The Caprivi Strip and puncture repair time

Having finished our visit to Zambia, we said our farewells to the two overlanding families we’d met in Livingstone, with whom we’d spent a lovely time playing the traditional Malawian game bao and chatting about our all our travels. They’d advised us about the Zambian immigration and customs offices, which are not on the same stretch of as the Namibian ones – you have to continue straight to them, without turning towards Namibia. This was useful information, as we would definitely just have followed the signs to our next country of entry and would have had to do a u-turn back, which is not my favourite activity! Having completed the formalities in both countries, we were instructed by Namibia’s veterinary services that they needed to search our bikes as part of their foot and mouth prevention programme, as well as ask us to step in a solution with our boots on, and have our bikes’ wheels sprayed. We had no objection to the latter, but emptying all our panniers in the baking African sun was not our idea of fun. Having explained that we had no meat or milk with us, they let us go thank goodness. It was only later that we realised we actually did have a bit of both on us – some biltong (dried meat) in a tank bag and a closed box of UHT milk in our ‘kitchen’ pannier; neither of which we’d actually have minded forfeiting if it had come to that.

We stopped briefly in Katima Mulilo, the Namibian border town, to draw money at an ATM, and then entered the Caprivi Strip which, as wikipedia will tell you, is named after German Chancellor Leo von Caprivi. This strange strip of land which juts out from Namibia into Angola, Zambia and Botswana was exchanged in a deal with the UK whereby Germany gave up its interests in Zanzibar and the North Sea island of Heligoland in return for this land with gave them access to the Zambezi River and a route to Germany’s colony of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) on Africa’s East coast. The long, straight road through this region was bordered by tall wispy grasses and green thron trees – not the environment that first comes to mind when you think of Namibia. But it is incredibly hot, as one might imagine. So much so that, as you ride along, the road ahead of you appears to melt in a shimmering haze, doing away with the horizon and making it seem as if you’re about to launch yourself into the sky. There was little difference to detect between how locals live here and what we saw in Zambia, except that a few enterprising youths had put out small stalls of wooden elephants along the roadside in hopes of getting a sale.

We arrived at our next stop, known as Ngepi Camp, mid-afternoon. Sweat was pouring down our bodies. The road in was Glyn riding the sandy road of Ngepi Camp in Namibiaa dirt track and, inevitably, had a sandy patch which threw me off kilter. I ditched my bike for the umpteenth time, ploughing my helmeted head into the sand. Unfortunately, my left shoulder followed suit, and must have collided with the bottom rim of my helmet as it sustained a very nasty bruising. I got it upright again, with Glyn’s able assistance, and finished the ride in, quivering like a leaf with the adrenaline and asking my self how on earth I’d managed three days of this in the Sudan. I think it probably must have helped that one gets into a rhythm when off-roading, and one starts to relax a bit and get used to the bike’s movements on various surfaces; but after miles and miles of tarmac I was really out of practice!

The Okavango RiverThe camp was definitely worth the trouble though. We chose campsite number 3 on the Okavango River, and settled in very quickly, enjoying sundowners on the sundeck and admiring the ‘swimming pool’, which is more like a floating cage located in the river itself. I’m not sure how much protection it offers against little critters, but at least it affords some protection from the river’s numerous crocs and hippos. Someone who had a hand in setting up the camp has a very good sense of humour, as it’s packed full of funny signs like: ‘Please be careful with personal property – please tell reception immediatley if you lose your sense of humour’, ‘Crocs and hippos in river. Swim at own risk’ and ‘If the water in the shower runs out, please DO NOT panic. There’s plenty more in the river. The loos at Ngepi Camp are all done in amazing style!Call reception, and we’ll start the pump or bring you a bucket’. They’d also done the ablutions in the most outrageously funny setups, including a his and hers in which his was just a concrete floor and hers was done up to the nines, complete with pink loo seat cover. My favourite was another ablution block which was variously signposted ‘The Throne’ for men and ‘Royal Flush’ for women, with the facilities done up in suitably appropriate decor. I didn’t take many photos, but have good ones on someone else’s website. Click here to see more.

Our stay here was lovely and relaxing. We spent our time watching hippos float downstream, caught up on some of the journal writing that we’d been neglecting for a few days and generally lay about, enjoying the comfort of the very colourful bean bags in their lounge area as we did so. Most of the time it was threatening rain, but not actually delivering any. Gusts of wind and dark clouds, sometimes even with lightening, would convince us that it was about to pour down, only to melt away again and bring out the sunshine. In the afternoon of the second day we felt able to cope with doing a quick checkup on the bikes, which were now in need of constant monitoring as Glyn’s radiator was leaking a bit. Lucky job we did give them a once over, as we found two nails, one in each of our rear tyres.

Glyn’s came out without any problems, as it was in one of the large tyre nobbles. But mine, sadly, made that horrible Glyn fixing Cathy’s puncutured tyrehissing noise, making us both sigh. Shaking his head, and wishing he’d not been boasting just a few days before that we’d not had any punctures, Glyn set to work sorting it out. Two hours later, and we’d replaced the inner tube with a spare one, repaired the punctured one as a backup, and refitted the tyre to the bike. Luckily, our friends Heidi and Craig, from Livingstone, arrived that afternoon and we were able to borrow there electric tyre pump. However, we were now both a little edgy about the dirt road, lined with thorn trees, that we’d have to ride on to get back to the main road. We had been very fortunate to have and repair our puncture in a place that had cold cokes on tap and shade everywhere – we didn’t want to repeat the experience on a hot, sunny and dusty road! Fortunatley for us, we managed our exit without any further bike ditchings or punctures, and after two days were on our way again, this time headed for Botswana and the Okavango delta.

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