Lianshulu lodge could hardly be better situated, inside Mudumu National Park and on the Bank of the River Kwando. Nkasa Lupala is equally well placed, on a backwater of the Linyanti and just 300 metres from Mamili National Park. Both Caprivian lodges take guests on daily tours into the parks with daily sightings of elephants and lions, not to mention herds of buffalo and over 400 species of birds.
You might find elephant and buffalo by yourself, but with a trained guide you have a much better chance of spotting a lion or the rare wetland antelopes: letchwe and sititunga; and many of today's tourists want to hear about wildlife from the people who live and grew up in the area - from local guides.
Just up the road from Lianshulu, on the Kwando floodplain, is Sijwa Environmental Centre, run by IRDNC, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, which is where guide training takes place for youngsters working in the nearby lodges or as game guards with conservancies, with the support of the US funded Millenium Clallenge Account (MCA).
Several of the lodges are joint ventures with the Caprivian communal conservancies. Private investors have stumped up the capital for luxury constructions of wood and thatch. The conservancies have rights over tourism and wildlife granted by the government, and assist investors by providing access to land and game guards to deter poaching.
It's a win win situation, with the added bonus of jobs in the lodges for locals. Most start at the bottom as room cleaners or waiters, but some have risen to assistant manager status and dream of running lodges themselves. Others work as tour guides, which requires a range of skills - driving is just one, and being able to get a car out of the mud is a big advantage - and a first class knowledge of wildlife.
That's where NATH comes in. The Namibian Association of Tourism and Hospitality runs the tour guiding courses at Sijwa. the first two levels are for apprentice and basic guides. Graduates from the Sijwa course hope to go on to be level 3 (National) and level 4 (Specialized) Guides. The courses are highly practical, and the aim is for apprentice guides to earn a living as they progress up the guiding skills ladder.
For three young men in Caprivi the chance is just what they have dreamt of. Kennedy Nkazi, Delicious Limbo and Given Kakambi all come from Caprivian conservancies, and are at different stages of their careers.
Kakambi is on his second NATH training course. He is already employed by Impalila conservancy, which works together with Impalila Island Lodge, as a guide. He specializes in sport fishing and boat tours, and has known the river at first hand since he was a boy. Nkazi also loved fishing as a youth, and was lucky, he says, to find a job as a general employee at a lodge in Sikunga Conservancy, on the Zambian border. soon afterwards offered promotion to fishing guide, and he hopes to improve his skills further with the NATH training.
For Limbo, it's his big chance. He comes from Balyerwa Conservancy, just south of Lianshulu Lodge, where he was recently offered the chance of a job, if he undertook the guide training. Delicious has already been taken on as a guide by the lodge.
In an area where jobs are scarce, tour guiding opportunities are a godsend. The road from Kongola to Sangwali is being upgraded from slippery sand, or mud in the rainy season, to tar, so Lianshulu, Kwandu, Namushasha and Nkasa Lupala Lodges can all expect more business. All will need more guides.
Hans Matiti at Nkasa Lupala Tented Lodge represents the bright future. He has gone on to study tour guiding in South Africa, and hopes to return there to study to the highest level. At the moment he is the only guide employed by the lodge, but Wuparo Conservancy hopes to gain concession rights in Mamili National Park, and to run tours in partnership with the lodge. If that happens, more guides will be needed.
Improved employment prospects was the big hope for all 17 of the trainee guides at Sijwa. Kebby Lilando was all smiles when he collected his certificate. With sponsorship from Kwandu Conservancy he has completed NATH level one and two. As the Conservancy Field Officer, his current job is to supervise the game guards who conduct anti-poaching patrols, sometimes together with colleagues from across the Zambian border.
Caprivi, of course, is sandwiched between Angola and Zambia to the north, and Botswana to the south. with Zimbabwe touching on Impalila, where the five countries meet that make up KAZA, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, where there are new opportunities for international conservation cooperation. The IRDNC has plans to set up a tracker school, building on the skills of the San in the area, and is enthusiastic about extending training in tracking and guiding to other KAZA countries.