Namibia: Kaokoveld: Epupa Falls, Kunene River, Kamanjab.
As dawn broke over our riverside campsite near Epupa Falls, the incessant sound of rushing water which we had heard all night was finally paired with a beautiful view of the rapids. This was fringed by overhanging palms and trees and was a refreshing change from the desert scenery of the last two weeks.
On the other side of the water is Angola. The healthy population of river crocodiles apparently does nothing to deter would be immigrants from across the border who risk everything by attempting to swim across. If the crocodile’s don’t get them, there is a Nambian Police unit based in Epupa which regularly patrols the river.
|Charlie the Croc - as named by our campsite|
Apart from leisurely admiring the falls from the viewpoint about a kilometre further downstream, Epupa was also our opportunity to get up close to a real Himba village. Hiring a local guide we headed 16km South stopping first at the Arsenal FC food shop (each town seems to have a shop dedicated to a UK football team.) Here, on the advice of our guide, we bought a large bag of maize, cooking oil, sugar, salt, instant soups and tea as gifts to the Himba.
Arriving at the traditional bush-fenced compound we were first introduced to one of the chief’s wives (he had three) and some of the other younger women. They accepted the food gifts and told our guide that in return we were welcome to take photos. This was unexpected and we had some reservations about contributing to the commercialisation of the Himba. The food offerings though, are a valuable supplement in the dry season to their diet and the taking of photos in a controlled setting at least helps to divert much of the tourist attention that would otherwise harass the more remote settlements (such as those we had seen in Kaokoveld.)
One tall, elegant woman eyed us up and down before saying something seemingly significant to our guide. Interested to hear what first impressions we had made on her, we waited for our guide to translate. “Why is he smaller than her?” was her question. Unable to give her a satisfactory answer, we moved on to the chief’s hut. The chief was a slight man with sunken cheeks and a tired expression. With three wives this was not entirely surprising. Nonetheless he took great interest in Josi and said he had always wanted a white wife. John joked that he would maybe trade her for something, but either something was lost in translation or the old chief had expected her to be offered with the food gifts we had brought. Either way he looked disappointed.
As elsewhere, one of the women asked us for painkillers for a nose abscess. The general advice is never to give any drugs in a quantity that can do any harm if taken in one go. So we gave her 4 Ibuprofen and she seemed happy. Whether she really had immediate need for them, or added them to a stash, we don’t know.
Overall this was a fascinating visit. We were able to see first-hand many of the unique practises we had heard about. Not only the application of the ochre paste but also the use of aromatic wood, burned like incense and used by women both as a “smoke bath” for intimate cleanliness and fumigation for their clothes. Extract from the same wood is also made into a paste and used as perfume during long walks. These niceties are an important ritual for a society where water is far too precious to be used for bathing.
Our next night was spent at the Kunene River Lodge, located due East near Swartsbooisdrift. From here it was a short drive the next day on the 4x4 river trail to Ruacana and then onwards to the silky smooth tar road due South to the charmless town of Kamanjab. The redeeming feature here was the small supermarket selling Cornettos and its proximity to an excellent farmhouse/homestay – *Rustig Toko Lodge*. That evening we opted for the buffet dinner served in the rather grandiose vaulted ceiling of the main building. Being the only guests eating there, we shared dinner with the host and his family. Excellent grilled eland, lots of fresh vegetables and some great South African Pinotage – it was really good and John definitely had his fair share of the buffet! After a lazy morning catching up with emails and minor admin, we set off again bound for the wildlife hotspot of Etosha National Park…
Days in Africa: 17
Km driven: 453km
Km total: 2,370km
Animal sightings: Blue Waxbill, Crocodile, Bat, Gecko, Warthog, Baboon, Monkey, Ground squirrel, Tortoise, Verreaux’s Eagle, Common Duiker, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-billed Hornbill, Kudu, Giraffe.