For a detailed trip itinerary, click here or for more info on the company that runs it (African Trails) visit:

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Monday, 6 September 2010

Namibia Part 1 - Safari at Etosha National Park

Now, why is it that it always ends up that I have to do the longer, more complicated blogs whilst Laraldo gets to do the short, less eventful ones?

Namibia was a blur of the more usual ‘touristy activity’ than probably all of the previous African countries put together. I’m not sayng that’s a good or a bad thing – that’s just the way it was. On 25th July we crossed over the border from Angola, and the difference was immediate. The local supermarkets just over the border sent our Saffer counterparts into a frenzy of junk food buying as they finally found some familiar brands and items: cream soda (or ‘Cream Sober’ or ‘The Green Ambulance’ – apparently a good hangover cure), Nik-Naks, real biltong, droe-wors (dry sausage) and plenty of other stuff that rots your guts but tastes gooooooood! Needless to say, we all followed suit and Homeless even guided me through the aisles advising me on what to get.

After stocking up, we drove an hour or so down the road and pulled into a lay-by complete with picnic table where The Fam (Neal, Karen and Squirt) cooked their final spag bol for us as we sat and drank Hunter’s, Savana Dry (both ciders) Windhoek and Castle (a Namib beer and a Saffer beer respectively). We all hit the sack relatively early but with our bellies full and in jovial mood.

Night falls on our first night in Namibia.

Having a few Namibian sun-downers. L to R: Yoichi, Berbs, Kay, Son, Laraldo, HH

Half-way through the night Lara and I both woke at the same time to the sound of our fly-sheet flapping against the inner...nothing out of the ordinary in a strong wind...except that there was no wind. Given our previous experiences with camel spiders in Mali, we figured that some kind of creature was sneaking about trying to make our tent his home. Now, Lara CAN’T whisper, nor does she have any inner dialogue...and we were all camped close to each other. Rather than expose the rest of the camp to her wonderings aloud at 3am (“WHAT IS IT?” “I THINK IT’S A SPIDER OR A SCORPION...”) I got up to take a closer look. I half-undid the fly-sheet and had a peep but couldn’t see anything so, being tired, gave up and went back to bed. Thirty minutes later we’re both awake to the sound of more scurrying...sometheing was definitly clambering up and down under our fly-sheet and chilling at the peak of our dome. I got out again and gave the outer a beating, looking to see what fell out...Nothing.

After a couple more hours of attempted sleep as the scurrying continued, it was time for breakfast and taking down the tents. Over grub, the other guys were asking what all the commotion was about in the night and they didn’t believe our explanation. As Lara didn’t want to go near the tent to put it down, Homeless gave me a hand and sure enough, as we whipped the outer off, a creature somewhere between a mouse and a rat and about a foot long ran down the back of the tent and hopped into a neighbouring field. (It wasn’t til after that we released he’d eaten through a few of the ties that kept our tent-poles together, pissed all over the inner and left us a few turds too!) I’m pretty sure I saw Lara’s first grey hairs come through after this experience...

From here we headed straight to Etosha National Park – a place we’d heard so much about - for two days and nights of animal watching. This was a REAL treat: we saw loads of wildlife. Warthogs, giraffes, elephants, bat-eared foxes, white rhino, black rhino, hyenas (two different types), honey badgers, porcupines, jackals, lions and loads of different boring ones that don’t eat meat or pose any real threat to anybody i.e. vultures, kudu, springbok, ostriches, wildebeest, oryx, zebra, hornbills etc. (Only joking about them being boring, but you get what I mean...)

We stayed two nights at Halali campsite.

Homeless  - chilling justing insdie the Halali entrance.

Springboks, doing what they do best...(and I don't mean losing a rugby game).
Bat-eared fox (apparently, a rare sighting).

Zebra and wildebeest

"Breaker 1-9 Copy - we have an APB on a dodgy looking mzungu in cheesey tourist get-up."

Truck v Giraffe face-off on the horizon.

The cool thing about this park was that we could drive through it in Ruby, which meant that with the side tarps and beach tarp (front roof section) peeled back we had an extremely good elevated viewing platform. That first afternoon we saw a lot of the aforementioned animals and were ready to head back when we saw a couple of sleepy lionesses. I had been in leopard-spotting mode (still yet to see one at time of writing) and was looking at all the trees when I saw the silhouette of a feline head pop up at the base of a tree. Using the walkie-talkie Norm had given us, I alerted him to it and he backed the truck up and took us for a closer look...two lions, chilling in the shade. Fantastic.

One of the two lionesses chilling under a tree.

With the tarps peeled back, we had an extremely good elevated viewing platform.
The highlight for me came that evening at the water-hole 5 mins walk from our camp. We all went along there after dinner (cooked up by Berbs, Kimbo and Yoichi) and at first were a bit dismayed as there were hundreds of people all gathered around reminding us that our little troop of travellers were no longer ‘special’ and that we had in fact stepped into touristville. Within seconds of arriving we knew we were in for a good time as two elephants jostled for prime drinking position about 10 metres from where we were standing with only the sound of coughs, murmurs and whispers and camera clicking to pose any kind of distraction. Pretty cool.

The waterhole during a rare quiet period.

As the night went on, the kids, families and oldies left for bed leaving just a few enthusiasts to brave the dropping temperature and tiredness. By 9.30pm a few of our guys gave up and left for bed and only 15mins later a rhino turned up with baby in tow. Amazing.

About an hour later, a lone black rhino entered the stage from the left sipping on its own for a while when suddenly its ears pricked up. He looked around, before grunting and charging at the bushes from where a hyena popped out. The two settled down and drank with one eye on the water and one eye on their foe. The hyena left soon enough only to be replaced by a rogue elephant entering the stage from the right. The rhino and elephant sized each other up for a moment but left each other alone. When the rhino finally left it was 11pm...but our night was not yet over.

The rhino's big backside was scarcely out of view when we heard a loud din in the distance: trees were crashing and the ground was being thumped. As the nosie came closer we saw the trees and shrubs being crushed lazily by a herd of 2, 3, 4, 5.....8....14...20, 21, 22 holy sh!t they’re still coming...26 elephants! Had the rogue elephant scouted out the whole only to signal the rest of his friends when the coast was clear? We can only speculate but whatever it was, it was an genuinely emotional and awe-inspiring moment. These big animals were moving drinking right in front of us and by this time, only the four coolest people in the world (Homeless, Berbs, HH and yours truly) were left at the hole to see it...we were cold, tired and getting bored but having this performance - which lasted about half an hour - all to ourselves was worth it.

Black rhino

Black rhino joined by a hyena. 

The hyena left and a rogue elephant turned up...

Rogue elephant...

Just checking the coast is clear for his family to come through...

Here they come...

Awesome!!! And we had this all to ourselves.

We stayed up til about 2am and in those last 2 hours we saw another black rhino and another herd of elephants (it could have been the same herd but a. There weren’t as many this time and b. Would they really need to drink twice in 2 hours?) Who knows? All I do know is that I was tired the next day and slept through most of our morning park drive and a lot of the afternoon one. I was, however, awake to see the stunning salt-pan that we stopped off at: flat and empty far as the eye could see.

Another rhino pays a visit.

The second (?) herd of elephants we saw that evening.

A big bald male.

The littl'uns gotta drink too!


The salt pan in Etosha National Park.

Berbs - getting a better view of the nothing ness from the top of the cab.

That night, HH and Kay had some help from Neal to cook his speciality – pizzas! Although their bases were chargrilled, they still tasted delicious. We even had a couple of special guests pop by for dinner: two (apparently very rare) honey badgers. A few of the guys got very excited about them and chased after them to get a photo. If I can get hold of a photo, I'll post it up at some point.

After food, a few of the other guys went to watering hole again determined to see some of the stuff we’d seen the night before – but I was still out of it from that night so just had an early night in the tent (with my sleep assisted greatly by some strong painkillers Kay had given me for my neck which had been playing up recently).

The next morning we left early (only after we’d all taken shots of the scorpion that popped out from under HH’s tent) to make the most of the game drive when the animals were most active. Again we saw hundreds of animals and a lot of cars too! It turns out the cars were all clustered around a pride of lionesses that were frolicking, sleeping, drinking and lazing around one of the park's more central watering holes. I think we counted about 8 of them...

The scorpion that was hiding under HH's tent.


I think we all know what the caption for this one should be.

The lionesses frolicking at the edge of the waterhole

With an imaginary lion quota well and truly reached we took off to exit the park when mere metres from the road we saw a male lion, with a big mane, watching over a dead zebra that had already had a chunk eaten out of its haunches. As we were the first ones to it, there were no other tourists around so Norm had time and room to manoeuvre the truck to give us the perfect photo angles. We THINK that the females we’d just seen had killed it, gone off to wash up at the waterhole and left the male lion to guard it as they did so. Again, just speculation.

Spot the predator.

What a perfect way to end our stay at Etosha and what a novel way to take our minds off the imminent skydive in Swakopmund...

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