At first I was afraid,
I was petrified.
Kept thinking I’d be swept over the edge,
that I’d be the first to die,
but then I took a leap of faith,
and launched myself into the air,
and I survived, I survived, hey hey….
At first I was afraid,
I did next to nothing all day yesterday so today I figured I’d at least get some exercise in. I wanted to get photos of the changing huts down on the beach before all the people showed up so I was out early. My plan worked, there was nobody there.
From there I walked all the way to Simon’s Town which was actually insane. The walk to Fish Hoek was good and the beach in Fish Hoek is absolutely stunning.
The walk from Fish Hoek to Simon’s Town was awful. Very windy with sand being driven into me at every step. When I finally arrived in Simon’s Town (2.5 hours after starting off) and went into the bathroom to wash my face I quite literally had a sand crust. My face feels like it should be bleeding, fortunately it’s not. I checked later to find out how far I walked. It was over 12km so well over 6 miles. So glad I’ve already visited the penguins. I didn’t have it in me to continue walking to Boulders to see them again.
Our last day together, I’m really bummed. It’s been a spectacular trip. We’re on the road by 5:00 am and are back in Windhoek by 10:00. A bit before 11:00 we’re at N/a’an Ku Se which is a conservation reserve. Before we even enter we see warthogs. Who knew I’d find them so adorable. Not that I want one, but still.
We didn’t see leopards and cheetahs in the wild so we’re seeing them here. First stop, the cheetahs. They’re great. They’re actually purring, meowing and chirping. Not housecat meowing, cheetah meowing but it’s very similar. They’ve got a huge area but were hand raised and don’t know how to survive in the wild. They won’t hunt so they have to be taken care of. Once a kudu jumped into their fenced in area and while they chased him and played with him they never tried to eat him.
Next up were the Caracals. They have four, three females and one male. The females are friendly but the male won’t let a human touch him, although he will allow you to be in his general area. One of the females came right up to us and the male stuck close to her (they think she might be going into heat), the other two females never made an appearance.
The Caracals were followed by baboons. They’re let out of their enclosure to roam around (they have two groups) the reserve but they always come back “home.” I’d forgotten we were going to see wild dogs while we were here. They are so funny looking, when they’re looking right at you they look like they’re all wearing mickey mouse ears. And the noises they make are really funny. Just remember though, they eat their prey when it’s still alive. They’re not nearly as cute and sweet as they look. There are 13 in total here and they’re hoping to eventually start breeding them. Wild dogs are almost extinct so it’s good that there are places like this trying to increase their population and release them back into the wild.
Now for the big boy and girls, the lions. Wow, seeing them from the truck doesn’t prepare you for seeing them when you’re at the same level. They are HUGE and the male is really, really crabby. He’s growling and lunging toward the fence. Scared the crap out of all of us. The two females don’t really care about us but he certainly does. Once they have their food they all settle down but the male is always on edge. These three are “problem” lions which in this case means they were hunting the livestock of farmers. The choice was to shoot them or put them here and “confine” (in a massive area) them for life. I’d much rather they be here. And I’m very, very glad there’s a big electrified fence between us.
And last, but not least, are the leopards. They’re pissed off too. They were hand raised but somewhere along the way they went completely in the opposite direction and are now so, I don’t know that vicious is the right word but they’re past feral. Anyway, they can’t be released into the wild. They were so worked up they were both drooling. And the noises they were making made it pretty obvious they’d be just as happy to eat us as they would a large piece of beef.
And with that, my time in Namibia comes to an end.
Up and out by 6:30 am (which is seeming normal these days). We enter Etosha and right away we see zebra’s, yet another animal I can’t get enough of. Did you know every zebra has a different stripe pattern? Just like our fingerprints, no two are the same. When a baby is born the mother and baby stay isolated for 8-10 days to learn each others stripe pattern, they will recognize each other for life after that. We spot lots of springbok as well as a few giraffes. We pull up to a field where another car is stopped and no way, there are two lions just lazing in the sun. It’s lion-palooza here! I will, grudgingly, admit that lions lying around are not that thrilling to watch.
We drive from watering hole to watering hole, finding only the usual suspects (kudu, impala, springbok, zebra).
As we’re heading back to the lodge Regan stops the car and asks for my binoculars. Then he tells us there are elephants in the bush, way off. Once I look through the bino’s (thank you Charlotte!) I spot them. Once again, I have no idea how Regan saw them, I’d never have seen them they are so far away and look like shadows in the bush. Regan says they’re heading for the watering hole so we head there as well.
Guess what’s at the watering hole when we pull up? Yup, a black rhino. And springbok and a mom and dad Ostrich with a bunch of babies.
There are lots of cars around but nobody seems to realize there are elephants off in the distance. You can hardly see them, they’re so far away. It looks like there are about twelve and they are not moving. Regan tells us they could come out in ten minutes or it could take ten hours. Whatever, dude. We’re waiting. Then he spots another three straight ahead in the distance. Now the race is on, who’s going to be first out of the bush. The rhino leaves and so do most of the people. There is one car that has obviously spotted the elephants (probably because we keep looking that way with binoculars) but eventually they give up too. Pity because right after that the first elephant from directly across comes out. We think he’s going to keep walking but he stops. Then another one comes out and a third. They stop and stand just outside the bush.
We keep watching the group of 12, hoping they’ll come out. It seems hopeless when finally one starts moving. And stops right at the edge of the bush. Oh come on buddy, just a little further. Regan tells us that as soon as one of them comes out the rest will follow. Please, oh please, oh please, come out! Big boy finally does and once he’s out he keeps on moving. When he’s about halfway to the watering hole the next boy heads out. OK, that’s two on the move. Mr. Brave Elephant arrives at the watering hole and he’s not coming to drink, as we thought , he’s coming for a mud bath. This is so cool, I can’t believe I’m seeing this. Then I look back over to where I think the other 10 will come out and I literally say “Holy Shit.” Everyone turns and starts laughing and saying “I can’t believe this.” There aren’t 10, there are more than I can count and they are now all coming out at the same time. It’s like this mass of grey gorgeousness, heading our way. Big ones, little ones, teenagers, elephants of ALL shapes and sizes.
Regan starts counting and by the time he’s finished he’s up to 38, plus the three on the far side who still haven’t moved. I can’t imagine I’ll ever see anything as incredible as this ever again. 38 elephants right in front of you, playing in the mud – you just can’t imagine what that’s like if you weren’t there. The babies are hilarious, as always.
As quickly as they came to the water hole (once they came out of the bush, that is) they turn and head back toward the bush but on the way they stop to give themselves a good coating of dirt. The babies actually roll around in the dirt. We stay until only the first two out remain.
After lunch, I’m in my room when I glance out the window and see a giraffe. I take a few pictures and then realize “the giraffe is going to get a drink.” Charles had said he really wanted to see a giraffe drink so I grab my camera and start running. I call out to Charles “Giraffe at the Watering Hole!” As we arrive we find the giraffe setting herself up for a drink. They’re very nervous about drinking, it’s the only time they are truly vulnerable. It’s such a process for them to bend down that if an animal attacked at that time there’s no way they could stand up in time.
We head back out for a game drive in Ongava later in the afternoon. I actually wanted to stay at the lodge in case the lions came back, good thing I didn’t do that. Regan said he wasn’t going to go far and he’d have the radio on so we set off, with Erwin along for the ride. We drive to where the lions were last night and they’re gone. Regan and Erwin are looking for tracks and don’t see any so they surmise the lions are still in the area. I’ll take their word for it.
We’re driving along and damn near run over A LION who is lying right by the road (which isn’t really a road, it’s ruts in the dirt). We actually don’t see that one until we’re stopped. We see the one behind him and the two on the other side of the road.
I was quite unhappy to be leaving tomorrow but after all that we’ve experienced today I think it’s good that we’re leaving. There’s no way it could get better than this.
Somebody actually asked Regan earlier today where the elephants were (before we saw all of them). People really seem to think they’re in a very large zoo and animals will be in certain areas and they’re guaranteed to see them. As great as that would be then we would be in a very large zoo and the whole point of the reserves is to let animals do their thing. People keep saying Botswana is going to be even better, I don’t see how that’s possible.
The drive today isn’t so boring – I’ve brought the little speaker and my iPod and we’ve rigged up a makeshift sound system. Quite hilarious. Almost all 80’s all the time.
On our way to Etosha we stop at the Petrified Forest. Again, not what I expected. I thought it was going to be petrified trees standing upright – like the dead trees in Dead Vlei. In my defense, I wasn’t the only one in our group expecting this. How I thought a tree which wasn’t actually from here and was now ROCK would be standing upright I don’t know. Guess I wasn’t really thinking. Anyway, it’s petrified trees lying on, or in, the ground.
While we were there a GAP Adventures truck pulled up. Good lord am I glad I didn’t go with them. The truck is enormous, the guide actually sits in the front completely separate from the group and the group is huge – probably at least 18. There’s no way they’d see any elephants in Damaraland unless the elephants were hanging out on the road.
We stop for a lackluster lunch then finish the drive to Etosha. Right before the Etosha gate we turn at a sign that says “Anderssons Camp.” I still don’t realize what is happening. Regan starts looking this way and that and I say “will you see animals here?” I wonder how that’s possible since we’re not in Etosha yet. He replies Yes and keeps on looking. We arrive at a gate and head into Anderssons. Holy moly, talk about swanky. And we’re the only ones here. Unfortunately it’s not like our other two camps where this is intentional, it’s just the way things work out. There’s a watering hole right in front of the lodge. A watering hole with animals around it! It finally sinks in that we are in a Private Game Reserve, Ongava. One of those places I really wanted to go but couldn’t afford to go. One of those places where guides go out and talk to each other so you can actually find animals. Woohoo!!! Then I see my room. Yes, it’s a tent, technically but wowza. And oh my god, the porch is actually IN the reserve. They point out that the fence around the deck isn’t electrified but the fence immediately to either side is. Not that it would happen but an animal could quite literally come onto my deck and, if the door were open, into my room. C O O L!
We head out on a game drive in Ongava and don’t see much of anything. What the heck, where’s my plethora of animals in a private reserve? Oh wait, there’s some zebra, and a giraffe. Then more nothing. The radio is chattering although I don’t understand parts of it. They’re speaking in English but every once in a while there’s a word you can’t understand. Turns out they call the animals by other names so that guests don’t hear there’s been a cheetah (or whatever) sighting and then get all bummed when they arrive and the animal isn’t there. The animals aren’t exactly on a schedule here. All of a sudden Regan stops the car, he’s spotted rhinos. They’re startled and run off. Then he spots a mommy and a baby off in the bush. We wait FOREVER (OK, so not really forever) hoping they will come out but they don’t.
As the sun is setting we hear something off in the distance. Something that sounds very pissed off. Turns out it’s a leopard up in the hills. We don’t see it but after hearing what he had to say I’m not sure I want to see him! Then Regan practically drives into two more rhinos who are in the road (he didn’t really almost drive into them but they were in the road). And they’re the elusive black rhino. By this time it’s actually dark so we head back to camp. Regan starts saying “Giraffe in the road” and of course we all parrot “where, where?” Uh, it’s right in front of us, in the road. How am I ever going to go back to a life where I don’t see these incredible animals in their natural environment?
We finally arrive back at camp and as we pull in we’re told to hurry, there are lions at the watering hole. We run to the watering hole and as we do the lions start to leave. There are 12 of them. 4 cubs and 8 adults. Regan tells us to grab our cameras and get to the truck, Erwin is going to drive us to find them. What? How do you drive us to find them? Well he does. Drives to the other side of Charles’ tent/cabin and there they are. They use a red light to illuminate them. They’re all just hanging out. Regan and Erwin talk about how they’ve obviously had a good meal quite recently. I cannot believe this. I go from practically no lions to 12 right in front of me. How does this happen? God, I love Africa.
We finally decide to stop bothering the lions (I still feel bad about shining lights at them but they don’t seem to be very irritated by it – I’m sure they’d let us know if they were) and start driving back to the lodge. Until we see three rhinos that is. What is this place, Rhino world? We finally head back to the lodge and after we eat another rhino shows up at the watering hole – this one black. And shortly after she arrives a male black rhino shows up trying to put the moves on her.
It actually might be a good thing there aren’t any elephants in Ongava otherwise I’d never have gone to bed. Ongava is an enormous park but you can’t have just one or two elephants and because elephants aren’t territorial they can’t have a herd here. They did, however, have some elephants here recently. There have been fires in Etosha (we could see one in the distance when we were driving back to the lodge last night) and some elephants broke through a fence to get away from the fire. That’s fine with everyone here although they’re back in Etosha now. Since they do have elephants in Etosha we’ll be heading there tomorrow.
I’m been woken up twice during the night by the lions. SO COOL!
Up and out early again, this morning we’re on a quest to find black rhino’s. Namibia has a larger black rhino population than any other country. They’re still critically endangered but Namibia is doing everything they can to increase their numbers, and they’re succeeding. The Government actually owns all the black rhinos. Even private game reserves are only acting as Custodians.
We drive around for ages and don’t spot any tracks or rhinos. Regan is really, disappointed. I am still jazzed about the elephants yesterday so it doesn’t really bother me. We saw so many rhino’s in Kruger I honestly don’t care. I know the black rhino is different and all that but they don’t look that different and I’d rather see an elephant.
We finally get our Euphorbia and Welwitschia lessons. Euphorbia is everywhere in Namibia and we’ve been told repeatedly not to touch it, that it’s poisonous. When broken it produces latex which, if you get even a dab of it in your eye, will blind you. Regan told us about 17 Angolan mine workers who came to Namibia for work. They wanted to barbeque but couldn’t find any wood. They came across a dead euphorbia used the dried wood from that for their barbeque. In the morning 15 of them were dead. Only the ones who didn’t eat anything that had been barbequed survived. I’m staying far, far away from euphorbia.
Welwitschia plants are some of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. That being said, they’ve adapted like no other plant. Some are thought to be well over 1000 years old. They get their water from the fog that comes in from the coast and grow some ridiculously small amount each year (I don’t remember the exact amount but 1 cm or mm comes to mind).
We’ve got lunch with us so when Regan asks if we want to go look for the elephants again we all respond with a resounding YES. He says they’ll be in the same general area. With the baby they won’t travel far, although they could if they wanted to. On our way to find them we come across a bunch of Oryx who don’t hightail it as soon as they hear the vehicle. Finally, a picture of something other than an Oryx butt.
He’s right. We drive to where we were yesterday and there they all are. All 11 of them. There are also four other vehicles here. One is a minivan. I can’t believe they didn’t get stuck in all the sand driving out here. Idiots. Regan moves into a good spot and we settle in for some prime elephant viewing. We’re thrilled when they start moving and walk to the tree that is quite literally right in front of us. I don’t think the other vehicles are very happy about that but hey, maybe the elephants remember us from yesterday and are glad to see us.
When lunchtime arrives Regan drives us further into the area and we come across a running stream, full of fish. This means the water runs all the time. Namibia: land of what you don’t expect.
We had a lovely picnic lunch under a tree then head back to the elephants which are not where we left them. I’m bummed until Regan starts saying “Elephant. Elephant. Elephant.” As he’s pointing in various directions. We’re all saying “where, where? I don’t see an elephant” and then we spot them. This man has the eyes of an eagle. He and Todd would be a great together. No animal would go unspotted, ever.
We finally bid our lovely friends goodbye and head back to camp for our last night in Damaraland. On the way we’re roadblocked by a whole lot of goats.
We’re all so wiped out (who would think driving around looking for animals would be so tiring? Well it is.) we decide not to do anything else today. Plus we decide we’re getting up at 5:00 tomorrow so we can get to Etosha early enough to do a game drive tomorrow evening. Ilias makes us another incredible meal, using only a fire to cook everything. I have a stove, microwave and all sorts of gadgets and can’t cook for squat. Here’s a guy with no electricity, in the desert, using a fire and giving us elegant, delicious meals. Impressive.
We asked Claudia to describe desert in Click and she was kind enough to indulge us. In case you don’t speak Click she’s telling us about our apple and raisin crepe. It was, as she says toward the end, yummy-yummy.
Up bright and early (6 am) and out for a drive to see if we can find desert elephants. We (we being Regan) see these guys first.
After that Regan quickly find new elephant tracks and very fresh poo. We’re all very excited. Unfortunately we hit an area where we can’t drive further unless we want to sink into quicksand.
We try to go the long way around only to discover there’s no way to cross the riverbed. We have to backtrack and figure something else out. It turned out to be worth the effort, we saw Rosie’s herd (the three herds have names – Rosie’s is NOT friendly) but couldn’t get close. Regan and the other Wilderness guide think one of the elephants is in labor. How amazing would that be to see a brand new baby elephant? Unfortunately by the time we see them off in the distance and head their way they’ve disappeared. All but one large male who we spent a while watching. He actually laid down for a nap! I’ve never seen an elephant lie down, they don’t show that in nature programs. It was kind of freaky, I kept thinking he was dead but considering he’d just been eating and moved every so often I felt pretty confident he was just napping.
We’re feeling very fortunate. There are only three herds of desert elephants and yesterday we were told one was 1-1/2 hours away and nobody had seen the other two for 3 weeks. A couple of things I’m realizing: there’s no way you could do this without a knowledgeable guide and a 4-wheel drive vehicle and it’s worth it to pay for this since the guides talk to each other and can work together to locate animals.
I can’t believe the terrain Regan is driving over. Before becoming a guide he worked for Audi for years, test driving their cars. He’s driven at 290 km/hour. I don’t know what that is in miles but I know it’s well over the speed limit. When he’s driving us around here he makes it look so easy, he’d be great in snow – sand is absolutely no problem for him. I’d drive 10 feet and be stuck spinning my wheels.
We head back to camp for lunch and then around 4:00 head out again. We’re driving, driving, driving and I’m thinking we’re not going to see anything. Regan starts heading down a riverbed into a canyon sort of area and oh my god, there’s a herd of elephants. It’s Oskar’s herd which has a one-month old baby! We are all beside ourselves. We must have watched them for two hours. I think we all could have stayed all night actually. There is nothing else like this. Time flies and you forget about everything. At one point a male looked straight at us and starting walking toward the truck. Regan wasn’t worried at all but it freaked Charles and I out a bit. They are massive and when they look at you there is no doubt they ARE looking at you.
We’re being rebels and going “off” the itinerary so that we can see part of the Skeleton Coast. This is great, it was one of the things I really wanted to see. Before we arrive at the Skeleton Coast we stop at Cape Cross, to see all the Cape seals (which are actually sea lions – sea lions have ears, seals don’t). Minus the 60-80,000 they clubbed to death a few months again, of course. The fact that they do this at all is awful, the fact that they do it so viciously is horrific.
We also passed salt mines. I’d love to tour one of those, being the salt addict that I am. Instead I had to settle for salt rocks.
I’d always thought the Skeleton Coast got its name from all the shipwrecks. Turns out it’s because of the whale bones. We didn’t see any whale bones but we saw a shipwreck before we even reached the gate.
It was worth driving this way just to see the gate, actually. So cool.
Shortly after entering the Skeleton Coast proper we saw another wreck and almost got soaked. Annelie and I were crouching down to take photos and Charles starts yelling “water, water, water.” I look up and see a pretty good size wave heading for us. Annelie was focused (or focusing) and still hadn’t seen it. I pulled on her arm, we all ran and fortunately outran the wave.
We also saw an abandoned oil rig. Nowhere near the water. I think it’s always been inland. Someone thought it would be a good idea to drill for oil there. They never found anything so now the rig is on its side, rusting away. It’s home to at least one black-backed Jackal, he didn’t stick around to give us his census information.
As soon as you pass into the Skeleton Coast the landscape became completely barren and desolate. And it appears to go on forever. Very bizarre.
When we leave the Skeleton Coast and enter Damaraland suddenly there are mountains and trees and green and dry grass everywhere.
This country is just beyond description. When we get close to camp Regan gives us a choice, drive 40 minutes over a really bumpy road or drive one hour through a dry riverbed. We opt for riverbed.
Once again we’re all thinking there can’t possibly be a camp out here. We turn near some beautiful sandstone rock formations and there it is. And it is really, really nice. Martha and Ilias are holding down the fort here.
Up and out to Walvis Bay (pronounced Val-fis) for a catamaran cruise on the Silverwind. We set sail and when I turn my head there’s a sea lion on the deck! Crazy animals. Or maybe not so crazy, they’ve figured out it’s much easier to get fish this way.
Walvis Bay ships 2.5 MILLION oysters a month, to Hong Kong. Fun oyster factoids: they take over a year to grow to full size. They start out teeny tiny and are kept on land until they’re big enough to go into the baskets. There are blue barrels everywhere. They have ropes strung between them and the baskets hang down in the water. Once a month EVERY oyster shell has to be cleaned so crews are continually pulling up baskets and taking them to the cleaning stations where workers clean the algae off the shell. What a tedious job. But it’s a job, and a dependable one at that.
The excitement on this journey isn’t limited to only sea lions and oysters. We spot pelicans, whales and dolphins as well. Now THAT was cool.
I’d never seen a pelican land on water. They’re avian waterskiers.
Charles and I went 4-wheeling that afternoon. I had a smile on my face the entire time. At first I felt really unstable but as time went on I got more and more confident that the thing wasn’t going to flip over. I did continue to freak out a bit whenever we’d come off a big hill and have to make a sharp turn after that. Too bad I don’t know how to drive a motorcycle (although I do have a motorcycle license – silly SF – to drive a scooter you have to have a motorcycle license but you can take the test on a scooter to you don’t actually have to known how to drive a motorcycle). If I had I’d have been able to take out a higher powered quad and gone faster. Charles doesn’t know how to ride one either though so it worked out just fine.
I tried to make a sand angel but it didn’t turn out very well. That didn’t stop me from jumping for joy.
Long days drive to Swapokmund. And I do mean long. The first half of the drive is good, the landscape is varied and we see animals here and there, mainly ostrich, springbok and kudu. And a bird that barks.
Kiuseb Canyon is absolutely gorgeous. And green. I cannot get over the landscape in this country. It changes so quickly and is never what I expect. There is long dry grass everywhere. Regan says usually it’s completely barren. It actually looks like a blanket of grass, as if you could roll around in it. Then you look at it up close and see it’s tufts of grass with rocks everywhere. No rolling around in that, at least not for me.
We arrive in Swapokmund and all I have to say is a day here would have been more than enough. We’re staying at the Hansa, which is a 4-star hotel. If this is 4-star I’m sticking to Motel 6.