Connection and celebration

As we raised our glasses to a silent toast at the bar overlooking a waterhole in Etosha National Park, an elephant cow joined in – or so it seemed. 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 closer to 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.

I strongly agree with Diane Arbus who 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. This called for a road trip.

Considered to be a trailblazer in the tourism industry, the lodge connects Etosha to the off-the-beaten-track Owambo region, which in turn leads to Namibia’s northern reaches where more culture and riparian adventures await. Following the northern border into the narrow strip all the way to Chobe River Camp, we were to finish off our road trip with another highlight – a day excursion to the Victoria Falls.

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 staff 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 along the roadside. One can expect 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 Owambo dress) 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 riparian 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 after a day on the road never gets old. As we walked underneath a canopy of large trees, my eye caught a glimpse of sparkling river and I 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.

Chobe River Camp

After a most hospitable stay on the Okavango, we continued our journey into the strip towards Chobe River Camp. 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. A daytrip to Chobe National Park just across the border in Botswana had us in awe! Not to mention the day trip to the glorious Victoria Falls. Both these activities are organised by the lodge, removing the hassle from the process of paying for permits to cross borders with our own car or the need of a different currency for payments.

On the last evening of our road trip, before flying back to Windhoek via Katima Mulilo, we sat on the lodge deck overlooking the Namibian version of the Serengeti. The setting sun set the grasslands aglow in golden 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.

Author – Annelien Murray is an avid wordsmith who turns her pen to all things travel, culture and lifestyle. She was born in a small town called Otjiwarongo and grew up on a farm nearby. Creativity, nature, animals and travelling make her happy.