At Rundu we saw for the first time since the Fish River now some 1200 kilometres south a riverbed that actually had water! The Okavango River separates Namibia from the infamous Angola and was at the time experiencing its highest water levels for fifteen years. Considering that no other river in Namibia, except for the Orange River that separates Namibia from South Africa, has water in it, this was a sight for sore eyes. Well every silver lining has a cloud! Ngepi camp is on the river about 50 kilometres east of Rundu and the only access road to the camp was flooded due to the high river level. This meant we had to leave our comfy minibus and wade the final stretch through the overflowing river, a river know to have the odd croc or two!
The camp itself was a bush camp but with all the basic modern amenities in the form of open air toilets and showers separated by a bamboo walls and a pole barring the entrance to indicate if in use. Our tents had already been erected for us close to the riverbank, which was a lot steeper than where the road had passed it.
We were briefed on the next 6 days by Neil and then Paul and then after dinner Neil again. Neither of them were actually coming with us, Neil, a South African was the manager and Paul an American had just returned from the delta. I actually took an instant dislike to Paul; he took a holier than thou attitude as he explained that the tour was a local community based tour. By that he meant that the polers (I’ll explain this later) all came from the same village and using them to canoe tourists around the delta was a good way of helping the local communities and villages. He was quite right of course but he didn’t have to be such a prick about it!
We had heard that there were hippos and crocs in the Okavango but we didn’t expect to hear hippos chewing grass right outside our tents. Chomp! Chomp! They went all night or so Sue said the next morning. I slept through the whole thing!
At 7.30 am we were shunted onto an overland truck to pass through the flooded road and then loaded back into our minibus to drive onto our next destination, Sapepo on the Okavango Panhandle in Botswana. Crossing into Botswana was unremarkable except for one thing the Namibian border post building was a shameful shack in comparison to the brand new buildings at the Botswana post. Botswana is an expensive place to visit when it comes to national parks and reserves. It costs around US$25.00 per day per person in park fees unless you are part of guided group i.e. Safari. By comparison Etosha cost US$3.00! The Botswana government’s rationale is that they don’t want the mass tourism of Kenya so they spend very little on infrastructure in the parks and charge high fees to restrict the number of visitors. From our experience trying to independently travel through Botswana is not easy either, especially on a tight budget. There are many obstacles, like extremely limited public transport, and gaining access to the parks and reserves, so the vast majority of tourists end up touring Botswana with tour operators who know the country; but don’t stay any longer than they have to. So I guess so far its only partially working!
The Botswana/Namibia border was also the first place that we went through the passport swapping routine. This is not an illegal act of changing identity but simply changing nationality. So we gave Namibia our Aussie passport, that we had so far been using, for our exit stamp and Botswana our British passport for an entry stamp. Now bear with me why I explain why we did this. South Africa, Namibia and Botswana offer fee free visitors visas at the border for both Australian and British passport holders. Zambia charges British passport holders and Zimbabwe charges Australians however Zambia doesn’t charge anyone who enters the country with an official tour operator. This tour was going to leave us in Zambia from where we would cross the border into Zimbabwe. So why didn’t we just swap when we got to the Zimbabwe border? Well, a lot of third world countries don’t like this practice particularly if looks like it’s being done to avoid paying a fee (which it usually is of course). So it’s likely to be a lot less problematic if you choose to swap whilst in a group as the immigration officer is often too busy to check for an exit stamp from the adjoining country. As it happened the Namibian immigration officer did ask us on our way back a few days later, as to where our previous entry stamp into Namibia was. When we explained that we had used another passport he shrugged his shoulders and allowed us through. However as they don’t charge for visas I don’t suppose he cared.
Unfortunately the last part of this grand plan let us down. We knew that Tanzania required you to purchase a visa but it was cheaper to purchase in advance when traveling independently and we also knew that it cost US$50 for a British passport and only US$10 for an Australian. So when we went to the Tanzanian embassy in Harare two weeks later we obviously produced our Australian passports for stamping. We were politely told that they could only stamp the passport that we had used to enter Zim on. But we could take our chances at the border post when we arrived although there were no guarantees. Having experienced problems before at a Tanzanian border post four years ago we paid up and shut up and thus ended up worse off than if we had just used our Aussie passports throughout, which being the patriots that we are, was our preferred option.
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Ngoma bridge Border on the Chobe River Botswana and Namibia