Excellent Food, Animals, Scenery, and Incredibly Nice People
We flew to Sesfontein with a great pilot, Shannon, who previously flew long-hauls from Jo’burg to Washington D.C. and NYC. But we rarely got above 1000 feet! And what was amazing is that we saw tens, maybe even hundreds, of humpbacks and dolphins on that flight, and I was thinking, ‘maybe we might have even more good luck in this new place’. It was a two-and-a-half hour flight in a Cessna 210 and a lot of it was over sand dunes and hills, so it was quite turbulent, and everybody felt quite sick except Nesi (who falls asleep within 10 minutes on these Cessnas), Dada and Shannon. I have a weak stomach in terms of motion sickness.
When we landed on the gravel-sand-grass runway, we met our guide, Tarry. He’s a wonderful guide and a wonderful person. Nesi went crazy for this period of time – she had so much fun and virtually talked from dawn to dusk. We got into Tarry’s 4×4 Specialised Land Cruiser and headed into the ‘huge metropolis’ of Sesfontein. We stopped under the shade of a huge tree for a nice ‘camping’ (more like glamping) lunch, complete with a table, chairs, excellent food, and wildlife. Unfortunately, I was still feeling a bit queasy, but after some sugar (lemonade), I felt fine. When we met him, he said he loves birds and was an avid birdwatcher. For some reason, from that point on I have also been an avid birdwatcher. After lunch we watched some Pearl-Spotted Owlets fly by (tiny things), and took the two-hour drive to the camp next to the Hoanib River. It was really amazing to see so many animals on the drive there – we saw our first wild giraffes, and what is staggering is that we saw a Honey Badger (an African equivalent to a Wolverine), and they are extremely hard to see.
When we arrived we were greeted by a few other people at the camp. The main guides we met were Jason, a really nice guy who was the camp manager, and Jimmy, the excellent cook. We had a campfire every night after dinner and we helped make it with all the wood around the campsite. We used solar-powered lamps to light the outside. And we had an actual toilet and shower. The toilet dropped down to a hole in the ground, and the shower was a large canvas bucket with a shower head protruding out of it. We showered brilliantly but in open air. We heated water up with a fire and mixed cold and hot water to get the right temperature. The first day at ‘Tarry’s camp’ as Nesi calls it, was brilliant.
The next day we all woke up feeling very happy about the situation we were in. We jumped out of bed and used the ‘loo with the view’ (Jason’s name for the loo – it was an incredible sight to look at whilst sitting on the throne). We all had bacon and eggs for brekky and discussed what we were going to do today with Tarry (he ate with us). He took us for a normal game drive. We saw a lot of Oryx (Gemsbok), heaps of Chacma Baboons, lots of Springbok, and heaps of birds. Tarry was such a good guide, even the smallest bird he stopped for and told us about it. We stopped for tea and biscuits at an entrance to the Skeleton Coast National Park — but nobody is actually allowed in. After a typical ‘camp’ lunch, but much better, we had a talk with Tarry about past experiences. I really liked these conversations we had with him. We talked about everything from planes to school. We kept talking and relaxing for most of that afternoon, because we had a hike later in the afternoon. The walk was brilliant. We left around 4:30, to try and avoid the midday heat. It was beautiful – look. And this is just the beginning of the walk, just in front of the ‘loo with the view’. We walked for a while, looking for anything interesting, but nothing in particular. We found an Ant Lion – an ant eating insect that makes a trap by making a hole gradually down to itself, like a crater. When an ant walks into the hole, it can’t get back up – the sand slips to make it fall back down. Once sand slips, the Ant Lion leaps out of the bottom of the hole and eats the ant. We finished the walk in high spirits. I hit the shower after that. Dinner was again, brilliant – we had roast chicken cooked in the coals of a fire. After another campfire, we went to bed. Tomorrow we would be moving the camp further north, and, not knowing it, we would be seeing our first lions as well.
The next day we woke up, jumped out of bed, had a quick brekky, and started to help pack up camp. Nicky and I helped to take down the tents, while Nesi sat on the ground making sand sculptures (the sand was like a soft rock). We left before the rest of the gang, hoping to find the Five Musketeers, five male desert lions critical to the survival of the badly endangered subspecies. We set of on the long drive to a camp near the village of Purros. We drove on and on, occasionally going up a hill to use as a look-out. We drove through this beautiful and desolate valley, occasionally seeing a baboon, and we also saw two Lappet-Faced Vultures, an absolutely huge vulture – most other birds get out of its way. They are like kings.
When we got out of the valley we got a stroke of luck – fresh lion footprints. We drove 16 km tracking them down – this is another reason why we loved this experience – no radio work, just pure skill. We had just lost the trail when the car jerked suddenly to a stop and reversed back. We had found the Five Musketeers. Tarry gave us a little speech on the facts of these guys. He told us to stay quiet, but we were so dumbstruck he probably didn’t need to tell us that. We stayed just there, in front of them about twenty metres away, for an hour and a half. They are beautiful creatures. The desert lions are collared by Dr. Flip – a brilliant-sounding man who is the godfather of Jason, our camp manager. There are roughly 120 of these desert lions left, but thanks to Dr. Flip, the population is very, very, very slowly rising. The main problem is that they kill the villagers’ livestock, making the villagers kill them. Even with Flip, the desert lions are still in trouble. It was amazing watching them not move a muscle while we were there. And because there are not many trees around, there was one lion literally lying on top of another to get more shade from the small tree. They are males, and pretty much the only males left that can mate. After a really long time, we left in extremely high spirits. The drive after that was pretty quiet.
When we did arrive, Jason and the others had already set up camp, and a snack was waiting for us. For some reason, we pretended to not have seen the Five Musketeers around Jason. I found it hilarious – Jason seriously believed us. And then finally, after stuffing our mouths with biltong (Southern Africa’s brilliant version of jerky) I told him, and he was super amazed. He actually hadn’t seen the 5 since last November, so six months, and his godfather is the amazing Flip! It really is an incredible sight to see lions. Especially desert lions for some reason. I guess just because you know that there are only very few left. I have dubbed that day ‘one of the seven best days of the trip’.
Unfortunately the next day was the last full day with Tarry. We went elephant tracking. We found footprints so fresh it was actually a bit scary. And then we found dung so fresh it was freaky. So we followed the dung and footprints to a small stream, and from there on we had absolutely no luck whatsoever. We didn’t find any more dung or footprints, and even when we went up on the highest hill there (not including the mountains) we couldn’t see or hear the elephant. We even got stuck in some mud. So in the end we just went back to camp without that experience of finding an elephant. What we didn’t know at that time is that we would be seeing quite literally hundreds of elephants in two days time. We got back for lunch, and Tarry discussed what we would do in the afternoon. We agreed on going to visit a nearby Himba tribe. In the time from lunch to 4-5 ish we did one thing we haven’t done for a really long time: relax, read, have a nap, whatever you want to do.
When it was time to go to the Himba village we jumped into the truck and started driving to the village. When we got to the perimeter of the village, Tarry told us to stay in the car till we have permission to enter. As expected, they said yes, and the 20+ children went wild. You see, the village rarely gets – or maybe has never gotten – children visitors. They seemed like wonderful children, and I played with them, even if they spoke an entirely different language (OtjiHimba), and I was two years older than the oldest one there. We had a lot of fun, we got a tour of the village by the villagers themselves. We bought a Himba headdress, and a Himba necklace.
After that we went up a hill for a last-night sundowner. It was Mummy and Daddy’s 11th wedding anniversary, and a surprise awaited us on the top of the hill. Instead of just a drink with Tarry, the whole party was up there as well! They were singing and one guy, Francois, was playing his guitar. It was so much fun, with the popcorn, the ‘special drinks’, and the home-made music. One of my favourite songs they sang was when they sang “I hope you enjoy your anniversary the lion sleeps tonight” to the tune of a song from ‘The Lion King’. Dinner that night after the sundowner was also brilliant. Especially dessert – banana boat (mint chocolate in a banana, roasted over the fire). Tarry said that that was the first time they had done anything like the sundowner party.
Tarry, Nicky, and I organised a bird watching walk in the morning, before we left. It was a really wonderful time just watching the birds. Tarry has this app that has all the birds in southern Africa, along with a soundtrack for each that plays the sound that it makes. So Tarry made a Pearl-Spotted owlet sound, and you would expect that most birds would fly away at the sound of a predator, right? Well, turns out they will actually go to the sight of the predator and investigate, so we had hundreds of birds flying into the tree next to us, and I remember that moment well. It really was a spectacular way to finish off the time we had with Tarry and the others. After that we drove off to the airstrip, but then the plane wasn’t arriving, and I was thinking, YES!, but in the end a guy came and said to follow him, and he led us to another airstrip about 5 minutes away. There we met Andy, a really nice, young pilot who told us that there are 3 airstrips in Purros, which has a population of about 200. So, quite a lot of airstrips for such a small town.
We said our sad good-byes and then hopped into ‘Andy’s Aeroplane’ as Nesi calls it. It was a two hour flight to Etosha National Park, and very scenic. Andy told us that he would be staying at Mushara, a lodge just outside Etosha National Park, with us: it would be much easier to stay than to go and come back for us. We arrived and retired to the couches in the huge Family Villa. We then took a trip to the pool to get all the dust off us from camping. It had been a brilliant week.
The next day we were up really early to go for a sunrise game drive in the park. We left, and on the road to the entrance to the park we saw a double rainbow, and we were thinking, hmm, an omen of good luck maybe? And good luck it was. As soon as we got into the park the guide got a radio call (now radios, not tracking) and she said there was a cat somewhere, so we started driving as fast as we can toward the clump of trucks (whenever you see a clump of trucks here you know there is something good there). It was a leopard. It really is good luck even if you see only one leopard and nothing else. They are just so elusive. Unfortunately leopards are really shy, so it was leaving by the time we got there. Next we saw 6 lions, which, apparently, are quite common in Etosha. And then we saw over 150 elephants, which is really rare in Etosha. After that, we actually saw two Black Rhino. So it was only about 9:30 and we had got the big 5. Oh, except buffalo, because there are no buffalo in Etosha. That was a great day, but not quite as good as the days we had in complete wilderness. Here there are tens of lodges, some tarmac roads, and heaps of cars. And again, in the afternoon we just jumped in the pool and relaxed. The next day was a pretty nothing day: all we saw were herbivores (excluding Hyenas), and no elephants, but 1 rhino.
The next day we left the wilderness back into civilization and pretty much ended our safari except for one thing, one thing that will stay with me along with all those other friends I look to when I feel like thinking happy thoughts. What I’m talking about is a wonderful sanctuary in Windhoek with various animals. We saw African Wild Dogs there, which are incredibly rare. We also saw 3 more lions, and baboons. But the best part about this place was the cheetahs. Did you know that cheetahs are the only big cat that you can domesticate? Our guide called their names and they came running. They were so cute, just like a cat, including the purring, but super loud purring. It was so wonderful playing with them. We all had so much fun, and I can tell my mates I have been scratched by a cheetah.
I adored Namibia, and Africa in general. It was a really wonderful experience, and hopefully we will go back soon. We all loved Namibia, and anyone wanting to go somewhere jaw-dropping, Namibia is one of those places. And now I come to my conclusion: If I were to pick my favourite 3 countries (not including anywhere I have lived) Namibia would be there.