Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Caprivi Strip: East to Botswana!

Leaving Etosha, we embarked on a three-day drive east to the Ngoma border post with Botswana.  Known as the Caprivi Strip, this portion of the country is quite different than the area we had previously explored.  Looking at a Namibian map, the Caprivi Strip is the narrow piece of land jutting off the northeast corner of the country, with Angola to the north, Botswana to the south, and Zambia and Zimbabwe to the east. 

The Caprivi Strip is essentially a historical accident.  The Germans (as previously mentioned, Namibia used to be a German colony) wanted access to the Zambezi River.  Instead of going to war, they sat down with the English at a conference table somewhere in Europe to redraw a few borders – resulting in the Caprivi Strip.  More recently, the region was embroiled in the Angolan civil war.  This made the area so dangerous that in the 1990s, the Caprivi Strip could only be crossed in an armed convoy.  Lucky for us, safety has improved dramatically since we were in high school and we set off eastward from Etosha down a straight and tarred road. 

We tackled the long eastbound drive over the course of three days, stopping at various riverfront locations en route.  The climate became increasingly lush and tropical as we drove, quite a change from the Namibian desert.

At the beginning of our drive, we also crossed over Namibia’s veterinary fence.  We had been a bit perplexed by the markings for this fence on our map, but apparently it is the dividing line for foot and mouth disease.  The disease has only been eradicated south of the fence, so no meat products may be brought from north to south.  This also means that while there are large cattle farms in the south, there are only subsistence farmers in the north.  We weren’t sure what crossing this line would entail, but it turned out to be a simple process of waving us through – the cars heading south received a more thorough check up.

On Saturday, we stopped at a lodge near the Angolan border.  In fact, we were so close to the border that we could see Angola from the balcony of our cottage.  Seeing Angolans do their laundry and bathe in the river from the deck of our comparatively luxurious hotel created a somewhat jarring contrast.  

A sunset river cruise down the Okavango River, with Angola on one side and Namibia on the other, brought us as close as we are ever likely to get to Angola, which is effectively closed to American visitors.  Giorgio was disappointed to learn that Peruvians and Italians are similarly unwelcome.  (Lee Wang, Chinese oil and diamond interests run the economy of Angola, so you are more than welcome to visit.)    

Our next stop as we traversed the strip was also situated on the banks of the Okavango, immediately after Popa Falls.  “Falls” is perhaps an overly charitable term for the small cascades of water, but they were a scenic destination for a picnic.  Furthermore, after the falls, the Okavango spreads out into the famous Okavango Delta, which we’ll be visiting next week in Botswana. 

We spent the night in an open-air tree house overlooking the river.  We were assigned to tree house number 5 ½, which sounded like it might be the embarkation point to Hogwarts from Namibia, but we were disappointed on that front.  Also, spending the night in a tree house sounds more idyllic than the reality, which includes a variety of unusual insects and the possibility of encountering a hippo in the middle of the night when your tree house turns out to be in the middle of his path. 

Up bright and early Monday morning with the view of the sunrise from the tree house, we headed out to our final Caprivi Strip destination, Camp Kwando.  Instead of spending the night in a cottage overlooking an aquatic border with Angola, our tent had a view of the Botswana border, ie: the Kwando River.  Listening to hippos immediately adjacent to our tent in the middle of the night, we were content to have at least some sort of barrier between us.

Onward to Botswana!  On Tuesday, we completed the final portion of our roadtrip that we started in Johannesburg back in July.  We efficiently exited Namibia and drove over the bridge to Botswana, stopping briefly to see a herd of elephants that had stationed themselves between the two nations.  Once the nurse on duty at the Botswana border determined we were not carrying Ebola, we were through with customs.  A short drive through Chobe National Park later, we said goodbye to our Nissan in the town of Kasane and embarked on our next adventure – a trip to Victoria Falls! 

Although we are sad to end our epic African road trip, we are excited to see the largest waterfall in the world, followed by a fly-in Botswana safari through Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta.  Even better, we’re meeting up with Don and Susan – we’ll have someone else to talk to (just in case we’re getting sick of each other) and can share the knowledge we’ve gained over the past two months with others!


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