NAMIBIAN NOVELTIES Self-Drive Safari
AUTHOR: LOIS OLIVE GRAY PHOTOS: KAY ELLEN GILMOUR
NAMIBIAN NOVELTIES: Self-Drive Safari for Three Dates: May 22 to June 8, 2018 Travel Company: Africa Easy.com, Nadia Eckhardt, owner
CONTENTS INTRODUCTION............................................................................................................................... 3
SAFARI CAMPS VISITED ................................................................................................................... 4
MT. ETJO SAFARI LODGE................................................................................................................. 4
HOBATERE BUSH CAMP .................................................................................................................. 8
HALALI REST CAMP ....................................................................................................................... 16
MUSHARA BUSH CAMP................................................................................................................. 19
AFRICAT FOUNDATION ................................................................................................................. 25
BOOKENDS OF THE TRIP ............................................................................................................... 34
I NTRODUCTION To quote Mr. Shakespeare (I try to as often as possible), “Once more unto the breach, my friends.” And what is the breach this time? The time gap between this trip and our last visit to the exciting country of Namibia. After having travelled by plane in Namibia to see the southern area of huge red sand dunes and the skeleton coast, we decided it was past time to explore the north of the country, particularly Etosha National Park. Friends of ours had earlier chosen the self-drive option to visit Etosha and were enthusiastic about their experiences, so we contacted our favorite Africa travel company, Africa Easy. All arrangements were made by Nadia Eckhardt and her efficient staff so everything went as smoothly as an otter slipping into river water.
Most of our driving from safari camp to safari camp was on what the locals call “tarred” roads. These were excellent 2 –lane roads with safe speed limits of 60 – 70 mph.
In the Park, however, there are lots of really rough washboard gravel roads. Some were so pockmarked with crater-like depths that the driving was challenging but ultimately successful. Unless you count the many new scratches we put on our Nissan 2-cab truck while hugging the side of the road to avoid potholes and running into the thorny acacia bushes lining most of them. And imagine! Those spiny plants are the giraffe’s food of choice! Getting used to driving on the “wrong side” of the road came easier than avoiding the rough spots in the park.
Namibia is a very large country in area, as big as France and Germany combined, but it is one of the least densely populated nations on earth with around 2.2 million inhabitants. Except for transport trucks, the majority of fellow travelers were tourists like us, driving their rented Nissans, Toyotas and Land Rovers from one animal viewing spot to another. But there was enough traffic to inspire confidence should we have encountered car troubles like flat tires or any other mishap. However, none of those happened to us; we were very happy tourists indeed! SAFARI CAMPS VISITED While on this self-drive trip we stayed in five different safari camps: four of them were outside Etosha National Park (Mt. Etjo, Hobatere, Mushara, and AfriCats) with only Halali inside the park boundaries. Why? Because the private reserves offer night safaris and the accommodations are much more interesting and comfortable. The drawback to staying outside is that you cannot drive on the private properties yourself—you have to book safaris with them. However, you can drive from your camp into the Park at will from sunrise to sunset for an entry fee covering the number of days you plan to be in the area. There are big fines for overstaying the set hours allowed for being in the Park. But we were obedient and made sure we were out on time. We felt that we had the best of both worlds by staying outside most of the time because we had the benefit of the excellent guides and spotters by booking with the camp and yet we could drive into the park and sit at waterholes as long as we pleased. If something interesting was happening, we did not have to accept the guide’s programmed itinerary and time table. We could (and did) sit at some of the most productive waterholes for hours at a time. M T . E TJO S AFARI L ODGE
This beautiful bush camp outside the park is the oldest in Namibia founded in the early 70s. But you would never believe that when you entered the property and saw the huge and luxurious rooms we were assigned. We actually would have liked to have stayed there for two nights rather than the one we had scheduled. But we are very happy we had the night we did.
The property’s own waterhole was so full of birds and mammals that it took us more than an hour drive from the entrance to the Reception. There were water birds, wading birds, passerines, and waterbucks - the antelope with the toilet seat design on the rear end. There was one part of the drive onto the property that gave us pause. A sign at the entrance gate warned that this was lion country! Yet someone had to open the gate or we would spend our time outside Mt. Etjo. So Lois hopped out of the truck and rather timorously went to check how the “open sesame” worked here. There was no lock, just a chain holding the two large “doors” together. So she threw the gate open (to the inside) and Kay drove in while Lois looked wildly around for encroaching lions. None appeared while she was closing the gate again. Whew! We made it to Reception in time to jump on an afternoon safari ride and were rewarded with many good sightings; however, the lone driver/guide was obviously not interested in birds at all and flew past them before anyone could ask for an ID. He also drove right some mammals without any word of explanation or identification. But we recognized the light colored Southern giraffes and the blue gnus, and the rhinos without his help. We also had seen Chacma Baboons and Kori Bustards before.
There were two highlights on this hurried safari ride that redeemed it perfectly!
First, we were treated to a great interaction between two large male white rhinos who were having some sort of territorial confrontation. They actually made sounds like grunting & grumbling at one another (we had never before heard any vocalization from a rhino) and one or
the other would sally forth at his rival who would move backwards and then make his own provocative lunge at the first one.
Finally the smaller of the two found himself on the road and decided to make his stand there. Luckily our driver/guide was forced to let us see through to the finish to this contretemps. After some more grunting and mock charges, the fellow still in the bushes decided to back off and disappear. The victor stood in the road for a bit longer and then moseyed on his way in triumph. Another special treat on this safari was the sighting of an Eagle Owl in the dusk as we drove back into the camp. He was huge and very beautiful. We also viewed 5 hippos in another of the reserve’s waterholes but only one opened its mouth wide enough to reveal their formidable teeth. No wonder hippos are responsible for more human deaths than any of the African predators all rolled together. We had a delicious supper at the Lodge’s outside dining area (called a “lapa”) and then eagerly headed for our 9:30 pm activity: Feeding the Lions. Am still not quite clear about this activity except it was thrilling to see. We were taken to a bunker-like structure where we walked
through a tunnel and then were invited to sit in front of long opening in the concrete wall about 2 ft. high and fronted with strong wire. We sat in the darkness for a couple of minutes and then the lights came on in front of us where a giraffe carcass was chained to the ground. Suddenly lions began pouring in from the side like a tsunami wave, their movement was so fluid. There were 4 females, a male cub, a dominant male with an impressive dark mane, and two younger males with immature manes. These beautiful animals fell on the carcass with much growling and roaring among themselves. Moments of silence would permit us to hear the ripping and tearing at the carcass and the crunching on the bones. There seemed to be no special deference to the big male and all ate together for a while, though the cub at first found it difficult to find a spot at the feast.
These were the biggest and most magnificent lions any of us had ever seen. Their bodies were flawless with no ticks and no scars. Their coats were sleek and silky. They seemed to me to be the Platonic Ideal of Lion. After a few minutes, one of the females grabbed a large chunk of the meat and retreated a bit away from the others under a tree to finish her repast. The Alpha male followed her but made no attempt to steal her meal or share it. He just stood looking at her. The cub came over too but he did not disturb Mom’s supper. The feeding went on for a long time and soon the female returned to the dinner table and pushed in for a place. No one growled or snapped at her and the baby too wiggled his way in, stepping on his mother’s nose
as he worked his way into the feast and grabbed his own large portion. She did not swat at him or warn him away.
In the distance we could hear other lions roaring but we were told that they would not enter the compound that night. The different prides are fed every other night. The staff insisted that these were wild lions who also did their own hunting — not just relying on the human offerings. What we could never understand is how these lions remained wild or how the Lodge could feed lions every night and still maintain their own stock of 8000 wild creatures on the preserve. Despite my misgivings about this process, and aided by a bit of hypocrisy I suppose, I totally enjoyed the spectacle and the experience. We had to leave Mt. Etjo the following morning to begin our drive to Etosha National Park which was about 277 miles further north. If we could have stayed a day longer, we probably would have paid for an advertised cheetah feeding despite our misgivings about the appropriateness of the activity. HOBATERE BUSH CAMP The highway north to the Galton Gate Entrance of Etosha National Park was tarred and we made good time. We stopped at the one of the many designated picnic sites along the highway and ate our peanut butter, jelly and potato chip sandwiches along with bottled water we had purchased back in Windhoek. A necessary word about our lunch provisions. Because we were under the impression that lunch would rarely be provided at the safari camps, we stopped at a supermarket in Windhoek on the way out of town. We knew what we wanted but not where in the store to find it. A very nice young Namibian man came to our rescue and helped us find everything we needed. He included big black garbage bags he said we’d need to wrap up our luggage. The luggage was to be carried in the covered bed of the truck. Covered it was – but on the gravel roads, sand dust and grit got into the bed and covered everything. The luggage stayed clean in the trash bags. By now we realized that we were not on this journey alone. There were many other rental trucks moving along with us. Our only tiny scare here was that the first place we stopped for gas had none. We had about a quarter of a tank left and quickly surmised the next station was close enough (50 miles) to reach with our present supply. And that turned out to be true. We found the Galton Gate and registered for a 4-day entry pass to the Park. Later we paid the fee at the administrative offices in the town of Okaukuejo. The gravel road into Hobatere Reserve was 10 miles long but we enjoyed it anyway because there were many different things
to see: desert scenery with stubby, gnarly plants, huge termite mounds of differing colors depending on the soil they sat on, darker giraffes, the elusive klipspringers, and mountain zebras. The road was rough and bumpy but still drivable. Kay was getting better and better at this kind of driving.
Male and Female Klipspringer Antelope
Hobatere (translated “Find Me”) is another private reserve just outside the park. It burned to the ground a few years ago and has since been completely rebuilt. We stayed here for three nights and enjoyed the property very much. The housing consisted of round concrete thatched bungalows. En suite bathrooms and comfortable bedding made the stay very good. The common area for meals was lovely and the food was tasty. Breakfast and supper were included but we learned we could purchase lunches for a small fee. We would be spared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for awhile. As patrons are not allowed to drive themselves in the reserve, we purchased morning, afternoon and night drives with a guide. Our safari guide and usual driver was Liberty, so named because he was born on Namibia’s independence day. He was very knowledgeable, spoke perfect English, knew his stuff about the animals and where to find them. He wasn’t as good on birds but at least he did not just drive rapidly past them.
On our first drive with Liberty, we went out at night and saw Scrub Hares and Spring Hares, Springboks, Cape Foxes, and an African Wildcat. Wow! We had never seen this guy before and he was quite fetching—a little larger than a domestic cat but definitely a wild critter not anyone’s pet!
Our first morning drive with Liberty gave us a close look at a Pearl’s Spotted Owlet—owls are my favorite birds of all so that was a real treat! We saw our first of many black-backed jackals, a canine I find very attractive.
This morning we learned about the lion conservation project that Hobatere hosts in conjunction with AfriCats: a well-funded organization that seeks to protect all the big cats, though its particular interest is in cheetahs. Because of this cooperation with AfriCats, two of Hobatere’s lionesses are collared and monitored. And this makes it possible for guides at Hobatere to track the two girls and find them for guests to see. On this first morning run, Liberty located the two lionesses and two cubs as well. We had so much fun watching the antics of the very playful male cubs. They were constantly mock fighting, stalking and ambushing each other, hiding in the grasses, and even leaping on their mother and aunt. Neither adult seemed very interested in play because they were full after a successful zebra kill. We had come upon the carcass before we saw the lionesses but the aunt seemed intent on guarding the remainder of the meal from any other creatures who might want to share in the bounty. This scene was our first conscious realization that we were not seeing vultures of any species. Liberty confirmed our thoughts saying that there is a mystery about the disappearance of these carrion eaters and no one really understands what is happening thus far.
Returning from this very enjoyable morning we saw hanging on the wooden gates to the compound, a baby monitor lizard, about six inches long from head to tail. He hides well because he must know at this size he is on everybody’s lunch menu. He stayed around the whole time we stayed in Hobatere.
On our next night drive, our sharp-eyed guide saw a comical looking Namaqua Chameleon well hidden in a leafy tree where his color matched his surroundings perfectly. We were also treated to looks at a lesser spotted genet in a tree, sinuously gliding both like a cat and a reptile up the trunk of a many-branched tree searching for his prey.
There is a lot of consternation in the taxonomic world about just what species a genet belongs with. Many people call him a “genet cat” but DNA proves he is not a feline at all. However,
many of his behaviors are catlike making others believe that he is at least a case of parallel evolution. Whatever he is, there is great beauty in his grace and his appearance.
On our last day in Hobatere, we went to a different area, a valley between some impressive hills. But it turned out to be an amazing and puzzling morning. There was nothing moving anywhere we went. Liberty was plainly quite befuddled because he could not find anything to show us. He called his colleagues who were driving in other parts of the preserve and they reported experiencing the same dearth of animals or birds. It was actually disquieting even though the scenery we were enjoying was very beautiful and different from the more desert- like terrain we had been traversing on earlier rides. It was as if all the animals had just evaporated.
Could it have been because of the earthquake tremor that Liberty reported had occurred the night before? He asked if we had felt anything but we did not, even though he said it was a 4.6 on the Richter scale. We had not previously known that Namibia was earthquake-prone or even volcanic in origin. To add to the mystery we saw so many piles of granite rocks spread like termite mounds all around with no apparent cause. Jagged and colorful, spiky and coarse, they are very odd indeed. It was also very cold this day.
Finally, some baboons appeared on a rock ledge over our heads and Kay spotted an African Hawk Eagle out in the open on a bare tree branch probably trying to warm himself up for breakfast hunting. Then even higher on a peak, Liberty pointed out a Rock Hyrax which could only be seen with binoculars or long lenses. This furry little creature is the closest relative to an elephant! Guides love to tell tourists this strange but true factoid. Since the morning ride had been somewhat anti-climactic, Liberty decided it was time to drive back to the lodge. On the way home, we saw a giraffe and the aunt lioness in close proximity to one another near the waterhole. The giraffe was clearly aware that the lioness was nearby but kept edging cautiously toward the water. Then the lioness arose and began moving in that direction as well. We could hear the mother lioness calling to her sister and her call dissuaded the aunt from drinking and she glided away in the bush in the direction of the soft roar (isn’t that an oxymoron?). The giraffe also disappeared but I don’t think those two ever had any contact. Nor did we see the reunion of the aunt and her family.
Our last safari ride in Hobatere was made memorable by the secretary birds we were able to observe as they sought to bed down for the night. It was a male and female pair and these are rather large birds. The tree they chose for their evening roost was clearly too flimsy for their weight and size. They would cling precariously rocking back and forth on a slender branch until they realized that this was not going to work. Then they would hop to another equally inadequate branch which also swayed unacceptably in the breezes. At last, after much hopping around, they settled in the crotch of the tree and seem to be ready for the night whereupon we left them to their slumbers.
H ALALI R EST C AMP Our one night stay in this camp which is actually inside Etosha NP was made thrilling because of the lighted waterhole the camp maintains. We greatly enjoyed our 3 hours spent in that beautiful setting. The accommodations at Halali were motel-like, though Betsy was given the Honeymoon suite which was quite enormous. The two meals we ate there (supper and breakfast) were the two least sumptuous or tasty because they were basically buffets serving what seemed to be reams of people.
But - and it is a big but - the lighted waterhole redeemed it all. We went there after supper. It required a short hike up to a rock ledge where some very basic benches were arranged along with some well-placed rocks (by nature herself). The lights on the water were not very bright but revealing enough. The weather was perfect and there was a balmy breeze wafting through the covered seating area. Though the benches were made with slats of wood and were
therefore not very comfortable, we were mesmerized by the animals who drifted in: kudu, jackals, brown hyenas, black-faced impalas and best of all a black rhino—the only one we saw during the entire trip. He lingered a good bit so we could observe him drinking and wading. What a marvelous treat under gorgeous skies. Everyone on the observation ledge was quiet and no flash was used by the photographers. So the scene was calm and almost primeval!
Our route the following morning was determined by the advice of our new friend, Dieter. We met this German fellow tourist in Hobatere and after a few safari rides together, we developed a comfortable relationship with him, discussing travel and Africa. Dieter lives in Cologne but comes to Namibia at least twice yearly because he loves the country and the animals and the lifestyle. All of us were going to be leaving Hobatere on the same morning and Dieter wanted us to follow him partway on the drive to Halali so he could show us one of his favorite waterholes. He was not going to Halali that day but the waterhole is not far from where he will be staying. Following Dieter meant we would ignoring the advice of the Africa Profile Safaris representative to avoid driving the long gravel road gravel road between Hobatere and Halali for almost 175 miles by taking a long detour to the south to stay on tar roads.
But while Dieter admitted that the park road would be rough and really tough in some places, he insisted we would be missing some wonderful things if we used the long way round. Both men were right; the road was washboard all the way but the scenes were fabulous. Anyway, trusting Dieter’s experienced advice, we followed his little blue rental car and tried to use the same routes he took to avoid the cracks and crevices and craters. Sure enough, when we reached the first major waterhole in the Park, Jakobswater Hole, we were amazed: 13 giraffes drinking, at least 100 zebras wading, drinking and frisking in the huge waterhole about as big as 12 Olympic size swimming pools, wildebeest roaming around awaiting their turn patiently, even some springbok too.
The water is kept at a constant level by a pump system powered by solar electricity. So it never runs dry and the animals can always find water there. What a stirring scene for us. Dieter cautioned us that the road would only get worse between here and Halali and said we should enjoy ourselves but not dawdle along the way because it would require about 5-7 hours to reach our goal. Bidding Dieter a sad farewell, we headed off in the direction he suggested. The road was truly rough; no one had exaggerated at all. But we enjoyed the whole experience: terrain, scenery, animals glimpsed along the way, the glorious day and the fact that we had no problems at all. Kay became more and more skilled at navigating her way through the frequent pitfalls and we reached Halali about 4 p.m.
M USHARA B USH C AMP We left Halali in the early morning even though today we had only 88 miles to travel, part of it on gravel and the rest of it on tarred roads. This route would take us along the Etosha Pan—a huge dry lakebed covering about 1827 square miles. It is actually a salt pan with a base of clay which rarely sustains over 10 cm of water even after heavy rains.
Mammals do not use it as a water source but migratory birds and flamingos use it intensively when there is water. A blue-green algae, brine shrimp and other such creatures can live in it but no plants or other animals. It is very dramatic to drive along the Pan because it looks like a gray calm ocean in the distance even when it is completely dry. The Pan is protected within the National Park and it was created by tectonic action that changed the course of the rivers which had fed it. On the drive, we stopped at all the waterholes we could find and continued to see mountain zebras, giraffes, elephants, warthogs, gnus, springbok, and black-faced impala. We were very impressed with the numbers of zebras we saw — it just seemed there were thousands all over the park.
We stopped for lunch in Numatoni, a tourist town just inside the Van Lindquist Gate that we used getting to and from the Mushara Bush Camp. Our credentials were checked each time we
entered or exited. Some of the time, the gates appeared to be effective “make-work” projects for Namibians but I have to say the personnel were very thorough in making sure we had paid for each day we entered and left the park and they asked many strange questions as well, such as “where are you coming from?” Perhaps it was part of a tourist origin study, but it was so spasmodic, we really couldn’t know for sure. Plus sometimes the question seemed to be requesting information on where we were staying, where were you going in the park or where had you been, or where in the world are you from? Oh well, we were compliant tourists, glad to help support the local population and contribute to the viability of Etosha National Park. Numatoni really is a helpful town for self-drive folks as well as for visitors without their own transportation. There are restaurants, gift shops, grocery stores, administration offices, and gas stations all conveniently located around a small city center. Tourists can also book safari tours into the park from that town. We saw several of those companies’ wagons as we wended our way through the park from waterhole to waterhole. One thing we really enjoyed at Numatoni was seeing a whole troupe of banded mongoose cavorting along the streets and rummaging in their holes in the sandy soils. The troupe seemed to be very large, at least 40 or 50 strong, with many youngsters among them. These fascinating creatures added to the charm of the small town for sure.
We really liked Mushara. It’s relatively new and the cabins were quite comfortable.
We had a roommate while there that we named Betty — a very large brown spider who lived behind the toilet tank. Sometimes we could see her plastered to the wall beside the toilet but most of the time she sequestered herself behind the tank leaving only her tiny legs on one side sticking out to remind us she was still there. She was a quiet and unobtrusive guest. We left her alone and she ignored us in return.
The public areas of Mushara were very pretty and the food they served was delicious.
We liked the opportunities to dine under the stars as well as on the open-sided patio. The weather was conducive to both settings and the Namibian skies are really pretty astonishing. Perhaps this is a good place to mention our astonishment at the menus of all the camps we enjoyed! At other times and places in Africa, we had only rarely seen African game meat offered. But in Namibia, every place served kudu, eland, springbok, Oryx and some mystery meats. We were told that there are game farms supplying these meats to the populace. They are not slaughtering the animals they are protecting in parks and conservation preserves! From Mushara, we did our own safaris into the Park checking out the waterholes indicated on the park map: Chudop, Klein Numatoni, Klein Okevi and Groot Okevi, Aroe and Tsumcor. Some of these are natural and others are manmade with water levels maintained. Their “productivity” as the experienced waterhole watchers explained, varied by time of day, water levels, heat and cold, and what animals frequented each one. We saw great varieties of antelopes, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, elephants, warthogs, jackals, even some hyenas. But the biggest variety was among the birds—both water types and what I call the “tweety birds” like lilac-breasted rollers, bee-eaters, white browed sparrow weavers, helmeted guinea fowl and lots of hornbills, plus numerous others both known and unknown to us.
One large bird I haven’t mentioned yet is the ostrich and we saw plenty of them. Bigger and more colorful males than we have seen elsewhere, chiefly because of the substantial bunch of blondish feathers on their rear portions. We know they are the 2 nd fastest land creature (after the cheetah) and all the ones we saw were plenty quick on their long legs.
Besides the rhino roadblock I described in Hobatere, we experienced an elephant roadblock in Etosha near one of the waterholes.
Two big fellows wandered out on the gravel road and decided they liked it there. What they found fascinating was unclear, unless it was the chance to stop all the white vehicles anywhere along the way to their favorite waterhole. After some time of their own choosing, they finally got off the road and entered the waterhole where they drank, played with the water, took baths, and showered themselves with those miraculous hoses that are their trunks. Such fun to watch! Another animal interaction we got to watch as long as it lasted (unlike on safaris where the driver may just move on if the action goes on too long) was what at first appeared to be some sort of courtship behavior between two giraffes. They stood very close together and started off with necks intertwining, moved on to some neck swinging where they actually would hit each other in the chest, more sinuous neck movements, not necessarily ever twisting together, but moving outward from the perpendicular. At first, we thought we were watching a courtship display. But then we figured out we were watching two males testing out their fighting skills. The cameras were smoking! Zebras are also fun to watch at some length. The big herds revealed individuals doing all sorts of horse-like actions: wading, rolling in the dust, fighting, romping for the sheer pleasure of it, nuzzling, nursing, colts teetering around as they play and learn to get those powerful legs in control, and even some reproduction activity. We witnessed all these in wonder and joy at the sheer exuberance of nature when animals are free to be themselves in their own environment!
The only vultures we saw on the whole trip were at a waterhole where four of them with their backs to us were eating something on the opposite bank from us. We think they were common vultures but we got to see nothing identifying about them except their brown coloration in the feathers. Hyenas also we saw only at waterholes and they were definitely the brown variety.
Touring Etosha under our own power was definitely lots of fun and even exciting. The only minor drawback was not having an expert among us to identify the many birds we could see but not name. But picture books were available in the gift shops at the various camps. A FRI C AT F OUNDATION For our last three nights in the bush, we would stay at this marvelous location. It is not in or near Etosha but is a private preserve of over 55,000 acres fenced in for the purpose of encouraging cheetah preservation and reproduction. The property had been a farm, but has been retrofitted back to wild land by plantings, soil renourishment, restoration of native species of birds, animals, and reptiles. The main focus however is the cheetahs. Education for youngsters and their parent farmers is ongoing to help the locals understand the importance of co-existing with wildlife, including the predators.
Reception and Dining Area
The accommodations are wonderful and the guided safaris are really super. Though you can drive yourself on some roads in the preserve, most are off limits to private vehicles. The staff
from cleaning ladies to waitresses, reception desk personnel, guides and spotters are friendly, helpful and very eager to please. We thoroughly enjoyed every activity offered here including the Educational Safari to learn about the real work of the Foundation. The guide assigned to us for our entire stay was Imanuel and he was really excellent in his knowledge base, helpful when we needed it. and engaging and fun to be with. We gave him superior marks on our departure survey!
Food was splendid and served in several different dining spots—both indoors and outdoors. Meals were flexible in choices and amounts as well. Perfect for our last few days in Namibia.
Some of the cheetahs are collared here for research purposes and the guides use the tracking equipment to locate them on safari. Our first real adventure was the “cheetah walk” when Imanuel found the two target cats, two brothers about 10 years old. Then we disembarked the safari wagon & walked about an hour and ten minutes to find the animals. We were told to walk single file and avoid loud noises or too much talking. The spotter led our line, carrying a big stick, and Imanuel brought up the rear with a similar stick. We were also instructed not to run or scream if the cheetahs approached us but to stand still and let the two guides handle the situation. I can report immediately that there was no “situation” and we all obeyed the rules (there were 7 of us not counting the spotter and the guide).
The walk took us through some difficult terrains: acacia thorn bushes, tall grasses, rocky patches of dry sand, thin forest cover, and finally to the brothers. We watched them from what seemed a pretty close range and then they rose up and began to walk away. Imanuel obviously knew pretty much where they were headed and we followed on foot. Their destination was a waterhole not too far away but in a different looking area—lots of red sand and rocks and few plants near the water. The brothers drank and drank some more while we drank in the sight of the beautiful cats so close to us. At last, without giving us a single acknowledgement, they left the waterhole and started purposely off away from us. Exhilarated but somewhat tired, we were relieved to see that our safari wagon had caught up with us so we did not have the hour plus walk back. Another special safari with Imanuel as our search for the collared leopards, a mother named Electra and her 7 month old son, unnamed as yet. (I proposed he should be called Orestes to keep consistency with Greek Mythology.) With the tracking collar, it did not take long for the cats to be found. And were we ever lucky. They played around in a dry river bed for quite some time so we got to see the cub stalking his mother in ambush style while he hid behind the tall grasses lining the riverbed. He pounced on her regularly obviously learning his hunting skills. He stayed close to her even when he hid for the ambush.
If she moved on, he was close behind her. The guides said he was big for his age because he is not only being fed from her kills, he also is still nursing, so he gets double the usual nutrition a cub his age would get.
Needless to say, both mother and son were beautiful cats—again, no ticks and no scars. Just perfect coats and healthy bodies.
During our first night safari at AfriCats, the night sky was so incredibly brilliant that I forgot occasionally to follow the red light that was attempting to find night creatures by detecting eyeshine. My eyes were fixed on the heavens with the breathtaking array of bright stars and the prominent position of the Milky Way so bright above us—like diamonds on black velvet. But my attention was caught when Imanuel revealed the Aardvark in the reddish glow. Though it was dark, we could see him quite clearly as he tottered out of the light. A very strange gait which seems is normal even when seen in daylight. Even Imanuel was excited because this was the first one he had seen in a couple of years.
Another sighting brought my eyes down from the stars and that was a pair of African Porcupines in a ground burrow. They seemed to be having trouble getting comfortable but Imanuel said they were probably on honeymoon. But the love fest broke up fairly fast as the male came out of the burrow-like nest and began noisily chewing on some vegetation he had found. It was a splendid sighting in the night. The Education Safari was interesting because it gave us details on the formation of the AfriCat Foundation, showed us the collaring devices used to monitor the cats, exhibited the kinds of needles used to tranquilize them when necessary, and informed us on how the money donated is used in the conservation of the wild world contained on the AfriCat preserve.
Imanuel showed us the various skulls of cheetah, leopard, lion, and baboon and how the surfaces for insertion of jaw muscles are finely tuned to the creatures’ way of hunting and feeding.
Cheetah (L) and Leopard (R)
This safari ended with our visit to the “Ambassador” cheetahs. Two males are going to live in the smaller space where they are safe because they can never be released into the wild. They are called Peanut and Raisin. Two others in a different very large enclosure are due for release in the near future; they are called Savannah and Nip. All four of them were quite unimpressed to have us in their regal presence and slept most of the time we were with them. We chose to do a second cheetah walk the next morning and were luckier this time because the walk to see them was less than 5 minutes. However, we would not have seen them had Imanuel not stood still and stared into the tall grasses under a tree no more than 20 ft in front of us. We were simply astonished at how well camouflaged they were in the grass. We could
have stumbled onto to them before we actually saw them. They were also busy sleeping and did not react to our presence much at all. We are never bored with seeing big cats though, even when they just sleep.
There are 2 cheetahs in the shadow areas
Let Sleeping Cheetahs Lie
On a second afternoon game drive we saw many animals that we had not previously found on AfriCat Property: 4 elands, 2 red hartebeest, a pregnant Dik-Dik and a companion male nearby (the smallest of the antelopes in Africa), Northern Black Korhaans, many flying helmeted guinea fowl (unusual to see them fly—they usually scurry along as fast as their little legs can carry them), a baby Oryx with its family, a Kudu family Big Daddy, Mom and two young ones, a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk making a nest in a nearby tree, steenboks, some flights of Quelea (those are the birds that soar in close formation as if they were one organism). Kay’s photo journal in Flickr will show you all. But as the Bible teaches, “it’s always good to save the best till last.” And that is exactly what Imanuel did for us—our last safari would be a surprise, he told us. We eagerly awaited his collecting us at 5 p.m. and wondered what would surprise us after all the wonderful things we had already seen in AfriCat. Well, he did indeed surprise us and we were overjoyed. He took us to see two lions that live permanently in their own 20 acre enclosure. The lions are 10 and 11 years old and were rescued as 3 month old cubs after a farmer shot their mother. So they were raised here at AfriCat and will never be released into the wild because they have no fear of humans and definitely associate them with food. Releasing them would be a disaster for them and for whatever human being they encountered the first time they were hungry.
So once again, we were ushered into a bunker like structure with an slit-like opening about 2 feet tall and then Imanuel pushed a buzzer and called Shambula and Sherenzi to enjoy a snack. The food was meat cut into slabs, usually donkey, we were told. As the buzzer rang, two enormous male lions rushed in roaring and growling. Imanuel threw two slabs on two different “plates” of metal in the foreground so that they were fed at the same time. But Shambula decided to assert his dominance and rushed at Sherenzi who ran in the bush chased by a loudly roaring adversary. Imanuel screamed at Shambula and he finally stopped threatening his “brother” and both returned to their own dishes. A few more slabs were thrown out and the lions were quick to snatch up their food.
Ordinarily, the two lions are fed only twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays, but because our last day at AfriCats was Wednesday, Imanuel had gotten permission to give them these snacks on an off day. The lions were clearly quite happy with the treats. They ate voraciously and we could hear their chewing and crunching. When they finished and no more treats were forthcoming, Shambula wandered off out of our sight, but Sherenzi came right up to the wall and roared for more but then settled down to wash his bloody feet and legs, just like a house cat - just tremendously larger.
What a perfect end to our time at AfriCat and our self-drive trip in Namibia!
B OOKENDS OF THE T RIP Mustn’t close out this journal without a mention of the beginning and ending of this amazing “safari in Namibia.” The flights constitute an epic in themselves. It’s a long way from Jacksonville, Florida, to Windhoek, Namibia. Especially when you figure in layovers at 4 different airports on the way to Africa and layovers at 3 different airports on the way home. Flying Business Class on Lufthansa for the long hauls certainly makes the trip easier. But 9 hours in Frankfort waiting for a flight to Johannesburg is long even if we are sitting in a Business Class Lounge. Being able to lie flat for sleep on the 9 and 11 hour flight segments sweetens the experience considerably. We certainly enjoyed Lufthansa Business Class all the way. The only real almost disaster with connections came in Ft. Lauderdale of all places. Can’t even recall why we had to fly south from Jacksonville to reach JFK, but whatever it was somehow necessary due to scheduling or some such. Anyway, our flight from Jacksonville was delayed and we were late arriving and would have missed our connecting flight to JFK had not that flight been delayed itself leaving Ft. Lauderdale. It seemed that it took forever to disembark the Jacksonville flight, all the while knowing we were missing the connection. The fates were kind and all other flights and connections went very smoothly. It’s amazing to me that foreign airlines always serve appropriate meals on their flights even in Economy Class. We flew South African Airways to and from Windhoek and were given good meals on both flights. Our airlines here at home hardly give you a peanut package or a cookie even on long flights. What gives? Is it that all foreign airlines are somehow subsidized by their governments while ours are not? I am sure it is true for some of the world’s airlines but surely not for all? On arrival after 59 hours of travel, we were met as scheduled and taken to The Elegant Guesthouse on the other side of Windhoek from the airport. We were hungry for supper after checking in and already knew that there would be no evening meal offered there. We had been assured that restaurants were in easy walking distances from the guesthouse and so we chose to walk about 15 minutes down Nelson Mandela Highway to Joe’s Beer House. Apparently this restaurant has a good reputation among locals and tourists and we discovered that it was well- earned. The walk was easy and the food was delicious and inexpensive. The calling card of course is all the different beers available, but even though none of us drinks beer, we still enjoyed the ambience and the food. The place is designed for outdoor dining at some big tables with smaller ones to choose from as well. Goldfish ponds and lush vegetation abound, the staff is friendly and you can find yourself seated with other parties. All good and
lots of fun. Even the walk back to the guesthouse in the gathering dusk was pleasant. Namibians we encountered along our way were friendly but not intrusive.
The Elegant Guesthouse was comfortable and clean if not very “elegant.” We discovered that it was well-positioned for our drive to Etosha because it was located north of the city of Windhoek! That made the beginning of our journey much easier and safer to get used to driving on the “wrong” British side of the road.
The following morning the representative from African Profile Safaris and Bidvest Car Rentals met us at the guesthouse and explained some details of the whole travel experience that they thought we would need. There were a few minor glitches along the way but nothing we were not able to handle on our own. At the other end of the trip, things did not go so well when we tried to return our rental Nissan truck to Eros Airport. We followed some rather confusing written directions and ended up so turned around and mixed up that it took us two hours of frustrating and somewhat hair-raising driving in rush hour traffic to finally reach our destination. The first problem was that we did not realize that there were two airports in Windhoek, so we got very conflicting directions from people we stopped to ask in the streets as they sent in us so many different wild goose chases.
People were very helpful and friendly but we still have no real idea how we ended up in the right airport finally, after going up and down some of the same streets many times. We had filled the truck with gas as we entered Windhoek’s environs as instructed but had fruitlessly wasted about 1/8 of a tank when we finally drove into the Bidvest return rental parking place. The representative heard our story of woe and did not charge us for the missing amount in the tank. Neither did they charge us for the many new superficial scratches on the vehicle caused by all the encounters with those dratted acacia bushes. The representative drove us to the Olive Grove Guesthouse for our last night in Namibia. It was also a comfortable and clean place and they offered us supper (at a fee though breakfast was included) and we eagerly accepted the offer because we were all pretty worn out after the frustrating driving in search of Eros Airport. The meal was quite tasty too. The ride from Bidvest clearly showed us how complicated driving in Windhoek really is and we were so pleased that a driver would pick us up at 9:15 a.m. the next morning to take us to the International Airport. We would have missed our flight for sure if we had tried to find it ourselves! So ended our wonderful self-drive trip in Namibia and we would recommend it to anyone interested in the animals and scenery in this beautiful country. We loved every minute of our time there (except for the merry-go-round in Windhoek). If you are intrigued, be sure to contact Nadia Eckhardt at AfricaEasy.com for excellent service in planning a similar trip for yourself. She and her
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