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Namibian Camping Safaris

Budget-Priced Community-Based Nature Tourism

On a camping safari out of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, our first stop was in Western Bushmanland, 625 kilometers to the north- east. We camped at the Omatako Valley Rest Camp, a community campsite operated by the local San (Bushman) people. That night we sat around their campfire enthralled by their singing and dancing.

Suddenly, a young man worked himself into a trance and began to hurl himself about the circle of the campfire. He was imitating the animals that the San traditionally hunt- ed. Occasionally he plunged his head or his feet into the fire.

Next morning we accompanied a tribal elder on a tracking expedition. In the afternoon we visited the village. The women were making necklaces, using long, sharpened tools to drill holes in small disks of ostrich eggshell.

The San are hunter-gatherers, but their traditional life has been slowly eroded by contact with the modern world. Hunting is now prohibited, forcing them to grow crops and keep livestock. They have applied for a Conservancy grant to allow them controllable use of wildlife in combination with farming. The San would then manage their own environment and derive an income from community-based nature tourism. The campsite and a small craft shop are the first steps toward their goal.

Leaving Bushmanland we headed north to Rundu, on the Okavango River at the western end of the Caprivi Strip, a panhandled-shaped strip of land 500 kilometers long but only 30 kilometers wide. The odd shape originated when Britain and Germany were carving up Africa in the late 1800s. Germany, the colonial master in South West Africa, as Namibia was then called, wanted the Strip for access to central Africa. The Strip was returned to British control at the end of World War I. South Africa subsequently administered South West Africa under a UN mandate and introduced apartheid. The Caprivi Strip became the center of a protracted bush war during the struggle for Namibian independence, which was granted in 1990.

Visits to Game Parks

Our first stop in the Caprivi was at Ngepi Camp, still on the Okavango River. From here we visited the Mahango Game Reserve, one of Namibia’s most diverse game parks. We saw elephant, zebra, sable antelope, impala, and red lechwe, an antelope unique to the area. In the river, hippos and crocodiles surfaced lazily.

The Trans Caprivi highway, the main route through the Caprivi, passes through the center of the Caprivi Game Park. The Mudumu National Park, at the eastern end of the Caprivi, is covered in beautiful mopane woodland and provides a true bush experience. We camped in the park alongside the Kwando River and at night lay in our tent listening to the sounds of hippos grazing nearby. Nobody ventured from the tent that night--hippos are even more dangerous on land than in water.

The Lizauli Traditional Village is a community tourism project where local villagers show visitors how their village functions. The villagers play traditional musical instruments and the young people perform a lively dance. Blacksmiths forge metal tools and knives while an assistant operates the hand-made bellows.

Katima Mulilo, the regional capital, is home to the Caprivi Art Centre, another community project selling baskets, carvings, and pottery. A local Caprivian initiated the project and buys crafts from over 100 indigenous artisans in the region. The workmanship is renowned.

The community projects in Bushmanland and the Caprivi are supported by NACOBTA (Namibian Community Based Tourism Association. The aim is to assist the indigenous people in managing their environment and developing community-based tourism, an emerging industry in Namibia. By visiting these projects you make a direct contribution to the entire community and to the region.

The Conservancy Program in Namibia, begun in 1996, aims to involve rural communities in wildlife and natural resource management and provide much-needed local income and employment. This will not only assist wildlife conservation but has the potential to contribute significantly to social and economic development and reduce urban migration.

Namibia is a vast, unspoilt, sparsely populated country, ideal for traveling inexpensively on budget camping safaris. By visiting the tribal groups of Namibia you can both learn about them and contribute to their economy.

For more info see, www.namibian.org.

ANNE LOXTON is an Australian. She and her husband have lived in Namibia for the past year.

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