As we begin our descent into Kasane airport in Botswana we fly through a thunderstorm. By the time we have landed the rain is torrential. The plane stops not far from the airport terminal and the pilot comes out of the cockpit. He tells us that Kasane airport doesn’t have shuttle buses to take us to the terminal but that we are welcome to wait on the plane until the rain dies down. A few passengers decide to make a run for it while we wait. The rain seems to be getting heavier and soon there are only a few of us left, hoping that the rain will soon stop. The crew take pity on us and call for a car to take us to the terminal, which is just a two or three minute walk away. The car arrives and we climb down the steps and jump in as quickly as we can. We are already soaked. The driver takes us around the corner and points to the entrance to the terminal, telling us that he cannot take us any further. We jump out of the car and run, the puddles cannot be avoided and soak our feet as we rush through them. We arrive in the terminal soaked to the skin and, after seeing the passengers who departed the plane first looking a lot dryer than we are, realise that we probably made the wrong decision.
We join the queue for passport control and, as we dry off, begin to take in our surroundings – the ‘arrivals terminal’ is really just a room with two doors, one at each end. Two booths at the entrance to the room make up the passport control that the twenty or so passengers from the plane are queuing for. As we wait we see our luggage being brought from the plane on the sort of luggage trolleys usually used by passengers. Two men are rushing towards the terminal with a pile of suitcases on one trolley. When they turn a little too quickly the top two suitcases tumble off the pile and land in a puddle. The cases are hastily thrown back on and the men continue into the terminal. They pass the queue of passengers and, just behind the passport control counters, they begin to pile the suitcases on the floor.
Once our passports have been stamped we collect our suitcases from the pile and are welcomed by staff from the Zambezi Queen luxury houseboat, our home for the next five days.
We drive to Chobe Marina Lodge, where we wait for the tender boats to collect us and it is not long before we are setting off. The two tender boats take off along the river and, after a few minutes they slow down and turn towards the banks. There is a small dock and building – we are told that this is passport control and that we must take our passports to be stamped out of Botswana, as the Zambezi Queen is officially based on the Namibian side of the Chobe River. We clamber off the tender and up the river banks towards the building.
With our passports stamped we set off again, this time heading in the opposite direction. After a while the tenders slow once again and we pull into the river banks. This time there is no dock and no hut to be seen. We are told that we are now checking in to Namibian territory and to take our passports with us again. We set off in the direction the guide indicated and find ourselves walking down a dirt track. There is no sign of any sort of passport control and, had it not been for a wooden sign fixed to a tree saying ‘Keep Impalila Clean’ we would have no idea where we were at all. After a few minutes we spot another wooden sign, nailed to a tree ahead of us, on it is an arrow and the word ‘immigration’. I have been through some strange immigration points before but I have to admit that this is the oddest one yet.
Impalila Island is about 12 kilometres long and 6 kilometres wide, making it one of the largest islands in the area. The island is where the Chobe River and the Zambezi river join and, at the end of the island, is the meeting point of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
We arrive at a hut (even smaller than the last one) that has a broken sign at the entrance saying ‘Namibian Police’. Once again we queue up and when it becomes our turn we step inside. Behind a glass screen is one man, wearing a police uniform. To our right is a cardboard box with the words ‘Suggestion Box Police’ written on the front in black ink. We hand over our passports and he stamps us into Namibia.
Now officially in Namibia, we head back to the tenders and head along the river in the direction of the Zambezi Queen. The 28-passenger vessel was specifically designed for safari river cruising when she was built in the early 1990s. In 2008 she was given a make-over, a third deck was added and she became the ‘ultimate luxury African river safari’.
TOP TIP: If you are arriving in Botswana to join the Zambezi Queen make sure to wear good walking shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy (especially in the rainy season) and take plenty of mosquito repellent with you!