And we’re home

Today was our last day of holiday and it was the longest drive from Fish River Canyon down to Cape Town.  The GPS said 888 kms.  We left at 6:45am (Namibian time) and arrived home at 5pm (SA time – 4pm Namibian time). The trip down was relatively painless and easy. The biggest problem is being careful that the Beast’s speed didn’t get up to much especially on the straight roads.

biltongWe went through the border post at Noordoewer. The process of clearing immigration on both sides took about 20 minutes and was relatively painless. We made a few stops to refuel and defuel. The most important one was made just outside Klawer (as you head to CT).  That was at Trawal Biltong. As you can see from it’s own advertising they have the ‘Best Blerrie Biltong’ and that is no lie. This is where we stopped (per chance) on the way up to Namibia and this is where we stopped (very intentionally) on the way back.  If you are heading up the N7 from CT, it is outside (before Klawer) on the left hand side at the BP garage.

So now that we are home I thought I would do my usual reflections on the country that we have just visited.  I usually restrict myself to the number of thoughts matching the number of days we visited the country. We were in Namibia for 12 days so here is my 12 point summary:

1. The roads are straight, very straight and very long. It is a big country, with lots of straight roads. And the gravel roads are generally in very good condition and in some places are almost as smooth as driving on tar.

2. There are very few people in Namibia. You drive through urban places (such as Luderitz – you can’t really call them a city or even a town as that would be unfair to every other city and town in the world), and you hardly see a person. We reckon we saw 100 people in Luderitz and 15000 people supposedly live there. Where were the other 14900 hiding? We reckon they must be double counting people (sort of like Enron did with their assets).

3. It is a beautiful country. Stark but beautiful. The dryness of the landscape was contrasted today as we started to approach the Swartland which was anything but Swart today. Helen said today that the Springbok would get ill if they lived in the Western Cape as they would have to eat green, juicy grass.

4. It is very dry. Even the air is dry. I needed to use conditioner on my hair. Up near Etosha is the area called ‘Dorsland’ (direct translation means ‘Thirsty land’). And that is how you feel all the time .. Dors … Thirsty … Dry.

5. You need to be able to speak either Afrikaans or German in Namibia to get by. You speak in English, they reply in Afrikaans. They just assume you can understand. If you pretend you don’t understand them then they will try German next. English is a distant third.

6. Forget about trying to use a credit card too often in Namibia. Outside of the urban areas (read outside of Windhoek) most the shops might have a credit card machine on the counter but there is very little chance that the shop assistant will know how to use the machine (a number of times I offered to do it for them and they seemed quite grateful – once even in a supermarket). And if they do know how to use the machine, the chance it will actually connect to the bank to get authorisation is even smaller. Make sure you have lots of cash on you because petrol stations (in particular) outside of urban areas only accept cash.

7. They might be short on water in Namibia but they are also short on drainage skills. You take a shower and you end up being able to have a bath in the water that hasn’t gone down the drain by the time you finish. Brush your teeth in the morning and when you come about an hour later you will be lucky to have no water in the basin. Someone needs to go and train the plumbers in drainage techniques in Namibia. It was the same everywhere even at our favourite Sossusvlei lodge.

8. Meat is Meat and Namibia will eat it. Forget anything else. Meat is what you eat. If you’re a vegetarian, don’t go to Namibia. One friend (and reader of the blog) told us that chicken is considered a vegetable in Namibia.

9. They have a remarkably good infrastructure for such a large, underpopulated country. We (or should I say the boys) measure this by where you could get 4G cellphone signal. You could get it in Keetmanshoop even. Most times our cellphone signal was better (and faster) than we have in home in Cape Town.

10. You will never go hungry in Namibia. Quantity of food matches American sizes.

11. There are a lot of tourists in Namibia. They fall into one of two categories – German touring with a large group of other Germans in a big bus or Safricans in their 4x4s going to places you can only access with 4x4s with a roof top tent, 10 jerry cans and a half an ox in their 4x4s (or in their trailer behind their 4x4s).

12. They clearly make their money from 2 things in Namibia – Diamonds (and De Beers gets half of that) and Tourism. Because of the second, you are always made to feel welcome in Namibia. They go out of their way for you. You always feel safe too.  It makes it a great place to visit as a tourist.

So there you have it. Would we go back … absolutely yes. Next time we go I would like to go to the Caprivi Strip as well. It is the one place in Namibia that I am sure is worth seeing that we have not visited yet. Where else would we go again … well that’s pretty obvious if you’ve been reading the blog … Etosha and Sossusvlei (and if you’ve never been then Kolmanskop is worth a visit).canyon

Thanks for reading and for those of you who commented, thanks for doing that too. There will be a special Namibian dinner for the biggest commentators on the blog.

If you enjoyed reading it, the good news is that we’ll be back in about 2.5 weeks with another trip this time to France/Holland (nothing like having a holiday straight after a holiday). If you subscribe to the blog (right side of the blog you can enter your email address and it subscribes you) then you will receive an email with any posts I make in future.

Until 2.5 weeks time …

P (because I drove 5700kms in the last 2 weeks), H (because she slept for 3700 kms), S (because he birded with me), M (because he reversed the best out of anyone on the trip), C (because her back isn’t broken)

Luderitz to Fish River Canyon

We left Luderitz today in brilliant sunshine. It really was a beautiful morning as we headed out to the Fish River Canyon. The drive is about 400kms following the tar road until you get to Seeheim (which is really only a hotel but has very nice public toilets). We made a school boy error though in not filling up in Aus (the last major town) as there are no petrol stations to be seen from Aus (which is only 120km outside of Luderitz) and the Fish River Canyon. The Beast unfortunately drinks diesel as quickly as Germans drink beer so it was looking like the Jerry Can was going to come in handy after all.

At Seeheim we deflated our tyres again for the multiple time (that has somehow become Stephen’s domain) as we headed out on gravel roads again. The gravel road was very good until the very last section of the road (which was only about 10 km). The whole trip was pretty eventless and we arrived at our overnight accommodation (Canon Village – http://www.gondwana-collection.com/?id=33) at about 1pm. There are 4 different Canon lodges here in the area and we chose the one that had space for us (best way to choose!). They are apparently all of very similar quality. When I checked in they told me that the nearest full station was back 20 km at their other lodge (Canon Roadside Lodge) and so after lunch we headed back their to refuel the Beast and use up the rest of our Namibian $. Most petrol stations in rural areas only accept cash so when you travel in Namibia you need to make sure you have sufficient cash with you at all times.

We then headed out to the Fish River Canyon. It is only about 15 km from the lodge. It is in the Ai Ais National Park though there really is nothing in the National Park that we saw.  In fact, the only thing we saw was a Rock Kestrel and a squirrel. However, the Canyon itself is quite impressive.  I have had the privilege of seeing the Grand Canyon and that is more impressive but it was quite easy to see how this is the 2nd biggest Canyon in the world.

We have just finished dinner at the lodge and it was really quite good.  You don’t really have any option but to eat at the lodge as there is other options within about 60 kms. They have their own vegetable garden (how anything grows here is amazing). We has cauliflower soup for starters followed by a braai buffet of Gemsbok, Lamb, Pork and their homemade wors (German style) with a salad bar (just plain straightforward stuff). It was all very good quality and the sort of food we all enjoyed. Once again I would recommend staying at one of their lodges (their are 4 in total) if you are in the area and looking for accommodation. They do (incredibly) have Wifi in the main lodge and so that is how I am hoping to post the blog tonight. I say, hoping, because it is really slow and there are a bus load of German tourists here all trying to connect with their iPads etc and some guy making a Skype call to his family! It is incredibly slow. And for that precise reason you won’t get any pictures tonight even though I have a few that would be worth posting. You will just have to go onto Instagram and search for #templetravels if you are wanting to get any visuals.

Until tomorrow ….

S (because he has birded with me the whole trip and inflated/deflated tyres), P (because I have driven around 4500 kms so far), H, M & C

Kolmanskop & Dias Point

kolmanskopThis morning we visited Kolmanskop – the deserted ghost town about 10 kms outside of Luderitz. Why they established a town there in the first place is beyond me. The guide told us that they get on average 10mm of rainfall a year. They used to ship water in from Cape Town (not kidding). The town had everything. A recreational hall including gymnasium equipment, a kegelbahn (like Ten Pin Bowling), a 250 bed hospital (which was big enough to house all the inhabitants of the town), an ice maker, a bakery, a butcher, a shop keeper and even it’s own tram (which was built to take the water around to everyone in the town). The level of sophistication for the town was quite incredible – they even had their own refrigeration room. Pretty much all built on German engineering. It seems Germans have dominated the engineering space for quite some time given that the town was started in the early 1900’s.

kolmanskop1Some of the buildings are remarkably well preserved and it shows how good their building was as well.  The mine manager’s house is in almost a liveable state still. The kegelhall is similarly in very good condition still and the guide said that VIPs visiting the town with NamDeb (the owner’s of the town and all the diamond fields in Namibia) still play on the lanes from time to time. Some of the furniture is even preserved and in the shop keepers house they have set up the furniture. The shop keepers ledger is also still available for you to flip through. They have original employment contracts of the workers which are very detailed for that time including stipulating annual leave (which started at 5 days per year), sick leave and when termination due to sickness would occur and what you would get paid. Stephen worked out that the one person was paid the equivalent of around £7200 per annum which is a pretty good salary for well over a 100 years ago. It is clear that there was a lot of money flowing at that time in the town. They apparently used to run out of money and then just used to pay their bills in diamonds.

They also went to great lengths to prevent people stealing diamonds. In that regard the town was the first one to get a n X-ray machine in the Southern Hemisphere. And it wasn’t to detect broken bones – it was used to X-ray people for where they were trying to smuggle out diamonds. There is a room in the recreation hall just dedicated to the ways people have tried to smuggle diamonds out including in the handle of luggage, in their shoes, in various orifices of their body, using doves etc. It remains a problem today even. The entrance to the biggest active mine in Namibia is right next to Kolmanskop and they have a full search security point including a form of X-ray for vehicles available.

warning signdiasIn the afternoon Stephen and I went to visit Dias Point (and Dias Cross) and we did some birding along the way too. What is bizarre (I am sure I have used that word a few times this trip already) is that you drive through the diamond ‘forbidden’ area.  No fences though. Just a sign warning you not to enter or steal diamonds. They are apparently places where there are still diamonds simply lying in an open field. Of course Michael has been looking hard everywhere we go to find one! Dias Point and Cross was nothing special but we did add a few more birds to the trip list taking us up to 130 for the trip and 10 lifers. We only have 1 more day to go so my 150 target is unlikely to be met unless we get very lucky in the next day.

steakWe went to the only other restaurant in town tonight. It was relatively full with mostly locals. While the service was slightly slow (which can be expected in a place like this), the portions was incredibly generous and the quality was good (and the prices very reasonable). Helen got the biggest rump steak I have ever seen served as a standard portion in a restaurant.

Our view of Luderitz hasn’t really change but we have had an enjoyable, relaxing day as we near the end of our trip. Even Helen was not complaining about spending the extra night here by the end of today. Even the weather improved today from overcast and quite cold to not having a cloud in the sky and seeing a beautiful sunset over the bay.

Until tomorrow …

S (because he said I have to acknowledge he found the hotel in Luderitz and that he chose well – which he did), P, H, M, C

Sossusvlei to Luderitz

road to luderitzWe left Sossusvlei this morning after a leisurely breakfast.  We really did enjoy (in case you missed that from the previous blogs) our time at Sossusvlei. The night sky there is incredible. They have a skylight above your bed that you can look up from your bed and see the stars. And the sky at night is covered with them. The NamibRand Nature Reserve (in which the lodge is situated) has recently been declared an ‘International Dark Sky’ location.  In order to get this you have to comply with a number of requirements including only having outside lights that don’t affect your night vision.  The reserve was the first place in Africa to comply with the requirements and at the time it was awarded the status it was the only one in the world with Gold Status. I simply don’t remember seeing a sky so full of stars as it was last night.

We left at about 10am and continued heading south, this time heading until we eventually hit the tar road at Aus before turning west to Luderitz. The roads were gravel roads until we hit the main tar road to Luderitz.  About 300 kms of gravel roads. They were generally in very good condition though and at times we were able to drive 120 km/h even on the roads.  It is incredible how they manage to produce gravel roads almost as good as the tar roads. There is pretty much nothing in the way of towns between Sossusvlei and Luderitz. We stopped at Aus thinking we might but lunch and met up again with our travel buddies – the Beigers. They had been staying elsewhere since Etosha though we had been at Sossusvlei yesterday together (and had seen each other).

aus to luderitzThe road from Aus to Luderitz is stark. It really is how you expect a desert to look. As you approach Luderitz the landscape starts to look ‘lunar’ in rock formations with the sand in between. About 10 kms outside of Luderitz is Kolmanskop which is a ghost town that was abandoned in 1954 and now is fighting against the encroachment of the desert. We plan to visit it tomorrow am so I won’t blog more about it now. We arrived in Luderitz at 2:15pm and Helen immediately asked if we could change our reservation from 2 nights to 1 night! If Kolmanskop is a ghost town then parts of Luderitz are exactly the same. Our GPS was directing us down a small gravel road to get to our hotel which I thought was clearly wrong but it turned out to be correct. The town is half deserted and so could easily be confused with Kolmanskop itself. It is a start contrast of one building being used and the very next building next to it being abandoned and derelict. It is quite bizarre. One of friends called it Ludecrous and another called it Looseritz. I think Helen has asked 3 times already about shortening our stay!

We are staying at (without a doubt) the best building in town – Luderitz Nest Hotel (http://www.nesthotel.com/). It is a nice, good quality hotel and is right (and I mean right) on the sea.  As I type this I can hear the sea lapping against the building. All rooms have a view over the sea.  Just a quick look out of the window managed to secure another 4 birds for the trip. We went for a drive around town and to do some more birding later in the afternoon. We discovered that there really is only one other restaurant (besides the one at our hotel) in town and when we tried to book tonight for ourselves and the Beigers, they told us it was already fully booked and only outside was available.  Given it is about 12 degrees C with a wind chill factor there was no ways outside was an option. We drove around the whole of Luderitz (probably twice) and didn’t find anything of note. We then headed south down the coast to see what else we could find bird wise and did eventually also see another lifer (Common Whimbrel – for Paul) today (now up to 127 for the trip).

crepeWe settled on having supper in our hotel along with all the German tourists staying here as well. The quality was quite good (it bettered my expectations) and it was topped off by a freshly prepared Crepe Suzette for Stephen and I as desert.  They made the sauce and flambeed it from scratch. I last had them down like that for my 21st birthday at a restaurant in Cape Town! First time my kids have seen it done. And they tasted really good as well.

Until tomorrow….

S (because he had Oysters for the first time today in his life followed by sharing Crepe Suzette’s with me followed by resolved by internet Wifi issues at the hotel), M (because he too tried an Oyster), P, C & H (because she keeps asking whether we cut our stay down to 1 night only)

Ahh … Sossusvlei

dunesIt was an early start today.  Wake up call at 5:30am, coffee at 5:50am and off to Sossusvlei Reserve and the dunes by 6am. We needed to be there as the gate opened (opens at sunrise) to get the best light on the dunes.  Even though we did it five years ago it, it was again very special to see the sunrise and the red coloured dunes. You have to drive 60 kilometers to get to the end of the dunes through what they call ‘The corridor’.  It is basically the corridor between the dunes and ends in the pan.  There are 50 dunes and they are numbered from the first one on the right down to the pan and back up the left side again. The biggest (tallest) is meant to be number 7 but George (our &Beyond ranger) tells us that there is a lot of dispute around that because it depends on where you measure from.  Number 45 is the one closer to the road and the one that the kids climbed last time. This time we went right through to the end of the road and into the river bed and down to the pan itself. At the end is the dune called Big Daddy.  Michael, Stephen & Chloe made it up (that is Michael on the left side of the photo climbing up still), Helen went most of the way and I stayed at about 25% of the way (I am realistic – there was no way I was going to make it up as it was so cold I was struggling to breathe from just climbing that much).

We definitely arrived at a good time because as we were finishing, the people were pouring in including the Asians along with enough camera equipment for the whole of Japan. And they were trying to climb the dunes laden with all that equipment. Even more amusing was that a good number of them were wearing masks. What did they think they might get to breathe in? Fresh air? They were the stereotypical Asians – taking photos of everything including directly down at the sand (like they had never seen sand before), the grass (which was pretty dry and sparse) and also Chloe & me (like we were a unique species). They didn’t even do it surreptitiously!  After the dune climbing and photography was finished, we went for breakfast in the pan. Our ranger (George) cooked bacon, egg and tomato on the skottle gas braai.  It went down very well.  We then headed back to the gate (60 km) and all managed to nod off for that but of the journey. A quick side trip down to the Sesriem Canyon (the water flows through there and down to the pan when it rains a lot in the escarpment). And then back to the lodge again.  We eventually got back at 12pm.

quad biksThis afternoon George took us to ride the ATV’s (or what we commonly call Quad Bikes). We thought we would not be able to do it because all their guide books say you have to be 16 and older to do it. But they said we only needed to sign a waiver for the other 2 and we could do it.  So that duly signed we headed out. Unfortunately, only 4 were functioning so Michael had George sit behind him (give George some credit for choosing Michael to sit behind) and Chloe went behind Stephen. Helen had the automatic one. It was great fun and we were able to go up the dunes and ride in the dunes for quite a reasonable amount time. We rode for about 1.5 hours including seeing the sunset while on top of the dunes. Chloe also got to drive as she eventually went in front of Helen and she did very well too. Michael was in front and on the way back everyone was going much quicker than on the way out. We were going so fast we hit the bumps so hard you actually had to either stand up or at least get your bum off the seat.

We did manage to also add a few more birds to the list during the day and the list is now up to 118 and 8 lifers. Now waiting for dinner (in about 40 minutes). What you do at any &Beyond lodge is eat too much. Their food is generally very good and Sossusvlei Lodge is no exception. Last night we had pumpkin soup as a starter, choice of Lamb Tagine or Dorado for main and then Apple Pie for desert (though it was actually raisin pie … why .. oh why .. do people put raisins in APPLE pie). (Food details given especially for blog reader  Josie.)

sossusvlei desert lodgeIf I can make one recommendation to everyone who reads this is to try and get to Sossusvlei once in your life for this experience. And if you have enough money, then stay at the &Beyond lodge (that’s a picture from the lodge – those are bedrooms on the left). And if you have a lot of money, fly in (they have a landing strip) rather than having to drive in over the bumpy gravel roads. It really is a superb experience.

Until tomorrow …

C (because she handled a quad bike for the first time in her life), H (because she also handled a quad bike for the first time and only went off the track once), P, M (because I still vaguely re-collect some reversing he did) and S.

Sossusvlei

Our opinion of River Crossing Lodge was reinforced this morning. It really is a very nice place and the staff try very hard but they just slip up with little things that could make them much better.  At breakfast this morning Helen asked for some apricot jam for her bread and they came back and said sorry they are out. We then asked for any jam and they said sorry they are out of all jam. Seriously?! How can a hotel/lodge not have any jams?!

We left at about 9am and were heading South and then West as we headed to Sossusvlei and in particular to the &Beyond Lodge at Sossusvlei which is in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Our first stop on route was at Rehoboth to refuel the Beast. First petrol station – no diesel – awaiting delivery. Second petrol station – no fuel at all – closed totally. Mild panic setting in especially as our range was only 70 km and that was not enough to get us back to Windhoek even. Third petrol station, one pump open of diesel. Filled the Beast to the brim and also filled the Jerry Can as well.

road to sossusvleiFrom Rehoboth we began heading West and onto the gravel roads from then until we got to Sossusvlei.  About 250 kms of driving on gravel. And at some stages the road was not very good.  It started off quite rocky and you couldn’t go more than 80 km/h. It then improved and I was able to drive at about 100 km/h. But then we hit the rollercoaster section. You very suddenly hit the down section and the up section starts so quickly you have a little ‘air’ time in the vehicle especially when you hit them at 100 km/h. The innocuous ones caused the most ‘air’ time. We grew up calling them ‘thank you mums’ but have no idea where that phrase came from. Helen said it gave you a little adrenalin rush each time. Chloe asked if I was trying to break her back! After that section came the sandy section where the car drifted across the road like a ship in the night. My hands, arms and shoulders felt like they took a pounding and my wrists are hurting like crazy still. Helen did offer to drive but I was concerned that if I let her at the wheel we would hit those bumps even harder. About 70km out we stopped on the side of the road so I could stretch and 3 of us could defuel at the roadside (no toilet in sight).

We arrived at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge (http://www.andbeyondafrica.com/luxury_safari/namibia/sossusvlei/and_beyond_sossusvlei_desert_reserve/accommodation/and_beyond_sossusvlei_desert_lodgesossuvlei) at about 1:30pm (just in time to still have lunch at the lodge). We regularly visitors to &Beyond lodges and this is our second time at Sossusvlei. It definitely has the best accommodation of any of the lodges. The only negative is that they only have showers (I say showers because there is an inside and an outside one) rather than a bath and shower. They have limited water here (not surprising given it is a desert) and so I guess a bath would be a luxury.  The rooms are really superb though with an incredible view over the plain towards the dunes of the desert. Even the toilet is positioned so that you look over the plain! You can watch the Gemsbok and Springbok wander past while you are busy … or they are watching you!

sossusvleiAt 3:30pm we headed out on a drive. There is not a lot of game here that we had not already seen but we did add Aardwolf and Bat Eared Fox to our list of mammals for the trip. We also saw Gemsbok, Springbok and Zebra. The most amazing thing is the bird life is quite prolific which you wouldn’t expect for a desert.  We are now up to 111 birds for the trip with 6 lifers. The sun sets very quickly here and we had drinks at about 5pm in the desert and watched the sunset. The temperature drops very quickly here as well and the trip back with the wind into our faces was pretty chilling.

As you can see, we have a Wifi connection in the lodge (they didn’t have that last time we were here) and so I can at least post the blog and keep up with emails. It is pretty intermittent though and slow (it took about 30 minutes to add one photo). So limited photos today and if you want to see more about the lodge then have a look at the link above.

H (because she told me that if she wasn’t first tonight she would seek revenge and because she never commented once on my driving on the gravel today), P, M (because I am still remembering his reversing skills), S & C (she is last by choice and not because of her age – it is because she accused me of trying to break her back!).

Etosha doesn’t disappoint again

halaliIt was our last morning in Etosha today. We were heading from Halali through the park heading West to Okaukuejo and then out through the Anderson gate. We were on the road by about 8am.  We agreed to stop at the various waterholes on the way out (it is about 70kms to Okaukeujo from Halali) and at the first one we pulled in and what do we find but a pride of 6 lion lying at the waterhole.  They looked fairly full like they had just eaten and the animals were coming to the waterhole to drink with a small degree of concern only.  While watching the lions doing nothing we also managed to spot a few birds including another lifer (Ovambo Sparrowhawk) so that really did round it off.  The next batch of waterholes didn’t yield much new but did have a lot of the standard zebra, springbok, wildebeest as per usual.

We then went to a further waterhole and what do we find there but another pride of lion lying on the ridge. They also went doing anything but sunning themselves and sleeping but once again we added a few more birds to the list while we watching the lions doing nothing.  Then back onto the main road again and on the left we see an animal walking along which looked like a zebra. But lo and behold when we look through the binocs it turned out to be a lion masquerading as a zebra.  And after further scanning we saw the beautiful male (aren’t all males beautiful?) walking about 100 meters behind the lioness. We reversed about 200 meters and since I was driving and not Michael, I got bored of that technique and turned the Beast around and followed the lions as they walked parallel to the road. We followed them until the lioness lay down under a tree and then we reckoned nothing more was going to happen quickly. So after having not seen any lions in Etosha we made 3 prides and 11 lions in total in about 2 hours. It put the cherry on the top of a great Etosha experience again.  The Kgalagadi is left in the dust of Etosha.

We then had a 400 kms drive down to justsunset over windhoek outside Windhoek for tonight’s stay at River Crossing Lodge (www.rivercrossing.com.na/‎). It is a lodge set on hills just outside Windhoek.  They say it is only 5 minutes away from Windhoek but actually it is 5 minutes from the turn and then you have to negotiate the severely rutted dirt road up the hill to get to the lodge.  It is very picturesque and the sunset over the hills was once again photographed extensively by Helen who is now becoming a sunset photographer (almost exclusively).  And the good thing is that they have Wifi in the lounge area so I can much more easily post the blog and upload some photos as well. Helen pointed out that she is a little suspicious of a place that gives you complimentary Doom in your bedroom though! It is one of those places we they are trying really hard but the small things let them down.  Like it takes about 5 minutes for the hot water to arrive in the shower.  They clearly pipe it all the way from Windhoek. And there is about a 2 inch gap on the top and bottom of the toilet door. And you either shower plastered against the wall or you flood the bathroom. And the wine list shows about 90% of the red wines as ‘Out’ and when you order one of the two remaining ones at dinner they tell you it is out too but the other ones actually aren’t ‘out’ anymore, they just windhoekhave updated the wine list. But they are very pleasant and friendly and helpful and honest (even when they mess up). I am just hoping the aircon works in the room because it is getting pretty cold now.

And in case you’re wondering, bird list stands at 104 in total with 6 lifers so far.

Until tomorrow (I hope because we are again entering a no-cellphone, no wifi area for the next 2 nights so don’t panic if you don’t hear from us) ..

P, S (because he sat in front most of the day with me while everyone else was sleeping), M (because I am still remembering his reversing skills), H, C

The challenges of Etosha

We thought it would a quiet day today. We were wrong. We had to change accommodation from one set of huts to another so we decided to have a morning drive, come back for breakfast and then pack up and hopefully move over. Fortunately they did have the new rooms ready and so our plan worked out. Michael, Chloe and I then decided to go for a drive. The others including the Greyers decided to stay in camp and visit the waterhole.

Given the circumstances I might have been tempted into letting Michael drive, if it was legal. About 15 kms from camp a guy stopped us and said that there was a very aggressive elephant about 1km down the road. I thought how aggressive could it be and so we continued. We approached slowly and were making good progress when it turned and flapped and started charging. Michael might have done extremely well to get the car into reverse and start backing up quickly (if of course he was driving). And he would have needed to reverse for at least 300 to 400 meters before said elephant stopped charging. In the reversing there might have been a bend that was slightly missed and so one thorn bush less now in Etosha. And assuming Michael was driving that might have been the right time for a more skillful driver to take charge again.And the best way to change drivers might be for Michael to simply vault over the gear lever and for me to run around the car into the drivers seat. The changeover would have been competed in about 2 seconds.

We still needed to get past the grumpy elephant though. While I was edging closer (Michael later explained over the braai tonight that it was like we were playing a game of K I N G spells king) another car came from the other direction. We tried to warn them to go back but they ignored us and the elephant promptly charged at them. That gave us a little space to creep up some more on it. It kept turning back to have a look where we were though. Eventually it went far enough in and had its back to us still while watching the other car that I could gun it past. The elephant immediately started charging us at full speed. And I kept accelerating. Only problem was that the other car realized he had a big problem as he was facing the wrong way and he had an elephant charging at him.  He had the best 2 point turn in the bush I have ever seen (including also taking out a bush or two) and by the time I was level with him he was also ready to accelerate after me. I clocked 80 km/h while getting around Mr Grumpy. Mr Grumpy followed us for at least 200-300 meters.  Our adrenalin was pumping. I needed a Coke and Michael kindly passed it to me and he couldn’t keep his hand from shaking. Michael and Chloe then needed to defuel about a km down the road as well. The encounter legends are made of. After all that who really cares about the rest of the drive or day for that matter?

The rest of the drive and day was sedate and pleasant. In the late afternoon we visited the waterhole and watched the sunset and we saw mother and baby rhino come down to drink. The waterhole never fails me. Every time I have been there it has had something to offer and usually one of the big five. We also went after supper and we saw a small matriarchal herd of elephant wth a baby drinking (or should I rather say slurping).

The other highlight was the braai. After making the fire we tried to put the grid on (it was a chimney type of braai place) only to discover that the braai grid didn’t fit probably because of the expansion due to the heat. But in discovering this we got the grid stuck in half way. And in the effort to get the grid out, I tried to pull the grid out with the tongs and they got stuck into the grid. It was a comedy of errors. Mrs Greyer was helping and summed it up by saying if she we’re a marshmallow she would have been toasted brown by that stage. If the fire wasn’t so hot it might have been slightly less inconvenient getting the tongs stuck. And to make matters worse it was the only set of tongs amongst the utensils from all 4 huts we had between us. Stephen kindly posted a Facebook photo of the incident!

So that was our day. Hope yours wasn’t as exciting. Until tomorrow.

P, M (gets promoted for his driving skills), C (because she was with us), H and S.

Ps: if you read something today or yesterday that doesn’t make sense it wasn’t because I was drunk or suffering the effects of an insect bite on my groin (first didn’t happen but second did), it is because I am typing and posting this on my iPad and the predictive text has a mind of its own!

Etosha continues to perform

Despite not seeing any predators today, Etosha continues to impress. We went for an early morning drive to two waterholes. There was a reasonable amount of game around and we did a black backed jackal again (almost getting bored of seeing them now). We also addmum numerous birds to our ever growing list. We are now up to 97 for the entire trip and so hoping to clock over the 100 tomorrow. We did see the biggest herd of zebra I have probably ever seen – well over a thousand.

After we had breakfast, Stephen and I went to spend some time at the waterhole again in the camp. We saw some more birds and then a herd of elephant came for a drink. It was amazing watching their antics. Another herd also came down and there was a bit of pushing and shoving and trumpeting. They all wanted to drink from the same spot and they chased away any other animals you tried to dink including guinea fowl and impala. A kudua managed to sneak in for a drink while they weren’t watching. A solitary male arrived and he calmed everyone down. Quite funny to see him imposing his presence and how everything did clam down.

Helen and I went up before lunch and again saw elephants drinking. This was a bigger herd of about 24 with some of all ages including some really young ones. Their antics were also very entertaining. One of the teenagers was very amorous and wanted to mount another teenage female who was having none of it. She was more interested in chasing away the guinea fowl. Eventually she sprayed the male with water – aka cold shower!

We went for an afternoon drive down to the Etosha lookout. You can go about a km onto the pan. A freaky kind if feeling. Erie. Cannot post photos now as only access is on iPad but will try to post a few tomorrow. As we came back into camp we decided to go to the waterhole and watch the sunset. Stephen was smiled at and waved to by 3 young ladies. His response was ‘not surprising when you have his looks’. He seems to be a babe magnet even in Etosha.

At the waterhole it was quite when we got there but we were enjoying the sunset and so weren’t bothered by the lack of game. Then suddenly out of the bushes came a black rhino. It was very skittish and walked all around the waterhole (in the bushes) before finally approaching and having a drink. A great sighting and once again the waterhole delivers one of the big 5. Every time we go we see one of the big 5. Tomorrow we are hoping for some more predator sightings which have been sparse on this trip. But we aren’t complaining as we are thoroughly enjoying Etosha.

We had another braai tonight with our travel companions – the Reders. They had spent two nights elsewhere and rejoined us today at Halali. I am tired and my only connection is on the iPad and so sorry for no photos today.

Until tomorrow …. P, h, s, m, c

 

Etosha here we come

hadassaToday we left Otjiwarongo heading up to Etosha where we will spend the next 3 nights. While we had breakfast this morning, one of the guesthouse staff was cleaning all the cars. That was quite a big thing for us as the Beast was really looking very dusty and the seeing through the windows (especially the side ones) was not easy.

I do find Namibians quite paranoid about their security. The guest house we were staying at had electric fence all around (and yet I believe crime is almost non-existent) and the lady from the Mariental guest house told us to be very careful at ATM machines because there were two (yes you read that correctly – two) incidents involving robbery that had been publicised. I bet there are two a day per machine in South Africa.  She was muttering about ‘what is becoming of our country’.

We left Otjiwarongo heading north toward Etosha. You got through one town on the way.  It is about 180km to the gate of Etosha. Not much intellectual conversation this morning though. Helen though was ‘educating’ us with her music selection. It all started as we went through the town and saw Delarey Butchery selling biltong. We had to stop and re-stock and while I was inside doing that, the rest of them were singing ‘De la Rey’ by Bok van Blerk in the car. Now we are not only speaking Afrikaans we are now listening to Afrikaans songs as well (if you’re so inclined you can watch it on YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtKKJSfYraU‎). We moved on from there to other supposedly ‘educational’ songs.  One of which was ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ which was meant to be for the kids education and it turns out they all knew the song already and I had never heard it. Helen says her parents played it all the time (it was written in 1976) but clearly my parents deprived me (or in this case protected me). She played other classics from our childhood such as Super Tramp and a few others which only Helen seemed to know.

We got to the getoshaate at around 11am and filled in the necessary forms to give us entry. Within 500 meters of the gate we had seen Giraffe, Springbok, Impala and Gemsbok. Why did we waste 3 days in the Kgalagadi was my first thought and that was echoed by everyone else. We are staying at Halali so after passing through Okaukuejo (the equivalent of Skukuza in Etosha) we headed to Halali. At the very first waterhole we saw elephant (the whitest elephant I have ever seen), impala, springbok, gemsbok, ostrich and a few other birds.  The one male elephant looked quite amorous and so we stayed to watch for some time but he never got up to any nonsense. The comments from the occupants in the car (especially from Michael) were rated (R18) and can’t be repeated on the blog.

To get to Halali you basically drive along the Etosha Pan. It is very stark and impressive. You can see animals from a mile away.  We saw a lot on route including large herds of Springbok, Zebra, Wildebees, Giraffe, Gemsbok and Impala. We seriously saw more on that drive (68 kms) than we saw in the entire time in the Kgalagadi. For those ‘friends’ who think the Kgalagadi is great – let us introduce you to Etosha!

We also managed to increase our bird list total to 86. Some of those were actually seen in the camp as we were driving and parking at our huts. We have two very nicely furnished Family Units.  Each has 2 bedrooms, a lounge, small (ill-equipped) kitchen and an outside braai area. It is very good quality though and much better than any Sanparks accommodation in SA.  At about 4pm we headed out for an afternoon drive down to the nearest waterhole. We didn’t see a huge amount on route (except a few birds) but at the waterhole we saw a herd of elephant and then ticked off another 4 or 5 bird species as well.

waterhole1As soon as we got back Stephen and I headed for the waterhole at the camp and once again saw elephant bathing and drinking at the waterhole. As you can see from the photo, the waterhole is very close to where you can sit and watch and so you feel like it is a very intimate experience.  We watched the sunset and saw a large flock (around 100) of Double Banded Sandgrouse come in to drink (and make a huge racket) and also added a Pearl Spotted Owlet (flew into the tree right behind where I was sitting).

We went back to the hut for dinner and then straight after dinner headed back again to the waterhole.  It is flood lit at night. As we arrived we saw a Hare come to drink and then bounced off again. About 5 minutes later we heard a whoop from the far side of the water which was responded to by a whoop from just next to us on the left. That continued for about 10 whoops. It was Hyena undoubtedly calling to each other. About 5 minutes later a Hyena appeared and cautiously approached the water. It eventually got there and drank and we could hear the lapping.  It then suddenly got a fright, jumped back and headed back into the bushes and all was still again at the waterhole. I wonder how much game you could see by just sitting there the whole day (pretty sure more than you could see in the Kgalagadi). And the sunset and evening star rising were amazing as well. Only been in the park for 1/2 day and it is already matching (or surpassing) my memories of last time.

Until tomorrow (assuming our connectivity holds up!) – P, H, S, M & C

sunset waterhole