By Marita van Rooyen
This year our beloved motherland Namibia experienced an unusually dry and nerve-racking rainy season, leaving the entire nation down in the dumps if not in a depression! So, in an attempt to raise our spirits, we hit the open road to ‘the place from where rain can be seen’.
The 824-kilometre stretch of road from Windhoek to Shamvura in the Kavango region offers a landscape transformation of note. From the bushy plains of the Otjozondjupa Region, where warthog families and dung beetles frequent the roadside, the striking Omatako Mountains, and the open fields of the maize triangle, to the greenery and intriguing trees of the Okavango Region dotted with traditional villages, cow herders and a collection of imaginatively named shebeens, there is an exciting eye-catcher with every kilometre covered.
Coffee breaks, being tempted by enticing varieties of biltong, and taking in fresh air on roadside benches under trees allow breaks for leg stretching, while photo opportunities are literally around every corner. Pack a picnic basket and tackle this journey with leisure.
Since all journeys in Namibia begin and end in the capital city of Windhoek, this was where we started pumping the petrol. About 45 minutes down the road, Okahandja was our biltong and coffee stop, while REST (the Rare and Endangered Species Trust) provided the necessary inspirational education en route.
In Otjiwarongo – the place where fat cattle graze – we enjoyed refreshments in the shape of red velvet cupcakes from Dinky Bee and freshly baked bread from Bäckerei Carstensen. Our sortie to this northern town was rounded off with a visit to Namibia’s one and only Crocodile Farm.
On our quest for rain, Otavi – usually a drive-through destination – came as a pleasant surprise, although not in the form of falling water. We found the Khorab Memorial, which marks the place ‘where hostilities terminated in South West Africa’ on 9 July 1915 – and were given a taste of off-road Otavi – passing by a local farmer’s house that dated from roughly the same period as the stones used for the memorial.
The town also houses several character-rich buildings that have been put to use. There is a second-hand goods store, the Elegant F Boutique, which offers clothing, handbags and hairpieces, and borders on the town’s small informal market, and the official SWAPO offices. A great place to stretch your legs along this expanse of wide-open tarred road in Otavi is at Camel Inn.
On your way to the Kavango Region, you’ll have to pass through the Mururani Gate, situated north of Grootfontein. Here you’ll meet local ladies Veronica Haikera and Maria Kavanze, who man – or if you like ‘woman’ – the Mururani Shop and Camp. Stop for a cold beer under the leafy trees (unless you’re the one behind the wheel!), a toilet break, and to buy any basic necessities you might have forgotten to bring along.
And don’t miss an opportunity to visit a living Museum.
Mururani also hosts a campsite, which has water and electricity, and offers an optional breakfast. As this is the spot that marks the designated veterinary fence, you’ll have to declare any meat and plants from the north you intend taking home – and will most likely be asked to leave behind so as not to spread any feared diseases from the Kavango to the southern regions. (So be sure to braai all your chops before you embark on your return journey!)
From the fence northwards the roadside life starts to become interesting. Up to this point the most roadside action you will have seen is warthog families on the move and dung beetles (interestingly enough the only creatures that navigate and orient themselves using the Milky Way!) rolling their precious balls across the road.
But then you’ll meet innovative household income generators such as Levi Mufika, one of the side-of-the-road potters who transform seemingly dull balls of clay into must-have masterpieces of note. There are pots with beaks like crocodiles, feet like frogs and heads like guineafowls; handy bowls of all shapes and sizes; and the odd tokoloshe feature, presumably to keep pilfering at bay. So prepare yourself to strike a few bargains!
In Rundu there is ample opportunity to purchase the souvenirs for which this region is renowned. Stop to buy a wooden masterpiece at the Mbangura Woodcarving outlet in the city centre, and support the income-generating activity of the Kavango Basket Project at the Rundu Open Market. While you’re here, by way of sampling some local food, indulge in a smiley and some pap.
The old gravel road that runs parallel to the Kavango River, lifeline of the Kavango people who make a living from fishing, tending cattle and cultivating sorghum, millet and maize. The population here is dependent on the river, which virtually rules their daily routine. This is why it is so important that organisations such as the Kavango Open Africa Route (see page 28) manage and promote the region in a sustainable manner.
The lure of the area is its wild and untamed rural quality, which gives visitors a peek into an authentic African lifestyle. The road to ‘the place from where rain can be seen’ is characterised by herds of the Kavango people’s most prized possessions (cattle) being guarded by a young boy, with traditional reed and mud huts standing out between fields of mahangu and sorghum.
By this time we’d seen the water – the water in the river that is – but still no sign of the elusive rains. We continued our journey to the open home and resting place for exhausted travellers owned and managed by Mark and Charlie Paxton. Shamvura, ‘the place from where rain can be seen’, was our last destination and the one where we had taken our final hope to see rain.
Needless to say, in line with the official forecast of a forthcoming drought, there wasn’t a cloud in sight. It seems the rain was stuck on the Angolan side of the riverine border. But disappointment soon faded as we stepped barefoot onto the large green lawns where we were greeted by an over-eager Bokkie and a tall glass of the coldest refreshment ever. We had arrived!