Namibia Flight Safari - 2012

T ABLE OF C ONTENTS

INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................................ 2

NAMIB DESERT.................................................................................................................................. 3

PARTICULARS OF THE TRIP .............................................................................................................. 5

DESERT RHINO CAMP ....................................................................................................................... 9

OKIHIRONGA ELEPHANT CAMP ....................................................................................................15

SOSSUSVLEI DESERT LODGE..........................................................................................................25

I NTRODUCTION

All Travel Arrangements on this designed trip made by www.AfricaEasy.com

April 2012

Why did we want to revisit this country which we had explored through an itinerary

which included Botswana, Zimbabwe and Cape Town a few years ago? Simple answer:

we never saw the Skeleton Coast and gorgeous reddesert dunes for which the country

is so justly famous. In addition, therewere three animals we particularly wanted to see

there: the desert adaptedelephants, the desert adapted black rhinoceros, and the

desert adaptedlions. There was one insect we hoped to see as well: the head-

standerbeetle. As you will soon learn, we were successful at three out of four! We

were lucky enough to see other animal species we had not anticipated.

Namibia has been independent only since 1990, after having been the German

colony of Southwest Africa until World War I when it became a protectorate of South

Africa. After a lengthy uprising, the United Nations negotiated a settlement between

the insurgents and the South African government which created a free & independent

nation.

It has a large territory, being a slightly more than half the size of Alaska. Because it

is occupied by two deserts, the country has less than 1 percent arable land.

The two deserts are the Kalahari in the southern part and the Namib running the

length of the Atlantic Coast stretching as far as 100 miles inland. One great

achievement of this arid nation is the fact that it is the first country in the world

to include environmental protection in its constitution ; therefore about 14% of the land

is set aside as parks and preserves.

NAMIB DESERT

The Namib is the world’s oldest desert at 55 million years and it boasts the highest sand

dunes in the world: the tallest is 980 feet high. The entire desert is part of the

preserved land of the country. The Kuiseb River bisects the desert creating two fairly

different terrains. South of the river is the great sand sea characterized by parallel

sand dunes with regular troughs between them. The great red hills are beautiful in

their austerity and in the colors which the sunlight and shadow paint on their silky

sides. Gravel terraces beneath the sands contain the world’s largest deposit of gem

diamonds!

North of the river gravel and rock plains stretch as far as one can see, even from an

airplane. This area is harsher in appearance and even less hospitable to animal &

insect life. It is this part of the Namib that is called the Skeleton Coast . The treacherous

currents of the Atlantic Ocean have driven many a ship onto this desert where both

ships and humans per ish; there i s no fresh water available. Even a sailor who

survived the shipwreck would not last long on the Skeleton Coast.

There is less than one inch of rain annually in the Namib but dense fogs roll in off

the Atlantic and create heavy dews which add another l.6 inches of moisture to the

terrain. The temperatures at midday in the desert can reach 150 degrees F. The

marvel here is that anything living survives the drought and heat.

P ARTICULARS OF THE T RIP

The Kalahari Desert covers most of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South

Africa. Though it is a semi-arid plateau, it is not a true desert because in its total

territory it can receive between 5 and 20 inches of rain annually. Geologists also use

animal life present to determine what is true desert and what is not. In the Kalahari

many animals live who cannot survive in a true desert. Furthermore, many humans

have lived in the Kalahari for millennia but that is not true of the Namib where only

scattered small tribes have lived nomadic lives in the past. Three lodges in Namibia

were our homes away from home while we explored this dramatic and beautiful

country. We used small planes to travel from one of these camps to the next.

Africa Easy, a company owned and operated by Nadia Eckhardt, planned this safari for us.

She also introduced us to two other people who wanted to see Namibia, so Peter

and Sharon Robinson became our traveling companions. It was a good match and we

enjoyed the wonders of the country together.

After only an hour in the capital city of Windhoek, we boarded the first of the small, single

engine planes that would ferry us about the country from north to south. Our first

destination was Desert Rhino Camp in the north. During this flight we observed the

rocky and barren terrain north of the dividing River Kuiseb.

There were cindery, sharp and craggy granite spines and spires occasionally jutting out of

the flat land and we could see lines of green trees & bushes which follow the courses of

dry rivers under which run enough water to allow them to live on despite no rain

and no standing surface waters.

To say this land looked uninhabitable would be an understatement ; it actually

looked like I would expect the “seas” on the moon to appear. It even seemed that

there was no atmosphere above the gasping earth. It was beyond “dry” and to

emphasize the point, the sandy areas were interlaced with salt pans of dazzling but

deadly glaring white. A true “dead zone.” But awe-inspiring nonetheless.

The black ridges, aretes, and crag testified to the ancient pedigree of this desert

like dinosaur bones emerging from the antediluvian sands. Even the gravelly sands

here lacked the brilliant reds of the desert dune area; these sands were light ochres

or even grayish smears below the plane’s wingtips.

Surprisingly, there was a kind of beauty to be seen in the sand patterns

where it appeared that water had flowed at some time in the past. These sand

patterns looked like the prominent veins in leaves or lightning forks in the sky.

When had these patterns been created was an unanswered question.

Another wonderful phenomenon came into view as our young pilot, Waldemar, took us

out to the coastline at Cape Cross. As we flew above the blue green Atlantic and

looked back at the shore, there were granite boulders lining the water’s edge and

others out in the shallows. When we passed over the area at a lower altitude,

these rocks metamorphosed into lounging, swimming, fighting, and “arfing” fur seals

thousands of them. We were told that about 20,000 stay in this area year round. They

are wonderfully fluids creatures in the water but awkward and endearing o n

land. We greatly enjoyed seei ng them sporting in their natural environment.

As we flew for two hours over this desolation (perhaps a preview of what more

of the earth will resemble due to catastrophic climate change?), the four us

wondered behind the deafening noise of the engine where in all this chaos of rock,

sand and gravel could there be hidden a tourist camp for visiting desert rhinos?

We landed on a plateau in the middle of nowhere on a clearly manmade strip but

as in Ozymandias , the desert stretched around like a wasteland. As we hesitantly and

more than a little apprehensively disembarked the noisy dragonfly which had

deposited us here in this “nothingness,” we heard another loud engine sound

prophesying some other human beings in the area. Sure enough, the Land Rover

appeared on the rise from the desert floor onto our plateau and we felt relief at our

rescue.

D ESERT R HINO C AMP

Desert Rhino Camp was about a 45 minute ride from the landing spot and

the rock-strewn suggestion of a path took us through an amazing transformation in

scenery. It was surreal to see actual greenery growing alongside our way. Bitter and

bitten plants to be sure, but something alive anyway. In the distance we spied 4-

legged creatures which our driver identified as a small herd of Oryx - a very

handsome desert-adapted antelope which we had not expected. Dramatic

sweptback, long and ridged horns characterize this animal’s lovely head with

beautiful facial markings of dark and light stripes to minimize sun glare. Both

males and females sport these horns, but the males are larger. It turned out we would

see this beautiful animal everywhere in the three sectors of the Namib that we visited.

Then we were startled to come across real grasses growing in this desiccated

and sandy soil. Of course, it was dried up but apparently serves as food for the

creatures living in this oasis. The biggest plant surprise was the incredible

Welwitschia - a plant which grows only in this desert (and it is the only species in its

genus as well). It is composed of two leathery leaves but it can grow to over 6 feet

tall. Talk about desert adaptation; this plant is the epitome of that evolutionary fact. The

two huge leaves are so torn and shredded by the drought and desert winds that

the plant often looks feathery from a distance. In another testament to the powers

of adaptation, there is even a beetle who lives only

in the welwitschia plant; it is

called the “Dontus Sexpuntatus” or pushmepulya bug. How’s that for specialization?

The road into camp would prove to be typical for all the safari routes we used here: twisty,

rock-filled, steep, and potholed. So our safari van provided a carnival-like thrill ride of

bumps, jolts, squeals, and dips. Sharon christened the roads “The Drake Passage on Land.”

Anyone who has crossed that treacherous passage from South America to the Antarctic

Peninsula will understand what she meant. Desert Rhino Camp was a typical tourist

accommodation in Africa with tent cabins for tourists and a central dining/library area.

Everything was open to the air. There were breezes to keep us all from melting in the heat

that lay on the land with a very heavy hand.

We enjoyed meeting the staff and taking the exciting safari rides for which Southern & E

Africa are so well known.

Our quest here was to see the desert-adapted black rhinoceros and we were fortunate

enough to see one 22 year old male called by the Rhino Trackers “Don’t Worry.” I imagine

they enjoyed his willingness to be found and stared at by the eager tourists and they know

as long as he was in the area they didn’t have to worry about producing a rhino encounter.

The Rhino Trackers were interesting fellows who come from backgrounds as diverse as

former rhino poachers to trained aides to the Minnesota Zoo and National Geographic

Magazine. They spend every day tracking the 22 or so rhinos who live in this area,

monitoring their health, their habits, the distances they travel as well as protecting

them from poaching. Their record during the last 10 years has been excellent in

preventing their charges from falling to the specimen hunters and in providing

much needed information for the animal researchers and conservators. Our biggest

surprise came when our Range Rover hurried through an ever darkening twilight to

meet the Rhino Trackers who had found “Don’t Worry” for us.

He was grazing along a swampy area among tall grasses (I guess the first surprise was

that there was a swampy area in this desert)! The second part of our astonishment was

the fact that we were told to get out of the vehicle, cross a very low and watery

spot over a log, stay as quiet as possible and emerge on the bank only about a

football field’s length from the rhino.

So there we stood looking at this behemoth who was well aware of our presence

with no protection whatever. He shambled a bit closer to us perhaps as curious

about us as we were about him but not nearly as vulnerable as we felt. He was

huge and seemed to grow exponentially as he edged closer. So we got excellent views

of him as well as good close up pictures. “Don’t Worry” might have been his name, but

we could not stop worrying that he might charge and we knew we’d never get back

over the log bridge, the watery area and up the hill to the car without his

reaching us first! But we were completely safe as it turned out and thrilled to see

this huge creature living in such an unlikely environment.

At a dinner one night we conversed with Agnes who runs Desert Rhino Camp, with

Raymond the coordinator & driver for the safaris and Consigy who was the grandson

of a reformed rhino hunter. We felt that we had real person-to-person conversations

with these three people and learned much about why Namibia is already a successful

African nation in a sea of failed states. The interest in education that all three of

these young people evinced, as well as their personal ambitions to better their own lives,

that of their families, and the society at large, was inspiring. They all saw the value of

learning skills that were marketable, of conserving their country’s natural resources

and making sure that they were used to benefit all, and of preserving the natural

environment.

They were politically aware of what was going on in the country and were eager to see

Namibia prosper and progress. Raymond and Agnes were continuing their educations

at university and clearly had profited from their earlier basic education.

O KIHIRONGA E LEPHANT C AMP

Our airplane safari from Desert Rhino Camp to the Okihironga Elephant Camp was

another amazing experience because the landscapes beneath the plane were so

beautiful yet so stark and unforgiving .

AERIAL VIEW ELEPHANT CAMP

This camp was much plusher than the tent camp in the north of the country. We

had individual bungalows decorated with wonderful native arts - masks, weapons and

shields, pots and paintings. The owner is a native Namibian of German extraction who

has decided himself to helping create a real tourist industry for his home country.

The camp is in a long valley, bone dry of course, except for some natural springs and

a river nearby which attracts the wildlife which of course brings the tourists. This

valley is one in a series of gorges cutting through the area creating mesas, buttes,

and marvelous panoramas o f des er t scenery. The river we explored ev er y day wa

s shallow but overflowing and it supported grasses, trees and shrubs for the animals

and birds of the area. Such a green and beautiful oasis in this unbelievably dry

environment.

Yet another example of the urge to improve Namibia was Pieter’s choice of his second

in command, our young guide, Pollan. As we learned during our stay, this young man

(in his 20s) is a member of the tribe nomadic people who have lived in this area for

centuries. These people live a Stone Age kind of life with very little interaction and

interest in the miracles of the 21 century.

They live in small extended family groups of about 20-30 individuals and create

temporary “towns” in the open desert by erecting thorny fences in a circle to protect

themselves from wild animals. Inside the circle are their rude huts created of cattle dung

and wattle. They have some cattle, goats, and sheep as well as chickens and try to grow

some vegetables in the inhospitable sands.

The women are bare

breasted and wear sarong

type skirts around their

waists anchored by metal

belts. They cover their

bodies with the red powdery

dust of the desert to protect

themselves from sunburn

and from biting insects.

Because water is such a

precious

commodity,

their clothing is not

washed in it - rather

they

drape

their

costumes over smoky

fires to cleanse them by

encouraging the smoke

to flow through the

garments.

We thought perhaps the purpose was insure that no insects or other parasites could live in

the materials. The method of cleaning certainly did not remove dirt from them.

The day we visited the village, the men were all away searching out the next site for a village

since they would soon be leaving this current place because all the grass was drying

up or being eaten completely by the village’s livestock. The women willingly

demonstrated how they created their red powders, how they made a fragrance to

apply to their bodies, how they made beads for decoration, how they cleaned their

clothes. They seemed totally incurious about us or where we might have come from or

even why we had come. It seemed their only contact with our world was their

eagerness to sell their bead creations and other jewelry to us.

Yet Pollan was a son of this tribe and laughed and talked with the ladies all the while

we visited. In just one generation he emerged from this primitive tribe to join the new

Namibia. He went to school in the settlement below the Elephant Camp and was

hired by Pieter the camp owner who further educated him in the skills it takes to run

a tourist operation. So now when Pieter goes to another of his camps, Pollan runs

this one. He has learned to drive, to guide, to keep records of business, to use the

computer, to direct the cooks and waiters and housekeeping personal, to make

small repairs of things around the camp as well as the vehicles. Pollan has ambition

and wants to better himself even further. And this new Namibia has given him the

chance to be something other than a nomadic shepherd. Another example of the

importance of education in personal and national advancement.

Another good thing to report is that Pollan did not have to sacrifice his tracking

skills to advance in the tourist industry above the ranks of driver/guide. Because

we were the only four people in camp during our visit, Pollan himself took us out on

the safari drives in search of the rare desert-adapted elephants found only in Mali and

here in Namibia. He was persistent and successful in getting us to see the six member

herd in the area in two different habitats on two different days.

We first saw them in the lush river canyon where the grasses were prolific and the

waters ran clear and cold. We drove after them and found the 6 shambling along

slowly towards water which Pollan told us was at least another 10 miles away. They

had already walked at least 40 miles during the late afternoon and night of the day

before.

The following morning, we returned to the lush valley and found they had disappeared.

We followed the valley to an exit into the grasslands and then onto the desert

beyond.

Then after much on foot tracking as well as some exciting 4 wheel runs up steep

hills and onto to barren and rocky plateaus, he spotted them on a long stretch of

open desert with no water or vegetation in sight. Their gait was interesting. They walked

very slowly and stopped frequently as though to rest. When they halted,

it was almost as if they were playing the child’s game of “Statues” as they seemed

to freeze in place, even with one foot raised and kept there. The matriarch with the

young one was definitely the leader in this deadly game. She appeared to be giving

the older male at the rear of their single file like a true respite since he seemed to be

having the most trouble keeping the pace. As she started to walk again, the line moved

like train cars catching up with a restarted engine. The last one to get going was the

aging bull. Pollan estimated they had about another two hours before reaching the next

water source.

What was most amazing to us was the fact that the elephants left the sanctuary of

the canyon with its abundant water and grass to trudge across the desert spaces

to reach another such place. Why not just stay in the canyon? Were they practicing

some sort of “conservation” by n o t completely using up the resources at one place

before moving out? Did the Himba folks practice such care in saving their

environment by constantly moving on? Pollan told us that there is another similarly

sized herd that lives in this area and they too constantly migrate between water and

food sources. They had pushed on in another direction about two days before we

arrived and we were told that unless we stayed about 4 days, we would not see them.

By the same token, if other guests arrived on this day or in the next 2-3 days, they would

not see the herd we were lucky enough to observe.

Since the Elephant Camp was the only spot where we had a chance of seeing the

desert adapted lions, we were disappointed but not surprised when we were told

that there are currently no lions in this area due to poaching and to normal migratory

patterns of the prey species which the lions follow. But that’s the way it is when you

come to see animals in their own environments - it is not a zoo and the animals are

free to be wherever they want to be! Safaris are more exciting that way - it’s like a hunt

without weapons.

And we were fortunate to see other animals as we searched for the elephants. In the cool

of the mornings, creatures were out and about.

S OSSUSVLEI D ESERT L ODGE

Our last camp in Namibia was the plushest of all the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge and

it was quite beautiful, set in a wide valley with the most amazing mountains

forming the shape of the valley. The mountains were especially magical because of the

many colors they displayed depending on the quality of light, sunshine, shadow,

clouds, and even misty rains going on at any one time. And the colors changed quickly

and dramatically in such rapid succession. Every look into the valley was different.

The bungalows were built from native stone and blended perfectly with their

settings. The insides were air-conditioned, fitted with modern furniture and the

most delicious bedding. The communal dining room served gourmet meals and

there was even an observatory staffed by a real astronomer! The skies at night over

this marvelous setting were spectacular. Even the “jewel box” star cluster in Orion’s

scabbard could be seen with the naked eye! That’s means no light pollution at all or any

haze or dust in the air.

Besides the nightly astronomy shows, the resort offered quad rides in the dunes,

morning and afternoon safari drives, a really special gift shop with local creations as

well as interesting gift ideas, and very good reference library to research

questions that arose about the animals and plants and geology in the area.

Our biggest curiosity was about the “fairy rings” we observed as we flew into the

valley a couple of miles from the Lodge. These were round patterns all over the

ground where nothing grew inside the circle. Each was outlined with plants but nothing

seemed able to survive in the interior. The pilot told us that these were still a mystery,

despite several studies which were undertaken to understand the phenomenon.

The circles are fairly uniform in size though there are larger and smaller ones. The

floor of the valley is sandy with scattered small stones as well and there is plant life

thriving there - just not inside the circles. Some theories have been advanced but

none of them is universally accepted as the answer. The most likely one seemed to be

that the surrounding plants exuded a toxin that prevented other plants from growing

inside, but that was disproved. Well, needless to say the library gave us no answer

either. So -- another African mystery.

Our two most wonderful sightings in this camp were the African Wild Cat which looks

very like a slightly larger than normal domestic cat but we had not seen one before and

the amazing Aardwolf which we had never seen before either.

The Aardwolf is not kin to wolves or canids of any kind but looks rather like a small

hyena sloping back, spotted fur, pointed nose, and very erect ears. But he does not prey

on animals living or dead. His diet is chiefly subterranean termites. In what our guide

stated was unusual behavior, we saw this creature in full sunshine. Normally they are

nocturnal, but this fellow as very obliging so we got an excellent picture of him as well.

Our guide, Siegfried, was another example of Namibian emphasis on education

and self-improvement. Siegfried had

started

as a janitor/baggage handler in a

tourist lodge and soon realized that the driver/guides made much more money

that he could ever aspire to doing the job he could perform.

So he decided that he must get more training and experience so he could move

ahead. He took advantage of some training courses offered in Windhoek but

decided he needed more in-depth education than was available in Namibia. So he

applied to the Phinda training program in South Africa at one of the premier

national parks of that country. He was accepted and lived and worked there for a

couple of years as he learned about the flora, fauna, geology and geography of

Southern Africa. He also received training in how to guide effectively, manage safari

vehicles, and work with difficult tourists as well as the usual kind. Then he returned to

Namibia with his new credentials and has been a tour guide and assistant camp

manager for over 10 years.

Of course, our conversations were with people in the tourist trade, so the emphasis

was on education/training for those careers. But Martin, a British citizen who lives in

Namibia full-time, assured us that educational opportunities are available in

many fields through the emphasis on childhood and high school education.

University is not free but is priced within the range of many students and financial

support is also available.

Siegfried took us on the long trip that would take us to our chance to experience

the gorgeous red dunes and to see the head-stander beetle. It was 110 kms away from

our beautiful lodge but we got to see more of the countryside from the road rather

than the air, so the ride was an extra too.

Before we reached the legendary red dunes, the land was less harsh with a little more

greenery showing. In addition, we saw several of the chalk white salt pans created

by the migrating dunes which dam up rivers, even small rivulets of water during

the rainy season, and prevent those waters from reaching the sea or a larger river. As

these waters evaporate during the dry season, the salt percolates out and leaves these

“dead vleis” or salt pans.

The red dunes rose up like the Rockies when you approach them from

Calgary. Suddenly, there they are even though the land was pancake flat as we

drove between Sossusvlei and the coastal area. This is the area of the world where

stand the tallest sand dunes in the world. Their sides are steep but silky looking and

the sun and the shadows make magic of their curves and slumps and sharp crests.

The most famous of the dunes is # 45 not b e c aus e it is the tallest (263 feet high) but

it is closest to the tourist route and is therefore the most photographed. It was already

busy with climbers when we reached it.

We were taken to Big Daddy dune which is 1066 feet tall. It was the one we were to climb.

And so we did! It is the highest dune in the Sossusvlei area.

On the way up we were lucky enough to see the famous head-stander beetle

though it was a little late in the day to see him actually perform his headstand routine

to get a drink. But Siegfried assured us we were seeing the very insect we had wanted

to see. So tiny and black but a lot lighter than we are, so I think he climbs the dunes

more easily than we did.

This dune area is magnificent and it is the biggest tourist draw in all Namibia.

There is an unexpected amount of vegetation on the dunes because of the dense

fogs that roll in from the Atlantic to condense into thick dews (the beetle and other

small creatures drink from this supply as does the vegetation). There are also

underground springs which supply water to the plants. The play of light on these iron

rich dunes creates a most amazing palette of colors during the day - everything

from pinks, to ambers, to orange, deep red, mauve, and cream! Simply splendid!

What a wonderful final day in Namibia! Our visit there was totally fulfilling and

visually spectacular! With silent thanks to Nadia, the tour planner extraordinaire for

Southern Africa, we got on our small plane the next morning and flew to Walvis Bay

on the coast to board the Clipper Odyssey on its repositioning cruise up to Douala,

Cameroon, where our journey with Zegrahm Expeditions would begin.

Click Logo to View Kay's Photo Album of this Trip

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