As we turn down the dirt track for the last few kilometers to our destination we begin to wonder what we are in for. Various signs mark the 3km dirt track as we bounce along towards our destination, such as, "All 4x4 drivers engage four wheel drive, diff lock, low range and cross your fingers. All other drivers continue driving as normal." The humorous signs continue giving us hope that this could be a great camping spot.
Finally, we arrive. We leap out of the car in anticipation. We're greeted by an amazing looking reception area. An open, thatched area which houses the reception and pub flows onto a lawn - grass - 🎶🎵 - and from there to a deck set on the edge of a huge river, part of the Okavango Panhandle. Wow! We've never seen so much water and lush tropical forest in Namibia. Wow...did I say that already?
Soon we are headed to our campsite which is close enough to walk to the bar area - important - but far enough away to be private. It's on the edge of the river and surrounded on all sides by trees creating a private, shady and grassy 🎶🎶 campsite. Wow...OK, I'm overdoing that "wow", but it is. The sound of birds fills the air mingling with hippos grunting in the river.
Ngepi Lodge is full of character, as the funny signs hinted at. The toilets and showers are another example. All the toilets are open air toilets surrounded by pole fences. But they are amazing - flushing toilets with basins and mirrors, set in stunning surroundings. As we explore we find a closed area with a sign saying "Ladies please remain seated during the entire performance". We enter to see what is inside. I'm wondering if it's a lapa for shows. It's not. It's another toilet with trees growing all around it.
As our campfire crackles on the banks of the river the evening silence is punctuated by roars - not lions but hippos. The ground almost shudders as their roars reverberate through the evening air. What an amazing place. Let's just hope the hippos don't decide to graze on us and our tents as we sleep tonight, because there's nothing between those roaring beasts of the river and us besides a few millimeters of fabric. Africa...only in Africa.
"I'll make some coffee," I mumble to Nicky as the early morning light seeps into our tent. It feels like I'm sleeping in a tropical jungle because outside the birds are welcoming the new day with a chorus of song. However, there's not going to be coffee...not yet at least. "You have to come and see this," I call from outside where I've gone to turn the gas cooker on.
Nicky emerges and we watch a fiery ball of orange slowly lift its huge bulk above the trees across the river. It reaches out towards where we are standing on the river bank with a golden finger as though beckoning us to experience the adventures of the new day. Sipping filter coffee while enjoying the slow rhythm of the river as it slips by, we watch a herd of buffalo come down to drink.
As the day warms up quickly we decide to go and try the "World's first hippo and croc cage dive”. It's a floating swimming pool suspended in the the river. As I dip my feet in the scary feeling of what lies below the dark brown water tingles my spine. Eventually I throw caution to the wind and leap in. It's dark and eerie but deliciously refreshing as I burst out the water as quickly as I plunged in.
Negpi is not just about the beauty of this tropical, desert oasis, it’s about sustainability too. We have heard from Mark, the owner of Ngepi, that he wants Ngepi to be “the most environmentally friendly camp in the world.” And so we head out on a tour with Rob, the manager, to see what they are doing. "We are 100% solar," Rob says as we look at an array of solar panels in a field. He shows us a building that houses banks of batteries that provides all the power for all the campsites, chalets, etc. Amazing what we can achieve from the power of the sun.
I have never been to a place where the ablutions are such a feature. You want to go to the toilet or have a shower, just for the experience. Every one of these is different, and even these tell a story. We arrive at two showers set side by side. The signs indicate one as "Today" and the other as "Tomorrow".
"Today," says Rob as we enter the shower, "is lush and tropical." Inside there are trees and the shower has been integrated into this natural beauty. "However," continues Rob as we exit "Today" and enter “Tomorrow". “Tomorrow is not going to be good if we continue treating the earth like we are!" Inside the shower is barren. Concrete. No trees. A painted tin saying "toxic waste" and no hot water - which Joshua found out when he went to shower there. I’m impressed. Who would of thought of even using your ablutions to teach important lessons, while making them so much fun.
Rob continues to explain various other projects Negpi is involved in like the wood project to stop deforestation of the area, the tree project to provide income and help re-establish decimated areas, the recycling plant, the organic vegetable garden, and more. By the end of the tour, I’m not only convinced Mark’s vision is achievable, I’m exicted about it - because he’s managed to not simply try create an eco-sensitive camp, but care for the local community and educate visitors too.
Tomorrow we will be doing something totally different. Totally crazy, we’re going to get up close and personal with the river… (to be continued)