Return to ‘the smoke that thunders’

The locals call it ‘Mosi-Oa-Tunya’ or ‘the smoke that thunders’, a far more evocative and beautiful name that the one this place is known by the world over: the Victoria Falls. Whatever name you give it though, a visit here – to one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – never fails to take the breath away. It’s powerful, majestic and – with a year-round waterfall generated by the powerful spray from the Falls – absolutely mesmerising.

I’m in Zambia for a major airport event, the ACI African Regional Annual Assembly, which is being held from this weekend until Wednesday evening. Importantly, in a first for this conference (which has attracted around 200 senior executives from airports right across the continent, north and south), it has a strong commercial component. Later in the week I’ll be chairing a session about the role, potential and challenges of retail and other commercial revenues in this region’s aviation sector.

We’ll bring you more on the event soon. Today though is about reliving old memories. You see, it’s 41 years since I first came to the Falls (yes, I know I look barely half that age…) and this is a homecoming of sorts. My family lived in Zambia at the time, where my father was an engineer helping to build a runway in the Copperbelt area further north. My brother (who today will profess to being nothing other than a true blue Dubliner) was born here.

That’s why I’m delighted that my father took the chance to come with me on this trip. Earlier we strolled down to visit the Falls together, sharing some poignant moments at the top (pictured). I expect there’ll be plenty more memories and nostalgia in the days ahead. He’ll get to do plenty more revisiting too in coming days, through ACI’s excellent social programme for accompanying partners.

But really, you barely need an organised programme to get excited by this place. A zebra just strolled past my window a moment ago, there are monkeys in the nearby trees and (a little too close for comfort) a lake outside my door with a sign saying ‘Please beware of crocodiles’.

It promises to be an eventful few days in the shadow of ‘the smoke that thunders’.

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