2 Oct 2020
As we raised our glasses to a silent toast at the bar overlooking a waterhole in Etosha National Park, an elephant cow seemed to join in. She gracefully took a trunkful of water and splashed it onto her back at the exact same moment we took our first sip. It was an indescribable magic of two worlds aligning. I love coincidences like that. Or was it?
The bar is in actual fact the newly-built hide situated on a private waterhole exclusively reserved for Etosha King Nehale guests. With large glass windows that can slide open, it brings guests face to face with the majestic creatures that roam the park freely. Avid photographers can rest assured that it’ll be a glare-free experience for immaculate wildlife shots. This is no National Geographic through your TV screen – this is real.
The photographer Diane Arbus once said, “My favorite thing is to go where I've never been.” To a lot of wildlife and nature lovers, Etosha is not a place of the unknown, but an intricate love affair – a search for the alignment of worlds so that we can be one with nature. But Etosha King Nehale adds a whole new dimension to Namibian tourism, and in this regard, it is a place I had never been before, or at least a road I had never taken before. So, we decided to make a road trip of it.
Considered to be a trailblazer in the tourism industry, the lodge connects Etosha to the off-the-beaten-track Owambo expanse, which in turn leads to Namibia’s northern reaches where more culture and riverine excursions await. Following the northern border into the narrow strip all the way to Namushasha River Lodge, we finished off our road trip with another highlight – a day excursion to Bwabwata National Park.
An invitation to the Royal Palace
When it is dinner time, a gong sounds and its vibration is the announcement, “Hear ye, hear ye, you are invited to the festivities at the Royal Palace.” The Aawambo people love gathering friends and family to share a meal. This conviviality takes place in the soul of each homestead or palace – the Oshoto or Oshinyanga – a place where the people meet.
It is exactly this experience that awaits guests at the lodge. We got together in the circular boma – a strong symbol of community – where we were encouraged to kick off our shoes for an earthy connection to the Cuvelai soil. A vibrant celebration of drumming and story sharing followed. This vibrancy could be felt throughout the palace – in guests and employees alike.
Hitting the road to the north
After a deep connection to this area, its people and its animals, our road trip led us to the northern reaches of Namibia. The beauty of a road trip is that plenty of cultural encounters await on the roadside. One can expect colourful encounters, amongst which are numerous donkey carts, young boys dexterously riding their donkeys, women skillfully carrying wood or other objects on their heads, and artists selling their crafts and handiwork along the road. You might even return home with a bright pink ondelela (traditional Oshiwambo skirt) yourself. During school term, youngsters can be seen running to and from school in their uniforms. Nothing beats being welcomed into the region by their friendly waving.
For more insight into the region and its people, you might want to get your hands on a copy of Willie Olivier’s book, entitled Discover the Colourful World of Owambo.
A riverine paradise
Hakusembe River Lodge finally awaited us on the banks of the untamed Okavango River – a stark contrast to the region we had just come from. I am no birding expert, but as soon as I saw birds associated with water, I knew we had reached our river oasis. That refreshing feeling of toes first touching the lush green lawn never gets old, even more so after another stretch of our road trip. As we walked underneath a canopy of large trees, I caught a glimpse of sparkling river and immediately felt revived.
Cultural experiences in Namibia are diverse and fascinating. The realisation of the diversity only truly kicks in when meeting yet another captivating culture – the kind Kavango people. A trip to the Mbunza Living Museum is highly recommended for detailed and authentic insight into their culture. A wealth of information can be found and experienced here, including fishing with traditional woven traps, blacksmithing, learning about medicinal plants, playing an African “board” game in the sand and a taste of the mangetti fruit.
A sunset river excursion on the Okavango will woo the hardest of hearts.
Namushasha River Lodge
After a most hospitable stay on the Okavango, we continued our journey into the strip towards Namushasha River Lodge on the Kwando River. Wildlife lovers never want to leave and birders lose their hearts here amongst mopane trees. And I fully get it!
Thrilling experiences were the order of the day ... or rather days. Always plan to spend at least a couple of days here. One of the highlights is a visit to the game-rich Bwabwata National Park, which offers a completely different experience than Etosha. A visit to the Namushasha Heritage Centre allowed us yet another unique cultural experience – this time while getting to know the Mashi community.
On the last evening of our road trip, before flying back to Windhoek via Katima Mulilo, we sat on the lodge deck overlooking the Kwando. The sun was setting, which set the river aglow in colourful hues. Happy and filled with gratitude, I thought back to all the “coincidences” during our trip – something that we experienced a lot throughout. But perhaps coincidence is simply connection in its purest form.
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