October 1, 2005

Namibia FlagWe slept well last night, with no roaring lions to keep us awake. We got up at 6 am for our 7 am departure, which once again was at 7:20 am. On the way out of the park we saw a couple of dik-diks beside the road, but before long we were on the main road towards Grootfontein. For a while the road paralleled some very new train tracks, but they veered off, presumably going to one of the mining areas.

This road was paved, or “tar” as they call it here, so we were soon in Grootfontein. We had an hour of free time for shopping. Everyone headed into the Spar market to buy drinks and snacks. Once that was complete, we went for a walk about the town. This being Saturday and also the first of the month, the banks had very long line-ups at the ATMs and the casinos were doing a roaring business. There were no local handicraft stalls, so there really wasn’t much to do. Once all the groceries were packed up, we left at 10:45 am.

The countryside along the road was covered with small trees, mostly brown but some a lovely green. Soon we were stopped at a police control station. North of this point, cattle may have foot-and-mouth disease, so they can’t be shipped through the checkpoint. But it’s right here that the “real” Africa began for us. Beside the road were village after village of thatched huts. Women were carrying things on their heads, some were pounding grain in mortars, and often we saw children sitting in a circle in outdoor schools. The villages were generally small and some had fences of reeds enclosing them.

At Rundu the road turned east. There weren’t as many villages now, perhaps because the people had been driven away by the war spilling out of Angola just to the north. But we saw several fires, set by people clearing new fields for crops.

We finally got close to where the road goes south to Botswana, when we passed a crashed helicopter at the side of the road. Mark and Axel took photographs of it, then almost immediately we had to stop. A military policeman with an AK-47 came over and spoke with Leon. He demanded to see our passports, but Leon talked him out of that. Then he insisted on confiscating the cameras of anybody who had photographed the helicopter. (It is illegal in Namibia to photograph anything military, as in many other countries, but the helicopter had no military identification that we could see.) Mark admitted he had taken a picture but then had deleted it. After much discussion between Leon and the policeman, Mark got his camera back and we were allowed to continue.

After that incident we continued down the road parallel to the Okavango River. There were people living in their traditional houses there, but any concrete building was just a burned-out shell, another legacy of the war.

Before long we turned into the sandy road leading to Ngepi Camp. It’s on the banks of the Okavango and it didn’t take us long to spot a hippopotamus near the far side of the river. Armin and Melanie cooked dinner (spaghetti carbonara) while Leon tried to fix the truck. Unbeknownst to us, it was stuck in third gear! He and Christian worked on it for several hours, with the help of one of the camp staff who was a former Mercedes diesel mechanic, and the problem was identified. But the work had to be postponed until the morning, because if you drop a small part in the dark, it’s impossible to find it.

After doing the dishes we went over to the bar area to watch and listen to the African singers, dancers, and drummers. We stayed for a while but then went back to the tent to write journals.

The bathroom at this camp was very elaborate. It was divided into sections; one section was showers, one was a toilet, and the other was the “Star Bath”, a zinc bathtub out in the open where you could enjoy the stars at night. The whole thing is like a maze, with the walls made of tall reeds. The door to the toilet area is just a little stick with the word “Door” on it, which you put in place across the opening so that people know that it is occupied. Very ingenious!

Bedtime was about 10 pm, and we managed to go to sleep even though the frogs and cicadas and so on were very loud.

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