Let it go…
The world is changing, and I am keeping pace. My decisions are increasingly being based on information—personally and professionally. When to shop, what movies to watch, where to dine, what roads to be taken to reach places—all based on a structure. And I love it! Predictability kicks out the surprise factor. Surprises unnerve me. And, my vacation in Victoria Falls, Zambia, was one such nerve-racking experience I was unexcited about.
Nov. 2019. Victoria Falls, situated on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, looks terrific on the National Geographic channel. But, who holidays there in the scorching African summer? Apparently, the young Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) members of Pune Chapter do. It was this same group who we tagged along for our holiday in Finland. Sure, our Finland getaway was a blast, but that was Europe. This is Africa. “What will I do there for four days?”, I whined. “I doubt the place will even have Internet”. “Think of it like a romantic getaway”, my wife countered—sealing all my hopes of escape. So, at midnight of November 16 we began our tryst with the world’s most spectacular waterfalls in the unenviable Ethiopian Airlines.
Day 1. The EO group headed for the Falls right after arrival under the merciless sun. Fortunately, the permanent mist from the Falls had turned the viewing location into a tiny rainforest. The top of the Falls had numerous islands that divided the main river into several branches before they all converged into a dozen of dazzling cascades. There were 15 vantage points. Our group spent most of their time on the first two—posing and taking selfies. The guide cajoled us to keep moving. He had a point since the subsequent points had better view. I hovered at the last point a bit longer than the rest of the group. I was fascinated by the sight of a fisherman on the other side, standing on the crest of the Fall, dangerously close to the border.
The Royal Livingstone resort turned out to be luxurious with many animals on the loose—zebras, deer, giraffes. Our room was alongside the Zambezi river. The sunset over a river holds different mysteries than the one over an ocean. As I watched the sun go down, I wondered with a shudder what if the brave fisherman had lost his balance and gone down the cliff?
Day 2. I am no stranger to river rafting. But, I hadn’t anticipated the long treacherous walk to reach the river bank. There was no proper pathway, the precipitous edge was often next to us. We felt like cliff hangers, exhausted by the time we got to the raft. My raft’s guide appeared to be the leader of the group. Our team was in good hands, my hands included as I adorned the anchor’s role in the front, following instructions to a tee. The rapids were way more dangerous than any I had experienced before—not giving us enough time to absorb the amazing view as Zambezi snaked through the ravine. Our raft did not trip like the others. At the end of the adventure, we were flown back in a chopper—a sharp contrast with the ride we just concluded.
That night was an African-themed party along with some local art for sale. I bought three wooden giraffes. From our room’s balcony, I watched in fascination the tall giraffes grazing right next to us with my mind racing back to the perilous heights I had trekked earlier—I am sure even a friendly country like ours will forbid such risky ventures.
Day 3. There are very few places where you can interact with the big cats in their natural habitat. Zambia provides one such opportunity. We were divided into small groups and dispatched to a lion orphanage. This tourist hotspot is controversial with rumors on the unethical treatment of lions. Our experience, fortunately, was a positive one. We interacted with four adolescent lions—three females and a male. They were not drugged and seemed to be well fed, and somewhat frisky too, well as frisky as you can afford a grownup lion to be. Ritu and I caressed them, no different than how we do with our Golden Labs. I walked behind the male, holding his tail.
Our lunch was in an African village where we had to cook our own food with small groups competing against each other. My team came second. I should have celebrated. Unfortunately, my wife’s team had come first. Later that night, there was a fancy neon party with everybody dressed in whites with shiny laces. I tried to sway like a lion, imagining my dancing laces to be the lion’s tail, wondering what if the lion had turned back on me.
Day 4. There was a rock pool right on the edge of the Falls called Devil’s Pool. The sheer drop touching it makes it an ultimate infinity pool. It took a boat ride, rock-strewn walk, and a swim to slip into the pool. We were immediately pushed to the edge by the force of the river with the rock bringing us to a halt as the raging waters crashed over the cliff a few inches away. The guide firmly held my feet as I gathered the courage to peep over the edge to witness a spectacle—the Zambezi flowing past and crashing down over the precipice, a hundred-meter drop into a rainbow on the riverbed.
The dining experience was over an exotic train journey. We learnt about the history of Zambia and how the self-sufficient country loans money to the World Bank, although, the scene outside told a different story. The train was whistling through slum areas with half-naked kids screaming, playing, and chasing the train. They must be seeing the train every day, yet their excitement was unbridled with their hearts full of rainbows. I mused over my own rainbow on the riverbed from earlier in the day—what if the guide’s hands had slipped off my feet?
Day 5. We ticked-off the last item on the itinerary before our morning departure. It was the Victoria Falls Microlight flight, an open cockpit experience. The tiny plane looked like a tricycle from the movie, ET. It could carry only one passenger at a time. Perhaps, it’s the closest that one could feel to a bird. I gazed at all the places we had been to, the Falls, the resort, the rafting location, the orphanage, the train, the village, and the Devil’s Pool. As I felt the wind in my hair and sun on my face, for a brief serene moment, a sudden realization dawned upon me. It caught me off guard. And from up there, I silently thanked the fabulous organizing committee of the EO retreat for my realization.
Home again. Life slipped back into routine in no time with the same predictable structure that governed my daily pursuits. Writing this blog itself is one such organized activity. Yet, interestingly, when I reminisce my getaway, the moments that took my breath away are not the famous Falls, but the ones that carried an element of uncertainty—the fisherman on the edge, the trek to the raft, holding the lion’s tail as he walked, peeping over the Falls, and flying like a bird! Would I have enjoyed as much if I had stayed within my structured frameworks?
I realized that when we expect too much order, we lose out on the beautiful moments in experiences, and at times in relationships. No matter how firm our do’s and don’ts, or even ideologies are – sometimes life and relationships should be treated like a flow of water – by learning to let go and not hold on. It worked for me. I had let myself free like the solid edge of the Falls that let go of the river. And I had the time of my life!