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Day Fifty Seven - Popa ‘Falls’

18th November

sunny 32 °C

Not far from the border with Botswana, at the beginning of the Caprivi Strip, is Popa Falls. This misnomer is actually the name given to a series of rapids as the Kavango river flows south east towards Botswana and the Okavango Delta. It was also the office where we had been told that we could collect a permit for crossing the national park through which the road to the border passes. We stopped and despite a certain apathy for the ‘falls’ we thought we’d better stump up the entrance fee and see them.

To get to them we had to cross a series of streams through thick bush following only the sound of the water to get there. Two minutes in and we were lost. We stumbled upon a local, though I’m certain that stumbling is a euphemism for being preyed upon by him, and he offered to show us to the main section. We took a convoluted path through the bush which eventually opened up onto the falls. At this point our unofficial guide asked us to stay there whilst he went for a swim! As he plunged in head first the Lonely Planets’ words rang in my ears: “The falls is nothing to get steamed up about, though swimming is definitely not safe as there are hungry crocs about.” Our guide jumped out of the other side, a little downstream, and nimbly skipped up stream across the rocks before picking a spot near the start of the rapids and once more diving headlong into them. He disappeared from sight only to surface some distance further down before gingerly breast-stroking/semi-drowning his way to the rocks. “You’re turn next”, Somers challenged.

As our guide got to us I was bare chested, hopping my leg out of my trousers readying me and my purple boxers for a swim. “We’re going again”, I said to John, our guide. My heart was pounding as my feet left the warmth of the rock and I plunged down towards the water. I clambered out of the opposite bank like a spastic frog clutching for hand holds without looking for them and clumsily stepping into deep pools where I thought there was rock. Further up river I stood at the edge, I turned and saw Somers looking on, her camera at the ready, and again I took off. It’s a bizarre feeling, hitting the water and being immediately propulsed forward underwater with only muddied brown vision. As I surfaced I had three things on my mind; breathing, crocodiles and smiling for the camera, in reverse order. Once I was in, the water just had to be ridden and, fancying that the chances of crocs were far higher in the flat pool at the end of the rapids I bailed out pretty quickly as I approached the awaiting Somers.

It turned out that our park permit actually had to be gotten at the park gates, which, despite seeming obvious to most was anything but given the poor advice we were following.

The border was easy. We had no meat and had hidden the cheeses and any tat filed under ‘probable problems’ well away from view. The folk were genuinely lovely and we handed them some dried fish that we’d bought outside the petrol station back in Rundu as a gesture of goodwill. A gesture made easier by the fact that the fish had a certain taste and Somers had picked maggots out of its head earlier on. I hasten to add that there were no maggots by the time the fish became a gift.

We were in Botswana! Ten kilometres down the road we arrived at our first destination, Shakawe. Home to a branch of Barclays that refused my Barclaycard as it had a ‘chip’ and not just a magnetic strip. International banking isn’t always what you see on the adverts.

Our night was to be spent at Drotsky’s Cabins where we would spend the following day hunting for Tiger Fish on the river. We drank through a thunder storm and into the night with three young guys; one from Zambia and one from Jo’burg both of whom had hitched to see the third who was a Botswanan and the son of Drotskys’ owner.

Posted by ibeamish 23:15 Archived in Botswana

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