A Travellerspoint blog

Running the Gauntlet -

Etosha to the Bots border

sunny -17 °C

Normally, when one tries to estimate how long a particular road trip is going to take, it is a relatively straightforward process. You get your map out, work out the number of kilometres, divide by 100 for ease and voila! - x amount of hours driving plus any rest breaks. Simple. However in Africa, or at least in many parts of Africa this equation if you will, does not take into account the donkey factor. Or even the goat factor, or the pedestrian factor, foot and mouth factor, customs and immigration factor, vet control point factor or even the obligatory police road block factor. All of which we encountered from Etosha to Divundu.
Although it was a lovely day, not the extreme heat we had been experiencing, we soon ran into a glitch in our well laid plans. As our Namibian part of the holiday was basically over, we had virtually exhausted our Namibian dollars and were planning on changing some of our Australian dollars to Pula at a bank in Grootfontein in preparation for crossing the Namib/Bots border and making our way to Maun where we would change the rest. What we hadn't realised was that this particular day was a public holiday. A local gentleman I accosted soon put us in the picture and reassured us that we didn't need Pula at the border because they would take Namib dollars. Phew!
So after interminable hours having avoided any lethal animal related incidents, a torrential downpour and thunderstorm and the various road blocks we eventually made it to Divundu late in the afternoon. Here upon we learned a lesson in pure common sense. At midway in the journey we had blithely sailed past the only petrol station for hundreds of kilometres around, figuring that we would fill up at Divundu where my trusty Bradt guide informed me there were two petrol stations. So I cruised up to the first petrol station at the village and pulling to a halt with less than a 1/4 tank left, window down, ask the attendant to, 'fill it up thanks.'
'No petrol madam', he says.
'Oh, ok which pump works', I reply.
'No petrol only diesel.'
'WHAT!!!' 'You don't have any petrol?!!' ' When are you getting a delivery?', I splutter, my first world sensibilities affronted at the thought that, shock horror, how could a petrol station not have any petrol!
'Well, the truck might come in the morning.'
'You really think it will be here in the morning?' I plead.
'Yeees, I think it will be here', he says in that slow way africans do.
I am not fooled. I have been to Africa enough times to know that the chance of a delivery in the morning are at best 50/50. Desperately I ask him where the other petrol station is?
'no other petrol, only here', he says to my utter horror.
We have no Pula, not much food and a campsite booked in Moremi to take up on the morrow, things are not good in my ordered little world.
Defeated, we head off the couple of kilometres to our community campsite up the road, passing the defunct second petrol station on the way. The campsite does nothing to lift my spirits. Although directly on the river with a view of the rapids, my other view behind is of prisoners working in the quite unsecure prison farm fields barely 50m away. Maybe I am supposed to be reassured by the female guard supervising - after all she has a weapon - oh on second look it is an umbrella.
After a very subdued night, our heads full of plan A, B, C.......in anticipation of worst case scenario, no petrol for days, we impatiently waited in the morning until 9.45am and headed back to the petrol station. I really had no confidence at all that petrol would be there. On approach I am absolutely delighted to see the station full of cars filling up - oh happy day! We are off to Botswana...........

Posted by threedogs 23:06 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Feeding frenzies and horny elephants

A great day's gameviewing in Etosha

sunny 38 °C

Now based on the eastern side of the park we had the early mornings down pat. At dawn on the 9th, the day was already promising to be a hot one, but in the precious few cool hours from 6 - 10a.m the morning is full of promise of all sorts of animal encounters. Our first waterhole didn't yield anything interesting but shortly after on the main Halali Rd. we spotted the by now familiar professional photographers vehicle stopped up ahead. This could only mean one thing - there was something worth looking at! Sure enough we caught up and were astounded to see within a couple of metres of the road, about 20+jackals tearing at the remains of a very small baby elephant. On the periphery, three hyaena stood, obviously satiated with bloodied faces and full bellies. They continued to watch the jackals in their feeding frenzy for a short while before slinking off into the bush. Despite the legs and trunk of the body still being intact, the jackals preferred to tear at the little meat left on the torso and skull. It was a manic sight of snarling, snapping, hackles raised, tail wagging canines. We stayed for some time, taking some good photos and a short video. There was very little evidence to tell what had happened to the little elephant. There were no drag marks or signs of a violent end. We wondered if the baby ellie had been sick and weak and had been killed or died where we saw its body. There were adult elephant spoor in the close vicinity. It was intriguing and we threw around many possible scenarios like forensic detectives.
After half an hour we headed off to check the other waterholes and when we returned to the scene an hour later, the carcass was completely gone. There was absolutlely no sign that the body had ever been there. We surmised that perhaps the hyaena had returned and taken the carcass back into the bush.
After retreating during the heat of the day we returned to the park with a plan to check out Tsumcor waterhole as it was being visited by herds of thirsty elephants in the late afternoons. As we turned into the waterhole track we immediately saw the elephants, already there. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, so about 5 or 6 cars and two large game viewing trucks had commandeered the best viewing spots. Nevertheless, we managed to find a space with a relatively clear view. It soon became apparent that we were looking at a quite famous little elephant herd led by matriach Donut and her daughter Knobnose. These elephants are the subject of an ongoing research project and were featured on a very poignant documentary we watched on Nat. Geo or Discovery channel (can't remember exact details now!) Donut is so called due to the large round hole in one ear and Knobnose due to the large warty growth on her trunk. We were really excited to see first hand these beautiful animals in the flesh! However it also became obvious that a very large bull elephant in must was behaving rather badly amongst the herd and making them quite nervous - especially as they had many very tiny babies with them. Rob was videoing a couple of younger males engaging in a playful tussle whilst Alex and I were keeping an eye on the big bull. Just as well we did because he suddenly decided that he wanted to get to the few cows who were directly behind our car about 30m away and he didn't particularly want to detour around us!!! Suddenly it was all ears flapping, head shaking and trumpeting and rapidly approaching elephant!! With more than a little alarm , mild panic and flying expletives we had to beat a very hasty retreat in seconds! After that heartstarter we watched for a little while longer until Donut decided that her family, having had their drink, were better off out of harms way and moved on out. As we did...chattering non-stop about our encounter with a mad, bad, horny elephant!

Posted by threedogs 18:35 Archived in Namibia Tagged animal Comments (0)

Brothers in Arms

Following the photographers....

Sometimes you just get lucky when it comes to game viewing. Making another supreme effort to get up at sparrow fart and get to Etosha's Von Lindquist gate at sunrise, we were tootling along when up ahead a smart dual cab was stopped on the wrong side of the road. Whenever we spotted a stopped vehicle immediately as you approach you check which direction they are looking in. We didn't even have to check as their huge camera lenses were stuck out the right side windows and pointing directly at two magnificent male lions camped under a small bushy tree only metres off the road! Oh lucky day! It was pretty evident that these people were professionals - the passenger not riding in front but kitted out with all the camera gear in the back. As if on cue, the two lions, perhaps a bit miffed that they were now being gawked at, got up in an unhurried fashion and starting walking right up to our two cars. We quickly surmised they were heading for a morning drink a the waterhole only 100 metres away on the other side of the road. They sauntered right by in front of us and we were able to get some great photos and really appreciate their presence. Of course as soon as they had crossed the road the photographers, us and the by now two extra vehicles promptly did a quick u-turn and headed across to the waterhole. One lion went a little ahead but the other took his time marking his territory by spraying urine on numerous bushes and then rolling around on his back in one particular spot which was all fantastic stuff for us as we hung on his every movement. Getting in quick we managed to get a good vantage point to continue watching them drink at the waterhole. They stayed for a while, taking their time drinking before ambling up the slope and flopping down under a tree 40metres or so from the waterhole. Realising they probably wouldn't budge till late afternoon we took off pysched up and keen to see more animals. As we drove around the the windy track away from the waterhole to the main road it was amusing to see a logjam of animals - zebra, wildebeest and springbok - all stalled in their efforts to get to the waterhole. They must have smelt the lions because they were not visible to them and they were not going near there until the coast was clear! As we passed by again an hour later, they were still there waiting! As the temperature soared we headed out of the park and made the 100km trip to Tsumeb to buy meat and other groceries (due to the debacle they call a shop at Namutoni). The afteroon was spent sipping Screwdrivers in the bar at Onguma (heaven) and swimming in the pool before heading back into the park for the late arvo drive. Sure enough the lazy lion bludgers were still flat out under their tree and the waterhole was deserted!
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Posted by threedogs 21:16 Comments (0)

East to West across Etosha

No meat!

sunny 39 °C

Having spent 3 days based at Etosha Safari Camp on the eastern side of Etosha we spent a good part of the day travelling across the park. Again another incredibly hot day and very little game between Okakuejo and Halali. We were keen to compare the new upgrading work at Halali with what we had seen at Okakuejo. Halali had been done in a slightly differently style but still very impressive. Designer bathroom ware in the ablutions once again had me doing a double take. The grocery/curio shop was much better than Okakauejo - a lot more space, stocked a lot better and presented very well. The grocery choice was quite good and an adequate supply of meat. (at this point I made a fundamental error)
Being 39ish degrees we didnt hang around long, however we did take time out to complete one important task. On our first trip to Namibia in 2001 my partner took a spontaneous photo of our son walking along barefoot (!) on the gravel road in the campground at Halali. Each subsequent visit we have taken a photo in exactly the same place and so we have a set of photos of Alex at different ages. I don't know how much of this garbled story the 'security' man at the entrance to the campground understood but he let us in anyway.
So we trundled on to Namutoni. The changes at Namutoni were perhaps the most dramatic at first glance. You can no longer drive up and into the inner area of the fort where you used to be able to stay in the rooms. There is now a large decking boardwalk from the reception/booking in office right up to the fort. The inner area of the fort has been paved and is one large courtyard. The former accommodation rooms have been used for a new bistro and the grocery/curio shop and other as yet unknown and unfinished purposes. (They have done a good job but the grocery shop is tiny and everything is jammed in which must surely indicate a temporary home because it is almost unworkable.) None the less we had decided to get our supplies here having passed over the offerings at Halali in some moment of delerium. Unfortunately my diet isn't big on canned snails, bamboo shoots or sauerkraut (all of which were on offer). I tend to like the bland stuff like bread, a bit of fruit and veg and the odd bit of protein in the form of meat (other than snails). Well I managed to get the last loaf of bread but when I asked where their meat was I could have been asking for caviar and truffles. We couldn't even go vego - none of that either except for a few cans of peas! I have to say that I did get a bit antsy as we had nowhere else to restock and I was forced to confront my own stupidity when my son repeatedly pointed out that we could have got plenty at Halali!
Muttering under my breath and clutching my loaf of bread we headed out of the park to our new digs at Onguma Safari Camp. The road into Onguma is IMMEDIATELY to the left as you exit the Von Lindquist gate. A few kilometres in and you arrive at Reception. I can honestly say that the welcome and service we received on arrival was the most friendly and efficient of anywhere we stayed in our whole trip. Onguma is a class act and run the campsite, the lodge, Plains camp, Bush camp and the Fort - priced accordingly in ascending order - we are talking very big dollars for the top end stuff. Despite the fact we were only campers we were treated like 5* guests. On explaining our dilemma with the food (we had nothing to cook for tea) and asking if we could eat at the lodge's small restaurant, the receptionist explained that as there were no guests that night at the lodge the restaurant was closed. He then immediately asked if he could ring Mokuti Lodge nearby to book a table there. Which he did, and we went, and it was bloody good! The campsites are excellent. Each pitch has a rectangular area surrounded by logs which hold down a shadecloth type of material that you can pitch a tent on and not be in the dirt! Each site has its own toilet and shower and washing up area. It really is fantastic. Campers are free to use the very nice pool area which is in the lodge garden a very short walk away. The thatched restaurant and bar area are beautiful and we enjoyed the hot afternoons sitting up on the raised bar area in the biggest armchairs ever sipping alcoholic beverages!
So our three days there were all too short and worked well as we rose early each morining to get to the park gates on sunrise, a few hours in the park, back for our above mentioned regime and another late afternoon drive before tea.
Onguma is a place I will definately return too. Camping is $N80pppn and worth every cent. Next time I'm staying at the lodge for an even more relaxing experience.

Posted by threedogs 02:19 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

The early bird catches the worm

Chasing lion in Etosha...

sunny 39 °C

Having fortuitously caught up with my new acquaintance Tim and his family at Okakuejo Camp it soon became evident early in the conversation that Tim and his family were actually non-chalant in their attitude towards spotting lions. Now this just wouldn't do! The problem was that I felt I was actually developing some sort of lion repellant ability. I spent 4 weeks living INSIDE Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, out day and night and not one lion seen! First visit to Namibia with me on board - no lion. Second trip to Namibia, just Rob and Alex - 34 *#@^% lions! Tim and co have seen a HEAP! They see lion 15 minutes after we have been to the same waterhole. They see lion 15 minutes BEFORE we have been to the same waterhole. Hell they've seen so many lions they are getting positively boring!
Undaunted if a bit frustrated we determine to be up prior to the crack of dawn to ensure we get to the park gates as they are about to open. It takes a bit of effort to get a 15 yr old up at 5am but he is as desperate as me to see the tawny devils and we make it to the gate only a few minutes after opening. We head straight to Gemsbokvlakte waterhole where Tim and family assure me the lion have fronted every morning for the last two days. On the spur of the moment we decide to take a differnet route there and take the detour road shortly after the main gate. About halfway there Rob suddenly says, 'What's that up there on the road?'
Grabbing binocs I am suddenly jumping up and down in my seat like a three year old. In seconds we are there and a pride of nine lions are making their way across the road in front of us in single file. They scarcely acknowledge our existence. Just the slightest turn of the head for a second without faltering in a long lazy stride. I am so happy I just soak up the moment and all too soon they are gone and we realise just how lucky we have been to catch them for just a minute. As we continue on, I am happy to state that I don't mind if it turns into a slow animal day - coz I just saw lion! But only a couple of kms up the road in the beautiful dewy morning light a black backed jackal mother supervises her five boisterous little pups. They dart about, falling over sticks and playing with each other and it is definately a first for me. The 'firsts' aren't over yet though as we arrive at Aus waterhole only 30 minutes later to spot two honey badgers gambolling around the waterhole perimiter. This for me is nearly more exciting than the lion. Nocturnal solitary honey badgers are rarely sighted at night when they are active let alone two together in the daylight. This was one of the highlights of our time in Etosha. These sightings (and others to come) reinforced for us the imperitiveness of getting into the park as early as possible to maximum the chance of sightings.

Posted by threedogs 02:16 Archived in Namibia Tagged animal Comments (0)

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