The Ngepi Camp sits at the beginning of the Panhandle of the Kavango River which flowing from Angola dumps into the vast swamp known as the Okavango Delta – a vast wildlife reserve of wetlands and bush, and the largest Most of the delta sits in Botswana but here at Ngepi camp we spent a few days riverside contemplating our next move and schedule. For me, it was clear I needed to wait for my DHL package in Moan. I would also spend countless hours trying to get through to the Namibian Post Office trying to track down the package Johnny “A” sent me from California with my Apple Leopard disk, back up video tapes and a few small odds and ends. I wonder if I’ll ever see this package.
But now I am riding with another. Before heading off on his two month odyssey, Ronnie shaved his head. And he’s not planning on shaving or getting a hair cut until he returns to South Africa. By the time I met him in Windhoek he was sporting a near crew cut and the salt and pepper of his beard provided the texture and gave him a rougher look that was softened by his easy smile. When he was just a child his family moved from Brazil to South Africa and after spending the mandatory two years in the South African army in the intelligence unit, Ronnie confided that he spent most of that time hear near the Angola border during the Southwest Africa (Namibia) Angola war – a senseless war that crippled South Africa’s economy but provided much of Namibia’s infrastructure.
An early riser and always with a cigarette in his mouth, Ronnie is a veritable encyclopedia of flora and fauna. We took a sunset boat trip down the Okavango River in search of evidence of wildlife and between the guide and Ronnie were treated to hippos playing and guarding their territory, monkeys, egrets, fish eagles, crocodiles and malachite-headed kingfishers and a slew of other birds. But what made our Ngepi Camp experience were the treehouses we stayed in. With a solid wood floor, reed walls and thatched roofs these en-suite tree houses were complete with bathroom, running hot water showers, electricity and mosquito nets. Now in the heart of malaria country I must take all precautions to keep from getting chewed by those nasty buggers. I’ve learned that the malaria-carrying mosquitoes aren’t those that buzz annoyingly in your ear as you try to sleep or enjoy a cold beer. Nor are the malarial mosquitoes those whose bites itch and raise red bumps on your flesh. No, these mosquitoes are silent and somewhat itch-free. I’ve been taking the mefloquine for nearly three weeks and in these humid evenings by the lake give myself a shower in “Jungle Juice” with its 100% deet formula. This stuff can’t be good for you. It’s like putting kerosene on your skin.
The inside of my treehouse at Ngepi.
Ronnie’s treehouse as viewed from mine.
It’s hard not to rise early when staying in a tree house along the Kavango river. The house is wide open. The birds begin their morning song as the red ball rises from the east casting orange, red and muted yellow hues reflecting in the river while silhouetting the the briny branches of thorn trees and river reeds. And at night the groaning and sneezing sounds of hippos who’ve left their safe haven in the river to munch on the bush nearby. All is quite at Ngepi Camp and it’s like camping — with conveniences. Throughout the sprawling camp are a number of oddly named and uniquely designed and situated ablutions (bathrooms). One is located in the garden of eden, for example and another features tandem toilets appropriately named “His and Hers”.
Our stay at this staple camp in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia happened upon the slow season. As such, we shared the somewhat large camp with only a handful of other guests. This could have been the perfect Caprivi stop if it were not for the somewhat indifference to service that permeated from the manager down to the general staff. And maybe this attitude stems from the fact that there are few options for accommodations here and during peak time the place might be lucky to be fully booked. But there are other camps and while they might not have tree houses I would hope that service would be better. If not, there’s a huge opportunity here.
Not that the folks at Ngepi weren’t friendly or fun. No, on the contrary we found the staff to be enjoyable, fun and knowledgeable. But little things that are dictated by management policy with no room for flexibility that irked both Ronnie, me and other guests staying at this time. And the place is not cheap, either. Hoping to catch up on my writing and photo editing, we woke up the first morning to no electricity. Politely asking if the generator could be turned on, Duncan the manager informed us that the generator was very old and the owner was trying to get as much life out of it before it died. He was instructed not to turn it on until after 4pm. Meanwhile, food, beer and other perishables in the stores of the kitchen could be comprised. For me, I looked forward to enjoying these peaceful surroundings to inspire me. And while the lack of electricity didn’t affect my inspiration, my ability to leverage it would be limited.
Above the toilet of eden while his and hers below help define the vibe at Ngepi Camp. Too bad the service didn’t match up to the atmosphere.
Then when we ordered breakfast we reviewed the menu at a counter in the kitchen which sits just behind the wall separating the kitchen from the bar. The bartender simply walks through an open archway behind the counter to pass through between kitchen and bar. The only two customers in the kitchen and with the bartenders attention we ordered breakfast. But we were told we couldn’t order breakfast in the kitchen we would need to go to the bar. Scrambled eggs, some toast and ham. Simple enough. But no. We had to walk around to the bar where the same guy, our bartender, would then be able to take the order. Then he would walk back to the kitchen and tell the cook what we wanted. It seemed silly that he couldn’t write the order down in his book and was adamant that we walk around to the bar to make our order.
At lunch we ordered toasted sandwiches. Of a half dozen ingredients or so the menu asked to choose three. I felt like four: ham, cheese, salami and a slice of tomato. Sorry. You can only have three. We asked nicely. Then we asked again. Just throw on the slice of salami. After the bartender (yes, we were ordering at the bar this time) was flustered with Ronnie and my joking and repeated request for a simple fourth item to be added to our sandwich, manager Duncan appeared out of his office with a pen and pad and asked what we wanted on our sandwich. “Whatever you tell me I going to choose the first three,” he remarked while asking us to ease up on his staff. Never did anyone suggest that the salami could be included at additional cost, which I would gladly have paid. Nope. The rules were set in stone and there was no flexibility.
Dinners were fixed price/fixed menu meals. And they weren’t cheap. The meals were fair and portions small and allocated. Upon checkout we discovered we were charged for an additional bottle of wine we never drank. Needless to say the setting, grounds and accommodation at Ngepi are fantastic. But the service and management policies unfortunately overshadowed the experience and left us only remembering what we didn’t like about Ngepi Camp. And while the place tries to ooze a cool and laid back attitude which they try to communicate in their “Get A Life” tagline or slogan, I think it’s Ngepi Camp who needs to get a life and work on customer service.