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Namibia Travel Journal
Caprivi - 1st leg of our Namibia Adventure

Sylvia Ferguson, Sedgefield, South Africa
www.discover-sedgefield-south-africa.com

More journal entries by Sylvia:
Ngepi to Etosha – 2nd leg of our Namibia Adventure | Etosha to Waterberg Plateau – 3rd leg of our Namibia Adventure | Waterberg to Epupa - 4th leg of our Namibia Adventure | A delightful Day on Knysna Lagoon (South Africa's Garden Route)

Editorial Note: Caprivi, also called the Caprivi Strip, is a narrow panhandle of Namibia stretching eastward about 450 Km (280 miles). Namibia has much to offer the adventurer, including wildlife, 4x4 trails, quadbiking, balloon flights over the Sossusvlei dunes and exploring the Skeleton Coast.

 

Caprivi Self Drive Camping Adventure

 

Botswana to Namibia's Caprivi Strip

Caprivi Adventure - the beginning

 

Elephant Sands, Botswana

Towards 5pm, to reach our next campsite, aptly named Elephant Sands, we have to traverse 1.8kms of sand road deep and steep, soft as powder that amazingly doesn’t create a speck of dust. Our Suzuki handles its first real test easily. The camp is remote and pristine, a remnant of untouched Africa. The ablutions are made of reeds and open to the sky. An attendant warns that if we came across lions on our way to the ablutions in the night, not to run but stand still and let them go on – !%L#?! – I love wildlife but I don’t know if I have the nerves for that!

Sure enough, just after midnight two male lions huffing softly stroll through the unfenced campsite – the pervasive sound waking us instantly. It feels like they are right outside our tent. My heart skips a beat - I have never been so close to wild lions with only a flimsy canvas sheet between us!  I can feel their presence, hear their feet on the sand, their breathing, but I don’t have the courage to open our tent flap to see them. The silence is deafening as we hold our breath letting the kings of the night indifferently strut their stuff through a tenuous piece of man’s domain! Afterwards, there is a fair amount of excited muffled conversation from the few neighbouring tents and it takes a while to sleep again.

 

Onward to Namibia - via Chobe and Ngoma Border Post

Next day, it’s a pleasant surprise that the main road takes us through Chobe National Park and we see elephant, warthog, impala and baboon almost without looking for game and then we are through the border post of Ngoma into Namibia.

Chobe wetland

Here the Chobe River forms a broad delta-type wetland and the channels and streams are an impressive sight.  The bird life is prolific and if we hadn’t time restraints we could spend hours enjoying it instead of a mean 40 minutes! The road through Botswana has been terribly bad in places, more potholes than road so we don’t know what lies ahead. However, on the Namibian side, the road is good and after a quick stop at Katima Malilo for some provisions, we have to partly double back 20kms to our Island View destination. We have travelled 2641kms from home.

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Caprivi, Namibia

Island View Campsite in Namibia - Kalimbeza Channel

Our campsite is beautifully shaded by great trees on the banks of the Kalimbeza Channel leading to the Zambezi, one of the great rivers of Africa  – and its flowing high now after good summer rains. We found out that Island View had until recently been inaccessible for a number of weeks because of flooding. In the end they had built their own access road so visitors could get to them again. Lucky for us!

There is no one else in the deserted campsite and we can choose our spot and set up camp fairly quickly. Then we sit quietly absorbing the magical sounds of the African bushveld as night falls – there is nothing to beat it! Somehow once its dark, sound is magnified, and the bush becomes alive around us. Hippos grunt invisibly in the water. Opportunistic Spotted Hyenas advertise their nightly prowling with their recognisable whoo-oop call. An elephant trumpets in the distance. A jittery troop of baboons bark and shriek as they clamber for high safe branches to sleep on, aware that danger lurks for them in the darkness. A flock of egrets call as they fly overhead to their communal roost. Jackals yip and yodel as they leave their dens to scout for food. Other baffling sounds reach our ears some muted, others distinct – we wish we could identify them. It is pleasantly warm and the night sky is magnificent – there are no city lights anywhere close to dim the stars’ radiance that emanates from them like the glow around a candle flame. Exquisite!

The new day dawns cool and refreshing and we have booked a 3-hour boat trip along the waterways of the Zambezi. Our guide Alfred whilst not being an expert birder is an expert spotter of birds and was quick to point out ones we would have otherwise missed. We carry our bird book to identify the finer points.

Life on the Zambezi River

Island View is a popular fishing destination hosting many angling competitions. Tiger fish and bream are the main catches.  However, we are not fishermen and we see only a few other boats, some of them the graceful hand-made mokoros made from trunks of sausage trees by the local wood carvers. It is one of their traditional crafts. It is a warm tranquil day filled with the soothing sounds of running water, distant hippos grunting and birdcalls. The next day we walk along the river birding and later relax around the camp.

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Namushasha and Madumu Game Reserve, Kwando River

The next day, after breaking camp, its only 200 kms to Namushasha situated on the floodplains of the Kwando River – and they are flooded! We cannot get in to explore this game reserve but the campsite is beautiful and we have it all to ourselves. We are able to monopolise the central lapa that has washing-up facilities, a gas freezer and a gas 2- plate stove. We store our kitchen equipment in the lapa setting up our table and chairs there. It frees up some space in our cramped tent which feels really good! There’s not much left of the day so we walk around the camp birding.

Next morning we drive into Madumu Game Reserve. The dirt roads become deep sand at times but Wayne engages the 4x4 and it’s no problem. We see a large herd of at least 100 Buffalo, 30 Roan Antelope, Elephant – several times, Kudu, Impala, Warthog, Hippo, Zebra, Wildebeest and numerous birds including my favourite the Bateleur Eagle.  The bushveld is beautiful – reminiscent of Zimbabwe, our birthplace – then I realise it’s on the same latitude, just further west so no wonder!

Namushaha and Lianshulu Lodge - Caprivi

Before leaving the reserve we call in at Lianshulu Lodge for some ice cold drinks.  The Lodge was limelighted by its film star visitors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. We get into conversation with a young black hostess, Theresa an Herero by descent, brought up in Windhoek. She can speak, read and write English, Afrikaans, French and her own language and she has some knowledge of a number of other African languages. She had previously been an actor for 5 years but said it didn’t keep food on the table. She then worked in a travel agency but jumped at the opportunity given by Wilderness Safaris to train as a tourist guide. She was one of 27 applicants and successfully obtained one of the 8 positions they were looking to fill, intruding into traditional male territory, she added.

She told us that Wilderness Safaris has a programme that extends to vulnerable children and (aids) orphans bringing them into camps for up to 2 weeks at a time and teaching them life skills and conservation. One of their current top guides emerged from such a program. She said that in the Caprivi, Aids is the worst in Namibia because women don’t have a voice. We had noticed as we drove the Trans-Caprivi highway that the tribal villages set back from the road at intervals looked pretty much as though people were living the way they had always lived – no evidence of electricity, or TV or even running water. We saw a man with some children walking next to oxen pulling a sleigh loaded with a large container of water obviously hauling it from the river to his home. Theresa was a savvy town girl, from Namibia’s capital, far more worldly wise and ambitious. She respects her culture but is not impressed with the old tribal ways. A husband was not on her agenda in the foreseeable future!  

At Namushasha we had the quietest nights. Darkness descends swiftly. It becomes pitch black and I can’t even see Wayne in his chair beside me. At first I found it intimidating, even slightly menacing but then I relaxed into it and it became cosy and embracing like a blanket. I felt the atmosphere of mystery, on the earth, in the sky, unfathomable, as our lives appear at times to be! When I awaken in the night, it is to complete silence – I can touch it, feel it – it’s as if the universe is holding its breath.  There is a sense of timelessness in me. It’s a place where everything connects, with spirit and eternity.  These wild places near and far, reach into my heart and fill me with wonder. We will be impoverished if we lose them to man’s relentless encroachment into wilderness areas.

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Ngepi Camp on the Kavango River

200kms further on we find ourselves at Ngepi Camp, picturesquely situated on the banks of the Kavango River. It is a unique camp in many ways and consciously eco-friendly. They also have an unusual hippo and crocodile underwater viewing pool but the water was just too cold to completely submerge in.  The waters of the Kavango River flow from Angola but never reach the sea. Instead it divides into channels and forms the rich diverse Okavango Delta and swamplands in Botswana – resulting in a paradise teaming with wild animals and bird life – the lifeblood of a region, its water eventually swallowed up by the sands of the Kalahari Desert. 

Ngepi Camp - Caprivi, Namibia

The area is virtually all game park intermingled with a vast number of scattered tribal villages. We look at Babwata across the river from us and Mahango is just down the road. Large areas are inaccessible because of flooding but we take a drive into Mahango and mid-morning get stuck in deep sand. Wayne saw we had to free our diff and exhaust box that had blocked solidly in the high hump in the middle of the road. He crawled underneath and swept out the sand and grass whilst I kept watch for wild animals! –  the large 4 pawed variety  - although you know any sane golden-maned predator would be lying in the shade chilling through the heat of the day, you never can tell whether he’s had a successful night’s hunting or not! Just as the job was nearly done a German tourist operator came along and all his passengers tumbled out of his large vehicle and he organised them to simply push us out in reverse– it worked!

We later found ourselves a shady place on the banks of the Kavango River and had our picnic lunch sitting in the car. There we spotted 2 herds of buffalo, Puku, Red Lechwe, lots of Spurwing Geese, a group of dainty Black-faced Impala, some noisy hippo, a crocodile or two sunbaking, a few majestic kudu and a lone elephant. We are severely restricted by road conditions but nonetheless it’s good for the animals – their water and their food sources. They’re also able to retreat to the inaccessible places and take a break from being tourist targets.

Flower of the Baobab Tree - Southern AfricaThe stately Baobab tree found here and in many places throughout Nambia is worth a mention. For the most part it looks like some giant hand has planted it upside-down so that its roots are in the air. It has waxy pendulous large creamy flowers and from its fruit we get Cream of Tarter that has a number of uses in cooking. Elephants, Kudu, Nyala and Impala graze on its leaves and a number of game eat the fallen flowers. The natives have long known of its value. The roots are tapped for water and young leaves are cooked and eaten as spinach. The seeds are roasted to provide a substitute for coffee. The fruit makes a refreshing drink and the remaining pulp and seeds are a good supplement for livestock when grazing is poor. Fibre from the inner bark is used to make rope, baskets, nets and fishing line.

Mohongo Game Park and Popa Falls

Before heading back to Ngepi we stop off at Popa Falls. They’re more like rapids but very pretty all the same and there’s a very pleasant grassed shady camping area where one can picnic with the rapids reverberating in the background.

Our first night at Ngepi was the coldest since Palapye and Wayne got up to put on his beanie. I buried my face under the blankets to breathe warm air. After that the nights are mostly balmy but towards dawn the air becomes decidedly chilly. Daylight creeps in with cold feet but as soon as the sun reaches the treetops, the bush wakes up with myriads of bird calls telling us that it’s morning and it quickly develops into a perfect winter’s day, warm and cloudless!

Our last day in the Caprivi we walk away from the river and realise how sandy the ground is as we enjoy some early morning birding. We return to camp to do some necessary chores like washing clothes and also to wash the Suzuki. Here there’s plenty of water and after this it’ll be scarcer and precious. Who knows when we’ll get to wash our vehicle again! After 10 days in the Caprivi, tomorrow we head for Etosha one of the best game reserves in Africa!

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Read about our other adventure travels in Namibia:
Ngepi to Etosha – 2nd leg of our Namibia Adventure
Etosha to Waterberg Plateau – 3rd leg of our Namibia Adventure

image of Sedgefield Website link to www.discover-sedgefield-south-africa.com

I live on South Africa's Garden Route and am always delighted to hear from visitors. You're welcome to visit my website if you would like to ask a question or learn more about the region.

___________________

Sylvia Ferguson
Sedgefield, South Africa 

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