40 Years to Ngepi and Guma Lagoon

Traditionally, I am informed that ruby is correct for a 40th wedding anniversary.  However, Chiyemi got a trip to the Okavango delta, slept in a tent on the hippo path and a nice, locally made hand-woven basket.  It might have had sort of ruby-ish colors, now that I think of it. We spent the night of Nov. 1 on the Makoro island, itself, but the AiF group of friends and staff proposed a toast to us on Halloween on the deck of the lodge.  That event, 40 years before, occasioned this trip to Africa and brought us happily along into a place like none other we’d ever seen.  Well, you could say that about just anywhere along the trail in Africa, but you know what I mean. The little island we stayed on was cut off completely from the outside world as as different as could be.

After the desolate but wildlife rich Etosha Benji and the 16 travelers spent one more night in Namibia at Ngepi Camp.  After a longish day of driving we stopped at the most curious, possible the most beautiful camp of our entire stay: Ngepi on the banks of the Kavango river.

As you can see from the map, Ngepi by the  red A is on a thin sliver of land jutting eastward between Angola to the north and Botswana to the south.  The great white salt pan of Etosha is still visible on the left side of the map, just above the name, Namibia.  If you check the link to Ngepi Camp , you’ll find their political stance implicit in the George Bush warning (he thought Africa was a country) although  I don’t recall anyone asking our political  affiliation before we entered.

Ngepi is a campsite, but like all campsites, there were “chalets” which might conjure up pictures of the Austrian Tyrol or the French Alps, but indicate a place to sleep with bed, bathroom, roof.  I hesitate in Ngepi’s case to call them a room because they were on the banks of the river, open to the air and everything else, hippos, eg. which lolled about with the crocs, almost always outside the camp.  Beautiful place really – we set up Fox tent in no time and this is where I learned how to put the fly up at 3am in pouring rain.  The fly is a simple affair: 1m square of canvas which covers the vent at the top of the tent made of similar material.  Held down by 4 bungee cords to the tent cross-stays, simple really and made easier by cursing at the elements such as the driving rain that night.  Never left it off again.

From the most curious campsite to the most curious and elaborate preparations of the entire 6 weeks journey.  Here’s a preview.  Africa In  Focus wanted to get us from Ngepi to what became known as “base camp” at Guma Lagoon (another campsite) to speedboats to dugout (faux except in our case) canoes to a mooshy island in the Makoros in Botswana’s Okavango delta.

  1. Drive from Ngepi to Guma Lagoon in Benji?  No way.  Drive within 3 or 4 miles of Guma Lagoon camp because the sandy road won’t hold Benji up. You can see where Guma is by looking at the small map: just beside Ikoga.
  2. Unpack everything on tarps including tents, sleeping bags, enough personal gear for three days, all of the food prep (stoves, coolers, food itself, plates, table wear, water (plenty of clean drinkable stuff), and a few tons of other odds and ends.
  3. Pack all of that stuff and ourselves into land rovers provided by Guma Lagoon staff and drive through very sandy flood plain to Guma.
  4. Unload everything from the Land Rovers and carry them off to the campsite at Guma.  Set up our kitchen stuff in Guma’s kitchen area so we can eat dinner.
  5. Set up our tents in the very nice shaded, grassy campsites.  Eat dinner, drink a bit of Windhoek beer.  Eat dinner, watch the moon rise over the delta – gorgeous sight I must say.
  6. Get up bright and early, pack the tents and personal gear, and everything else mentioned in 2 above onto big broad tarp beside the lagoon where the porters pack the stuff off to the motor boats.  All our stuff takes off into the morning as we wait for our boats.
  7. Ride the boats out through the delta to an off-loading point where we load all the gear and ourselves  into a large number of dugouts.  There were two people per makoro.  Just to confuse things the dugout and the islands are called the same thing: makoro. Look at the small map and you can see the dark green Kavango river spreading out like a hand into the Okavango delta – largest inland delta in the world.  You can see how the Kavango simply runs out into the ground as it fans out.
  8. Poler poles makoro an hour of so through papyrus and water lilies to our own little island of maybe 20-50 acres.  We are not separated from the wildlife here and the elephant and hippo poop do not encourage one to go wandering. We set up our tent a bit apart with at least one hippo track underneath the tent.  I figure the hippos would not actually run over the tent unless antagonized and I had no intention of doing that.
  9. Unload the makoros and set up camp.  Dinner prep begins shortly after arriving.
  10. Oh, yeah! Set up the one toilet in the designated toilet area, surrounded by reeds but not much else.  Ahem.  If the toilet paper is not hanging on the shovel, it means the bathroom is occupied. Very al fresco.
  11. Set up the tents and go for a ride through the reeds to another island where there’s a bit of wildlife – red lechwes (pronounced for some reason as LEE-chee).  Nice walk where we can see the hammerkop nest and elephant’s rubbing on the baobab trees.  Back through the setting sun to camp where we eat dinner and go to sleep – not much to do with no electricity and no bar.
  12. Next day go for another pole to a different island, take another walk and return to camp: nice and a very interesting, boggy environment.  Break camp, load up the  boats and are poled back to the staging area where we again unload the boats, load up the motorboats and return to Guma Lagoon camp.
  13. Unload the gear yet again, set up camp under the trees and have a latte before dinner.  Sun sets, eat, go to bed, arise refreshed.
  14. Put all the  stuff back onto the Land Rovers and ride the half hour back to Benji where Big Mama has been keeping an eye on the rest of our stuff locked away beside her house.
  15. Unload the land rovers and reload Benji for a trip off toward Maun where we take our airplane ride. Our efficiency of load/unload gear at this point was 38.4% better than the first unload/reload: we knew the drill by now.

All of the above, as far as I can tell, is so the 16 travelers can spend the night in a “bush camp” in the Okavango delta.  Nice but what a load of work for one night out.

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