Heading for a sticky situation

Now heading for the Zambezi region, we continued north to Rundu along the B8, a really good quality tar road which made the journey quick and comfortable. By now the landscape around us had changed almost beyond recognition. This area had had rain; everywhere we looked it was green and the further north we went the more lush the vegetation became. The number of people also steadily increased, with small villages dotted regularly along the road and people and livestock walking along and across it. Gareth had to keep alert to avoid the animals that suddenly decided to cross the road in front of us. The sheep usually do this to get to their mates, which they suddenly realise they are going to be separated from as the scary vehicle approaches. The cows also do this but they also seem to decide to walk into the road right in front of you for no discernable reason except to be annoying. In these parts they have priority and anyway, who wants to hit a cow doing 50mph?!

This area is booming, being on the commercial route from the border with Zambia to the capital Windhoek and on to the Atlantic coast and the sea port at Walvis Bay. Rundu itself has a real frontier town feel to it. The established part of town has a shopping mall (although the Grand Arcade in Cambridge it certainly is not!), fast food joints, banks, estate agents and many other established stores but the road in is lined with a sprawl of tin shacks with people selling pretty much anything you could think of. Many of them also seem to offer phone top-up and charging.

We found a nice campsite at a lodge a little way outside the madness of the town on the Okavango River, the waters that feed the Okavango Delta. The next day we followed the river east to Divundu. We chose to take the gravel road that ran parallel to the main tar route, taking us much closer to the river and giving us a more leisurely drive. It was lined with an endless string of settlements, arranged in what we guess are family groups, each with a few mud and thatched huts and livestock kraals enclosed by a tall post and reed fence. Unlike the round Himba villages, these huts and enclosures are all square. There are people everywhere, walking, sitting, tending their livestock and their maize fields. Much of the bush has been cleared for small-scale cultivation and to provide firewood and grazing for the animals. 

Although we were heading to the border and Zambia, we also wanted to explore this part of Namibia. The Zambezi region, formerly known as the Caprivi Strip, is part of a narrow strip of Namibia that runs for about 400km east to Zambia, squeezing between Angola to the north and Botswana to the south on the way. Beyond Divundu it is largely composed of a series of National Parks which have been established in cooperation with the neighbouring countries. They provide a haven for wildlife and in particular a corridor for their (relatively) free movement across the international borders along ancient migration routes. The area is dominated by the four rivers that wind their way through it: the Okavango, Kwando, Linyanti and Zambezi, which provide the life force to the area’s wildlife. Although the main road is tar, the side roads are generally sand, mud or a combination of the two. Most of these are only suitable for 4×4 vehicles in the dry season. In the wet season, which we had now entered, many become flooded and impassable. So we thought we would just see what was open and explore what we could.

As we have said before, this time of year is not the best for viewing game. The increased rain reduces the dependence of the animals on the water holes and they are more dispersed. The lush vegetation also makes it difficult to see the animals that are there. It’s a great time to see birds though and this area is particularly rich in bird life. Happy Angela. Poor Gareth.

The first park we wanted to visit, Mahango Game Reserve, was close to Divundu and on the banks of the Okavango. We’d visited the reserve on our honeymoon and really enjoyed it. This time was no different. We’d driven through rain but as we arrived at about 4pm the dark clouds cleared and the sun came out. Although the reserve is small we saw animals around almost every corner. Not huge herds but lots of different species, many of them close to the car, and lots of birds of prey including an African Fish Eagle polishing off his dinner on a nearby tree.

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Anyone for a fish supper?

The main route is surfaced and easy to drive, winding it’s way through the bushes, plains, riverside and wetland. We had a really nice afternoon, finished off nicely by a big bull elephant wondering along the grassy shores of the wetland.

We visited the huge Baobab trees we’d seen last time. One of them was fallen, as it had been before. In less than 2 years the difference was incredible; it had been almost completely decomposed by the termites.

 

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Baobab May 2015

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Baobab January 2017

We’d been given a couple of recommendations for camps in the area so decided to give them both a go. The first was a lovely new lodge with secluded private camp sites for an incredibly cheap price and a covered area for preparing and eating food. Perfect, as the rain kicked off just as we settled down to making dinner.

We hadn’t seen any big predators in our evening trip so, in a break from tradition, decided to get up early  the next morning to give us a better chance of seeing the lions and wild dogs that inhabit the park. We were there at 7.30am, unheard of for us! Sadly it didn’t pay off – such is the lottery of seeing animals in the ‘wild’ – but we still had a great morning with lots of wildlife to see, including a 5 legged elephant.

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Jake the peg?

Our next camp is one that has a reputation with travellers for its great atmosphere and quirky features. They have what they describe as the world’s first croc and hippo proof pool in the middle of the river, which we of course had to have a dip in, with the hippos chuckling throatily to themselves in the shallows on the other side of the river.

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Croc and hippo cage…

They also have an outside bathroom called the Fish Eagle Bath, with a tin tub and a fantastic view across the river. You have to light your own fire under the donkey boiler to heat the water, which took ages but was worth it for such an unusual experience. You did have to keep a look out for any tourist boats that went up and down the river so as not to embarrass anyone Smile

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Fish Eagle Bath

From Divundu we continued our journey east for a couple of hours through the Bwabwata National Park to another area we’d explored last time. Then we’d stayed at a very luxurious lodge (we’d had a free upgrade as the lodge we were booked to stay at was doing renovations) and had the most amazing encounter with a huge heard of about 200 elephants. We didn’t expect that this time and did wonder whether to go back again but decided to give it a go anyway, although we didn’t know how much of the park was flooded. The first track we took was flooded after about 200 metres and we had to turn back. Further down the main road and through the main park entrance the roads were much better. We met another driver who told us that the roads were generally ok for 4×4 vehicles and that there was a dead hippo at the far end of the park with about 90 vultures on it. We had to go looking for it. We tried to follow his directions and also followed his tyre tracks along the various paths that wind through the park. We saw a group of hippos in a large pool and stopped to watch them for a while. Several of them ‘yawned’ which we learnt later was a threat as they weren’t happy with us being there. Fortunately we’d kept our distance.

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Yawning hippo

The roads were mainly in good condition with only short sections where ruts had filled with water. We were nearly at the far end of the park and had lost the fresh tyre tracks but decided to keep going to the end. Then we came across a longer section of flooded track next to a flooded hippo wallow. We stopped and had a look. You could see where the path went and there was still grass visible so it shouldn’t be too deep…

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Would you drive your car through this?

We crept in with the front wheels and the car bogged a bit. It was soft, but it backed out easily enough. OK, put it into low gear, engage the diff lock and have another go. Bad move. The car bogged as soon as we drove in and this time both front and rear wheels were in. We put it into reverse and gently tried to back out, but to no avail. The wheels spun and dug it in further. <Insert Anglo-Saxon expletive here>.

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Deep doo doo

Gareth got out and gathered some branches to jam under the rear wheels to give them a bit of traction. It didn’t work, although he did manage to stab his hand with a nice camel thorn. Next step was to get the sand ladders down. Gareth then dug the waterlogged sand out from under the wheels with our collapsible shovel whilst looking over his shoulder for the first few moments in case there were crocs, or hippos, or lions, or elephants – all of which inhabit the park. After a few minutes, the job was to get the car out and Angela was on look out duties. The digging didn’t go well as you couldn’t dig deep enough to get the ladder under the tyre before the hole collapsed in on itself.

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Plan C was to jack the car up using the Hi-Lift jack which would give us room to get the sand ladders under. Simples! Or not… As he jacked it up, the base of the jack dug in deeper, but we eventually managed to get it up high enough to put the ladder partially under it. The base of the jack was about 2 foot under the level of the ground at this point. Next, just drop the car off the jack. Ahh – the jack doesn’t want to go down, only up. These things have a reputation for being dangerous to use and we’d made sure that it worked and we knew how to use it before we left the UK. Despite this it didn’t now want to play ball. So, just push the car, all 2.5 tonnes of her, off the jack – easy. Or not. After lots of swinging and swearing and one set of trapped fingers (between the jack and the car door – that was a bit scary), it came off – hurrah. Lots of digging left to get the jack out of the ground.

Then we had to do the same on the other wheel, with even more hassle to get the high-lift jack out. At one point Angela was swinging on the roof to rock the car while Gareth tried to pull the hi-lift out, this time pulling it with a strap to save his fingers. Finally we got it out and with great relief we backed up the 6 feet or so that we had gone into the bog and we were free. All in all, it took us two and a half hours to extract ourselves. Gareth was covered in mud and insect bites and we both must have lost at least six months off our lives with worrying about what wildlife might come sniffing around. But many lessons were learnt and on the plus side, the welding to the sills that Gareth did a couple of years ago was still strong enough to lift the very heavy car Smile. And we didn’t get eaten or squashed by large animals. Bonus! We were not going to get to our planned camp as it was nearly 6:30, so we went to a nearby community camp which was next to the plush lodge we’d stayed in before, though somewhat less luxurious. Man did the beer taste good that night!

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