7 May 2021
At every moment in this incredible adventure of life we have a choice. We are never stuck. In the upheaval of Covid-19 we have the choice to tune in to the fear and negativity that abounds on the planet at this time or to tune in to the immense natural beauty surrounding us. I choose the latter. Green-tripping through Namibia reminds me how very good it is to be alive.
After nearly a month of travelling through this beautiful country, I head north for my last trip before returning to the fairest Cape. This time I have a few friends with me for a short stay at Gondwana’s newest lodge, Etosha King Nehale. We diverge from the tar at Etosha’s eastern camp, Namutoni, where we meet fellow travellers who tell us they haven’t seen any wildlife during their drive through the national park. I refuse to believe it, knowing that every moment holds possibility and promise. And so, it is. As we explore the waterholes, a rhino sashays through the knee-high grass, a zebra foal nuzzles its mom, gemsbok eye us from the green and a journey of giraffes passes, and another. And then, as if the magic switch has been set on play, the day unfolds in one glorious moment after another.
A dramatic cloud display fills the sky, carrying the smell of rain mingled with the scent of the bitter bush. Puddles glisten and shimmer between a rich and verdant landscape. At the waterhole reserved for lodge guests an elephant approaches the water, lifting its trunk to sniff us and drinking contentedly before enjoying a fresh-mud shower and moving off for a snack in the long grass. As we continue to the lodge, a rainbow lights up the sky, wildebeest young frolic among their elders, birds fly up from the water on the sides of the road and cattle egret gather on small trees - like Christmas decorations - roosting for the night. The sun comes out in gold as a soft rain falls and we find ourselves in a joyful monkey’s wedding.
A darkening sky and a feast of a different kind draws us northwards to the lodge, positioned just outside Etoshas’ northern gate. Here a fusion of regal touches, good taste and Oshiwambo flavour greet us. The Andoni plains have transformed into a wetland and a chorus of frogs is celebrating the evening as streaks of crimson colour the sky. I have time to enjoy my large, comfortable chalet before supper and have a hot shower, light the candles and pour myself a glass of sherry, appreciating all the attention to detail. The supper feast begins with African flair - a bread basket with a selection of vetkoek, jam, pâté and an Oshiwambo favourite, mopane worms. Each course has a touch of the exotic, the soup with warm, subtle spices, the mains with Moroccan rice and couscous, and the homemade icecream deliciously flavoured with ginger and nuts. All add to the extra touches you can expect here, which continually surprise and delight.
Besides being a convenient springboard in the North - a halfway-stop between Etosha and the Kunene, Kavango and Zambezi regions - Etosha King Nehale also provides a base to explore the culture-rich regions north of Etosha, also known as Owambo. It’s a colourful hodgepodge of shebeens (simple taverns) with interesting names, old car graveyards, modern shopping centres and a countryside characterised in many areas by makalani palms, oshanas (seasonal lakes), mahangu (a type of millet) and traditional homesteads.
We take a drive westwards to Olukonda near Ondangwa to visit Nakambale, which was one of the first Finnish mission stations in the country. Here, in 1885 Martti Rautanen began translating the bible into Oshindonga. He was fondly called ‘Nakambale’ because of the hat he wore, which resembled an upside-down basket. The thick-walled family home that he built is now the museum and the old church still stands adjacent to the family graves. Spacious safari tents and a restaurant are the latest additions, and long-time Nakambalean Maggie Kanaante offers village visits.
The Oshiwambo character and verdant Etosha blessings are the perfect ending to a trip that has been beneficial after a year that has depleted many of us mentally, emotionally and physically. Being in Namibia, especially in this abundant green season has saved me, kept me sane, inspired me and re-energised me to once again be excited by life.
Maggie puts things in perspective when she describes her three dogs. The loving Scoobie greets us all with affection, rolling over onto his back for tummy rubs. Maggie tells us she has two other dogs. “The other two,” she says, “Covid and Trump, well, they’ve been left at home.” I laugh at the names and realise that this strange metaphor is so apt for how I’m feeling. It’s more than time to leave Covid and Trump behind and to embrace the love and life of now as we move forward.
This is the feeling I pack into my suitcase and carry with me. Green-tripping in Namibia in the time of Covid-19 has reminded me, as the name of one of the shebeens along the way does in its quiet way, ‘Life is nawa’ – ‘Life is good’.
Thank you, Namibia.
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