It was Mexi-night…whenever we arrived at Sarasungu camp…getting off course from our directions a bit…in the pitch black Namibian night, last July. After checking in at the office and being escorted by the attendant down a narrow dirt road through groves of trees, we had a campsite for the night. We were about 200 feet from the edge of the Kavango river. We were the only people in this area of the campsite and it was eerie with a subtle ground fog rising from the temperature difference between the river and the land.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark I realized that I could see small buildings with dimly lit squares of light peering out. Intermittent flashes from the ground sent trails of sparks up into the night – cooking fires – just across the river – Angola! Their lives…village-dwellers and those who lived in the small towns dotting the river bank…whoever they were – our lives – so different, but we both had parallel and similar tasks. They cook their food over a fire…we were about to make a fire to cook our dinner.
Donning our headlamps we moved quietly and deliberately – setting up camp in the dark…which, in spite of our good intentions to arrive earlier, became the norm on our trip. It couldn’t be helped. We were compelled to squeeze every minute out of the shorter winter days…out in the landscape – on the road – and this night…add the Kavango sunset river boat ride!
We built our fire in the braai pit, which was a waist-high stand made of metal…set up our aluminum camping table and chopped vegetables, sliced cheese, opened cans and packages. We successfully prepared our Mexi-night dinner…a bit of a challenge in a place where ingredients for Mexican cuisine have not made the import leap. But really, that’s part of being somewhere else…explorations can happen even at the grocery stores. The canned beans are different. Salsa? – forget it. Avacados – yes! And we found some tortillas in Windhoek , the capitol city, before we left. We each took our turn, setting our tortilla, layered with cheese on the grate over the fire. Piling on some onions, cabbage and beans, we sat around the fire eating and talking about this place and where we had been that day and…Cecil, my brother-in-law, finished our conversation, reminding us to watch out for black mamba snakes when we went to the bathroom!
Awakened several times during the night…each time I slid up into the state between sleep and wakefulness. Twice awakened with a start! Singing! I flashed the nightlight on my watch…2am. Loud, unfamiliar voices talking…now 4am. What was going on? Where were these sounds coming from? I sat up in my sleeping bag and really listened, unzipped the tent door to look. Across the river…Angola! People were up all night…I even heard them singing in harmony. Sparks dancing up from large bonfires, to mingle with the stars. Again…another world.
Mystery at night, illuminated at daybreak. Where were we? Morning came early after a less than sound sleep. The funniest thing, when we arrived in the dark…we never quite knew what we were going to find…what were our surroundings, until daylight. It was our own continuous little joke on ourselves! Sarasungu was a grassy camp on the Kavango river with nice trees and some common-use buildings interspersed around. There were simple concrete cabins and a small restaurant a quarter of a mile away. The ablution blocks (bathrooms) were rustic, with thatch rooftops and lots of cracks in which black mambas could hide, but we survived without incident. Cecil had camped there a year earlier and he and his film crew had found and killed a black mamba in one of the ablution blocks, so we weren’t overreacting!
I descended the ladder from the roof tent on the 4×4 just as the first long rays of sunrise were crossing the grass. I made a beeline for the fresh press coffee that Cecil and John had prepared. Cecil had lit one of our big propane burners and was stirring the pap into the boiling water…talking to it and encouraging it along. Soon it was ready for our additions of dried fruit and nuts and milk from our cooler. (Pap is ground white corn, used for savory and sweet dishes. A staple in the Namibian diet). No time to waste after breakfast – break camp and drive thirty minutes upriver.
We had an appointment at a very special place!
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