On the Cubango River

Heading east from Ongula, on a surprisingly good road, we stopped for the night at a lodge on the river that forms part of the Namibian/Angolan border. The Rio Cubango rises in Angola’s highlands and heads south-east to form that border for a while, before being joined by the Cuito, another Angolan river, and later becoming the mighty Okavango. It was quite surreal looking across the river into Angola, something that would have been totally out of the question when I was younger and the area was still ravaged by war.

Taranga Safari Lodge is perched right on the edge of the Cubango, with permanently erected tents on platforms high enough to avoid having to worry about hippos or crocs. A floating bar on the river was a good spot for sunset photos with local people moving around on their traditional mokoros and lots of birds to be seen.

The birding was great, in fact. Between the river’s edge and the 11 hectares of bushveld with a self-guided walk and watering hole, there was a lot to find. I added at least nine new species and rediscovered a few that I hadn’t seen for a long time. Of course, I only managed decent images of some but I’m really happy that one of those I did capture was the stunning Violet-backed Starlings (still prefer their old name of Plum-coloured Starling).

Ongula Village Homestead Lodge

After Etosha, our next stop was a more cultural destination. Over 40 years ago, my husband was conscripted into the South African Defence Force and spent a large part of his two years service in the Ovamboland region of what was then South West Africa. This trip gave him the opportunity to revisit this part of Namibia under much more pleasant circumstances. A “memory-lane” drive into the town of Oshakati was followed by a night at Ongula Village Homestead Lodge, where the local community share their traditional way of life while providing some very comfortable accommodation.

Our guide Erik showed us around the homestead (kraal or eumbo), introducing us to the women who spend some part of the day underground (for the cool/damp) making clay pots. He explained the significance of the layout of the different areas of the homestead, and we met another group of women who demonstrated how they grind the mahangu (millet) and crush marula fruit for oil (by hand with wooden implements).

The tour took us past the family’s lands where they grow and harvest their crops, and around the market with its cuca shops (small bars selling homemade beer) and other small stores selling food and clothes. As the sun began to sink, we returned to the homestead to be entertained by the dancing prowess of a group of very colourfully dressed young girls. Dinner was a selection of traditionally prepared dishes, including marathon chicken, bean stew and mahangu porridge, with mopane worms on the side. Some of it was delicious, while other dishes required a bit more intestinal fortitude (I did eat one mopane worm!) A fascinating insight into a traditional way of life that can hopefully hang on in the face of modernisation.

Etosha National Park

Being lucky enough to have more time than usual for our visits to South Africa, we added on a trip to Namibia and Botswana. From Cape Town we flew to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, where we hired a vehicle and headed north to Etosha National Park.  Etosha is dominated by a huge salt pan but has plenty of wildlife in the areas you can access in your vehicle. Our first afternoon travelling from the entrance at Okaukeujo was productive for birds and other animals.

We spent one night at Halali camp and the waterhole at the camp delivered some special sightings, including African Elephants drinking, a Black Rhino and a group of the endemic sub-species of Black-faced Impala.

Halali is a lovely old-fashioned camp with chalets as well as a campsite. It proved a good spot for birding, with a couple of interesting new species added to my list (the Wood-Hoopoe and Hornbill), as well as a few old friends.

On the trip from Halali to Namutoni we had some good elephant sightings (they are so pale, presumably from the dust) and saw quite a bit of other game on the edge of the pan. Conditions were a bit challenging for photography, with bright sun and strong shadows, and the glare from the pan.

Namutoni has changed a bit since I was last there ( a very long time ago) with the accommodation more upmarket (but not in a hugely successful way) and other things, like the old German fort, rather rundown. A drive around Fisher’s Pan was interesting (not the best season for birding, sadly) and we did find a couple of Damara Dik-dik just as we headed back to camp before the evening gate closure.

Being winter, it was quite chilly overnight and we had to waste some time the next morning waiting for the fuel pumps to be able to deliver diesel, so I found a few subjects warming up in the sunshine inside the camp environs. Then farewell to Etosha, until next time (I hope).