The Zambezi

Middle Zambezi River, Africa

Every river on this planet has a personality. Come along on a short journey as I share the beauties of the Zambezi in East Africa with you.


It’s a bold river that starts in Zambia and winds through six countries before emptying into the Indian Ocean on the east coast.



Map of Zambezi. Courtesy Wikipedia.


The fourth longest river in Africa, the Zambezi is 1,600 miles (2,574 km) long.


More info:  Zambezi River Wikipedia.


Due to its proximity to the Rift Valley, the geological formation of centuries of uplifts and fault movements have carved the Zambezi through hundreds of miles of mountains and gorges.

Victoria Falls, Africa

Divided into three sections, the Upper, Middle and Lower Zambezi provide much-needed water to this sun-parched inland landscape and its human and wildlife residents.


The Middle Zambezi includes Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Victoria Falls, Africa. Photo by Athena Alexander.


Also known as “The Smoke that Thunders,” for the constant spray and roar that the falls produce, Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall. It has a width of 5,604 feet (1,708 m).


Where these African women and girls stand in the above photo, it is so loud that they don’t even bother trying to talk. Fresh river droplets are dancing in the air all around them.


Upstream from Victoria Falls, the Zambezi flows over a flat plateau of basalt extending hundreds of kilometers in all directions. (See aerial photo at end.)


Then, at the falls, the water suddenly plummets 260 feet (80 m) into a deep chasm.

Victoria Falls, Africa

The water volume in Victoria Falls varies depending on the season.  We were there in July, but I’ve been told the waters rage much more in the rainy season, February-May.


The Zambezi’s volume also varies by season, with regular flooding and ebbing, other waterfalls, and two hydroelectric dams. It also has many sizeable tributaries.


Some sections are pounding with water, attracting white-water rafting enthusiasts for the high volume of water and steep gradients.


Other sections of the river are calmer.


These next three photos are from a Zambezi tributary, the Luangwa River. Elephants and hippos, wading birds and many other animals gather at the water.


African elephant, Luangwa Valley, Zambia. Tributary of the Zambezi.

Hippos at Luangwa River, Zambia, Africa.


Locals are often seen on the water in dug-out canoes. Those humps in the water are not rocks…they’re hippos.


Hippos and Fishermen, Luangwa River, Zambia. Photo by Athena Alexander.


At the border of Botswana and Zambia, the Zambezi is 1,300 feet (400 m) wide and the current is strong. Relations between the two countries have been strained for years, locked in dispute over the construction of a bridge.


So instead of a bridge, a pontoon ferry system transports locals, tourists, trucks, and cars across the river. Two boats operate, like this one below, all day long.


Kazungula Ferry Boat, Africa

Even though it only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to get across, we spent several hours waiting in the line. Semi-truck drivers wait in line for days, sometimes weeks.


I read that recent bridge construction has finally begun.


Kazungula Ferry crossing at the Zambezi River, Africa. Ferry boat is left center.

Locals waiting to cross the Zambezi at Kazungula Crossing, Africa


Raging in rapids in some places, and too shallow to navigate in others, the Zambezi is a dynamic river. I’m glad you could join me for a short tour.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Zambezi sunset at Livingstone, Africa

The Zambezi and its river basin. Map by Eric Gaba. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Basalt plateau, Victoria Falls, V. F. Bridge. Courtesy Wikipedia


My Favorite River

Elephants in Chobe River

Our California winter this year has been blessed with abundant rain. As I walked in my neighborhood park last week, I marveled at the numerous rivers and streams.


I pondered what my favorite river on earth was, thought about it all week.


Rivers traverse all the continents. Over the centuries, cities have been founded on rivers for their power. They support large populations, and carry heavy loads of people and products. Rivers are the basis for the growth of civilization.


I have known so many rivers. How could I pick just one? Could you?


One favorite at the top of my thoughts: the Chobe River in Botswana. A popular watering place for African game. We watched wild dogs celebrating a kill, elephants crossing, and hundreds of ungulates.

Wild Dogs, Chobe River Nat’l Park, Botswana


Chobe River, zebra crossing from Botswana into Namibia


Waterbuck, Chobe River, Botswana, Africa


Then there is the Zambezi, another favorite. It is immense, and one of its most spectacular features: Victoria Falls.


Victoria Falls, Africa

Zambezi River

Zambezi sunset

In Zambia, where the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers converge, we had many lively experiences as we waited for the ferry to cross the river.

Waiting for the ferry at the Zambezi River, Zambia

Zambezi River crossing, Kazungula Ferry


And the Luangwa River, a major tributary of the Zambezi, holds the largest concentration of hippos in the world. Native residents share the river with crocodiles and hippos.


Hippos and Fishermen, Luangwa River, Zambia



Folks who fish rivers can read the water like a book.


Across the world in South America is the Amazon; we spent a week on the Madre de Dios River, a tributary.


It was buggy and humid in Amazonia, almost uninhabitable. I treasured the time we spent cruising this river, for the cool breeze and mosquito relief; and the myriad of wildlife species.

Boarding the boats, Manu, Madre de Dios River


Amazon river (near top) and jungle, aerial photo

Red and Green Macaws extracting nutrients from the river wall (photo by B. Page)

I have many favorite rivers elsewhere, too. My home country has so many rich riverways. The Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri, brings frigid waters tumbling down from the Rocky Mountains.

Yellowstone Falls

The Colorado River, the Snake, the Columbia…and many more that I have had the opportunity to behold.

Colorado River, CO

In California, my home state, the Sierra Mountains deliver our highly revered water every day. We talk in winter about the snowpack, and every time officials measure the snow levels it makes all the newspapers, because this is the year’s source of survival. Dozens of rivers transport this liquid gold to us.

Deer Creek, CA; in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Drought and fires haunt us, and we revel when it rains.


What about the river of my childhood, the Mississippi? I was born and raised in the Midwest, where the Mississippi is integral. I’ve had decades of adventures on this river’s numerous branches.


Horicon Marsh sunset, Wisconsin


Could the Mississippi be my favorite?


Mississippi River basin. Courtesy Wikipedia.

As I continued to ponder the earth’s rivers, I remembered my times on the Rhine, the Danube, the Thames, the Amstel, and more.

Amsterdam bridge


Australian rivers, where I saw the rare Papuan Frogmouth (bird) from a motorboat; and my first wild platypus.

Papuan Frogmouth, Daintree River, Australia


As I walked in the park beneath the California oak trees, I heard rambunctious acorn woodpeckers conversing, and red-tailed hawks declaring their territories.


I love it that every day the river here is different depending on the light, time of day, precipitation.


It is here that I finally got the answer I was seeking. For today, my favorite river is this one…


…where my feet are planted, where my eyes take in the ever-glinting movement, and my spirit is calmed by the whispering waters.

Northern California neighborhood park

This funny little river, a stream, really. Quiet, perhaps unnoticed by some, it is a wealth of life and bliss.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise indicated.

Male Kudu, Chobe River, Botswana, Africa


Drinking Up Zambia

Victoria Falls, Africa

Victoria Falls, Africa

For a land-locked country, Zambia has a lot of water.


Not only do the famous Victoria Falls border this African country, but there are many rivers and lakes here as well.


Hippo Pool at night, Zambia

Hippo Pool at night, Zambia

With three major rivers, five lakes, 17 waterfalls and numerous wetlands, Zambia has so much water power that it sources the Kariba Dam.   (See map below).


Waterways of Zambia were also the attraction for David Livingstone in the mid-1800s, in his driving efforts to share the teachings of Christianity and abolish the African slave trade.


Fishing with Hippos, Luangwa River, Zambia

Fishing with Hippos, Luangwa River, Zambia

He determined that by mapping the Central African watershed, he would open the interior of Africa to “Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization.”


Livingstone was the first westerner to see the great falls of Mosi-oa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders).  Eventually he would identify not only Victoria Falls but also many lakes and rivers, especially the Zambezi River, providing pioneering details and enabling large regions to be mapped.


Zebra in Zambia

Zebra in Zambia

For more information about Zambia click here.


Zambia has its problems from corruption to poverty, shrinking forests, poaching, and severe loss of habitat.  This has made it difficult for wildlife to exist outside the parks.


Zambia river tributary

Zambia river tributary

But within the roughly 20 national parks of Zambia water is flowing and wildlife flock to it.  More about Zambia wildlife here.


Waiting for the ferry at the Zambezi River, Zambia

Waiting for the Kazungula Ferry at the Zambezi River, Zambia

I saw more hippos here than I ever thought possible.  And water, a sought-after resource all across Africa, was refreshingly abundant.


It was on the banks of the Luangwa River where we had our midnight encounter with a mother elephant and her baby.  Read more here.


Water is a necessary resource for all of us, and fortunately Zambia is covered with it.


Zambia in dark green. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander



Jet at the Zambezi River

Jet at the Zambezi River








Crossing the Zambezi

Waiting for the ferry beside the Zambezi River

Waiting for the ferry beside the Zambezi River

I had the curious pleasure of crossing a section of the Zambezi River where four African countries converge:  Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.  I remember being sandwiched next to a man with a mop.


The Kazungula Ferry transports pedestrians, semi-trucks, and everything in between. There were local merchants and residents crossing the river for a day’s work, as well as tourists like myself and my three traveling friends, and truck drivers who had waited two days to cross.


The Kazungula Ferry, Africa

The Kazungula Ferry, Africa

The Zambezi River has strong currents and powerful force, and eventually empties into the Indian Ocean.  At this juncture in the river you can see across to the other side, it’s only a miles or two.  A bridge here would be brilliant.  But due to the warring politics and border disputes of these countries, they have not built a bridge to cross this minor expanse.  There was an “agreement” and talks in 2007, but this has not yet materialized into a bridge.

Zambia-Botswana border crossing

Zambia-Botswana border crossing

It’s a spirited place in the world with many different African ethnic groups, border control officials, tourists, strong winds, and sparkling waters.  The lives of the people in this region would be so much more prosperous if they could use a bridge to cross the river.


But for now, we all gather at the river’s edge and wait for that diesel-spewing ferry to carry us.


Zambia-Botswana Border Customs Office
Zambia-Botswana Border Customs Office


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander




The two-day truck line

The two-day truck line

People Watching in Africa

Victoria Falls women

Women at Victoria Falls

I am researching East African ethnic groups for my next novel, Sinister SafariEthnic groups were once called tribes. It’s a complicated task because people are complicated. 

In Tanzania alone there are more than 120 different ethnic groups and, as happens with development and globalization, the cultures continue to evolve.  There still exist today many groups who have predestined marriages, village elders, medicine men, circumcised women, and education for boys only.  But simultaneously there are also Maasai warriors who are saving rather than slaughtering lions, college-educated young adults of both genders, and Africans teaching Africans about AIDS.


Regardless of where in the world one travels, there are always people to watch.  As it goes in most places in the world, the cities in Africa are more populated and have pockets of modernism.  Then the more you travel away from the cities,  the less modernized conditions can be.  As one who revels in open space and chasing wildlife, I tend to find myself in some of the most remote places in the world.  Africa has many remote places that are still habitable and pleasant, which is why it remains one of my favorite places on earth.  I thought you would enjoy viewing a few people photos from our travels in Africa. 


Child in Zambian Village


Village Shopping Centre

Zambezi River Ferry Crossing

Zambezi River Ferry Crossing