You know by now that I love to country hop…even if it is just for a brief visit to a rather ordinary border town. That’s what I thought the visit Impalila Island would be…but it turned into another eye-opening paradox of life in post-Apartheid Africa.
Impalila Island is a small island on the Caprivi Strip protruding into the northern territory of Botswana, Southern territory of Zambia and Western territory of Zimbabwe and surrounded by the Chobe River. The land was the source of heated tension as both Botswana and Namibia claimed right to the land and the issue was ultimately resolved by the United Nations in favor of Namibia…or at least that is what our guide told us.
Turns out that nearby Sedudu Island, not Impalila Island was under dispute and it was the International Court of Justice who settled the dispute in Botswana’s favor in 1999. The entire Caprivi Strip was involved in a post-independence civil war in the late 1990s and before that the site of a British and later German and later South African military post.
Getting from Botswana to Namibia
In the center of Kasane Botswana is a small dock, pictured below, and border post. We traveled from the Old House to the border post via boat, disembarked, stamped out of Botswana and then traveled by boat another 10 minutes to the Imaplia Island main dock. The whole passport stamping exercise seemed totally unnecessary as borders were laxed and we could have easily traveled between the two nations with no scurinty of our passports, but I never object to receiving extra stamps.
Old House set up the tour for us – $35 each – that included boat transfer and a 1hr guided tour of the island by a native of the local village. Normally I prefer to do these things myself, but it was over 40ºC and the small open boat that act as water busses/taxis ($1 each, depart when filled) were just too hot on this sultry afternoon.
Once we reached the island, our guide was waiting on the dock, who called himself Luke. First stop was the border post, where we filled out a lengthy arrivals card and were then stamped into Namibia.
Tour of Impalila Island
As we began walking toward the “native village” that was the advertised highlight of the tour, we could not help but to notice the immense amount of trash covering the island – soda cans and beer bottles primarily, but all kinds of discarded foods and goods. Luke sheepishly stated that they had to pick up their trash a bit better.
They meaning the native of the island – for the island is all local and run by a tribal chief. Colonial rule naturally left a scaring affect on the island – and Luke shared in graphic detail how Namibians were mistreated under apartheid South Africa rule.
We came to a bridge that once hosted a great battle between South African forces and Namibians fighting for basic civil rights most of us take for granted. Nearby children played soccer on a grass field.
And yet independence was won 24 years ago and can the incidence of trash really be excused away? That’s not an easy question to grapple with.
We came to the village. Children played around the makeshift water tower and chickens and goats wandered aimlessly around thatched roof huts.
In the center of the village was an ancient tree, towering in the sky.
And that was the tour…back to the boat after a quick exit stamp back at the border office.
When we got back to Kasane, the border office had already closed so we had no return stamp back into Botswana.
The trash is still present in my mind – that will be my memory of Nambia, even though I spent only one hour on a small island in a gorgeous (according to guidebooks) country. I did not even take pictures of it – I felt doing so in front of our Namibian guide would be so disrespectful.
How can a group of close-knit kinsman who collectively own their island and ancestral home be so negligent in caring for it?
In any case, an afternoon well-spent.
Read More of My Month in Africa Trip Report
Introduction: A Month in Africa
Review: Houston to Lagos in United Airlines 787 Business
Transit in Lagos: Bribing My Way Out
Review: Oasis Lounge Lagos (LOS)
Review: Gabfol Lounge Lagos (LOS)
Lagos to Johannesburg in South African Airways Economy Class
Setting Up Shop in Pretoria
How to Obtain a South African Police Report
A Safari in Kruger National Park
Review: Nkambeni Safari Camp
Driving Through Swaziland
Review: Mountain Inn Mbabane, Swaziland
Review: Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia in British Airways Comair Economy Class
Our Humble Abode in Zambia
Victoria Falls from the Zambian Side
From Hate to Great: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
The Old House Guest Lodge – Kasane, Botswana