Botswana to Caprivi: Day 6

It was almost mid winter and the temperature had dropped below zero during the night.  We were staying at Ngepi Camp in a reed treehouse on the banks of the Okavango River, in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia.  On the morning of Tuesday 12 June, we woke up to find the river covered with mist.  Nothing was stirring.  The morning was still and quiet and very cold.  The hippos that had been very vocal during the night, were now silent.  We heard an owl calling in the distance.

Gradually the mist lifted.  Making our way towards the camp where Vermaak of Mpafa Tours always had a hot pot of coffee brewing, we stopped to listen to the sounds of birds.  Even though it was winter and not the bird season, there were many birds around.  This area has over 500 species of birds and is a haunt of bird lovers from all over the world.  The best time for bird watching is from September to March.

The grass was still covered with frost.

We were enjoying the first rays of the sun and admiring the vegetation.  On a branch high above the ground were three Verreaux’s Eagle Owls.

The owls were awake and alert and we enjoying the warmth of the winter sun.  The birders among us were very excited as no one had ever seen three owls sitting on one branch before.

After breakfast prepared by the staff at Ngepi, we decided to explore the area.  We stopped to watch some local children dancing and to purchase some miniature mokoros as momentos.

We crossed the bridge over the Okavango River.  We were on our way to see the remnants of Battalion 32 or ‘Buffalo Battalion’ .  This battalion of the SA Army was stationed in the Caprivi in the 70’s and 80’s until it was disbanded in the 90’s.

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This map shows the Bwabwata National Park and the Popa Falls.

A boom gate blocked our journey.  We enquired at the office nearby and were told we had to buy a permit to enter Buffalo Camp.  Fortunately South African rands are accepted in Namibia (N$1 = R1) so we handed over about R100 and continued on our journey.

We passed through the old South African Army camp that was known as Battalion 32.  This is now part of the Bwabwata National Park in an area called Buffalo Camp.  The road in this area are very sandy and in parts the sand is very deep.  It is not advisable to go there without a 4.x 4.

Remnants of the old army site.

This cross was probably put here by someone who lost a loved one during the war years.

The old army buildings are now overgrown by the vegetation.

There are plenty of buffalo near the river.

This magnificent kudu kept an eye on us.

We stopped to watch a lilac breasted roller.  Reluctantly leaving this reserve we headed out to find Popa Falls that we had heard were more like rapids than a waterfall.

After driving up and down the road for a while and after asking some pedestrians for directions, we eventually found the small dirt road leading to the falls.  The road is next to a prison and is unmarked.  Litter is scattered all over.  The area looked very neglected and unappealing, but we carried on, determined to see the falls.

On the road near the falls we stopped at this office and made enquiries.  The young woman behind the counter took R10 from each of us and we continued to the falls.  Not expecting much, we continued along the narrow sandy road.

The sound of roaring water filled the air.  The Popa Falls were a wonderful sight.  People who visited the falls on the side of the river where the popular lodges are, said it was not as impressive as the view from the neglected side that we visited.

Kim and Bronwyn were amazed at the speed and roar of the flowing water.  The sand on the small beach is clean and squeaks as you walk on it.   The power and size of the Okavango River is very impressive from this vantage point.

Had we known what a lovely spot this was, we would have brought a picnic basket.  We walked up river for a while and then decided that we would head back to Ngepi for some lunch.

We left the falls and crossed over the bridge again.  We travelled through the small village of Bagani back to Ngepi Camp.

On our return trip we stopped to support another group of children singing and dancing to attract the tourists and earn a bit of pocket money.

We were entranced by the sight of some drums being transported on a sled drawn by oxen.

That night we heard drums been beaten all night.  We thought back to the oxen drawing the sled with two large drums.

That afternoon we went for a cruise on the river.  We were surprised to see Vermaak in the open air bathroom.  He was waiting to wave as we went past.

While travelling in the boat we passed some of the various reed houses alongside the river.

We saw a diverse selection of birds such as the Little Bee-eater.

The little egret has black legs and yellow feet.  This makes him different to all the other white herons in this area.

As the sun slowly set, the birds settled for the night.

The river banks and sandbanks were alive with birds.

The golden sky formed a perfect backdrop for the birds, reeds and papyrus.

We watched in silence as the sun sank slowly into the Okavango and then turned the boat and headed back to Ngepi Camp.

Botswana: Day 5 – Tsodilo Hills

Brrrrrrrrrr…..  We got up early the next morning to find that the weather had turned colder still.  It was Monday 11 June and this was our last morning in the delta.  The fast flowing water of the delta panhandle looked cold and uninviting

Fortunately Vermaak, assisted by Bjorn and Sam, the houseboat captain, soon had coffee on the boil and a hot breakfast prepared.

Suitably sustained we stood around enjoying the cameradrie and our last few minutes on the houseboat before leaving to go back to land.

This is the sign advertising the houseboats on the Okavango.  We enjoyed our stay on the houseboat and soon forgot about the discomfort of not always having hot water to shower.

After an hour of skimming along at high speed in an aluminium boat, we were cold and stiff.  The ride back took less time as we were travelling in a southerly direction, with the flow of the water.  We slowly disembarked at Swamp Stop.

This is the quirky bathroom at Swamp Stop.  An upside down mokoro has been turned into a base for hand basins.

We continued on our journey exploring the region around the Okavango Delta.  We turned off the main road and travelled 35 km along a very poorly maintained gravel road to Tsodilo Hills, a World Heritage Site that is known for being the only hills in Botswana as well as its famous Bushmen paintings.  The dark green trees on either side of the road are Zambezi teak (was previously known as Rhodesian teak) trees and are known for their hard wood.  Many have been cut down to make railway sleepers and furniture.

Tsodilo Hills are 400 m above the ground level.  There are four hills, the tallest is the male hill, the next is the female hill and the small ones are the children and the grandchildren

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We left our vehicles under the trees in the parking area.

Douwe from Mpafa Tours introduced us to our guides who would take us on walk to the Bushmen paintings.

We saw some of the 4500 Bushmen paintings that this area is famous for.  Today Tsodilo is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Louvre of the Desert’.

The painting of a whale and a penguin indicates that the Bushmen in this area travelled as far afield as the Namibian coast.

It is quite apt that this rock is the shape of Africa as this area gives an archaelogical record of 100 000 years of changes in this part of the Kalahari desert.

This is the entrance to one of the Bushman caves.

This is one of many pieces of pottery on display in the small museum at Tsodilo Hills.

After a picnic lunch is the car park at Tsdilo Hills, we continued our trip towards the Namibian border.  We were going into the Caprivi Strip, the narrow strip of land attached to the north eastern part of Namibia.  Before it was colonised this area was called Itenge.

When the British took control of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) in the late 1800’s, this strip of fertile land was part of the Bechuanaland Protectorate.  In 1890 Queen Victoria gave this area to Germany and in return the Germans dropped their claim to the island of Zanzibar.  This is how this little strip of Bechuanaland became part of German South West Africa and later independent Namibia.

The South African Army was stationed in this area in the 60’s and 70’s and the willife suffered as a result.  This area now has four Game Reserves and the wildlife has recovered substantially.  We were greeted by a herd of rare roan antelope just across the Namibian border.

We turned off the main road at about 4.30 pm onto a dirt road leading to our camp fot the next three nights.  This part of the Caprivi has many Jackal Berry trees.

Ngepi Camp is situated on the upper reaches of the panhandle of the Okavango delta.  This area boasts over 500 species of birds and is a birders’ paradise.

We left our vehicles in the car park and gathered at reception to be allocated our accommodation.

Our tree house was built from wood and reeds and supported by the branches of a large Jackal Berry tree on the very edge of the delta.

The bedroom was very comfortable.  We noticed the thick green blanket at the bottom of the bed.  This was going to be very welcome as we could feel the temperature dropping.

The basins were made of aluminium.  This is Marion’s bathroom and it had a reed wall.

Our bathroom overlooked the river and had no wall around the basin area.

The shower had a reed screen.

We enjoyed the view from the wooden patio overlooking the delta.  We were warned that hippos wander about in the evenings.

A local fisherman stopped near our camp to sell us some fish that he had caught.  We turned down his offer as Vermaak was busy preparing our dinner.

As darkness fell, we heard hippos grunting very close by and it got very, very cold.

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Botswana: Day 4 – Okavango Panhandle

The Okavango Panhandle is the main watercourse supplying water to the Okavango Delta.  It takes 4 to 6 months for the water, that falls as rain in the Angolan highlands in the north, to flow south along the Cubango River. It then flows through the Caprivi strip in Namibia.  When this great river enters Botswana it becomes known as the Okavango River.  The flood starts in April and usually peaks in August.  The water becomes trapped between two fault lines in Botswana and hence does not continue its journey and spill into the ocean as most rivers do.

Map of Okavango

On the morning of Sunday 10 June it was cold and crisp.  After a hot breakfast on board our houseboat, we piled into the aluminium boats for a speedy ride to meet our polers who were to take us for a trip on a mokoro or dug-out canoe.  If you ever visit Botswana in winter, make sure you take warm clothes, including beanies and gloves, as the temperature often drops below zero at night.

We arrived safely at Seronga where we climbed aboard a truck that would take us to the area where we were meeting our guides.

We stopped at a small village to pick up the young members of the local community who were to act as our guides and polers on the mokoro trip.

We disembarked from the truck that had taken us to Mbiroba Camp.

The Mbiroba Camp is a community project and employs 106 local people.

The mokoros are now made of fibre glass.

The old fashioned mokoros were made from Ebony or Sausage tees that were often 300 years old.  Conservationists convinced the community to use the fibre glass mokoros in order to save the trees in the delta.

Our young poler explained that in the days before fibre glass mokoros, this Ebony tree would probably have been cut down and turned into a mokoro.

Travelling in a mokoro is a silent, peaceful experience.  You are very close to nature as you glide along the channels between the reeds and papyrus.

Coenie and Tina were ahead of us.  We were all wearing warm jackets as it was cold on the waters of the delta.  We sat on small chairs that had no legs.  This was comfortable as we could lean against the back.

Murray and Juliet looked very comfortable in their mokoro.

We arrived at an island in the panhandle and were introduced to our guide called Technique.  It was a good name as he had the ability to pass on information in an interesting way.

This hole is made by an aardvark or antbear to get at the termites.  There can be up to 350 kg of termites in one heap.

Ant hills are used by the locals as a compass as they all lean or point west.  This is because the rains come mainly from the east in the delta and wash away some of the mud on one side.

Technique pointed out many interesting things such as this strangle fig that had killed its host tree.

This is a knob tree.  They have a much shorter lifespan than other hardwood trees in the delta.

On our return trip the water lilies had opened to make the most of the wintery sun.

Lilies and papyrus.

On our return trip we saw cattle wading in the waters of the delta.

We got back into the truck for the return trip to Seronga.  On the way back we passed some more villages.

We passed the Seronga Police station.  Our guides told us that they were keen soccer players and were playing a match against the police soccer team that afternoon.

We drove past the local school.  We boarded the aluminium boats and headed back to the houseboat moored in the panhandle.  We felt very priveleged to have met the young community members who were so keen to impart their knowledge to us.