Notes from Namibia: part three

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

When it comes to fabulous weather and wildlife, there is nowhere like Namibia, says Adrienne. Over the next few weeks, she will be sharing her notes from Namibia – arguably Africa at its most authentic – exclusively with CD-Traveller readers. Today: Shopping and safari…

The problem with waking up in the middle of the night needing the loo in somewhere like the Okonjima campsite, is that you never can tell what might accompany you. As I debated with myself and decided that the urgency outweighed the risk I heard the one sound that scares me more than anything else -the horribly familiar who-woop-ooh of a hyena. Its owner has bone-crushing jaws and a fearsome reputation. That did it for me and I resolved to wait until breakfast.

We washed up and broke camp, and once packed headed off again, this time to Namutoni and Etosha National Park. On the way we stopped at a ‘Super Spar’ at Tsumeb. Quite possibly the flashiest supermarket I have ever been in (including Harrods Food Hall) it’s an enormous food shopping experience. We bought fruit juices (guava was my favourite) and snacks. John buys biltong. Allegedly medium spiced, even John said he wouldn’t have bought the hotter one!

Not too much further on is a lake – Otjikoto. A strange place, it is owned and run by an eccentric Afrikaaner. What else could he be when his prize sporting trophy is a mounted replica warthog bottom. It was in the shop, and I was sorely tempted to buy it. Alternatively, preserved snakes in a jar anyone? Not so much my taste, so I moved on to look around the real point of the place – Lake Otjikoto. Reputed to be bottomless, it was once a cave until the roof collapsed (no-one knows when). An information board showed a picture of it in cross section. This seemed to contradict its reputation.

Moving on we took a look around the zoo. We were all curious to know what was kept in a Namibian zoo. Of course! Rabbits and guinea pigs, budgies and Aylesbury ducks! What a fantastic twist! A peacock called from the branches of a nearby tree. Having had enough we all meet up at an elephant carving embellished water feature by the entrance. Having learned the first rule of safari – always use a loo where one is on offer, we made grateful use of the facilities. You can never tell how long it will be before you come across another one. One our way to Etosha Mr T tells us the size of Etosha – Peggy and Tilly chuckle, it’s bigger than Belgium.

We encountered our first gravel roads as we entered the Park. Joy. However, the vacuum cleaner was actually really rather stable, better than the 4x4s. Thus we arrived at the Namutoni Rest Camp at the eastern edge of the park. A former German fort constitutes the main buildings which are still very white in the bright sunshine of the afternoon. We located our spot, a very shady area in a ‘proper’ campsite. It’s busy and a real contrast to the previous night. Wilderness seems luxurious in comparison. We all feel a touch disappointed, but I am at least looking forward to a hyena-free night.

Mr T, as we know him, knows all the right water holes and we were soon rewarded with more than just kudus, ( a type of antelope) springboks and impala. Reticulated and common giraffes, loads of helmeted guinea fowl and as we pull in at dusk, my favourite – two elephants! Clearly used to performing for tourists, they pose as we watch them in awed silence.

As night driving is not permitted we returned to the rest camp with the gates closing behind us. We arrived back to a chicken stew dinner with rice and vegetables. Joseph has done us proud. Over dinner we noticed some dark shapes running around us. They had four legs and pointy ears. At the sound of a whistle the dark shapes stopped and stared at us. It’s at this point, as they became bolder and came nearer to us that we all fell in love with black-backed jackals.

The morning saw us with a full day of game driving. The icy shower must have had an effect – I lost my anti malarial. A group of Americans on a study tour down to South Africa found it and returned it to me. The plan was to drive west to the rest camp at Okakuejo, taking in the best waterholes on the way. Leaving in good time, expectations were high for a great day’s game viewing. We drove and stopped, and drove and stopped, but we didn’t see anything other than impala, springbok, hornbills, oryx and guinea fowl. Feeling frustrated we stopped at a rest station for a toilet break. We had to stay near the building and the vehicle just in case the predators had been waiting for us…

The toilet was pure dry Africa. No water = no flush. It must have been dry for a while as the pan is about one third full. I’m sure you don’t need me to elaborate. Back on the road we continued a disappointing drive which saw nothing more exciting than what we had already seen.

We reached the Halali rest camp for lunch where there is a game watching water hole, so while lunch was being prepared we headed off to have a look. It was the hottest day we’d experienced so hopes were up that thirsty animals would be tempted. Zebra, and not much else. We are beginning to think that as extraordinary and beautiful a country as Namibia is, it is NOT a safari destination. Becoming somewhat despondent we dragged back to the vacuum cleaner for lunch – the now familiar cheese rolls, although now served in a blissfully cool covered area. Cape glossy starlings kept us company.

Halali has a cafe, so we head off to find a cup of coffee. Passing another group of Americans we leapt at the news that ahead us was a pack of lions which had recently killed a zebra. Fantastic! Back in the vehicle we headed off with a renewed sense of optimistic expectation. Rietfontein is where they were seen, so to Rietfontein was we headed.

Arriving, we were goggle-eyed through binoculars, scanning the horizon. “Over there!” yelled Tuhafeni and we all stared in the same direction at a small group of giraffes. We see an evidently well-fed male lion collapse as he began a long hard-earned afternoon nap.

We reluctantly turned round and headed back to the main road. Tuhafeni’s original plan, before our diversion, was to take us to the Etosha Pan. The Etosha Pan is a dried up salt lake, which now forms a salt pan. Parts of it do get wet, but it never fills any more. Legend has it that it was formed by the tears of a San woman, a survivor of a raid on her village when all the men and children were slaughtered. She cried so much over the body of her dead child that a lake formed, and once her tears dried, all that remained was the salt. In fact it formed 1000 million years ago, and was originally fed by the Kunene River but it’s a nice story!

With the guide book telling of pH levels of over 10, we stepped delicately onto the light grey, crisp surface. It felt like we were breaking a rule. The small fence had been broken down. We couldn’t see any signs that told us not to walk on it, but even so it felt so wrong to step out that I didn’t venture very far. It’s like walking on the moon or something. The view is endless – it is so big and takes up 23% of the entire park. Like so many times on this trip I found myself unable to find the words to even begin to describe it.

The heat of the day was beginning to ease as we continued our journey west. The bush however, still disappointed. I remembered my trips around some of Kenya’s national parks and reflected on how much more there was too see there. I’m not the only one quietly upset at the lack of life out there, and Tuhafeni must have sensed this – he tried his best to keep our spirits up, but his air of desperation reached even me at the back. I reminded myself that sightings are not always guaranteed, and this is a simple fact of safaris.

Turning round to head back to camp at Okakuejo we sped through the bush. We had to be back by dusk but suddenly we skidded to a halt. There before us was a magnificent bull elephant. As we photographed him I noticed the dark streaks down the side of his head and his rear legs. These are signs of an elephant in full musth. This makes him dangerous. Musth is an aggressive time for bull elephants, so we needed to treat him with the utmost respect. And then he turned towards us. So we left, slowly, but mercifully faster than him. With grins on our faces.

Our grins got wider in the evening as we sat by the floodlit waterhole at the rest camp. Cheating? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. Giraffe, springbok and oryx, a small family of elephants and six black rhino. We sat with them until it got too cold, and we decided we needed to go to bed.

To read the next part of Adrienne’s Namibian adventure, don’t forget to log onto the CD-Traveller website tomorrow (November 8).

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