There is only one point where four nations come together in one place. We crossed this X today. We drove across the beautiful new, one-year-old Kazungula bridge across the Zambezi River between Zambia and Botswana. From the bridge we could see Zimbabwe on our left and Namibia on our right. The point where all four meet is in the middle of the river, slightly to the east of the bridge.
African rivers are lifelines for the plants and animals that rely on water in this arid climate. The rivers are full of fish, the trees lining the rivers host fish-eating birds, the mammals come warily down to the bank for a drink. Hippos lounge around in the water. Crocodiles sun themselves on the bank. It was a quiet, smooth, cool, dust and insect free way to watch the wildlife.
We exited Zimbabwe, then walked across the Zambezi bridge, an engineering marvel for its time (1905). This is was pretty spectacular, 420 feet below us was the Zambezi, one of the great rivers of Africa, flowing through its vertical gorge. From the center of the bridge, we could almost see Victoria Falls around a sharp bend in the river.
They showed us around their village. The livestock pen where they keep young sheep and goats. The adults can be let loose to browse on their own, but the baboons will eat the young guys, so they have to stay behind and eat acacia pods. Then to the kitchen, outdoors, surrounded by a 3 foot high, 15 foot diameter round wall which serves as a wind break. They cook over mopani wood fires as this wood is not too smoky when it burns. Next, the indoor kitchen, used when it rains. It was hot outside, but the kitchen was cool even with 14 of us.
We climbed into the safari vehicles for our first game drive. It was nice and cool with just enough breeze as we went down the dirt track at 10 mph. Within 2 minutes, our guide, Victor, stopped and pointed out leopard tracks in the road dust. These guys are amazing to spot this stuff while driving.
Zimbabwe is an economic disaster. The Chinese loaned them money to develop the exploitation of their coal. When they couldn’t repay, no problem, we’ll just take over the coal industry. We passed numerous trucks hauling coal, much of which gets shipped to China to increase their carbon load. We passed a brand new power plant that was belching a huge column of brown smoke into the air. After we turned off the main road to the park access road, there was the open strip mine. Black coal dust everywhere. A multi-acre dump littered with the carcasses of hundreds of defunct vehicles and heavy equipment, abandoned there because it didn’t cost the Chinese anything to dump it there. Worst of all, this was former National Park land that corrupt government officials had leased to the Chinese coal interests.
Sossusvlei is one of Namibia’s must-see spots. Some of the world’s highest sand dunes in the world’s oldest desert provide the spectacular setting for a visit. Deadvlei is a flat pan, about a kilometer across, that used to have water until it was cut off from the river by a sand dune, about 500 years ago. The trunks of trees, dead for 500 years, make for an eerie scene, surrounded by high dunes.
While Namibia as a whole is surprisingly modern, there are tribes in the remote northwest of the country that maintain their ancient traditions and way of life. We were fortunate to visit two of these tribes with our guide Abel Man who was able to explain a lot about their lifestyle. We also visited the Damaraland Living Museum, where modern, educated Damara people preserve their tribal culture.