Well, almost Angola anyway. It’s across the river from us as I write at the Kunene River Lodge listening to crickets cricketing and monkeys rustling in the trees and birds making whooping noises we haven’t heard before. Kunene is lush and mountainous; quite a change from the baking flatlands we’ve become used to over the past few days, and very different to where we began the day.
Early this morning in the pre-dawn gloom a lion was making a heck of a racket just outside the camp’s electric fence. It is an extraordinary noise, nothing like the classic Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer roar, more of a mournful groaning sound.
We heard them several times in the night and P and I walked out to the waterhole to watch the sun come up and see if we could see any.
There was a lone jackal having a wary drink and after fifteen minutes in which our hot chocolate failed to warm us up, we walked back to start breakfast. It was bitterly cold and the rising sun took a while to take the edge off it. Bacon, eggs and mushrooms certainly helped though and by the time we had packed everything away the dry air was warm again and the sun was hot on our backs. It was a terrific little campsite, on the site of a former elephant mortuary set up during a drought when they had to cull some elephants to enable the rest to survive. A large, rather menacing gantry was still in place.
It’s funny how picky you get; “Oh another giraffe”. You have to remind yourself that its a REAL LIVE GIRAFFE, RIGHT THERE! The gravel road became rocky and some “Staff Only” signs had us going around in circles for a bit, but eventually we saw the tower marking the Galton Gate entrance with a bevvy of people ready to spray our wheels against foot and mouth disease. We were only the third people to drive through that morning.
The communities we passed were tiny places with maybe a shebeen or a general store and a few shoebox houses with tin roofs. We stopped at one store next to a bar hoping to buy a cold drink or bread but the racks of shelves had only a handful of items; cooking oil, tinned tuna, rice.
A few K past Raucana we cut through a slot in the mountains and had an amazing view across to Angola with the silvery Kunene River snaking off into the distance. In Angola it’s called the Cunene River. A few K after that the road ran out and became a steep and bumpy 4×4 track which dipped and rose, sidling up to the river before angling off back into the hills.
We darted back and forth like this until the track stuck to the river and took us through some Himba settlements, As Philippa noted, it was like driving through the dioramas at the Natural History Museum, with a cluster of nearly naked Himba women working at something in front of their hut, giving us a big smile and a wave. Some of the little boys held their hands out to us wanting something, anything, knowing from past experience that some (misguided) tourists will throw sweets.
The sandy track crossed little streams in places and it took us about 90 minutes of this off-road driving before we got to the lodge, all of us feeling slightly spaced out by our very long day. Its a nice place, unpretentious and with a slight fifties motel feel to our “deluxe bush chalet”. The owners, by their own admission are not here to make a ton of money, but fund their existence in this beautiful and largely unspoilt bit of the planet. Andrew is originally from Kenya and Hillary from Sussex where they both lived before coming out here and setting up this lodge more than a decade ago. There are crocodiles in the river and there used to be a very few hippo, but Andrew thinks last summer’s severe drought finished them off (as there was not enough for them to graze).