Caprivi Strip and Bwabwata National Park
We continue north. The roads are empty, long and straight. At first we pass large European cattle holdings. But then the countryside turns to indigenous land use and subsistence farming - thatched huts, rural villages, plots of maize and millet, small herds of cattle driven along the wide road sides by men or boys. There are more people about, walking, bike riding, chatting on the road side. Women carry babies on their backs and containers on their heads. Simple churches are numerous, but I note the shape of many of the windows, like European ecclesiastical buildings, domed at the top. Curious in an African setting. The landscape is different from the Namibia we have seen in the south. We are entering the ‘real’ Africa.
In Rundu we make purchases at Shoprite and eat our lunch on the street outside beside the vehicles while Jan continues his search for a land rover window. We arrive at the beginning of the Caprivi Strip or Panhandle, a narrow neck of Namibia wedged in between Angola and Zambia to the north and Botswana in the south. Our time in Namibia is nearly over. We camp at Divundu right on the Okavango River, full of crocodiles and hippos. It’s the first of a number of rivers in the panhandle - Kwando River half way along the Strip becomes the Chobe River that forms a border between Namibia and Botswana, and then there is the great Zambezi River, fourth largest river in Africa and famous for the Victoria Falls.
I say ‘camp’ at Divundu. But in fact we upgrade to a chalet where we will be for two nights. Sleeping in the tent is no problem at all. I like it. But it is nice to enjoy a queen bed, to have the ensuite three steps away and to have extra free time instead of putting up and taking down your tent. We are on the Okavango for the purpose of visiting the Bwabwata National Park. Have you heard of that one? No, I hadn’t either. It was formed in 2007 from several game reserves and is unusual in that about 5,500 people live in the park and the main Caprivi road runs through it.
We have a problem with time. Daylight saving ended in Namibia several days ago, but Botswana and the Caprivi Strip, though in Namibia, run on South African time. So does the camp site, unbeknown to us. The result is that we are just getting out of bed when we receive word that the game cart is waiting for us, ready for the morning drive into the national park. We rattle our dags (NZ rural lingo for ‘we really hurry’) and rush off to the waiting game cart. This time Martin and Graham as well as Judy and myself are being driven and they can give their full concentration to the wild life. Timo, our black African driver has an excellent understanding of the bush, the bird life and the animals. He points out several of the less common antelopes, such as the kudu, roan and puku, which are all new to us. It is great to watch a group of three elephants playing in the river, squirting dirt and water over themselves and their companions. We stop for a drink and a walk beside a gigantic Baobab tree with elephant markings on the thick grey bark.
In the late afternoon we take a boat ride on the Okavango River to view the Poppa Falls and the wild life – lots and lots of hippos. The human activity is interesting too. Two children fish along the river in the early evening sunlight and on the other bank a man fills up large yellow drums with water from the river and loads them into his vehicle. I wonder what he will use the water for. Is it drinking water? Not far from him the hippos blow air bubbles as they submerge and rise again. Back home, someone is complaining on Radio NZ about the quality of our river water and I think of the man on the Okavango; at least I don’t have to collect it in yellow drums or drink it untreated.
In the morning, our group all try their electronic gadgetry in order to contact home. The internet and emailing have been intermittent and frustrating, so I am jubilant when I get into my emails without any problem. We have news from the family around the world and from friends at home. That’s so good when you are away for an extended time.
Back on our travels we stop when we meet two people walking in the middle of the deserted road hauling a large wooden cross on small wheels.
“What are you doing this for?” I ask
“We are just one group of a number who are walking the length and breadth of our country. We are praying for Namibia and asking God to bless it,” one of them says. A support car pulls up with two more of the group and they join our discussion. I ask if I can take a photo of them and I jot their names down - Eddie, Lynda, Cherelle and Adelaide. Shortly they will meet up in a central location with all the walkers from around Namibia.
We stop at Kongola and visit several markets. The first is a village bazaar selling cheap made-in-China goods like clothing and household goods. It seems that the market is held frequently, for there is a large concrete pad, a permanent corrugated iron roof and concrete platforms for the goods. We wander along the stalls, feeling conspicuous as mzungu, white people, in this completely African setting. Used in Central Africa, this Bantu term literally means "someone who roams around aimlessly"; that’s exactly what we are doing! Rather than the merchandise on offer, I am more interested in two women walking past, their posture stately as they carry heavy sacks on their heads. One has a baby in her side bag, the tiny foot poking out behind her; the other carries a grass crop over her shoulder as well as a full shoulder bag around her back. African women are the burden bearers.
The other market down the road is Mashi Craft Trading Post, a co-operative venture, selling a number of well-made and well exhibited indigenous items. I decide to support their work and I purchase a carved wooden map of the African continent – it’s a relief to see quality African items rather than shoddy imported goods. I discuss the price with the shop attendant and I am shown the record of the item in their ledger. I am impressed with how beautifully it is set out and with the great detail along the long line of the record – the item, the craft maker and their number, the retail price, the profit and so on. A plaque on the wall indicates that they have received funding from America to upgrade their facilities. I hope they are successful in their enterprise.
We spend our final night in Namibia in Katima Mulilo, camping on the banks of the Zambezi River. The grounds of the camp site are immaculate with trim grass edges, clipped shrubs and neat thatched buildings. I recall a scene from a few days ago as we leave Okakuejo in Etosha. The area where an overland bus has spent the night is strewn with plastic bags, drink bottles, food containers, rubbish of all descriptions. They must have left their rubbish bags out in the open at night for the jackals to tear apart, and then they had departed without cleaning up their mess. Not a good look; not a good advertisement for that overland outfit.
Two women come by the tent and ask if I have some washing to be done. Yes, I have just enough Namibian dollars left to pay for it. In the evening we sit around the fire pit enjoying the glow of the embers and the light on the river. The silence of the night is broken by the flip flop of frogs, the slash of fish and the grunt of a passing hippo. Tomorrow we will cross the border into Botswana.