Our final breakfast on the deck over the river and we were rewarded with the sight of a large crocodile swimming upstream opposite the lodge. Bacon and eggs in the sunshine and then we said our goodbyes to the always smiling breakfast ladies and to Peter and Hillary who were lovely hosts.
The road from Kunene River Lodge is rough and twisty but soon joins a graded D road which heads directly away from the river, dipping down through the beds of dry tributaries like a rollercoaster. Here and there we saw Himba people – women and children mostly. The women covered in red ochre with braided hair and animal skins at their waists. At one large settlement there were dozens of people sitting under the trees and a diversion forced us to drive alongside a dry river past several communities of thatched mud huts. A little boy saw us from a distance and ran to catch up. We wound a window down but he seemed be after sweets and we moved on. One beautiful girl of about 12 or 13 waved at us from the roadside, wearing a large necklace of some kind of bone or ivory. We waved but continued on, wary (sadly) of another interaction that was disappointing for both sides. I was left with the nagging thought that maybe she wanted a lift or something straightforward, so when a couple of respectable looking middle aged ladies in sunday dresses flagged us down, I slowed and wound down a window. We all smiled and then “Sugar”? asked one of them. “Sweeties”? We do want to learn more about the Himba, but not like this. We feel awkward about taking photos of them and so we didn’t. They have had so much taken from them in terms of land and water and tradition that it doesn’t seem right to take pictures too as we flash by in our air-conditioned truck. It is really fascinating to see them though. They live a very traditional life and many were using only stone tools until the nineteen eighties. Our guide books say they remain one of the most unchanged of all the tribes in Africa
We dipped and rose on the D roads that make three sides of a square (the river being the fourth side) until we came to Epupa Falls, a dusty little place which has made the tourist map because of the chasm through which the river falls, throwing up clouds of spray and with a roaring I can hear quite loudly now.
Epupa loomed like a desert oasis, with a forest of palms growing from the sandy river edge and stark, smooth baobabs like creatures in a fantasy novel with their spiky arms and outsized trunks. Our campsite is right on the river’s edge looking across to a sandbank where a four meter crocodile is asleep. We won’t be disturbing it.
We walked over to the falls where a rainbow flickered in the spray and swifts darted in the sunlit gorge below.
To have so much water in the midst of this harsh, dry environment, seems incongruous. Its lush, spectacular and splendid. We will miss it tomorrow as we head back into the dry heart of Kaokoland.