Wednesday, June 29, 2022

EXPLORING HIMBA, OWAMBO AND HIPPO LANDS

 

From Etosha we plan to head north on the main road, but why would we do that when there is a perfectly interesting looking back road we can take. Instead, we head south to Kamanjab, where we find the lovely Oppi Koppi Camping Area to stay. Overlanders (with foreign plates) stay here free. They keep journals overflowing with photos of Overlanders who have stayed here. We see a few we know, and when we leave, our photo is added to the journals. Now we can pick up our back road that heads west over the gorgeous Grootberg Pass – lots of corrugations, but great scenery. Many hours later we reach The Palmwag Concession. We are hoping to be able to venture in on their 4x4 tracks and camp in there. The sign says max 4ton, but they say we are OK at 6.5 ton. Pay our fees and head in.

What a place. We don’t spy much wildlife (there are no fences so they can wander freely), but the we love the desert like landscape. Hours later, at an average of 10km per hour, we reach our campspot. Not a soul in sight, just us beside an open fire with a million stars. In the morning we hit the track again, and it is even slower going with lots of rocks. John is getting increasingly concerned that we may damage a tyre on the very sharp slate like rocks. When we finally reach the river bed we stop for coffee, and when 2 lodge tourist vehicles appear we ask about the track much further in that follows the river bed. The verdict – very soft sand and no animals. Easy decision. We won’t go that way, but take the day route out. Many very slow miles later we exit the Concession. It has been amazing but we are glad to see the good gravel road. We head north towards Opuwa, spotting lots of giraffe and zebra, before stopping for the night in a lovely spot well off the road.

The next day we a see a bakery in the tiny town of Warmquelle that actually looks open. The bread will be out of the oven in 20 mins, so we wait. Delicious! Followed by a quick detour out to Sesfontein to check where we would have exited the 4x4 track if we had done the whole drive and to look at the old German Fort that is now a hotel. All the kids are streaming out of the school as holidays start today. Finally, we continue on to the Himba town of Opuwo, passing the village we “toured” a few years ago. There are new huts with tin roofs and fewer people about. All the locals are in town today to collect the one-off drought relief money (we think we got this right!) and the streets are bustling. We head to the supermarket with all the other topless Himba ladies who are spending their money, and stock up. Then head up the hill to Opuwa Lodge where we camped on our last visit.

New roads (for us) this morning as we head north to Epupo Falls. We pass a few Himba villages and eventually stop at the Ovehimba Village (a more official stop) and decide to do the tour. We have a great English-speaking guide and we have a lot of fun with the ladies. The tour ends with a hilarious dance where they try and outdo each other with their dance moves.  Back on the road we pass countless more Himba villages and locals, even the men, in full Himba dress. When we stop for lunch, we attract an assortment of children who we feed orange and apple slices before John gives an impromptu English lesson. Later more stops. A girl who says she is hungry we give milk and a broken-down taxi truck we give brake fluid. Finally, we reach Epupo falls on the border with Angola. We decide to camp at the Community campsite, assuming the proceeds will go to the community (we later discover we were misled – oh well!) We have a lovely spot on the river and right near the falls, and in the morning, we climb the hill for a different perspective of the falls.

Time to head off. There is a road that runs parallel to the Kuneue River all the way to Rucana (200km) that we have decided to take, not realising that it is really only a goat track. So, all day we slowly drive through dry river beds, both rocky and sandy, wet river beds and over terrible track. There are more Himba villages than you can count, and the kids all run out to wave or ask for lollies. When we stop for lunch, there is a Himba lady, her baby & daughter nearby. They share our simple lunch of chunks of bread with cheese and peanut butter followed by slices of orange. Much much later we see the huge dam on the Kuneue River and then tarseal! Yay. We visit the falls (we have to cross the Namibia border, but not enter Angola) but because of the dam there is hardly any water. They would be a magnificent sight with lots of flowing water.

By now it’s getting late so we head to the Okapika Camping area. They clearly only have smaller vehicles, so get out a machete to cut back some overhanging branches, and are most surprised when John pulls out his chainsaw. We decide to eat in their restaurant and after dinner the whole staff (18 girls and 1 guy) entertain us with Owambo singing and dancing. What a lovely surprise, as we are the only guests.  Love their pink gathered traditional dresses.

More driving – but all flat and mainly straight for miles and miles. We pass loads of Owambo villages with lots of busy locals. There is a huge are that is irrigated from a dam and it is great to see so many crops being grown. Then miles and miles of small farms with goats and cows and with both sides of the road fully fenced, meaning we can’t duck off the road to camp. At the police stop they tell us of a new campground down the road, so we are pleased to pull over for the night. The very helpful Ferdinand gives us a pile of wood for our fire and John spends ages discussing various ways to market his new venture. More flat driving today as we follow the huge Okovango River.  We finally stop  just before the town of Rundu at the Samsitu Campsite that is right beside the river. We get a glorious sunset, but not a hippo in sight.

First thing we head in to Rundu. We are on a mission to find a tyre shop and a workshop. We do well. The first big tyre shop rotates the wheels for us, so now the chewed-out tyres are on the front, and they recommend a workshop. We head there and they will do the job at 2pm. That gives us time to look through the township and have lunch.  By 5.30pm the front spring hanger is repaired so we find the nearby Camp Hogo, again right on the river, for the night. Again, not a hippo in sight.

We forgot to fill up with diesel last night, so head back into Rundu. Lots of stalls right beside the road, but I especially “enjoy” the roadside butchers who are hacking up cows beside the road and hanging fresh meat up for sale direct to the public. Then again lots more straight roads continuing west before heading back to the river at yet another camp called Ndurukoro Lodge, where our spot has a lovely balcony looking right over the river. Perfect to relax and watch the local kids canoe across the river to fish while their parents cut down reeds to renovate their huts. But again, no hippos!

We continue on enjoying the local sights:  new reed walls being put onto huts, roofs being rethatched and our favourite: oxen dragging loads on sleds. At the town of Divundi we stop to get a few things, but no fresh food as they will confiscate it all the border of Botswana. Our next destination is the Mahango National Park that runs south to Botswana. We pay our fees and head down the 4x4 back tracks to explore the wetlands. Lots of monkeys playing beside the water and of course lots of springboks. We enjoy the antics of the warthogs and then get up close and personal with an elephant before catching him rolling in the mud. It is getting late by the time we reach Ngepi Camping and we are told there is only one site left. When we discover it has hardly any view of the river, we ask for another site (crazily there is another free! Go figure) so we settle in and to my great joy there are hippos! We can hear them snorting all evening as we share our camp fire with some new German friends.

 I could spend ages watching the hippos lazing in the water, but we have a longish drive to get to the Buffalo National Park and then on to a camp site. Again, more 4x4 tracks to follow and we get to see more hippos and a huge herd of elephants at the waters edge. The huge male raises his trunk and roars at us so we back up a bit to watch the whole family move back amongst the trees.  We have been told there is a lion relaxing under a tree but sadly he has gone by the time we get there. It really is luck of the draw! We end the day at a tiny campsite on yet another waterway. In the distance we can hear lovely singing from a gospel meeting and in the morning visit the orphanage located on the property. We take a pile of children’s books and find rows of pup tents where the children sleep. Then visit the kitchen/open enclosure to discover there are about 60 kids who are looked after here while they are being treated for HIV (they are not orphans). What a wonderful job these carers do. No photos allowed, and we would have loved to video them singing!

Time now to head to Mudumu Park. The main road continues through the park and as there is no one at the entry we head straight in and then down the 4x4 track. We stop for coffee beside the water and carry on to the animal hide. But suddenly the track turns into deep soft sand with scratchy bushes on either side. John has no choice, he can’t slow down or we will get bogged, so we get scratched and scraped as John coax’s GR2 through the sand that sems to go on forever. We find a spot to pull off on the grass to let down the tyres and inspect the track. Too far to go back, so we bite the bullet and hope the exit track is OK. We do get out, but phew, no more sandy tracks for us! And no sneaking into National Parks without paying!

We are heading to the border at Katima Molilio, but can’t resist a side detour to look at the river (but will definitely stop before sand) and there find some really traditional Mayeyi villages. We stop to look at carvings for sale and the guy shows us through a replica village and explains how it works, and when I ask about the Palace here in the village, he tells us about it (but we cannot see it). Amazingly he used to carve koalas for an Australian guy who shipped them over!  Much later we reach the surprisingly modern town of Katima Molilio and discover that we can camp right beside the Zambesi River in the lovely grounds of the Protea Hotel (belonging to the Marriott Hotel chain). Awesome.

It is here that we decide we won’t go into Botswana, but will cross directly into Zambia and head north. But we have one final story from Namibia. We hand in our passports to exit. John’s is stamped out, and then he looks at mine. He checks the date of my visa and oh bother, I have overstayed my visa! He rechecks Johns (of course it is the same). We grovel – and truthfully say we had completely forgotten about our 30-day visa, and what do we need to do? We have been here 46 days! What a rooky error. He stamps us out anyway. PHEW…. Time to tackle the border to Zambia.

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