Wow, I thought just before I zipped up the nets of my rooftop tent on the houseboat. I was staring at the reflection of the milky way on the Zambezi River, the 4th longest river in Africa (right after the Congo, Niger and the Nile) flowing some 3 400 km from Zambia, bordering Namibia and heading east to the Indian Ocean.
I had three days on the Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge to spot crocs, hippos, birds and perhaps catch some tigerfish (before releasing them back into the water).
Ivan, our seasoned skipper and guide, was teaching Derrick, the trainee, the ways of the river that he knew blindfolded (although we weren’t about to challenge him on it). The river drops a meter a day and sandbanks were popping up all over the place, along with dead trees that became submerged during the flood season (March-June).
We cruised downriver passing various mokoros (traditional dugout canoes) with fisherman from both the Namibian and Zambian side. Stopping on a sandbank we viewed African skimmer birds up close, with their black tops, white bodies and long orange beaks that they were using to scoop up water as they literally skimmed the water’s surface in mid-flight.
“You see this hole?” Ivan pointed at the sand as we gathered around, “skimmer’s nest.” It’s a crater that the parent skimmer digs, lays between one and three spotted eggs and can only hope that predators (water monitors, snakes or predatory birds) don’t spot the camouflaged chick that lies flat in the sand, practically invisible.
The sand itself is ‘squeaky sand’, native to the Zambezi sandbanks. As soon as you step on it, the sand squeaks, like a DJ scratching turntables (if you surrounded your house with it, there’d be no chance of any one sneaking in). Which is why the yellow-billed storks I spied about 200 meters from us gave flight as we tried to creep up on them for a closer picture. Although I was a bit surprised that the juvenile crocodile sunbathing a little further up the sandbank scattered as soon as I attempted a squeaky approach.
We encountered fish eagles, herons, egrets, cormorants, kingfishers, crocodiles, hippos, water monitors, straw-hut villages and herds of cattle while failing at every attempt to fish.
We camped on the squeaky sandbanks, sitting around the fire on camp chairs watching a breathtaking sunset while we sipped on wine and I played guitar. As the wine took its toll on our sun-baked bodies we called it a night. I clambered up the side ladder of the boat to the rooftop tents. I had to pause as I looked over at the calm, glassy river reflecting our galaxy.
I breathed it all in. Not a bad week in Africa.
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