Every day in Namibia is animal sighting day. The animals are always on the move in the winter looking for water. That is, until the day they go to the final waterhole resting place in the sky. That day came for a giraffe on a narrow road in Etosha National Park.
Driving slowly, hoping as always to spot another gorgeous sight, a white car stops in the narrow road. The neck of a giraffe stretches across the road, practically to the other side.
To one side of the car is its hind quarter and a second animal. An immobile lioness lies on her side. They must be dead. This lioness, one of two lions, however, is merely exhausted from the chase and eating. She is savoring a healthy dose of fresh kill.
Welcome to Animal Planet meets the law of the jungle. In Namibia’s case, it is the law of the desert. The desert covers nearly 80% of Namibia’s surface: The Namib dunes in the West and savannahs in the North, center and in the Kalahari regions. Namibia, located in southwest Africa, claim the oldest deserts in the world.
During a dry August winter, the dust that blows across the pan basin in the Etosha National Park colors the sky grey. The orange dust and sand that blows from the Kalahari another day makes observations of the famous morning dune shadows impossible for some visitors to Sossusvlei in the Southwest. The beige road dust constantly coats our music CD and jams the player and the door locks.
No matter the dust conditions, the exotic fauna are always visible on this HD panoramic screen called Namibia. The animals constantly move toward the next waterhole.
This 20-day scenic journey covers about 3,315 kilometers (2,059 miles) over gravel roads in a sturdy two-wheel drive (2WD) Toyota. The gravel roads are slippery as ice at high speeds. Driving toward Sossusvlei, we see the recent, upside down result of loss of control. Namibia is one of three African countries where it is safe to self-drive. The biggest danger to a tourist is his or her own driving skills.
One giant animal and bird safari
Headed to Ti Melen bed and breakfast timelen.com/contact_fr.html in Windhoek, our first animal sighting comes within ten minutes of the airport. A group of chacma baboons play next to the road. A few minutes later, we see a giraffe. In the days of film cameras, a roll of 36 would be ready for processing.
Warthogs, African wild pigs with tusks, graze along the road side. You see them in family groups. When they trot across the road, their tails go straight up.
The antelopes during this safari weigh between 5 kilos (11 pounds) and 600 kilos (1,322 pounds). The smallest is the Damara Dik-Dik , which blends with its surroundings; the largest is the Éland, who barely moves during a sojourn at the waterhole.
Big game sighting begins while driving toward the Waterberg National Park. An Oryx antelope startled by the car is trying to get back to the reserve. It runs, trying to find an opening to the other side of the fence. It forces its long, thin horns and 185 kilos (407 pounds) through a warthog ditch and back onto the reserve.
The Waterberg Plateau in eastern Namibia overlooks the Kalahari. In the early 1970s, several of Namibia’s endangered species were relocated here to protect them from predators and poaching to extinction. (Read more about Waterberg on the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) Web site www.nwr.com.na/waterberg_plateau_np.html.) By that evening, when we leave the park, we will have seen Cape Buffalo, giraffe and two rare Black Rhino. This is our second day….
Our first night at Mushara Outpost www.musharaoutpost.com, the shower opens out to the surrounding woods, with giraffe and kudu antelope roaming around freely. Warthogs fertilize and mow the lawn in front of the main building. The real explosion of animal life is inside the Etosha National Park, 15 minutes away. Etosha’s 35 waterholes are magnets for animals during dry season.
The mother of all waterholes is Okaukuejo www.nwr.com.na/okaukuejo_camp.html, where we have a waterhole chalet, 25 steps from the barrier rock wall. A steady stream of wildlife arrives and departs day and night. No scene repeats itself.
The birds in Namibia are big. They are colorful. When the Lilac-breasted Roller flies, the bright turquoise wings draw attention to its wingspan. The hornbills, with red or yellow beaks, have comic book characteristics. The Kori Bustard has long, gangly legs. It resembles a beige peacock when it walks.
Revealing animal behavior
Our car is a rolling cage as we photograph the wild life, who seem rather tame. However, the verbal and written warnings while in the national parks, “Stay in your car”, resound in our heads. A wild urge occurs once when a photograph of gigantic elephant droppings is too good to pass up!
Rules are for people. Unwritten rules govern the animal behavior. Only constant observation produces a hint of what is going on among the fauna. The zebras kick up their heels at each other near the waterhole, and the jackal stalks potential prey. Combat on the side of the road is lively among the springbok anticipating spring.
Wildebeest and zebra
Forming a line on their way to the waterhole, the blue wildebeest have a loopy way of walking. Their heads and bodies look top heavy on their sleek, slender legs. They sort of bounce, and the heads lob up and down. The wildebeest weigh up to 270 kilos (595 pounds). They look fierce compared to, say, the zebra.
Around Okaukuejo, the zebra, who seem more gentle and weigh up to 385 kilos (849 pounds), are rough with each other, kicking, pushing and biting. All the while, the line of wildebeest watch, back away and wait until the zebra move on.
Back on the Etosha roads, springbok are lined up; the longest line we will ever see. They are careful crossing the road. Two safety guards walk along, scouting the situation, preparing for a road crossing. We sit, wait and watch. When the signal is given, the long line of springbok breaks into groups to cross the road. A gap opens up on the road. The first group and guards have crossed. Now the next group looks at our car, contemplating whether it will move or stay. They begin their slow, vigilant, single file crossing.
Our first elephant sighting is an indication that they detect the forbidding human presence and avoid confrontation. This takes place on the way to the Two Palm waterhole in Etosha. We spot a lone elephant and follow it. At a pull-off while we sit, wait and photograph, the elephant walks toward the car. As if to say, “Tourists!” he diverts his path, turns, crosses the road and goes around behind on a different, well-traveled route to the waterhole.
From the banks of the Hoanib River, we leave our canvas tent at Khowarib Lodge www.khowarib.com early. On a successful day-long desert elephant drive in Kaokoland, in northwestern Namibia, we spot 16 elephants. Each of the female family groups knows that we are watching them. Each has a baby. The elephants hide the baby behind the bush. The three vehicles in our party make them nervous. It is time for them to leave the area. A younger elephant is given a command and walks, hiding the baby with its body. All that is visible of the baby are its legs.
The jackal has an attitude of silent slyness day and night. Its behavior is noticeably devious when it stalks the springbok.
Before heading to Swakopmund www.namibian.org/travel/namibia/swakopmund.htm and the Sea Side Hotel & Spa www.seasidehotelandspa.com, a diversion leads to the Cape Cross seal colony. The 80,000 to 100,000 fur seals outnumber the three jackals. At proper distances, they hang around waiting for the lone pup or the sick seal. Cooking out on the braaier, a drum grill, in the Namib-Naukluft Desert at the Desert Camp www.desertcamp.com, we know the jackal lurks in the darkness hoping for a scrap.
Continuing the drive south, the animal safari changes its context. We are no longer among big game.
The game changes
Not all creatures on this adventure are easy to spot. Some require a trained eye; some are seen by chance. In the Twyfelfontein area of Damaraland, animal gazing is relegated to the stone engravings dating back 6,000 years. This was before the camera. Instead people had to chisel their impressions in rock. Visible creatures are rare and difficult to spot among the granite rocks where our tent is nestled at Mowani Mountain Camp www.mowani.com.
If big game has its “Big 5,” little game sighting has its own “Little 5” — Namaqua Chameleon, Sidewinder Snake, Shovel-Snouted Lizard, Cartwheeling Spider, and Palmato Gecko – more creatures than game. Living Desert Adventure with Chris Nel www.livingdesertnamibia.com, prepares us to search the dune sands at Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. Most people venture out early to see the early morning shadows. Once on the dunes, my gaze is focused looking for tracks and insects.
Animals are elusive. The cheetah’s ears are all that is visible in the savannah grass in Etosha. The porcupines at the Eningu Clay House www.eningulodge.com come out at night, we are told, but patience has its limits. Here, the Jacuzzi and champagne call out for the human animal. Which is not to say that I do not return without a porcupine souvenir. Taped to my Africa map is a porcupine quill found at the Living Museum of the Damara www.lcfn.info/en/damara/damara-home.
Domestic animals are important
The most noticeable domestic animals in Namibia are donkeys, cattle and goats. Donkeys pull carts whose wheels are old car axles. The carts are a frequent sight, with colorful names of “Titanic”, “Let’s Go” or “Studebake (sic).” On the 5,000 km (3,107 miles) of tar road, donkeys become accident hazards at night. They fall asleep on the warm pavement.
Gates along the 40,000 km (24,855 miles) of gravel roads separate cattle ranches and game reserves. The gates require that a passenger jump out, unhook or unlatch the gate; open and close it. In the national parks, a guardian takes care of this chore. At night, having a local do the gate work is reassuring, especially when two black rhino are hanging out next to the Waterberg gate.
Three goats will buy a satellite dish. The elephant guide says this is considered inexpensive.
Animal safari to the end
Animal sightings of giant birds and antelope continue right up to the moment we reach the airport.
We startle the secretary bird, which stands about 1.3 m (4.27 feet) high. It takes off right toward the car, then quickly veers left back to the grassy plains. The kudu antelope just watches us pass by.
The chacma baboons seem more numerous at the end of our trip. It seems that they are the unofficial “Farewell and Come Back Soon to Namibia Committee.” They and the Namibians have done their job, leaving us with that yearning desire to return and soon.
Obtain an International driving permit
Namibia Handbook, 5th: Tread Your Own Path (Footprint Namibia Handbook) Lizzie Williams
Matiti Safaris Bureau www.namibia-tour-guide.com/namibiatoursafari.html
In France go through Vie Sauvage www.viesauvage.fr
Living in Paris, France, we flew Paris to Johannesburg and connected to Windhoek.