As you travel eastwards, the narrow Caprivi Strip opens up into the Eastern Caprivi – a triangle of land that looks to me like a foot at the end of a long leg. The Caprivi part of Namibia has its own character. It is far less touristy. There are more traditional villages – and they are so well groomed and litter free. The huts are typical thatched rondavels, or square buildings with mud walls. Each homestead – collection of huts – has a well made reed wall surrounding. Strangely, the surrounding walls are cut straight along the top in much the same way as hedges are trimmed in the UK.
It feels more authentic in some ways.
We turned off the long, straight tar road onto a gravel road. Well, gravel road under construction to become a tar road really. We carried on down here for another 70 kilometers, before turning on a narrow “twee spoor” (two tracks) road that started wind between the trees, the grasses giving off their characteristic bushveld smell. In some ways, it felt like we were back in Moremi, but we were headed for Mamili National Park.
This is one of the least known national parks in Namibia. It is situated across the border from Okavango Delta and the Linyati Swamps. It is truly remote – in a very good way.
Our visit to the Park office revealed the stark reality of the park: there are only two tree islands, but since the water has come in already, only 1 is reachable by car. And even that one has many water channels, so we were advised to take care. In spite of a few campsites being marked on Tracks4Africa, these have long since been washed away. Instead, there is a community campsite just outside the park. All this was news was slightly disappointing, but when Mother Nature is in charge of the water, there is little us mere mortals can do but comply.
The campsite was one of the better community campsites we have stayed in. We had our own washing up sink and a donkey was lit for us to have hot showers. What more can you ask for! Our view was over one of the waterways – very peaceful as the sunset. But it too suffered the same problems that almost every community campsite in Africa has: they have no change for payments (do they really expect tourists to say ‘keep the change’?). The well advertised cold drinks for sale were, well, all sold. Large refrigerators standing empty.
Up early the next morning we headed into the park not long after dawn. The paper map we were given was marginally useful: we had been told to avoid tracks where there had only one car and stick to the tracks that seemed to have more traffic. Great <eyes wide>! This was a slightly unsettling start, but off we went, a healthy dose of caution in hand. Shortly, we saw a huge herd of buffalo – at least 50-60. They were still huddled under the trees as the day was slow to warm up. We also saw an elephant – not quite the size of herds we had been spoilt with in Botswana, but still a sighting. The hippo pool was very quiet when we finally found it – not a hippo or crocodile in sight. We saw a few antelopes and many warthog, but with a small road network to wander around on, we soon exhausted our options.
It was time to turn back – the channels were full of water and we were reluctant to cross. Being on our own seemed enough of a reason to persuade Viking Explorer, but I would have been hesitant even with other vehicles to bail us out.
The birdlife was varied, and we added a few new birds to our Namibia birdlist. We had hoped to see more waterbirds, but they were somewhat absent.
In some ways it was disappointing – but then our recent benchmarks are Etosha and Botswana! Hardly a fair comparison. But all in all, it was worth the excursion. Sadly, not enough to do for 2 days as we had originally hoped, but good to see somewhere really quite different.
On our way out, we found a track that lead to the Nkasa Lupala Tented Lodge, just on the edge of the park. What a charming little spot overlooking the water. The previous night a herd of elephant had come down to drink, much to the delight of the guests. “Tent” – as in tented lodge – seems an understatement. Yes, they were indeed made of canvas, but with a double bed and en suite bathroom – and even outside bathtub with a view – this was hardly camping. Paolo kindly showed us around.
We got chatting to him and his wife Em. What a fascinating couple, and in many ways such kindred spirits. They have left the rat race, and are exploring many other options – this opportunity to manage Nkasa Lupala being one. Like us, they are strongly resisting being “sucked back into the matrix” as Em so eloquently stated. Like us, they are getting closer one slow step at a time. We look forward to seeing them again.
And so, with our time in Namibia drawing to a close, it was off to Katima Mulilo, the last town we’ll stay at in Namibia before we cross the border into Zambia.