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False 34 Travel Namibia Adventure Rough gravel roads tend to tear sandals to ribbons; in some ways they’re worse than walking through the bush, especially when the road is a mixture of loose sand and sharp stones. Carrying a heavy pack, I sink up to my ankles in the sand while the sharp stones hurt my feet through my sandals. A well- to- do black family stops and presents me with a can of ice- cold 7UP, which right now tastes more like the elixir of life. Later some less affluent locals fill my water bottle from the innards of their car, a gift just as welcome – although I suspect this last offering has something to do with my coming down with giardiasis later. The heat meanwhile turns my reading candles into wax bananas. Before the entrance to the game reserve I stop for a day’s rest. I want to get moving through the West Caprivi Game Reserve as quickly as possible, rather than sitting around here worrying about lions up ahead, and I’m half- tempted to carry straight on. But I’ve just walked 200 kilometres from Rundu without a break to get here, and the road through the game reserve itself is the same distance again. It would be foolish to set out immediately when I’m already worn out; the lions can wait another day for their dinner. I pitch my tent in the campsite beside Popa Falls. ‘ Popa’ translates rather redundantly as ‘ it is here’ – although you could say that about most places with some degree of confidence. The Kavango River is over one kilometre wide at this point, although the falls themselves are little more than rapids, and fail to entice the hordes of visitors away from the spectacular Victoria Falls downstream. But it’s a peaceful place, surrounded by forests of jackal berry and buffalo thorn; the noise of the river tumbling over the cascades is lovely in this heat, with plenty of shade around the thatched wooden bungalows. If this were Europe I’d be swimming by now – but there are too many crocodiles and hippos to make this a viable option, not to mention the bilharzia. Instead I sit in a lodge bar a couple of kilometres downriver from Popa Falls, watching two crocodiles who in turn are showing a keen interest in a family of hippos. But the latter can look after themselves; hippos may appear to be peaceable creatures most of the time, but they kill more people than any other animal in Africa. Anyone reckless enough to place themselves between a hippo and its young – or even just the water – is likely to see it transformed into a three- ton engine of destruction, and a charging hippo can flatten most living things. They’re denser than water, so they can waddle on the floor of a lake or river with their lungs full of air; since they can manage this, I can’t understand how they can also float to swim, but they’ve obviously worked it out somewhere down the evolutionary line. Despite their size and weight they can also tiptoe through a campsite at night without snagging a single guyline. Although Namibian law prohibits local people from trapping hippos in this area, it still goes on, the temptation of so much free meat inevitably proving irresistible. Livingstone was often impressed by the courage of hippopotamus hunters, especially the Makombwe on the Luangwa River. Often a wounded hippo would attack the hunter’s canoe and crunch it with its great jaws ‘ as easily as a pig would a bunch of asparagus’. To escape with their lives the natives would swim frantically for the shore, keeping underwater while the angry hippo searched for them on the surface. ‘ We have no sport, except perhaps Indian tiger shooting, requiring the courage and coolness this enterprise demands,’ Livingstone wrote. The moment the hippo’s blood is shed into the water ‘ all the crocodiles below are immediately drawn up stream by the scent, and are ready to act the part of thieves in a London crowd, or worse’. He often saw ‘ frightful gashes’ on the legs of people who had survived hippo attacks. But it’s the lions rather than hippos that are causing me sleepless nights, and my anxiety about them is getting worse. Sitting watching hippos in a comfortable lodge with a cold beer in my hand isn’t helping me cross the game reserve in one piece. Rest or no rest, I’ve run out of plausible delaying tactics, and I simply have to get moving without any further stalling. Crossing the bridge over the Kavango River, I pass a police checkpoint then start the long trek through the game reserve. “ If this were Europe I’d be swimming by now – but there are too many crocodiles and hippos to make this a viable option” Clockwise: Exhausted after reaching Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. Children at Caprivi craft stall. Popa Falls. Caprivi carvings. n Traversa: A Solo Walk Across Africa, from the Skeleton Coast to the Indian Ocean, by Fran Sandham, is published by Duckworth

False Travel Namibia 35 “ It’s a peaceful place, surrounded by forests of jackal berry and buffalo thorn; the noise of the river tumbling over the cascades is lovely in this heat” Ben Forbes BEN FORBESES N WR