It had been a long day of travelling when we arrived at Ngepi Camp (one of the 15 best eco-lodges in Southern Africa) near Divundu in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. It was dark by the time we had pitched camp. So I had to take an open-air shower. In the dark. By torchlight. Among all those bushes and mozzies and creepy-crawlies. It wasn’t my best moment.
But as soon as the sun peeked through the trees the next morning and revealed our view over the Kavango River, my grumpiness evaporated. Completely. Suddenly, what had seemed bothersome when I was hot and tired the night before was now amusingly quirky, part of the campsite’s must-do-at-least-once appeal.
Make no mistake, the place is deeply idiosyncratic, even eccentric. Musical instruments hang from the ceiling of the lodge’s dining room. I’m not talking little things like flutes and castanets, but full-bodied, potentially skull-crushing stuff like a cello, a trombone, a piano accordion. Other ceiling ornaments swaying in happy confusion above you are a bicycle and a unicycle.
A mokoro (dugout canoe) turned on end makes a surprisingly useful bookcase in the lounge, where you can kick back and relax in one of the beanbags or squashy couches. In the gardens and around a circular fireplace or ‘conversation pit’, more mekoro (yup, that’s the plural of mokoro) are plonked upside down and used as benches or tables.
But it’s probably in the loos where the owner’s oddball sense of décor comes into its own.
One of the loos near our campsite was signposted ‘The Throne’, a rather grand affair where the toilet bowl and seat were encased in – yes, you guessed it – a wooden throne. It had an unimpeded view out over the river (related article: six of the best loos with a view). If taking a dump while watching crocs glide past and swivel their eyes in your direction wasn’t your idea of fun, there were plenty more private, viewless loos to choose from, each of them unique – no City Lodge sameness here.
For the business of washing we had a choice. We could, for instance, shower at the ‘adventure outdoors’ centre I hadn’t enjoyed much in the dark on my first night. Or we could go to Eagle’s Nest with its galvanised hip-bath and 180-degree view over the river. It looked madly romantic and I could just picture it by candlelight with some rose petals strewn about. But a British couple with two kids turned it into a family bathroom one afternoon, and from the giggles and shrieks it seemed they were having a whale of a time.
Being of a practical bent myself, I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if the sunset cruise puttered past just when you were ‘on the throne’ or in the bath!
Other cool touches at Ngepi were a sun deck, a floating cage pool in the river and a vibey bush bar. I liked that overlanders had their own section of the campsite, so we didn’t have to be swamped by their multiple tents at our green-grassed patch of paradise along the river. Not all camp sites have river frontage, so request it when you book. Or, if you aren’t into camping at all, you can try out one of the tree-house suites.
For a chuckle, don’t forget to read the tongue-in-cheek signs around the property. Some of them poke fun at 4×4 drivers, or campers who bring everything but the kitchen sink, but there are also ‘green’ notices, for instance one reminding you not to be a wasteful ‘power pig’.
On our second night, I had a shower while it was still light so I could appreciate the rustic naturalness of the surroundings. Open to the night sky, it bragged of ‘unlimited stars’ instead of a measly five stars which is all the best hotels can manage. To alert others that the area was occupied, you put up a pole with a sign saying ‘door’ across the opening to the shelter. Groundcovers nudged the wooden slats that formed the shower deck, a galvanised bucket with holes in it was the shower head way up in a tree, and a felled tree trunk was nearby to hold my dry clothes and towel. It was a completely different experience from the previous night – and this time I succumbed to its charm.
There’s a lesson to be learned here: don’t arrive late and grumpy if you want to get the best from your experience.
That night we went to sleep listening to the grumblings of hippo and the huffing of elephants, and woke to the sound of fish eagles calling over the river. Just another flawless day in Africa.
What to do in the Caprivi Strip
1. Take a day drive to the Mahango Game Reserve about 15km away.
2. Popa Falls is also just a hop, skip and jump away, and it’s open from sunrise to sunset.
How to get there: Ngepi is 14km from Divundu, which is a small settlement on the B8 between Rundu (200km) and Katimo Mulilo (320km) in the Caprivi, Namibia. At the T-junction in Divundu turn onto the D3403 and drive 10km until you see the sign for Ngepi Camp on the left, from where it is 4km.
Where to book: [email protected]
Contact details: tel 00264-66-259903, cell 00264-81-2028200