What’s in a name? Kavango~Cubango~Okavango

First evening on the Okavango. Photo by Zara Wiley

First evening on the Okavango River. Photo by Zara Wiley

With less and less light by which to navigate, we sped along…out the dusty roads from Rundu…on the northernmost edge of Namibia. We were on the high floodplains above the river. Those on the Angola side give it the moniker, The Cubango. In Namibia the most common name for it, as it forms the border between these two countries, is The Kavango. Days later, when we left Namibia’s Zambezi region (formerly the Caprivi strip), we dropped south from this skinny arm of land into Botswana where the river becomes The Okavango. Here it flows into the only landlocked delta in the world. (But that’s a story for another day….). To simplify for this story, I will refer to it as the Okavango river.

(I’m including a couple of sketches from that day as we traveled to Rundu, one of the largest border towns between Namibia and Angola.)

road into Rundu - first day of processions -my sketchbook

road to Rundu – thousands arriving in border town -my sketchbook

Rundu shop - border town between Namibia-Angola - my sketchbook

Rundu shop – border town between Namibia-Angola – my sketchbook


Cecil, my brother-in-law had arranged for a sunset cruise on the river. We finally found the camp from which our boat and driver were to depart at 5:00pm sharp, so that we wouldn’t miss the sunset. It was a ridiculous scramble when we pulled in, quickly changing into our long pants and jackets now that we were in mosquito territory, Our group of five scurried across the grass and skidded and tripped down a dirt trail to the water’s edge.  With cameras dangling from our necks and shoulders and two small grocery bags, we approached a wobbly dock to meet our driver of the weather-worn, flat bottomed boat ready to take us upriver for a couple of hours. Five minutes of the sun before it went down was not exactly what Cecil had in mind for us, but we had a slightly wacky, relaxing “cruise” on the Okavango, watching the colors glow as we were slowly absorbed into the darkness.

Just like that…step onto one flat bottomed boat and float out into the dusky border zone of hippos, birds, crocodiles and quiet between Namibia and Angola.We brought cold Windhoek lagers and chips for our “sundowner” on the boat. The “sundowner,” adopted by many sub-Saharahan African countries, is the equivalent of the French aperitif. Offering a beer to our boat driver, he happily accepted ~ a welcome refreshment between stops to deal with the sputtering motor, which with further investigating was found to be out of gas! He poured some into the outboard from his gas can through a handmade funnel…made from a cut-off plastic water bottle…with as much going into the river as into the motor! We moved slowly, enjoying our sundowner, with the outboard motor chattering as the noises of the night came up on the riverbanks.


"Sundowner" on our first boat ride on the Okavango river.

“Sundowner” on our first boat ride on the Okavango river. Photo by Zara Wiley

It may seem silly, but I couldn’t get over the fact that Angola was a paddle length away. Every now and then I just had to exclaim the fact…”that’s Angola, right there!” I talked to my brother-in-law, who is Namibian, and wondered why they didn’t have constant issues with border crossing. He reminded me that the river is full of hippos and crocodiles and said, “Our customs is the crocodiles.” I hadn’t thought of it quite like that. It’s not that the border crossing was such an issue any more, but there had been a time when Angola was full of civil war and much fighting and violence along the border. People of all walks of life lived along the river, on both sides, with many having relatives on either side, and still do. We saw small resort camps for tourists, and kraals and huts inhabited by locals, who made their living by fishing and herding goats and cattle and raising sorghum, maize and cassava.


I think some of the intrigue about the country through the reeds and papyrus on the other side, comes from “the idea” of being somewhere else. I was in the traveler frame of mind and I was curious about yet another place that was different from “home.” When I am in my studio at home in Seattle, the thought of being in a small boat on the Okavango river, gliding between Namibia and Angola seems hard to believe…mysterious, unknown, fantastic.

Sunset boat trip_1st Okavango_Nam2015-1

First evening on the Okavango – Cecil and John on the bow of our river boat

To feel the cool night air on my skin, watch the magenta-red glow of the sun drop below the river’s surface, sip my Namibian beer, hear the buzz of a mosquito…malaria potential or not? I look around this strange little boat on the river and see people that I care about, who are travelers with me, thinking their own thoughts, having their own questions…their own sensations.  I turn and look at our driver, doing his job, and know that he has his questions about us too. The Okavango conjures up images, stories and lore, but it is also just another place to be…listen, look, absorb and carry in my heart and mind.

And that was just the first night!

Road to Rundu ~ traveling the B8 and then some ~ Namibian journal

Master of the guest farm

Master of the Kalkfontein guest farm

Another day began. We had eaten a late dinner the night before, in the old dining room which was dimly lit with pale fluorescent bulbs and candles…eland and kudu game steaks, which were unbelievably delicious…fried potatoes and salad, and good, inexpensive wine from South Africa. We were leaving the guest farm, Kalkfontein, where we lodged that night after our late meal. We awakened to brilliant sun in the sky and breakfast outdoors on the veranda. After the last of our toast and coffee, we jumped at the chance to take a morning hike before climbing into our 4×4 again for the day.

hiking the land around Kalkfontein

hiking the land around Kalkfontein

Cold Sparletta sodas after our hike. Photo -Zara Wiley

Cold Sparletta sodas after our hike. Photo -Zara Wiley

Hot and dusty after our hike, we washed down our anti-malarial drugs with a fizzy Sparletta soda and climbed into the camper…rolling slowly down the gravel driveway. As we drove through the gate, there stood three girls, one carrying a big bundle of firewood on her head. They had stepped aside, waiting for us to pass so that they could continue walking on the gravel road. We slowed to smile and say hello. They were shy and standing close together in the shade. My daughter wanted to make a photograph, but she was shy and unsure about speaking to them. With a little encouragement from the rest of us in the car, she asked them if she could. They smiled brightly at her and said yes – smiles ensued all around and it was a nice exchange – memorable for all of us – touching our connected humanness.

three local girls near Kalkfontein

three local girls near Kalkfontein. Photo by Zara Wiley

Picking up speed with John behind the wheel, we kicked up our first dust of the day. High clear sunlight filtered down through a ground layer of particles. Dust in varying degrees of thickness – ubiquitous every day – everywhere. It really described a lot of our trip. Sometimes it was the color saturation of the dust, on the things around us. Sometimes it formed a haze and other times it coated our vehicle in a pale orange layer…our shoes changed color and were filled with it.

Looking out beyond the dust and haze was the strangeness of the mundane in another world. People walking out on this rural road – carrying bundles of firewood, buckets or packages on their heads. Men and children loaded into a two-wheeled cart, pulled by a pair of donkeys, or a man on a bicycle were all parts of blurred pictures as we drove on. We turned off of the smaller gravel roads onto the tarmac, the B8 highway to Rundu on the northern border between Namibia and Angola. No matter what type of road, we would see kraals (villages) carved out of space between camel thorn and acacia trees. Brush fires burned adding smoke to the haze. People walking…always walking.


We had to share the road!

We had to share the road!


exploring brush fires on the B8 highway

exploring brush fires on the B8 highway


road to Rundu

road to Rundu

Lone road out Rundu

Lone road out Rundu


The afternoon became late and the sun drew long lines across the landscape and the road. We were about 20 kilometres south of Rundu and we started to see more and more people. What was going on? We had always seen people walking but the numbers here were in the thousands. Crowds of all ages walking, gathered at bus stops, hitching rides in pick-up truck beds – all heading into Rundu. Many were school kids in uniforms and the line of traffic finally slowed to a stop on the edge of town. We rolled down our windows and asked them what was happening. They told us that an important chief had passed away and was being transported to Rundu, the town from which she came. She was to lie in state for four days and be buried there. Thousands were pouring into the town for the four days of ritual and ceremonies. The energy was palpable, the noise rising, the dust swirling.

Crowds outside Rundu_Nam_2015Z-1Outskirts of Rundu_2015_Nam-5


More mourners gathering. Photo-Zara Wiley

More mourners gathering. Photo-Zara Wiley


School kids gathering for funeral processions. Photo-Zara Wiley

School kids gathering for funeral processions. Photo-Zara Wiley                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                








We were torn between our curiosity to stop and participate in this unusual experience and our race to beat the sun before it set. We crept along with the traffic into Rundu and found a Spar grocery store, needing some things before camping that night…with kilometres to go and sparse directions to get there…we made our choice to keep moving.

Rundu Spar_Nam_2015-1

Spar grocery – Rundu

racing the sun

racing the sun                                                                 

Until tomorrow…



Still life(s) ~alive


Aubergine and plums ~ 8"x 9" acrylic on canvas. Dark wood frame w/brushed gold edge. $260

Aubergine and plums ~ 8″x 9″ acrylic on canvas. Dark wood frame w/brushed gold edge. $260


For the love of plump, organic, ripe and inviting forms!   A couple more of my still life paintings.

Aubergine (eggplant) and plumsa painting made in my studio with the end of summer’s eggplant and Italian plums. Soft light…a mix of incandescent and fluorescent that I played around with above my work table…serene and contemplative.

Bold, is bright, with hot sunlight, deep shadows, energetic…waiting.  A very alive still life.

I posted Bold again because it is now framed in a 2″deep dark cherry wood frame and hanging at Le Panier French Bakery in the Pike Pl Market. Go and have a look...both paintings are hanging there…much better live! Have a fantastic croissant and consider a painting…hmm.


Bold ~ bosc pears in Hood River. 8"x 10" acrylic on canvas panel. $265-framed.

Bold ~ bosc pears in Hood River. 8″x 10″ acrylic on canvas panel. $265-framed.


If you are interested in purchasing either painting, I am happy to ship. Let me know…and enjoy!

Tel: 206.329.4750                     e-mail: cappwiley@gmail.com                       Follow me on Facebook