In the Jungle,
The Mighty Jungle,
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
We traveled from Swakopmund to Waterberg Plateau Park today. It was our longest journey yet at 520 kilometers. As all of the roads were paved except for the last 20 km, we made it in just under 6 hours. As we got closer to the park, we saw quite a bit of wildlife including warthogs. They are just so funny when they run with their tail stuck straight up in the air!
We got settled into our site and after getting the normal chores done (dishes, laundry, setting up the tent, etc.) had a relaxing afternoon and evening. The sunset was really pretty, although not at quite the right angle to cast that perfect glow onto the plateau.
We didn't have too many fellow campers - just one other couple and a group of 20-somethings from here in Namibia. Unfortunately, the group was a little noisy, with their car radios playing until about 11:00. Then, they sat up talking until after 2:00 AM. It was just as well we didn't have plans for a big day tomorrow since we didn't sleep very well.
Wildlife Spotted: SOG, Warthog, Baboon, Kudu, Black-faced Impala, Wildebeest, African Ground Squirrel (we see these so frequently that I am not going to list them anymore).
December 11, 2005
This morning, we went for a hike along one of the many trails at Waterberg. It was actually fairly tough going - very rocky and uneven and uphill for the first half of the hike. The sun was already intense and by 11:00, we were wiped out. We came across a bunch of nests belonging to spot backed weavers - they are the ultimate in DIY birds - amazing to watch them weave their nests. They are constantly in motion and Markus had to take about 100 photos to get a couple of good ones.
We walked back to our campsite and Markus took a brief nap while I sat under the awning reading a book. Our fellow campers (minus the 20-somethings) were much quieter this evening and I think we all enjoyed a good sleep.
December 12, 2005
We left Waterberg around 9:00 this morning after a leisurely breakfast and a quick shower. We only covered about 280 kilometers today on nearly all paved roads, but the journey took us a little over 4 hours - about an hour longer than I estimated. We did make a stop along the way for groceries, but limited our stop to about 20 minutes.
Here is an interesting piece of trivia about Southern Africa that I have forgotten to mention until now. Everywhere you go that has a public car park has a car guard. From the public parks (Table Mountain, Lion's Head) in Cape Town to the supermarkets in Swakopmund, there is an individual that watches over your car and belongings. All that is expected in return is a small donation of about Rand/Namibian $4-5 (about 60-75 cents).
We entered Etosha National Park, Namibia's crown jewel, through the Anderson Gate and immediately started seeing wildlife. We got to our campsite and then went to explore Okaukuejo's watering hole. It is fairly large, floodlit at night and has a fantastic (protected) viewing area. We saw only springbok and gemsbok in the early afternoon.
After we had our site setup, we went on an evening game drive. We made a big circle (about 45 km) through Leeubron and then back to Okaukuejo. Highlights were definitely an elephant (although slightly far away), a mother and baby zebra caught in the rain (right beside the road) and a pride of lions (three lionesses and four cubs).
We had dinner and then walked back to the watering hole and were rewarded by seeing a rhinoceros! He stayed around for about 15 minutes and then went on his way. Overnight, there was a thunder storm off in the distance - we could see the lightning all around us. Thankfully, it stayed away from us except for just a rain shower, which really helped to cool down the temperature. We could hear the animals making noises all night, but we didn't recognize the calls. There is a fence around the entire resort here at Okaukuejo, which keeps out the large predators like the cheetah, leopard and lions, but we did see a few jackal lurking around the campsites!
Wildlife Spotted: SOG, Kudu, Black-backed Jackal, Warthog, Steenbok, Giraffe,
Zebra, Wildebeest, Elephant, Lion
Birds: Spot Backed Weaver, Hornbill, Red-necked Francolin, Kori Bustard
We were up at 5:45 this morning - before the sun had even fully risen. No driving is permitted in the park until after sunrise, which was at 6:12 today. We were out of the gate around 6:20 AM in search of wildlife to be spotted and photographed. And, we were fairly successful - our first major sighting of the day was a group of four giraffe. They were quite close to the road and we watched them for about 20 minutes. For the next hour or so, we came across numerous herds of antelope, zebra and wildebeest. Finally at about 10:00, we found an elephant at the Olifantsbad. It was a huge bull - when he had finished at the watering hole, he started across the plain - a couple of tourists had parked their vehicle right in his path. They quickly started their engine and got out of the way!
About 30 minutes later, we came across another bull elephant, who was obviously fresh from his morning mud bath. He was heading directly toward us and when he got very close (I think he could have touched the Land Rover with his trunk!), he stopped and he started to rumble at us. We took the hint and moved forward, just enough to appease him but to still watch him up close and personal. He walked down the road in the opposite direction from us and then went back into the bush and disappeared.
Five and a half hours after we left, we finally got back to the campsite where we set about our daily chores - lunch, dishes, laundry (are you starting to see a familiar pattern?). We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the parade right outside of our site - there is a constant stream of animals coming and going from the water hole.
There are also several swallow's nests in the trees here at Okaukuejo. They are enormous thatched dwellings that can sometimes completely overtake an entire tree. We're not sure how many birds make their home in these structures, but it has to number in the hundreds.
The sun was setting just as we were starting to cook dinner, so I walked over to the other side of the Land Rover for a better view. About 2 minutes later, 3 elephants went by on their way for a drink. I just missed the picture of them silhouetted against the sunset! I quickly ran to the watering hole to see them while Markus took our dinner off of the fire and got the car locked up. The ellies were amazing! Just as they left the water, two giraffes (an adult and a younger one) and two rhinos (an adult and a younger one) approached. After they all had a drink, there was a tense moment (obviously someone wasn't following proper water hole protocol) when there was a showdown between the younger rhino and the younger giraffe - we're not sure who started it, but in the end each pair went their separate ways with no bloodshed. A few minutes went by and another pair of rhino approached! The show just kept getting better and better!
We eventually made it back to our campsite and finished cooking our dinner. It was nearly 10:00 by the time we got everything cleaned up and put away. It may not sound that late, but when your day typically starts before 6:00, it's definitely bedtime! We were no sooner in the tent when a jackal knocked over our garbage can. Markus watched him through the tent window - he just jumped up and grabbed the handle and tipped the can right over. Our neighbor, and trash can sharer, was kind enough to come over and right the can and put several large stones on the top of it. This seemed to do the trick.
Wildlife Spotted: SOG, Zebra, Giraffe, Elephant, Wildebeest, Steenbok, Kudu,
Black-faced Impala, Jackal, Tsessebe, Warthog, Duiker, Rhinoceros
Birds: Vulture, Kori Bustard, Guinea Fowl, Blue Crane, Marabou Stork
December 14, 2005
Now, about those lions - I don't care what that song says, they definitely were not sleeping in the jungle or anywhere tonight! One male insisted upon a 3:00 AM feeding (well, not a feeding actually, but a drink of water). He passed right by the camping area on his way to the watering hole and he let out a roar to let everybody know he was coming. Guess he was asserting his kingship. There was a mother ship set up right by the fence - he couldn't have been more than a couple of hundred feet away from them when he voiced himself. It was so loud in our tent - I can only imagine being in one of theirs (we were about 200 feet from them)! About 30 people, including us, started to make for the watering hole to get a better look. The lion was really magnificent and well worth getting out of bed to see. He said his good nights to everyone just as he left the water hole (letting out another roar) and disappeared into the darkness - the sound just surrounds you as they roar in the night, it is truly amazing.
We grabbed a couple more hours of sleep and then started out toward the opposite end of Etosha, where we are camping tonight. We had a good day of game spotting. Major sights of the day were a rhino and two elephants, which we spotted early and were then able to position ourselves so that they crossed the road directly in front of us. Luckily, I was driving at the time (it's a good thing I know how to drive a standard transmission, on the left side of the road, no less!) so Markus was able to get some pretty good photos. We also drove along the Etosha Pan for quite a while. Two million years ago, this area was a huge lake - over time, however, the lake dried up, resulting in a saltpan surrounded by grass and thorn savannah.
We got to our campsite at Namutoni around 12:45 and completed our regular afternoon routine. We went out for an evening game drive at about 4:00. Unfortunately, even though we were out for nearly 3 hours, we didn't see too much other than the normal suspects (SOG, Wildebeest, Giraffe and Zebra). We did see a flock of flamingoes just outside of the resort area and got a few good shots of them.
After dinner, we walked up to the watering hole at Namutoni, but it was a bust! Of course, it was pretty hard to top this morning!
Wildlife Spotted: SOG, Lion, African Civet (Markus), Wildebeest, Duiker,
Kudu, Rhino, Warthog, Tortoise, Jackal, Giraffe, Zebra, Honey Badger (Markus),
Birds: Blue Crane, Hornbill, Eagle, Kori Bustard, Guinea Fowl, Flamingo
We went for a game drive this morning - our last in Etosha. We saw several Damara Dik-Dik for the first time. They are so small - only about the size of a whippet! You have to be driving fairly slowly to even spot them.
We wanted to have breakfast at the resort restaurant before we left the park, but the restaurant only serves until 8:30 and we didn't finish our drive until 8:45. So, instead, we bought some eggs and bread at the shop and went back to our campsite to cook our own breakfast! It was really nice - nearly everyone had cleared out by that time and we just about had the entire place to ourselves. That is, except for the resident warthogs - luckily they weren't interested in our breakfast food and just went right on past us.
As we were leaving the park, there was a large herd of impala right on the road side. The vehicle startled them and they started to run down the road. They clearly are not meant to run on pavement as several of them fell and skidded along. They then had difficulty getting sufficient footing to stand up again - the poor things!
We left Etosha and headed southeast to Grootfontein, where we stopped for groceries. Tonight, we are camping at Roy's Camp, just about 50 kilometers north of Grootfontein. It is a very nice, private resort. So far, the only other campers are a group of four people on motorcycles. It should be a quiet night.
Wildlife Spotted: SG, Giraffe, Warthog, Dik-Dik, Duiker, Black-faced Impala,
Birds: Kori Bustard, Eagle, Guinea Fowl
December 16, 2005
Well, unfortunately my prediction about a quiet night last night was only partially true - the other campers were quiet and didn't disturb us at all. But, it rained and this did cause us to lose quite a bit of sleep. It wasn't the sound of it so much as it was that we didn't realize that we needed to close the outside flap on one end of the tent because the water was dripping down from the awning right on to our bedding. I woke up about 3:45 and the entire lower right side of my body was wet! Truly a miserable experience!
Unbelievably, there were still enough dry spots that we did manage another couple of hours of sleep. By 6:15, the rain had stopped and we got everything packed away and hit the road once again.
We drove almost 500 kilometers today - took about 6 hours. Along the way, we passed through the Kavango Region of Namibia. This area is home to the Kavango people. They still maintain their traditional lifestyle of living in small groups of thatched huts, surrounded by reed fences. Everyday, they walk to the nearest source of fresh water, which is typically 1-2 kilometers away. We saw many people carrying full containers back to their home - the women usually carry them on their heads while the children sometimes had "sleds" that they would drag behind them. The Kavango people are known as excellent wood craftsmen - we saw gorgeous wood carvings of elephants, giraffes, hippos and even airplanes and helicopters for sale along the road. They also breed cattle as a source of income - we couldn't even count the number of herds we saw or the number of times we had to stop to allow the cattle to cross the highway.
This afternoon, we crossed the border into Botswana. Clearing immigration and customs both in leaving Namibia and entering Botswana was much easier and pleasant than we expected. Immigration stamped our passports and then in Botswana, we had to pay a fee of Pula 60 (about $15) to bring the Land Rover across the border. And, we were on our way!
For the next three nights, we are camping at a private resort in Shakawe (northwest Botswana). It is situated on the banks of the Okavango River and is a beautiful property. The main area contains a bar and restaurant and has a nice seating area overlooking the water.
Our campsite is in a lovely wooded area and is quite spacious and private - we can't even see the campers on either side of us. We set up our tent and got our bedding dried out then we had a quiet and relaxing evening cooking over the fire