Our final days in Namibia were spent on the western edge of the Caprivi Strip, at the best camp we’ve stayed at so far, Ngepi. Nestled on the banks of the Okavango, the camp has been created by someone with a great sense of humour and is known for its unusual open-air toilets and baths scattered throughout the camp. Each camping area has its own quirky ablutions, ranging from ‘The Toilet of Eden’ a lovely little loo set in an oasis of plants & flowers, ‘The Throne’ which is a huge carved wooden throne toilet which looks out across the river, to ‘Poopa Falls’ which is a toilet seated at the top of a telegraph pole. A self-guided ‘Toilet tour’ makes for a hilarious afternoon of discovery as well as an overload of toilet humour and silly photos. After the toilet humour began to wear thin, we went off for a swim in the ‘croc cage’, a floating steel cage swimming pool in the Okavango river! Despite the protective cage, it was hard to relax in the water knowing that hippos and crocs were all around – a quick dip was enough!
Back at camp, we met a great couple in the site next to us, Jenny & Tony, who were British ex-pats who had retired to South Africa and were currently on holiday. We spent a hilarious evening with them at the bar, enjoying one too many beers. We had to be up early the next day, as we’d booked to go on a fishing trip, but what we hadn’t realised is that although we were still in Namibia, the camp actually worked on Botswana time, GMT +2?? So with sore heads we woke early and got ready to meet our guide, as we were getting the last of our things together we saw the guide walking towards us. ‘Where you been?’ he asked. ‘I waiting you for 1 hour’. It was still too early to compute what he was saying until he pointed to his watch laughing ‘ You guys on Namibia time, it is half past 8!’. Oops! We quickly grabbed our stuff and rushed to the boat, hoping that we hadn’t missed our chance of catching an elusive Tiger Fish. The boat was little more than a platform & engine strapped to a couple of canoes, but we were too focused on the fishing to worry about the sea-worthiness of our boat. We dropped our lines in and began trawling off the side. It was a beautiful morning and out on the river there was so much birdlife, hippos and game up on the banks, it was lovely just to be out on the water, regardless of whether we caught anything or not. But as I sat back to relax, ‘Ziiiiiiiiiiiiiizzzzzzz’, my line was running! I jumped up, yanking the rod back as hard as I could and began to reel in my catch. Just 10minutes in, I was about to land my first Tiger Fish! They’re great fighting fish and as I reeled it in, the fish leapt into the air a number of times, it was an awesome sight and I couldn’t help but be incredibly smug that once again my fishing success was far exceeding Richard’s! That said, there was no way I was taking the hook out of this thing, it’s got huge razor sharp teeth, so I left this to the skill of our guide. Fortunately for Richard, the Murray River episode wasn’t going to be repeated and shortly afterwards he too caught a Tiger Fish narrowly avoiding being out-fished by a girl again!
Namibia has been truly amazing – a land of spectacular & remote landscapes, friendly people and an abundance of wildlife. It’s a very easy place to travel (when your car is working) and as a friend said, ‘It’s still only Africa-Lite’, ‘Africa-proper’ still awaits!
We crossed into Botswana at Mohembo – a very quiet and easy crossing. Brits don’t require visas, just a free entry permit, but you need to buy road tax and insurance (250Pula). We headed through with little fuss, before reaching the Vet fence where we had to queue for awhile. To protect their beef export market into Europe, a fence was erected to prevent domestic cattle from being infected with foot and mouth disease from feral animals. As you cross the fence line, the car is searched for any meat products, the car tyres and all your shoes have to be sprayed with disinfectant. It seems more of a government tick box, than something that actually offers any disease prevention and instead the fence prevents the second largest migration of wildebeest and zebras (after the Serengeti) meaning wildlife numbers are plummeting in the area as these nomadic animal are no longer allowed to continue their traditional migration.
Again the change complete change in everything around us one we crossed the border was amazing.
We drove on through the villages of Botswana – it was a beautiful drive, the villagers all coming out to wave, everyone looking happy, the sun was shining, Kylie was behaving – it felt really good! As a testament to how well the car is running, we even received our first speeding fine! Driving out of a village where the speed is 60km/ph, we were just hitting our cruising speed of 80km/hr when a policeman jumped out in front of us, almost a little too excitedly! Apparently we weren’t out of the village yet and so it was going to be a big fine – 1,000Pula! Richard got out of the car and began chatting with the officer. Talk soon turned to where we were from, where we were going and how many kilometres we needed to do. Rich then turned up the charm levels explaining that we’d been having some troubles and how we wished we had a lovely car like his ‘Powerful and Strong’ Toyota Landcruiser. Not quite done on charm Richard continued with ‘Wow look how shiny and worn your hand-cuffs are, you must be a hard working officer, locking up all these bad criminals’. The magic was beginning to work and the fine was soon reduced to 400Pula, not before some dodgy suggestions of a 200Pula backhander to cancel the fine! Happy to take the legitimate fine and not pay a bribe we were soon on our way – both slightly proud of our ‘penalty notice’ as weeks before we’d barely thought we have a car that worked, not to mention one that could break speed limits!
Our first stop was Tsodilo Hills – this place is truly the Uluru of Botswana. Out of the flat landscape, 4 huge granite hills rise up to 1500m making it a place of huge importance to different tribes and religions over the years. It’s cultural significance has earned it a World Heritage listing as it also contains the highest concentration of rock paintings in the world – created by the San bushmen over 3,000years ago. A relatively untouched area, the road in has only recently been improved so tourists have only just beginning to discover this area. However, the locals have still got a lot to learn if they are to keep tourists coming. It turns out that back in May the area was handed to the local community to run, which I’m all for, but the prices that they now charge are ridiculous, considering it was all free up until 6months ago. We arrived at the gate and were told we needed to pay 50Pula each to enter, a new fee, but seemed fair enough so we pay the entry fee. When we get to the centre the guide asks for 120Pula and he will take us to see the paintings. Again, more expensive than the guidebook states, but still seems reasonable as it’s a private tour for 2 hours. We walked up over the ‘female hill’ and are shown the beautiful red rock paintings, it’s uncanny how similar they are to the Aboriginal paintings in Australia, even though the continents had long been separated by that point, there are many similarities. The most bizarre thing (apart from our guide who would just suddenly start peeing without warning on more than one occasion) was the depiction of whales and penguins. The nearest coastline is Namibia over 600klms away.
We had a beautiful walk in the late afternoon sun and when we returned we asked if we could camp near to the centre, as the guidebook said camping was free if you’d paid for a guide. The response was no, we had to head back to the community camp by the entrance gate, where the cost was 130Pula EACH! This was more expensive than any of the luxury lodges we’ve camped at, so we hoped with fake optimism that the new camp must be equipped with fantastic ablutions, pool, Jacuzzi, bar……. Was there? NO! We found ourselves in a dusty field with new but broken ablutions. Despite having only opened in May, the toilets didn’t work, the sinks were still unplumbed on the floor and the shower, although with running, hot water had such large sections missing from the wall that taking a shower meant exposing yourself to the rest of the campers – fortunately there were only a few others there. There were a couple of complementary extras – a couple of donkeys which kept bonking loudly close to our tent and the other was a scorpion which had us scarpering for our socks and shoes! We left the camp the next day feeling very disgruntled. It was shocking to see that a new community project was in such ruins already. I tried to have ‘words’ with the woman on the gate, but knowing my efforts were pointless I didn’t waste my breath for too long and we left.
After the abysmal camp the night before, we were relieved to arrive in Maun at Sedia Hotel – with fantastic facilities and big camping areas right by the river – all for 50 Pula a night! That’s more like it! We needed a good base to relax in, as the next day was spent running round in circles in what is the parks permit & camping fiasco. The parks decided to privatise the campsites a few years ago, so before you can get a parks permit to enter into Moremi, Savuti and Chobe you have to book your campsites. Of course, all the campsites are owned by different companies and their offices are scattered across Maun, so the circus begins of rushing from office to office working out who has what availability. As we hadn’t booked ahead, we had to rely on cancellations so in all we must have visited each office at least 3 times as we didn’t want to book campsites in the north of the park until we had confirmation our camps in the South had been booked. The most illogical and farcical process I have encountered yet and expensive! Park entry per day is around $50 plus camping fees, which at Savuti is $100USD, that’s almost 80 quid to camp for a night!!!….there better be a free bar, Jacuzzi, pool….!
So here we are, relaxing by the pool at Sedia, Savannah Dry in hand and Swansea City V Spurs on the telly! Tomorrow we head off into the wilds of Botswana, looking forward to some serious off-roading (deep sand and water crossings) elephant dodging and hoping we don’t end up on the Lions’ a la carte menu! If the car, and us, make it through this, then we can get through anything!