Once again I am astounded. Astounded by a place I knew so little about. I am so thankful we came to Namibia. Incredible
I know only three people who have been to this country. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was open to the adventure I thought it would provide. And I was not disappointed. Only lightly touched by tourism, Namibia is an astonishingly beautiful place and if you have the means you should see it now – because it will change. It always does.
There is so much to share about our ten days here, so I’ve decided two blogs are in order and I am starting with the most obvious and most well-known topic of Namibia – the Etosha National Park and the safari we did there.
I did a safari seven years ago in Tanzania with my son and sister, but this was a first for Arne and I really worried he might not get to see all the “big game” safaris are known for; elephants, zebras, lions, giraffes, rhinoceros. I needn’t have worried. Yes, we saw all of those and much, much more.
I booked our tour of Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris about six months ago. The tour was $4500 for the two of us for ten days. We could have seen Namibia on our own without a tour guide, the roads (although often gravel) are very good and easy to get around. But our guide “Seven” (a childhood nickname from his football number) provided us with what we learned to call “African eyes”, and the value of that can not be understated. He knew the answer to all of my endless questions and if he didn’t, he found the answer and got back to me within in minutes. He described
plants and geology, politics and population, and of course knew facts about animals and wildlife I would never possibly have known. I highly recommend both Seven and Wild Wind Safaris if you want a great experience in Namibia.
So this tour was an anniversary gift to ourselves and although definitely more than our usual $200 a day budget, it was worth every penny.
The animals in Etosha National Park are varied and abundant. The park has supplemented the natural watering holes around Etosha with some manmade ones, providing constant water in this arid and hot environment. This way the animals stay within the park boundaries and are protected and visible to the guests.
There are still problems with poachers, who specifically target both the black and white rhinoceros in the park. They kill the animals and then cut off their
horns which are then smuggled and sold in the Chinese market. Although this is entirely illegal it is still a problem Namibia struggles with. In fact park officials regularly sedate and cut off the horns of the animals to keep the poachers from killing them. The horns grow back and are made of a material similar to fingernails so it doesn’t cause the animal pain.
Hunting is against the law throughout Namibia (except on some private game hunting reserves), which has changed the culture of many hunter-gatherer tribes and some of the people are extremely poor. But game is also farmed in Namibia and you will often find farmed
game on the menu. Oryx is very popular and tastes just like beef.
With Seven’s guidance we spent our early morning searching for animals – a great time of day for successful sightings. We then would return to the lodge and relax, maybe take a nap or lay around the pool, before heading out again for a late afternoon game drive. You are not allowed to get out of the vehicle for any reason within the park, so having just Arne and I in the vehicle with Seven gave us lots of ability to view the wildlife and go everywhere in the park.
My photos tell the story of all the incredible creatures we encountered – but only to a point. It’s hard to describe the thrill of moment and how sudden and spontaneous and unplanned it all can be. So often it would just take your breath away. Let me tell you about a few of my favorite moments;
Our first early morning drive we set out with Seven feeling confident we would find lions. We had been out for about two hours and with his “African Eyes” he spotted the three “boys” he knew were often in the area. These lions cubs were about five months old, still young and cub-like but looking full-grown. We watched them from a distance of about 200 yards trot and gallop purposefully across a field,
ignoring all the animals they usually hunt in the area. They were intent on one thing. Mom. She lay about 30 yards ahead of us on the road. We positioned ourselves and watched in anticipation as the playful and loving reunion took place. The boys happy to be back from whatever adventure they had been on – back with mommy.
This same family we saw several times after that with the magnificent full-maned father (shown in the title photo) proudly watching over his pride. We watched the mating process (in fact got it on video) and these animals truly seemed like a family.
We saw many lions during the rest of our visit but other “cats” were elusive, until one afternoon.
We were exploring several of the water holes in the car but hadn’t seen very many animals. But we noticed that at one water hole the giraffes seemed a bit on alert, staring off into the brush. We watched for a long time but nothing happened so just as we were rolling forward to turn around and leave I spotted a rhino coming out of the trees. So Seven parked the car at an angle where I could get some good photos and we watched. The rhino walked down to the water hole, but never drank – he turned and walked back to the woods. This seemed curious and just then I noticed a lion alone on the other side of the waterhole. “Seven there is a lion” I said. He looked and nearly jumped for
joy! “That’s a leopard!” he nearly yelled. “Oh my god a leopard and we are the only ones here at the watering hole!” What a great moment that was. The leopard, though too far to get a really good photo of, was so well camouflaged I couldn’t believe it. He took his time drinking his fill and then quietly disappeared back into the brush. Only then did the rhino return to enjoy his own cool drink. A very rare sighting indeed.
Spotting the endangered Black Rhino was one of my goals as this animal had eluded me when I was in Tanzania. We actually saw many rhinos during our time in Etosha and they are huge, magnificent and very pre-historic looking creatures. But two special moments stand out.
As we were leaving the watering hole and chatting excitedly about our leopard encounter we came around a corner on the dusty gravel road and startled a lone
rhino very close to the road. He didn’t like being surprised and he charged our car. I’ll never forget the look on that gigantic creatures face as he lowered his head and charged, while Seven put the car in reverse and I fumbled to get my seatbelt on. He snorted and stared us down but never actually hit the car. Not an animal you want to mess with. Seven told us because he had his head down and was feeding as we came around the corner we had frightened him. Also, because of the poachers these intelligent animals have learned to be wary of vehicles and being snuck up on.
Later that night Arne and I went to the watering hole near our lodge. This hole is designed with night vision lighting that does not bother the animals, but allows people to view the animals from seats at a distance. Every night we went to see what was happening at the watering hole, and on this special night a mama rhino arrived with a teeny little baby.
Watching the two of them, never more than a few inches from each other, was a special sight.
For as important as water is to all these animals, watching the effort it takes a giraffe to have a long cool drink is astonishing. Giraffes cannot hold their head down for very long because it cuts off their blood flow. It also puts them in a very vulnerable position to predators, so a giraffe takes a long time to consider its surrounding before finally spreading its long and skinny legs wide and dipping its camel-like face into the water. What a strange and beautiful beast.
Speaking of strange and beautiful, I have saved my favorite animal for last. We saw every animal from Impala to Zebra, Ostrich to Wildebeast, Jackal to Hyena, Warthog to
Tortoise and hundreds of birds. But my favorite always is the intelligent, magnificent, domestic and loving elephant. And we saw so many and have many memorable moments:
The elephant throws mud on itself in an effort to keep cool and keep off the insects. This creates what is known either as a white elephant or a black elephant depending on the mud. We watched as elephants sprayed the mud and played in the water. We saw elephants nearly pure white amongst the green leaves, we saw
white elephants as the sun set looking just like a white concrete statue.
The younger male elephants (bachelors) roam together while the older males usually are associated with a matriarchal group, but don’t spend time together. The matriarchal group is made up of females and babies and “teenagers”. The male teens leave the group at about 15 years. The female elephants spend all their life together. Once again the watering hole provided us a spectacular venue to witness
these family ties.
One evening we arrived at the watering hole to find two males – one much older than the other. We watched as the younger male began vocalizing as the matriarchal group made its way out of the trees. The older male took this as his cue to exit right, while the younger male greeted both vocally and physically each female as she came near the water hole. The younger male, clearly part of this family, then left the females and youngsters to enjoy the water as he went on his way.
On another evening at the watering hole we watched a small fox running across the sand directly towards a giant elephant drinking. As the fox neared the feet of the elephant he reared up and sprayed water all over the fox – clearly showing who is the boss. The poor little fox scampered away.
The morning we were leaving the park, we had already checked out of our room and only gone about 100 yards down the road and Seven spotted elephants in the distance – with a brand
new baby in tow. We turned immediately around and headed back to the lodge and the watering hole where we watched for twenty minutes as this new mother, another small male and this itsy bitsy newborn, no more that two or three days old, drank. The baby wanted to wallow around and the mama kept him near to her and out of the mud. Seven told us this was a young female, younger than usually reproduce, probably about ten years old. But she seemed to have a good maternal instinct and watching this
little group was a joyful and satisfying way to end our time in Etosha.
This blog was long, but we had such a great experience in Etosha and in Namibia. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. I’ll be writing more soon, about the people and places of this unique country, but in the meantime, the lion sleeps tonight.