Ex Africa: A Note on Namibia
My introduction to Namibiathen known as South West Africatook place under less than ideal circumstances, when I was sent there in 1975 for a three-month stint during a rather futile bush war. Looking back, I lament the fact that I had not developed my interest in bird-watching by then, and hard as I have tried, I cannot recall seeing a single bird during even one of the more than 90 days I spent in the country. Fortunately, I do recalland very vividly, I may addseeing a cheetah in Etosha Game Reserve, as well as rhino, lion and much else besides. A few fellow junior officers and I appropriated a weather-beaten Land Rover and twice drove to this magnificent reserve from our camp near Tsumeb. Our accommodation in white-washed Fort Namutoni, a splendidly anachronistic 'Beau Geste'-style edifice, was a pleasant change from the military barracks. Fort Namutoni may have once harbored German soldiers, but it felt like a grand hotel to us.
In the 20 years since then, I have made several return visits to Namibia, one long trip specifically in search of the country's great variety of endemic birds, which I had so badly overlooked the first time around. On this trip, I'm happy to report, I saw as many as 100 birds in one day, ending up with all but a mere handful of the many species that can only be seen there or in southern Angola. Etosha I have revisited three times, with growing appreciation for this reserve and its flat, open landscapes, which makes game-viewing relatively easy and very rewarding.
One other memory from my stint in the Namibian bush remains with me clearly. Once or twice, grown weary of boring, badly prepared mess hall fare, we tried to catch some fish in the sizeable Kavango River, which flowed right by our camp. (I can't believe that I don't even remember seeing the kingfishers!) It was no easy task. The tiger fish were too powerful, and the bream too wily. Also, we had a problem with bait. Bream are wild about worms, as in night crawlers, but the sandy soil alongside the river held none. It was time for drastic measures.
My father was commandeered to send us—by military aircraft, naturally—a consignment of Pretoria-grown commercial earthworms. Big, juicy, wriggly ones, which we just knew those Kavango bream would find irresistible. And so it was. The worms, which made the 1,000 mile journey safely ensconced in moist organic material within a couple of cardboard wine bottle sleeves (my Dad had a D.Sc. in earthworms and knew how to keep 'em alive!) did the trick. The entire Air Force complement ate succulent bream for at least two weeks.
So, if you find yourself heading for the Caprivi Strip one day soon, don't forget the earthworms! All kidding aside, despite Namibia's 'desert and dune' image it is an excellent destination for the serious angler. The cold water of the Atlantic north of Swakopmund offers some of the very best surf fishing anywhere in Africa, and there's still plenty of tiger fish and bream in the Kavango.
Special thanks to Bert du Plessis of Fish Eagle Safaris for contributing his Namibian experiences.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication