Rain, mud and fake snakes

After the excitement of the night before we decided to leave Bwabwata behind and headed towards the Nkasa Rupara National Park. We’d been recommended a site on the Kwando River. We had a fantastic river cruise with an excellent young guide (19 years old!) where we saw loads of birds including lots of stunning Bee-eaters, and visited a crocodile’s nest where you could see the remains of the eggs which had hatched 3 weeks earlier.

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Little Bee-eater

We also had fun dodging the hippos. As the river is quite narrow our guide had to drive the shallow-draught boat over the top of the hippos, which mostly dive as the boat approaches. A few however like to chase the boat by running along the river bed near the bank, which was quite entertaining and slightly alarming.

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Race with a Hippo

We had planned to stay a couple of days but the camping area was expensive and poorly maintained so we stayed one night and moved on. We found a site further down the river which offered a private plot with our own lapa (a thatched covered area) for a good price. The drive there was interesting. The sky promised more rain, which indeed we got.

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Brooding sky

The camp was on the road to Nkasa Rupara National Park. The first section was gravel and was good. We then crossed a bridge, the gravel stopped and the mud began. The rains were taking their toll. A German couple, in a 4×4 camper, had stopped by the first ‘pool’. We had a chat and they’d been told by a guide that the road was bad with deep mud and water. They said that they were new to off-roading so very cautious and maybe we should have a chat with the guide ourselves, as he was still around waiting for his clients to turn up. We went back over the bridge and found the guide who was really friendly and very helpful. He said that we should be ok (although sometimes he told us even they get stuck) and that in any case, once his guests showed up he would be going that way and would help us if we got into difficulties. His advice was to follow the more recent tracks where other people “have taken their chances”. This we did and although the road, or more accurately roads as people had been trying various lines, was not great (to say the least) we took our time, back-tracked where we weren’t sure and got through.

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The main ‘road’ to the National Park…

We were the only guests and were given a lovely site that looked across a wetland area and was incredibly peaceful. Slightly alarmingly there was a large striped cobra lying in the middle of the site, head up, mouth open and fangs showing. Staying in the car, we peered at it through our binoculars. It hadn’t moved, the mouth stayed open, the fangs still protruding. We crept the car forward to confirm our thoughts – it was rubber.

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Gareth the snake wrangler

With relief we set up camp, noticing several other fake snakes scattered around the camp. They were to scare off the baboons!

We had two nights there, the lapa providing great cover for the evening rains, which were becoming the norm. The first morning we had a ‘mokoro’ ride. This is the traditional canoe which the locals use to get around the rivers and for fishing. The traditional ones are carved out of a tree trunk and would apparently last a life time. We asked if they treat them at all. Apparently they do, with engine oil, almost certainly used!!! Ours was fibre-glass – cheaper and much lighter. We had two local guides, one at the front to ‘guide’ and the other at the back to paddle (with one oar) and steer. As we set off the boat glided silently over the water. It was so different from the river cruises. We were sat right down at water level, with just the soft sound of the oar gently pushing us through the water.

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Enjoying a peaceful Mokoro ride?

However, we soon started to feel that they didn’t really know what they were doing. The channel was narrow and fringed with thick reeds. There were numerous submerged hippos, their presence only told by a series of bubbles on the water. When we came across them the plan was to steer into the reeds in shallow water and wait until it was safe to pass. When the bubbles were spotted, the helmsman, who was obviously quite nervous of the hippos, would utter several low, deep “hohs” and steer quickly into the nearest reeds. His choice was usually wrong in the eyes of the front guide who would snap sharply at him and they would jabber away to each other, arguing and pointing about which direction was best and how to get around the water monster. Both of them were on their mobile phones, texting / reading texts, throughout much of the trip. On several occasions Angela, who was behind the front guide, had to warn him about bubbles right in front of the boat, panic would ensue, the helmsman would get the blame, an argument would start again as they made a frantic scrabble for the reeds, hoping to god that the hippo didn’t decide to surface underneath us. It was all rather unnerving and we were quite glad to make it back to land safely.

The following day we drove into the park, over a fairly ropey-looking but actually quite strong  bridge.

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We didn’t see anyone else all day, which was marvellous! In the park office they only had a map on the wall which we had to take a photo of. This map was next to useless and we relied on our Tracks4Afirca GPS map to see us through, as some of the tracks weren’t that obvious…

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Yes, this is a track

It was a pleasant drive around with a stream crossing to end and a few animals thrown in for good measure.

We then continued across the Zambezi strip and stayed just outside Katima Mulilo, the border town with Zambia and spent a couple if days chilling before our next border crossing.

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