Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Katima Karma

Girls Weekend: Namibia – hot showers hippos hitching ect.

While the boys went shopping in Gaborone. Isabelle joined Lyndsay and I for a girl’s weekend of camping in Namibia and most importantly another passport stamp.

In vacillation over not knowing what to write about this weekend Isabelle consoled me with “Some things are better plain. Writing a poem about hanging off the back of a truck somehow takes away from the daringness of it.” And I guess she is right. So plainly speaking here is our Namibian excursion:

Our boss Mr. Kashweeka had invited us to a festival for Namibia’s national culture celebration in honor of the union of five major tribes in 1652. With daypacks hugging us against the morning chill, tent in hand, we met him outside the office for an early start. I took the front seat of the donkey (one of his seven or so cars) and way ho away we went. Traveling through Chobe National park en route to the Namibian border. Along the highway we had our own personal game drive. From Isabelle’s estatic reaction to a darting Sable (an extended relative of the antelope) I was disappointed to discover that the Christmas morning excitement was no longer there for me. Lyndsay and I have had the opportunity to travel this road through the park multiple times in the past couple weeks for work and meetings in the surrounding communities. Whether or not this is a sign of my adaptation or mimicked reaction of the locals it was disheartening that the sound of the bells has faded.

We arrove at the border after an hour characterized by Christian jazz, zebras, elephants and legroom. Continuing across the bridge, the bush opens to an expansive ballroom of flood plain filled of wind courting reeds, still water introducing itself to blue sky and charming company of the horizon. Two stamps on now filled page 12 and a short thirty minutes later we arrived in Bukalo.

Ah I am completely distracted right now because there are these tinsy tiny ants crawling on my calves. I don’t know where they came from but I’ve removed forty or so from my bed. My skin is literally crawling!

… I digress.

Out of remoteness and off the side of a dust brushed road, a crowd emerged. Police officers smoking under a tree directing traffic along the edges. A breeze of bright patterned dresses moving fluidly along side us, rippling towards the concentrated explosion of culture. For only being in Namibia for two days this celebration really introduced us to the savory flavor of Namibian culture. We were ushered behind Mr. Kashweeka into a VIP tent (for lack of better description of the structure) where he was given a cushioned chair and we were shown to the other side outfitted in wooden, but still respected chairs. Everywhere we go Mr. Kashweeka seems to know everybody and is greeted with great honor as a man of authority. I suppose I should not be surprised that his reputation extends international boarders.

In the shade of the tent and comfort of chairs we watched the performances of traditional tribal dances, music and dress, each representing a different region. It was really interesting to see the diversity between not only Namibia and Botswana but also the various beats within the country each pattern moving to a different rhythm. In admiring the ladies dresses, Isabelle pointed out how you could really notice the Dutch influence of colonialism on the country, hidden in the hooped skirts, petty coats and headscarves. The program continued throughout the day filled with speeches of important leaders, the national anthem, choir groups, dance, gifts presented to the chief and a prayer of thanks to conclude in song. Leaving and unsure of what to do we bowed to the chief or to who we thought was the chief (major fail). We got embarrassingly corrected and turned to bow again in the opposite direction.

Mr. Kashweeka’s car was blocked in, as he set out in the commotion to find the owner of the car behind, Isabelle and I went to urgently find a washroom. We found one. Overall the bathrooms so far have been fine, nothing special to mention. That’s more then I can say for this one. I was very happy to be wearing hiking boots, wading through the waste to get to the toilet where two rocks were propped to stand on.

Within about one minute, no more like 15 seconds of Mr. Kashweeka dropping us off along the main road, we caught a hitch. Before even getting our packs from the trunk another truck had pulled over. Hopping in the back and waving a quick goodbye I felt really proud of our traveling efficiency and hope we were able to prove our capability as he was previously skeptical of how we would travel the 40 km to Katima Mullio. As if the boys think they have a chance in the Amazing Race.

One of the great things about Namibia is that in comparison to Botswana it is cheep cheep. If previous travel has been on a shoestring I guess you could say that this weekend was on the first loop of a bow. For transport, accommodation, food, everything I spend 87 pula (the equivalent of 13.40 US dollars). For the broke student in me this alone makes the trip a success.

Grabbing some groceries in town, we hailed a cab to take us to Nambwe Island where we were camping that night. Is and I were arguing over 5 Namibian dollars with the taxi driver. Him not budging from 50 to 45, it took Lyndsay to sojourn us from walking away, being like “guys come on lets go, its less then 50 cents.” Voice of reason.

Nambwe Island, also known as Hippo Campsite, rests on the banks of the lower Zambezi River. A lawn of well manicured grass, filed by stone paths to the multiple sites, French tipped with picnic tables and fire pits. Not quite the rustic getaway we were hoping for but after pitching our tent to the reflection of the sun in the stillness of the river decided it would do just fine. They have a resident hippo, Stompy. He often comes up from the river to chill with the campers. The main office even had photos of him a few feet from some people around the fire pit! The owner informed us that “he is used to people around but is still a wild animal and thus regular hippo running courses still apply.” To our disappointment we did not see Stompy that night, although two people from Germany we were visiting with saw him the previous night.

We woke up before the sun to pack up and shower, yes a real shower. In HOT water to boot! Such a gift. It was everything I had been dreaming of and so much more. Steamy wonderful. So much appreciation and cleanliness.

Walking out to the main road (the cab we had called failed to come), two Namibian guides we had met the previous night drove by in their SUV which was packed FULL of gear for their trip to Tanzania. They looked at the three of us. Looked back at their over stuffed truck. Looked at us again. Back at the truck. Then offered that we could stand on the back of the bumper for a lift into town.

Most suspect form of transportation yet. Not only in the bed of a truck. But on the back, toes of boots balanced on the bumper, holding onto the roof rack. Any further back and we would be on the pavement. 4 km like this along a sand road, a turn onto the highway, another 10km, hazard lights on and an increase in speed feathered with fear. Wind turning my wet hair cold, metal sticking to death griped hands, laughter over the situation, cramping legs. A highlight in the “this is so crazy I can’t believe that just happened” kind of way.

We efficiently made our way home in the game of hitching, moving back across the boarder and in another few turns through the park. Weekend success.

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