Research has shown that spending time in surroundings untarnished by concrete and steel (read: our natural world in harmony with itself) has mental health enhancing qualities. But, if being in a forest or on a lake is good for you, being near a waterfall is even better. And, experiencing the intensity of one of the largest waterfalls in the world is, well, exponentially better.
Zambia is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, The Victoria Falls. In local vernacular it is known as Mosi-Oa-Tunya, “The Smoke That Thunders”: The “smoke” is towering columns of vapor from the falls you can see from miles away. The “thunder” is the deep heartbeat, rumble of the water plummeting. It is nearly twice the height (360 feet) and over twice the width (1 mile) of Niagara Falls. David Livingston (“Dr. Livingston, I presume.”), the first European to testify of its majestic beauty, wrote, “…scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”
The falls display a magnificent wall of water stretching a mile across the unyielding basaltic rock on the mighty, mighty Zambezi River. In the rainy season, torrential curtains of water plunging off the falls create a musical spectacle of sound and light. The rainbows are exceptional! I have personally witnessed an extraordinary 360° beauty. Moon bows, an extremely rare phenomenon, can be witnessed there on a full moon night. The light from the moon and the precipitation from the falls, coupled with absolutely no light pollution, make a ghost-like rainbow in the skies. Travelers and locals gather together on the lawn to picnic and share the rarity of the experience. It’s a beautiful thing.
The light and sounds are amazing, but the most awe-inspiring element of the falls is the intense energy created from all that falling water. From my first visit there, I noticed how broad the smiles were on the radiant faces confronted with the cataract’s brazen display. Happiness is contagious there. A common occurrence is to see people joyfully shouting at the top of their lungs at the thunderous cascades and dancing in the rainstorm it makes, letting their worries and cares wash away in its powerful showers.
I pondered this tendency until one day I came across an article about “The Grin Effect”. Apparently, there is scientific credence to what I had been observing. Any fall of water, including your bathroom shower, produces something called negative ions, which increase the level of serotonin in humans. The opposite of negative ions are positive ions [Go figure.], or what are commonly referred to as the enemy of youthfulness, free radicals. Serotonin levels have been linked to mood, sexual desire and function, memory and learning, and appetite: the more, the merrier. In fact most anti-depressants (e.g., Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, and Paxil) are designed to boost serotonin levels. In other words, falling water affects a cascade of mood enhancing chemicals in our bloodstream. Consequently, one of the largest cataracts in the world, Victoria Falls, is one of the most mood enhancing places on Earth.
It is ironic that Victory Falls was named by David Livingston in honor of his Queen, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Her life was marked by melancholy. She should have traveled to her name-sake to experience its healing qualities!