out details of the bridge, from the original steel manufacturer’s stamp on one of the trusses to the steel ball bearings at the base of the arch which allow the bridge to move as the steel expands and contracts with temperature.

The most amazing part of this magnificent structure is the location, spanning a gorge in the mist and spray of the Victoria Falls. To build a steel structure in that environment is risky, to have it last over 100 years and still be in good shape is impressive. It is a structure to be proud of.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 07, Dec 2011)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Victoria Falls

As we finished our tour, my sister and I decided to forego the zip line as we couldn’t have gotten a better adrenaline rush than the bridge tour. We left with an experience we’ll never forget.