The following day, now rested and able to laugh at our muddy misadventure, we set off for the Popa Falls. Actually, they're not falls, more like cascading rapids that fall over a number of quartzite ledges and because it's the wet season, there's a lot of water and it makes for quite a sight. The floods have made the roads muddy, but they've also made it the perfect place to indulge in bird-watching, game viewing and hippo hunting. And because Reuben and I are getting on quite well, and not in a particular hurry, we decide to camp here for 2-3 days more, in order to pop across to Botswana and explore the Okavango.
The first thing I notice, in our treks, is that there is an enormous mount of vegetation – papyrus and lilies on the river, palm trees on the banks, crocodiles and hippo and even some salt islands. We rent a mukuro (a traditional dugout canoe) and paddle down the Delta, which is extraordinarily green – and not because of the tropical climate, I am told, but because it actually is an oasis in a desert. Especially at this time the year, with afternoon rains, enormous amounts of water are flooding into the area and as the waters rise, the wildlife appears. Above us, we see all kinds of birds...and one particular day, in the space of an hour, I spy antelope, buffalo, springboks, a lion, three elephants and a rhino! The days are sweltering, the nights still warm and the humidity way above 70%. Our camp site is basic, but I am sleeping peacefully, drifting off each night to all kinds of animal sounds, and waking each morning to the songs of hundreds of birds.
On our second day, we end up hiring a professional guide, a local, which is well worth the money because he takes us to places no tourist could ever dream of stumbling upon. We learn that the Delta covers around 15,000 kms, he shows us its crystal-clear lagoons (the water has flowed down here from Angola, we learn, and because of the sands, it becomes 'trapped' in the Savannah, rather than making its way onto the ocean). From the mukuro we are in, I catch sight of Kingfishers and dragonflies. We float, effortlessly, along the water, and I luxuriate in the silence. Indeed, for over an hour, the three of us do not see another human being. We have lunch at a small village (guests of the Hambukushu tribe, who speak no English, but our guide translates and at the end, when thanking the women who cooked for us, we resort to sign language). Back in our canoe, gliding down the river, I realise I am exploring a true water wilderness.
After three glorious days in the Okavango, we reluctantly pack up camp and head on east. Reuben is still hoping to meet his friend and although I don't have any firm plans there's a lot I want to see in Zimbabwe. Driving back on the highway, anxious to avoid the muddy sidepaths, we check our map and book and make the decision to head to Bum Hill campsite,in the Bwabwata National Park. Set on the shores of the Kwando river, apparently it is run co-operatively, with all its profits ploughed back into the site. It's also been built in an eco-friendly manner, and what it lack in electricity it makes up for with its raised platforms that overlook the water. There, our book says, you can pitch a tent and watch the animals amble down to the river, early in the morning and late at night. It's basic but unspoilt, we are told, but that's what we're looking for. We don't want, and can't afford luxury. We're looking for an experience – not in five stars, more like under five stars.
And Bum Hill (I kid you not, that's actually the site's name!) is great. So what that they don't have a generator? The showers are clean, they have gas burners for cooking and you're slap bang in the middle of nature. Using a torch to creep into my tent at night is the least of my worries. And for me, there is something romantic about being in the middle of nowhere, sat around a camp fire with like-minded people (oll off on their own personal adventures), drinking a beer and watching the fire burn whilst, in the background, frogs croak, crickets chirp and hippos' groans float across from the river.
One morning, Reuben and I take an early-morning game drive with a guide (up before sunrise, piping hot tea to rouse us). The air is so crisp and clear, and as the sun rises, the light is spectacular. We're awarded with the sighing of two elephants at a nearby water hole, a herd of zebras and – to my delight – a leopard slumbering in a tree. Early morning, as we have found out, is a fine time for unusual sightings. Not that we've suffered at dusk either, sitting on the observation platform and watching animals wandering down to the river to drink, as the heat of the day finally abates. The colour of the sky changes slowly from startling blue to yellow, then apricot, and finally a burning red.
I could sit in the Caprivi for another week, that much I know, but Reuben's friend has arrived and they need to leave for Mozambique. And I only have another month of my trip left, with Zimbabwe and Swaziland still to see. I've been lucky and, the previous day, befriended a couple from France who are travelling with the 'Explore' company in a group of 22, by double decker bus, around southern Africa. They're heading to Victoria Falls and after a chat with the group leader, he agrees to let me hitch a ride with them to Livingstone. Tomorrow, with luck, I will reach the mighty Victoria Falls. But, Namibia, my beloved, I will miss you. And not only do I promise never to forget you, I promise faithfully to return...