From the dry heat of Etosha National Park we travelled to the north-east ‘strip’ of Namibia (previously known as the Caprivi Strip). This section of the country juts into Botswana and Zambia, bordering those two countries as well as Zimbabwe. It’s known as the ‘Four Rivers Route’: the Kavango (which becomes the Okavango in Botswana), Zambezi, Kwando and Chobe rivers all flow through here.
It was a treat to actually camp next to the Kavango River, and to have a fast-flowing watery world to experience after the absence of water for the previous few months. We had sundowners each evening (as our throats were still dry from the dust of Etosha!) accompanied by the sounds of hippos cavorting. The water is at the heart of the community – and changes (height, breadth and flow) with the seasons. The local people seemed relatively more affluent too, with water to irrigate their crops; using mokoros to fish, for a free food source; and, a real treat, with access to running water for washing, drinking and swimming! Yes, in spite of the prevalence of crocodiles in the Kavango River, young children delighted in swimming in the river, shrieking with pleasure as they splashed and played. According to local beliefs, crocodiles are not interested in eating during the summer months when they breed, so it’s safe to swim in the river then! This belief persists, in spite of evidence to the contrary when so-called ‘rogue crocodiles’ inevitably seize an unsuspecting swimmer each year…
The national parks in the Caprivi Strip are ‘mixed use’… That means that the local people live on the outskirts of the parks, and are able to use the local resources such as wood, to sell firewood to tourists (beautiful, strong hardwood, which takes ages to burn, making wonderful coals for evening braais – or barbecues) or to craft wooden trinkets to sell (hand-carved souvenir mokoros or wild animals). With revenue from tourism being directed back into the local communities, the idea is for local people to value the wildlife within the parks, rather than seeing the animals as just another food source.
These parks (Mahango and Buffalo national parks, within the Bwabwato National Park and conservation area) were relatively empty of visitors, so game viewing was a real treat, with undisturbed sightings. We saw several highlights that were new to us, including Carmine Bee-eaters, Wattled Cranes and Red Lechwe, as well as previous favourites such as majestic Fish Eagles with their haunting cries which are so evocative of the African bush. We spent hours trying to catch the bee-eaters in flight – with varying degrees of success! It was fascinating seeing how the game adapted to the presence of water as the river flooded its banks.
Buffalo national park had previously been home to 32nd Battalion – a South African Defence Force battalion that had been stationed in Namibia when it was still ‘South West Africa’. Stories abound of how the soldiers shot plenty game, treating the area as a hunting playground… Wandering through the ruined remains of their base was an eerie experience, not helped by the fact that we almost became completely mired in deep sand – causing us to face up to a few ghosts of our own as we wondered how long it would be before the next travellers drove past, to help rescue us! Luckily our bakkie proved more resilient than we had given it credit for, and we managed to extract ourselves without having to call on or wait for help!
The watery green northeast corner of Namibia was a revelation – and a complete change to the landscape we’d experienced previously. Apart from the ubiquitous and ever-annoying mosquitoes, we loved it!