Friday 5th August. River trip with Peet & Renate
At 1.30pm we load up and roll out of town to head 20km west to Samsitu, where Hildie’s mum & dad live. We’re going on a river cruise with them. They welcome us with such genuine warmth and affection we are all taken aback. They show us around their lovely home and gardens on the banks of the Okavango. Ros has been here before and she knows them well – in fact she’s even brought some boat spares for Peet! We have beers, wine, champagne, gins & tonic as they catch up with news and wander around. There’s a small holding market garden, chickens and chicks roaming free, a couple of Peacock, banana trees and general lushness. And its still winter here. Peet proudly shows us his workshop. He has at least 30 furniture clamps hanging up neatly (Olly is very impressed) as well as two lathes, bench circular saws and other joinery paraphernalia. And the wood! Lovely planks of Osivi, Dolfhout from which he makes his furniture. At the back of the workshop there are two old bomb shelters (yes – from the Swapo conflict) used to store more wood. Round the back we are shown his compost corner. What a magnificent production line going on here. There doesn’t appear to be any particular timetable we are working to, but soon we are told to make our way to their next door neighbours (a 200m walk...) as we are going to be using their boat. The wine & beer merchants load up our liquid rations onto Peet’s smaller boat and we head off. We pass a small shady clearing where Godfried tells us that’s where he and Hildie got married. Pause for thought….
Soon we are on the four-pontoon raft/boat heading downstream. The water is dead flat smooth giving perfect mirror-like reflections. On the Namibian side there are a few large houses and camping lodges. On the Angolan side families are doing their washing and bathing in the river. Barely 50m apart, the contrast could not be more stark. Peet tells us that in fact it is an open border, with a 20km buffer zone either side. Within that zone people can come and go as they please.
We spot some crocodiles basking in the hot afternoon sunshine at the foot of some cliffs – Peet calls them his own White Cliffs of Rundu! We can see the town approaching in the distance as we turn around and head back tracking along the Angolan shoreline. It is about 4.30pm by now and the sun is just going off the boil. We see Fish Eagles, Egrets, Kingfisher, and loads of Swift skimming the surface feeding on the bugs that are just getting active. Talking of which, Tinkey’s (as he is now known) stomach starts grumbling to remind us we’ve not eaten since 6.30am. We tuck into the buffet lunch. Godfried breaks open more rose champagne. The paparazzi get clicking again in earnest as we pause not 5m from the two crocodiles we saw earlier. Renate says they are only little but at 2-3m long they’re big enough by our standards thank you very much! Pushing on we pass by more villagers washing & bathing. Then the sun starts its daily ritual for the tourists and begins its slow descent to the horizon. We are treated to a really spectacular one this time as we get that marvellous effect of the rippled reflection in the river. And, because of veld fires further north the show continues after sunset with purple and crimson layers in the sky lasting much longer than normal.
Peet suddenly calls us to attention: do we all have our passports? Er yes and no – why? Well we’re going to head down a narrow channel behind Hippo Island that is fully in Angola. Is he kidding or what? That channel is only about 3m wide. Oh well what the hell, we go for it. (actually I do have my passport with me if anyone asks). Sadly no hippos this time, but we pass by some fishermen in a dugout canoe fishing with throw nets. We get to the end of the channel and the engines make a funny noise. Progress becomes laboured then we grind to a halt – beached. And it’s pitch black. It suddenly goes quiet (at last!), Now what? Well Peet simply jumps off the front (er, hello, crocodiles and hippos?) and pushes us clear. Sorted.
We head back to Samsitu in the darkness and unload at the dock. Another “moment” when we drift off as the bow rope slips free. Richard refuses to save us as he doesn’t want to get his new Timberlands wet. Peet (luckily still on board) saves the day again as he fires up the outboards to drive us back alongside. Much shouting and calling and we tie up properly this time. Off to the bar for more drinks and laughter as we breakout singing again. Peet absolutely loves it and demands more and more songs, but sadly our repertoire fails us (I blame the lack of drink..). We think of our friends back in Chillenden as it is Friday evening after all. Here though no one looks at the watch and asks “what bloody time do you call this?”