Not your average travel blog
From the south west section of Namibia and Fish River Canyon, in one sentence I’m jumping north east to the Caprivi Strip.
This 280 mile-long pan handle, sticks neatly-east out of the side of Namibia and borders at its most easterly end with Zambia. It was created in a way, by some naive Germans in 1890. While wheeling and dealing like Delboy, they exchanged Zanzibar for this strip of land with Queen Victoria. It is the section of land that stretches all the way across modern, northern Botswana. She must have been rubbing her royal digits together thinking, “this time next year next, Rodney”… The Germans named it after their Chancellor at the time, wait for it….General Count George Leo Von Caprivi di Carrara di Montecuccoli. A little bit of a mouthful, so they went with “Capri Strip”. The Germans were seemingly naive because they were looking to acquire the strip in order to open up river access between Namibia (South West African Germany at the time), Lake Tanganyika, and the Indian Ocean. Essentially, granting them access across the whole of south end of the continent. Unfortunately for them, some fool may have forgotten about Victoria Falls. The largest curtain of water in the world, and the one kilometre cliff face that spectacularly breaks the Zambezi River makes boat-access along the entirety of the waterway, “very difficult”. Put simply, the Germans had instead, acquired a rather tricky river to navigate. With all its back-breaking rapids, boat-smashing rocks and potentially-lethal wildlife, the waterway merely stopped smack bang in the middle of the Southern African continent. Efficiently-German, the deal was not. Queen Victoria on the other hand, lucratively-obtained the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania as part of the deal. Lovely-jubbley.
The road may be long, but after crossing into Nambia onto the Carprivi from north west Botswana, we decided to complete the road in one drive. We had a schedule to keep, and thankfully the road is relatively solid. After crossing from Botswana early in the day, we headed for the nearest food outlet. The restaurants were seemingly out of stock and the “bakery” only serve one kind of food. Non of which either resembled or had the ingredients of bread. I’m still not sure what we ate, but resembling a dried fish topped with some sort of Wheetabix, it was a light struggle to swallow while driving. Never ones to shy from unusual foods, bellies were filled and the road was ours.
At certain times of year, elephants transverse between the north and the south – right across the strip. The Okovango to the south is the largest inland delta on earth (in Botswana). It’s the biggest “spa” on the planet where elephants commute to each year for a decent paddle and a good gossip. The Strip is a protected channel for their move, but now it’s quiet, hot, dusty, relatively empty of people and lacking any elephant. They are already in the delta as water is scarce elsewhere. To the north however, it’s a different story. More and more elephants are remaining in the delta for longer periods and who can blame them? There is still war and rural unrest in Angola and sadly, this brings with it highly illegal, yet lucrative poaching. Elephant tusks, heartbreakingly, fundraise to help fuel most wars in Africa. The elephants know where it’s dangerous and where it is safe. They might not know the monetary-value of their ivory, but they know a dangerous poacher when they see one and they are naturally wary of the sounds of war; which are loud, to the north. To the east (Zimbabwe and parts of Zambia) are troubled, highly poached areas too. The pristine waterways of northern Botswana are some of the safest patches for elephants and other big game on this Earth. Sadly, it isn’t difficult to predict the problems that may face Botswana in the very near future, with all these clever elephants embarking into a food-rich, national protection “facility”, it won’t be long till Botswana has the opposite problems of it’s unsettled and volatile neighbours – too many elephants!
Thinking about this while driving on an unpopulated route created by the division of colonial lands at the end of a period of world wars just seems a bit strange. We create borders, we create havoc, we deal in absolutes, and the real victims have no choice but to stumble through our mess, trying to find new oasis which we constantly strive to pillage and destroy. Elephants don’t see the borders of countries, but they do know where are people being bastards.
A few hundred kilometres short of the Zambia border, and to our astonishment, we see an entire pack of wild dogs cross the tarmac in front of us. Starting out on the evenings hunt, it’s as if there all limbering up and stretching as they cross the road. One even takes a moment to proudly straddle his invisible porcelain throne just meters from us, leaving us with a rare and intimate, shameless memory. Thankfully it’s not my first encounter with these spectacular and formidable creatures, and so with strange privilege does the simple amusement of a defecating canine wash over me.
Oddly, at the same time as witnessing the pooch schooch, we were approached by an odd group of youngsters. They were profoundly admitting to enjoying the sights of nature….while failing to cover up the fact that they were checking out Penelope like salivating Pavlov’s. They hadn’t spent anytime in drama class as it was abundantly clear they were more interested in seeing if they could acquire such a lady and overcome us in the process. They spent a few minutes hanging around after we had left the scene and I found them speeding up behind us in the mirrors. Hampering our driving for another 200 kilometres, they became pests; hopefully, unarmed ones. What I don’t think they had thought about was that without severe weaponry or a larger packs of cars, they’d struggle to take us without difficulty. Bandits aren’t uncommon around the continent but it’s still unnerving when you come across some. Quite prepared to ram anything short of a tank or an articulate, Penelope would have happily driven over their heavily-manned VW Golf and I wasn’t going to slow if they attempted to wave us down. With extremely bright headlights and some aggressively-stubborn driving, I think we made it clear we weren’t easy targets. Penelope would have caused more damage through any process to them, than she would have to herself or us. They followed us, then over took us and slowed, then speeded up out of view. It was unfriendly to say the least and we constantly had our eyes out for any kind of ambush up ahead. Without going into too much detail, we have items to hand should we fall victim to a stoppage. Penelope just wasn’t in the mood for playing. We did encounter them again on the road and it just became a very strange ordeal. Clearly and gratefully, we had become a bad target for them. It seemed they finally gave up the chase as we neared the final stretch of road before the border into Zambia, but a couple of hours later, we pulled into a busy petrol station and as we rolled in, we pulled up alongside the same VW Golf. We were aware and on our toes while the rest of the garage seemed to also be cautious of whatever traffic was coming and going. It was just that kind of place. The mood thickened. The shady guys didn’t fancy it, pulled out and sped off in the direction they had just come from. We can only assume that the gentlemen cruising up and down the long highway were doing so for a purpose not in tune with local laws. Admittedly, it was rather harassing and not something anyone wishes to encounter regularly. It was however good to feel that short of being armed, Penelope was a good (albeit tempting target) chariot to be riding in. It’s easy to become complacent when all appears safe. Even if we know the village or location as we do our own, there isn’t a oddity anywhere while on any trip that we take lightly. Nonchalance is an occasional killer, and nightfall was still to come…
Decidedly assertive in refusing to either wild-camp or stay anywhere that wasn’t well manned on this part of our route, meant we kept driving as far as we could before finding a relatively good spot to rest our heads for the night. We had dinner and inquired where we could get a bed. Entertainingly, we were directed to a truckers stop. Imagine an inland version of Tortuga. I won’t mention the name but it was a location full of hookers, thieves, unsavoury-smelling slack-jawed road-pirates and bad whiskey. The night wasn’t without its entertainment or problems, but as they mostly involved our guests who decided to venture out into the night and flirt with the lawlessness of the panhandle, I’ll refrain from discussing the details this time… We woke, we swiftly packed, we headed for the line and we crossed the border into Zambia early in the morning. Victoria Falls was smokin’ on the horizon. Tactically acquired by Vicky and the empire, she was our next stop…