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Week 4: Trip report: Namibia: Etosha National Park to Chobe River

Updated: Sep 27, 2019

We’ve now been a full 4 weeks on the road, and I think it’s sufficient to say that we’ve hit the main goals for the first month, which was to find our rhythm, get to know Aardvark, and explore Namibia! During this period we learned that Irene is a better sand driver than me, I should do all the reversing as and when required, how to distinguish the sound that Aardvark makes when its engine wakes up and “roars’’ at us, getting slick in setting up camp in under 5minutes, and that ice is a necessity! We learned that at times we will be overwhelmed, and at times underwhelmed, but at all times an ice cold gin will bring everything back to equilibrium. Also, Kindles are very important regardless how much you like the other person’s company – the last book we downloaded was “The Complete Krav Maga” – our training plan for the next couple of months 😊 Oh and Gurdjieff on Audiobooks make Irene fall asleep straight away - yet play her either Hartklop FM or Laurie Anderson, and even the most mundane stretch of road becomes a thrilling drive through the twilight zone 😊 But firstly, the normal stats: • Total days travelled: 28 • Total distance from Cape Town: 5,848km o We’ve used 1,079 liters of petrol so far, and cooked our way through half a 5kg gas cylinder! • Total borders crossed: 1 (ignoring the toe-dipping into Angola 😊) And then the Aardvark stats for Week 4: • Best drink: Croc-bite gin cocktails on the deck of the Hakusembe River Lodge in Rundu, followed closely by the ice-cold Hansa drafts after our hike to see the famous bee-eaters of the Caprivi/Zambezi • Best food: The local special of slow cooked beef stew, pap and marog at the CA (Caprivi Adventures) Café in Katima Mulilo…njamnjamnjam! • Best view: Watching an endangered black rhino eating its heart out in Etosha Day 22 saw us driving via the empty Ruacana Falls, down the B1 to Etosha National Park to meet up with Annette and Dave again. The Ruacana Falls are at the border post to Angola, and if/when the river is flowing, is apparently magnificent (read the second largest falls in Southern Africa!). We had breakfast overlooking the gorge and incredible rock faces, dipping our toes into Angola, and imagining the water rushing down the 450m gorge before it peters out. Afterwards we hit the road to Etosha, and even though it was a beautiful tarred road, it was very slow going, as every 50meters we encountered another herd of goats, of couple of cows, or the odd donkey or two, all believing that crossing the road is their priviledge, and that they have right of way! Definitely not a road to drive at night! But the sad part was to see the impact of deforestation along the way, with empty strips running along the road for as far as the eye could see… Anyway, we entered Etosha through the King Nhahele gate (after hiding all our frozen meat behind the driver’s seat for the vet fence inspectors that never materialized!), and drove the odd 40km to the NWR Namutoni Campsite. Along the way was an array of zebra skeletons, followed a couple of hundred meters later by very fat and lazy zebras grazing next to the waterhole…nature is strange… Unfortunately, due to the drought, the waterhole at the campsite was just a mud puddle, so the night was spent staring into fires and eating amazing bush cooked curried sweat potatoes with the hidden braaivleis! The next morning started with an early game drive, during which we saw the endangered black rhino munching away! Along with herds of zebras, wildebeest, giraffes (after a while Irene stopped counting), elephants drinking water next to the road, and obviously a frolicking-in-the-mud vlakvark or two! The healthy (read fat) conditions of the animals, despite the drought, showed the effect of the better management of resources, versus the condition of the domestic animals wandering outside of the park (whether due to deforestation, over population, over grazing etc is an open question)…the impact of man on nature definitely a point to ponder on our trip further up North. We said our goodbye’s to Annette and Dave, and then headed out east again, to stop over at Tsumeb’s Kupferfquelle Resort after vowing to never stay at a NWR campsite again! Beforehand a number of experienced Namibian overlanders all told us to rather stay at Tsumeb than Grootfontein, and cited the Olympic size swimmingpool, the green green grass surrounding it and the Dros (?!) as reasons to stay…well, they were right on all counts! Even though it felt more like a caravan park vibe than bush camping, it was a welcome reprieve from the fine white dust of the previous two days that sneaked into every little nook and cranny! We further learnt that whenever we take Aardvark for its mandatory powerwash cleaning session, there should be shebeen closeby…and if not, the Wimpy is not a bad second! That night next to the massive pool, we met with an ex-military group en-route to Angola for a 10day overland trip, who invited us to join their trip through both Angola and down memory lane…we were extremely tempted to join as the people were lovely, even gifting us the phone number of a bush pilot who will extract us from anywhere in Africa, as well as a koekblik filled with home made rusks… Angola is definitely added to our bucket list for future trips! On Day 24 we turned north to Rundu, which is again on the northern border with Angola. Rundu is a surprisingly large town, and we found everything from a gas filling station to a pop-rivet gun to a battery operated small hand drill there…bring on our handywoman selves! The roads in- and out of Rundu were lined with shebeens, so we decided to stop at one just outside the main mayhem, have a cold quart and a chat with the locals. And what a lovely stop the MAKARANGE Shebeen was! We met with 2 sisters called Agnes and Lina, who run their family shebeen (the family also operates a taxi, the other main enterprise in Rundu). And their demeanor went from an initial “why did these ladies stop here? Are they lost?” to trying to convince us to go and explore the local clubbing scene the next night – really beautiful people! They also told us loads of entertaining stories, for example when we queried them about safety (seeing that they are 2 ladies running a shebeen), they told us that the church opposite the road has been broken into 3 times, yet they’ve never had the smallest problem…and they even suspect some of the stolen money made it back into their shebeen 😊 We ended up camping next to the Kunene river again, at yet another Gondwana Hakusembe River Lodge…with our Gondwana cards, we learnt that the cheapest, best camping (aka glamping) to be found was at the Gondwana lodges, where usually they only have 4 or 5 campsites in addition to their fancy lodges, all with their own ablutions, and access to a beautiful pool and sundowner deck. So whilst we still could, we decided to camp in style all the way! And that is also where we had our Croc-bite cocktails – Wilderness Gin, with pomegranate juice and a couple of secret ingredients…sunset over the river being one of them! The next day we headed into the Caprivi, with images of lush vegetation, herds of roaming animals, and river upon flooded plain in mind…and boy were we wrong! The same drought that is holding Namibia captive, didn’t spare this small inlet…rivers were a third of their normal size, vegetation was sparse, and animals in hiding! We still spent a beautiful couple of nights at respectively the Nunda River Lodge close to the Popa Falls (more small rapids than falls at the moment), Namushasha River Lodge as well as the Zambezi Mubala Lodge, where we ended up going for a hike to see the famous bee-eaters nesting…a truly spectacular sight to behold (check out the Instagram post!). That was after we met James and Bella, who have been doing trips across Africa since the 1990’s, and taught as that the only way to travel is with crystal glasses and a very impressive stock of wine….cause life is too short for drinking bad wine out of tin glasses!! After a stop over in Katima Mulilo to taste CA Café (Caprivi Adventures’) coffee and special of the day – the pap, stew and marog that made Irene super happy – we headed down to the border of Botswana, for our last night in Namibia. Again, we imagined flood plains filled with animals (as per the website, and our imagination), and to our utter dismay were faced with yet again a dusty campsite on the bank of a small river with the local cows searching for anything green to eat…unfortunately the drought reached all the way down here to the border with Botswana - the local guides explained to us that this is usually the end of their flooding season, and typically the only way to have reached their lodge and campsite would’ve been via boat!! I’m writing this sitting next to Aardvark just after sunset, overlooking the Chobe River (or what is left of it at the moment) and Botswana on the opposite side, watching Irene braaiing the last of our pork chops before we go over the border (and yet another vet fence!). Using binoculars, one can see the zebras, springbok and giraffe on the other side of the plain…as well as the baby crocodile aka water watchman making its way slowly over the small river which once was the mighty Chobe, and hopefully sometime soon will return to its full glory. The moon is but a red sliver in the sky, and we again realized that sometimes the beauty is in the unexpected, small things…and that we are so grateful for all our experiences thus far… Tomorrow we are off to Botswana for only a couple of days, before we continue our journey eastwards through Zambia – looking forward to a swim in the Devil’s Pool!

Till next week. J

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