The Caprivi Strip of Namibia is a panhandle of land snaking between Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the south and edging right up to Zimbabwe in the east.
This was a totally different experience to the one we had in Namibia two years ago.Then it was the desert, here it is a green, forested area with small villages of mud and thatch houses, sometimes round, sometimes square, and surrounded by fences of sticks and reeds to keep the elephants out. The Cubango River from Angola becomes the Okavango, and cuts right across the middle of the Strip and flows south to Botswana to its famous Delta region.
We were to pass through a town called Kongola on the map - big letters, sizeable town - and we needed to stop to buy a few essentials (like mixers for the vodka...). It consisted of one shop called "Cheap Shop", a small shed built of corrugated iron. And, unless more was hidden beyond our sight, that was it. No matter; I had at least three more cans of bitter lemon in the fridge, but things could get desperate tomorrow.
The western side of the Strip is a Game Reserve and we kept a lookout for animals. But thick shrubs and bushes meant we saw only a single giraffe and an elephant which crossed the road directly behind the car as we stopped to take a photo of the sign that said to watch out for elephants!
We crossed the Okavango River and turned off toward our next camp right on the banks of the river. Ngepi Camp ("ngepi" means "how are you") had camping areas nestled in the bush with the best showers and toilets ever. The showers were open air and encircled by reed fences, with the showerhead a gal bucket with holes in the bottom hanging from a huge tree. The basins and taps were set into a fallen tree trunk and vines and creepers grew all around. And the water was HOT! The toilets were on platforms with a fence only on three sides and facing the open river. Another facility was the gal hip bath also set up on a platform overlooking the view. Fantastic!
Four of us hired mokoros in the late afternoon, two to a boat and each boat with a local poler/guide. We were taken downriver, paddling quietly into the side channels, through the reeds and water lilies, listening and watching out for the birds who would, in the absence of motorboat noise, be right next to us. The boys kept a good lookout for hippos and crocs - either can turn over the somewhat unsteady dugout canoe type craft. On the return journey up stream back to the camp, a pod of hippos to one side in the water meant that we paddled right over to the other side and through the centre of a reed island, rather than give the pod a reason to get upset. Once we were past and in the main river again, I looked back to see one large animal heading towards us - only a warning we hoped, and continued on.
In the morning, yet another open safari truck collected us for the next adventure. And so it was back over the border into Botswana and to the village of Shakawe to enjoy the comforts of a fully equipped houseboat for two days.
The "Kubu Queen" is an old ferry now fully fitted out for cruising the Okavango River. Cabins, bathroom, bar, a lounge and dining area complete with books and magazines, the owner who skippered the boat and tended the bar, and two crew who cooked and served and looked after the boat - everything one could want! We cruised down the river for about 40 kms and moored against a tiny island dotted with date palms. Greg took us out in the aluminium punt that was being towed behind the houseboat to explore the narrow side channels and look for birds and other animals. Trees drooped down to the water making dark caverns of their branches and protection for small creatures. The Waterberry Tree showed off green then purple fruit crowded onto its branches. At times the reeds almost closed in above our heads, barely a metre from each side of the boat and reaching up to the sky. Quiet spots along the banks harboured water lilies in full flush of flower. Birds, insect eaters with bright rainbow coloured feathers, flitted from reed to reed. The greens and blues of the Bee-eaters, the black and white of Kingfishers, the brilliant scarlet of Red Bishops, the sunny yellow and brown of Weaverbirds, the sparkling white of Egrets, red, white and blue Wire-Tail Swallows - and a hundred more. We glimpsed a rare sight: the White-Fronted Night Heron, listed as one of the top ten want-to-see birds by twitchers.
Greg's passion is fishing and we set some lines with lures to try and catch the elusive Tigerfish - a sharp-toothed fighter, notoriously hard to catch especially in the wet season when the abundance of water means that the fish are spread out over a wide area. Russ was the first to catch one and Greg kept it to feed the Fish Eagle that lived nearby. A piece of papyrus reed through it from front to back would keep it afloat so the bird could put on a show for us and swoop down to snatch it from the water. (Next day I caught a slightly bigger tigerfish...)
The food was excellent, the quiet of the river soothing, the company congenial. As Rat says in The Wind in the Willows, there is nothing so nice as messing about in boats.