12.04.2014 - 20.05.2014 33 °C
We still had a long distance to go before making it to Etosha but still had a relaxing morning. How many times in your life do you wake up in Northern Namibia looking over the river into Angola? You need to take it in and our camping spot was beautiful.
After an hour of driving we arrived at the Ruacana Falls that span 700m in flood and are 120m high. There is a power station nearby, generating power for as many as 160,000 homes- which in Namibia goes a long way. We spent some time wandering around- you get some good lookout spots but it has not been developed as much of a tourist destination so you have trees in the middle of the best viewing locations. Nonetheless you certainly get an idea of the size of these falls, which are impressive.
We arrived to Etosha late in the afternoon and turned into Onguma, one of the lodges situated just outside of the Eastern gate, Namutoni. We watched the sunset and a huge owl whom the staff told us came by almost every night. We had a great dinner of Namibian game meat.
Our first day in the park was an incredible day. We entered late (not the incredible part) because we were misinformed by one of the guys at reception, who told us the gate opened at 6:45. At 6:15 when it was already very light out we decided there had been some sort of error. We hustled to the outer gate, did our paperwork, visited reception a further 12km along the park road, paid our fee, then spent a little while trying to figure out how to get onto the park roads. Always some faffing about the first day. Namutoni is on the Eastern side of Etosha and so we decided to do the ‘Eastern’ drive, which would be impractical due to distance once we were at the more central site, Halali. We took a small detour off the main road (in our defense there were car tracks) but had to backtrack because we got into a patch of mud that was surprisingly deep- by the look of it you would have thought it was bone dry. We drove along Fisher’s Pan, a smaller (much, much smaller) Pan compared to Etosha Pan. I’d say the highlight of the morning for both of us was the green tree snake, which we have never seen before.
We spent the afternoon reconnecting with the rest of the world (using the internet, which we had been without for 2 weeks. I normally wouldn’t be concerned about getting internet- I am reminded of the Singapore couple we saw at Klein’s in Tanzania who were always, always bitching about the internet signal, but we hadn’t been in touch with our families to let them know things were ok. I was relieved to send out a few emails and let people know we were in very sparse internet country) and doing laundry.
At 2:30 we headed back out to the park. The next day we decided to leave earlier because it took quite a while to get into the heart of the park, I’d say 30min from where we are staying. We drove West along the Southern edge of the Etosha Pan and both agreed it was a better drive than the morning drive because there is more visibility. We spent a lot of the morning surrounded by thick brush, which in the dry season may be a more fruitful drive. As we were heading out of the Onguma private concession on our way to Etosha we stopped multiple times. We were closer than I’ve ever been to zebra and warthogs, and it was certainly nice to see Kudu again (we hadn’t seen them since Botswana). And yes, we have been spoiled this past year.
Once into the meat of the park we saw what we had both been hoping desperately to see- a Rhino. As far as rhinos go he was a pretty beat up looking guy. Covered in mud and really beat up horns (looking at his horns you can’t believe people want to grind them up and put them in ingestible magic potions). I was amazed at how small their eyes are in comparison to their huge bodies. He wasn’t too keen on the car and headed away from us but we sat there for quite some time watching him in the distance (I love my new binoculars) because we were so happy to be watching a rhino. We continued along the Pan until we had about an hour and 15 minutes to make it back to the inner ‘gate’, from which it takes about 15 minutes to reach the outer gate.
The way back was one of the most action packed safari rides I have ever been on. We saw a big male giraffe a few meters away from the car. So close you could hear him chewing and the sound of his footsteps on the ground.
Then was the cheetah, which we were alerted to by the other stopped vehicles. This was the most cheetah action we have ever seen- in Tanzania we did see a cheetah but he had recently eaten and was in a lazy after dinner mood. This guy was hunting a herd of Steinbok and we did in fact get to see him make the chase, but unfortunately for him they got away. We were hustling out of the park because of the time but had to stop at the herd of about 50 elephants with the sunset in behind. I had to slow down for zebra, more Steinbok, and impala, who were either on or just off the road on the way home. We saw our first Hartebeest but in the distance and many, many Oryx.
We both loved the self drive because the trip is entirely customisable, in a way that &Beyond is not, although with a guided safari you have the expertise, knowledge of the park, and animal spotting ability of your guide. Driving yourself as you watch the cheetah stalk is a completely different experience than having your guide driving you. At one point when we were watching the cheetah we were three cars wide, all facing the same direction, all white SUVs or Toyotas, and when the cheetah made a run for it, it felt like a drag race to keep up (I was slow on the clutch this first time).
We headed straight into the lodge once we got back to watch the last of the sunset and to see if the owl from the night before had returned. He had, but it was getting dark. Fire, G&Ts, and then bed.