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False Adventure 32 Travel Namibia sole Fran Sandham recently walked across Africa - starting out from Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. In this extract from his new book Traversa we find him tired and with sore feet as he enters the country’s Caprivi Strip. Although many of the people I meet on this trip assume I’m reasonably brave, in fact I’m scared of most things, including dinosaurs. The truth is I’m worried about crossing the West Caprivi Game Reserve on foot, so I visit Rundu’s Nature Conservation Office to get some up- to- date information on lion attacks. The staff here are extremely helpful; we consult a map of the park, which covers an entire wall. ‘ You will have to be careful over the last forty kilometres – all the reported lion incidents have been in that area,’ the officer tells me. I never realized before how sinister the word ‘ incident’ can sound. Statistically, the chances of getting eaten by a lion in Africa are pretty low. Yet someone has to get eaten once in a while for such statistics to exist. I have to remind myself repeatedly that most accidents happen at home – though not, admittedly, accidents involving lions. Leaving Rundu, I head east towards the Caprivi Strip. Once known as ‘ The Devil’s Finger’, this panhandle- shaped stretch of land once formed part of the German colony. It derives its un- African name from the even more un- African name of the nineteenth- century German chancellor, General Count Georg Leo von Caprivi di Caprara di Montecuccoli, thankfully shortened. Germany acquired the territory from the British in 1890 in exchange for Heligoland and Zanzibar, and were delighted with this strategically important link through the British colonies to German East Africa. In the First World War, however, it became the very first German territory to fall to the British. At the outbreak of hostilities, the unsuspecting German governor was dining with an equally unsuspecting British official from Rhodesia, the two men on the best of terms. The meal ended on a sour note when the British official’s aide passed “ Local people often travel by means of mekoro – dugout canoes skilfully propelled by long poles. ‘ He who digs his pole too deep will be stuck forever,’ runs a local proverb” Wandering

False Travel Namibia 33 him a letter announcing the start of the war – he immediately arrested the German governor and annexed the Caprivi Strip back to the British crown, all within the time it took to serve the brandy and cigars to the remaining diners. I trek through the bushland along the Kavango, looking vaguely trainspotterish with my compass hanging on a string around my neck. This stretch of river resembles the Thames below Richmond Hill; even the trees look similar from a distance. Although heavily vegetated, with green fields and dense woodlands of teak, much of the Caprivi Strip is covered with Kalahari sand. The whole area was once a desert, but now it’s the most fertile region in Namibia. Caprivi is so lush I find it hard to imagine it’s part of the same country as the Namib Desert. So much of Namibia is arid: the country has enormous problems with water shortage, countless adverts proclaiming water as ‘ our most precious resource’. Yet here in the north of the country the Okavango system alone has more water in it than all the rivers in South Africa put together. And when the region floods, it really floods – the vast Caprivi swamps are sometimes known as Namibia’s ‘ water country’. Local people often travel by means of mokoro – dugout canoes skilfully propelled by long poles. ‘ He who digs his pole too deep will be stuck forever,’ runs a local proverb. My progress through the sand slows to a weary plod; as if to taunt me a flock of tiny black birds repeatedly whizz past at breathtaking speed, back and forth over my head, like miniature Red Arrows. I head back towards the main road and immediately make much better progress. By necessity I’ve become something of an expert on walking surfaces, judging which offer the firmest footing, which prove kinder to your feet, and above all which allow the least expenditure of energy. Caprivi’s namesake, General Count Georg Leo von Caprivi di Caprara di Montecuccoli, thankfully shortened. Bettmann / CORBIS Mokoro at dawn in Caprivi Richard du ToiToit Getty Images