A Travellerspoint blog

Day 14/15. Namibia. Etosha National Park- Namutoni

sunny 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.

Posted by Jmclellan 06:46 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 12/13. Namibia.Drive to the Angolan Border & Epupa Falls

sunny 33 °C

On Day 12 we had a very relaxed morning (this has been our routine on this trip), made coffee, watched the sun rise, slowly packed up the truck and backtracked from our campsite and onto Sesfontein. From here we continued our trip north, passing through Opuwo where we stocked up on groceries and gas. In this region it seemed the practice was to mount your flag on the tree top.
Kaokoland in the Northwest corner of Namibia, is inhabited by traditional Himba people. Interestingly in the towns the traditional tribal culture mixes with modern life. We saw many people, men, women and children, dressed in their traditional garb in the ‘modern’ shopping centre and the liquor store, also stocking up on essentials. Those essentials being Coca Cola, rice and alcohol. We have seen this mix of old and new cultures in other places, such as in Tanzania where we saw the Masaii herding their cattle in the Serengeti Park fringes, dressed in their traditional plaid but with a Western hoodie over top to keep them warm in the early mornings. This mixing showed the most striking contrast here in Northern Namibia, I suppose because the traditional dress is so different from Western ways of dressing. The men and women typically are topless and both have elaborate hairstyles. The women’s hair is in dread like locks held together by red mud and their bodies are covered head to toe in the same red mud. They are barefoot but with a type of jewellery covering their lower legs and starting at their ankles and ending mid-calf. Their feet must be as tough as leather. They seem perfectly at ease in the city and there is no distinction with the way people interact. Very interesting. We felt having our cameras out in these busy little hubs so the photos below are not our own but included so you can have an idea of what we saw.
We spent the day driving. Progress was slow going because the roads were twisty and in need of some attention. At one point we got stopped on a hill and couldn’t get the car moving again without putting it into low 4 wheel drive. As I have mentioned in previous posts Namibia’s landscape is incredibly variable. Yesterday we were on the Skeleton Coast where you would be hard pressed to find many animals other than fish and very little green. Today on our drive North the landscape had transformed into a carpet of green bushes and cattle, people and small settlements everywhere. We had a harder time finding a campsite in this section of the country. Once we got to Okangwati we headed west on a dirt road but couldn’t find a spot without people nearby. We also backed into a tree and broke our tail light, which was less than ideal. We backtracked to Okangwati, mainly composed of a police station and health clinic, and continued our drive North to Epupa Falls. We found a dry river bed as the sun was going down and set up camp.
Our morning started a bit earlier today and by 9 we were in Epupa Falls at the border between Namibia and Angola. These are known as the Monte Negro falls in Angola and are on the Kunene River, flowing from the Highlands of Northern Angola. The falls have a series of drops over a distance of 1.5km with the largest drop 37m in height and the spot we came to visit. We briefly considered going into Angola but a cursory internet search revealed it is both full of natural resources and accompanied by intense corruption, leaving the country in near tatters. Most people are incredibly poor, it is difficult to travel there, and also dangerous. There is also not much beauty left to see because it has been severely affected by resource mining. We spent the morning at one of the campsites trying to use the internet and waiting for the sun to pass to our side of the river to catch some better photos in the afternoon.
We spent the afternoon driving East and chose a camp spot about 45 minutes before sunset. It was again almost impossible to find a camp spot away from people. It was so densely populated in Northern Namibia and cattle farmers everywhere. You are very remote in terms of being quite a long way from a significant town but certainly not on your own. We were somewhat concerned because we had run into people at the spot we chose for our campsite but in the end all was fine. We had heard stories of issues in some parts of Namibia, but as Don pointed out in our discussion on this topic if there were an incident in this region it would most likely be easily traced back to the culprit because the communities are quite small. We ventured about 30km along the small, twisty dirt track that followed both the border and the river- lots of potential camping spots but we decided to venture farther along and away from a sign that clearly said no illegal camping. Once we found a spot we stayed a ways away from the water’s edge since we figured there were most likely resident crocodiles. While lying in bed we watched a lightning storm on the Angolan side and eventually fell asleep.

Posted by Jmclellan 04:38 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Day 11. Namibia. Drive to Kaokaland

sunny 35 °C

We had a lazy wake up (for us these days lazy means 7:30 because we are normally up with the sun at 6. All of the fishermen were either gone or well on their way. Apparently fishing is an all day event. We said goodbye to Elsebeth and Arnold and went down to the beach to watch the seals we had seen earlier that morning. We didn’t see the seals again but did spend about an hour collecting rocks. I used to collect shells often in Gambia, but Don never joined me. Don was out collecting rocks right along side so I hope that tells you something about what kind of rocks you can find here. We’ve decided to keep all the rocks we collected until we reach Windhoek and then we’ll make some decisions about which rocks to fly home half way across the world.
Our plan had initially been to go as far North as Mowe Bay but we got the feeling there was not much else up there. As I’ve mentioned being on the Skeleton Cast makes you feel like you are at the end of the Earth. To go to Mowe Bay we would have a 1.5hr drive North along the coast and then would have to backtrack to exit the park. There are, according to the manager at Terrace Bay, some relatively large ship wrecks but they are inaccessible and in deep sand. You need to know where they are and be on 4x4 quad bikes or in a convoy of 4x4 vehicles because you will undoubtedly get stuck.

We drove back to Torra bay and headed East towards the park boundary. On the way we saw that the road had been shifted to the right because the original road was now covered by a sand dune. We went and checked it out- this would have been one of the Barchan dunes. You look around and there is absolutely nothing that you can see, except sand and ocean.
On exiting the park I tried to keep our Skeleton Coast NP permit but the ranger wouldn’t let me. As a heads up you need to produce your receipt upon exit at all Namibian parks, but they don’t tell you that ahead of time. We drove along a huge double fence which we later figured out was a Veterinary Fence and on the Southern border was the Tora Conservancy. Just after we exited the park we ran into a family of giraffe, mom, dad and baby that I’d guess was 3 months old. He was still breast feeding and having a bit of trouble walking. It was a really neat feeling to be seeing ‘wild’ animals that were not in a park or conservation area, but rather just out living in ‘regular’, albeit uninhabited Namibia.
We also for the first time saw Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra) of which there are two subspecies. Hartmaan’s mountain zebra (photos below) lives in patches throughout Namibia while the Cape mountain zebra lives in patches of SA. Compared to the Plains Zebra, which is ubiquitous in Northern Namibia, the Panhandle, the Okavango Delta and in parts of Zimbabwe and Mozambique (not to mention areas outside of Southern Africa), the Mountain Zebra is slightly smaller, has no shadow stripes, and its stripes run the full length of their legs but are not found on their underbelly. Very exciting. The herd of zebra we saw split and half ran across the road in front of the car.
We passed through the town of Sesfontein at around 3 and after talking with some Spaniards (I was also surprised when I heard Don talking Spanish) we found out there were no camping spots (shade is really the important factor here) down a river bed road that leads to Elephant song village. We had heard that in Kaokaland you can see desert elephant and lions, for which we were keeping our fingers crossed. According to the map we received from our Spitzkoppe camping neighbour Elephant song village was abandoned due to lions. Carlos and Lucas said they did not see any elephants down this road and also that the road was in rough shape. They had decided to turn back because if you get stuck or break down, you’ve got a real problem on your hands.
We found a great camp site under a set of huge boulders. It looked like there had been some sort of commercial operation here that was used within the last month. There was a shower and toilet set up that were semi permanent plus some bolted down tables and gas/water lines. We saw a few ostrich and a troupe of baboons passed by, but otherwise a quiet night.

Posted by Jmclellan 07:27 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 10. Namibia. Skeleton Coast National Park

sunny 31 °C

Our tent is so shaded from light you have no idea what time it is when you wake up- it always feels like the middle of the night if you have the door flaps down. Wow- 7am. We got up quickly to pack up the tent since we were camping illegally and had already seen a car drive by (thankfully not a ranger). A black backed jackal walked by our car, about 40m away, and whose prints were all over the place in the vicinity of the car when we woke up. Quick coffee, then off to the Ranger’s station to buy our pass. We had in fact tried to buy our pass the day before since we had time to kill but this seemed to confuse the ranger, whose name was Hilarius (that was actually his name. Hilarius). He grumbled that we had made him make a mistake in his book since he thought we had wanted to enter yesterday (why would anyone come to the park gate before they wanted to enter?). In any case once we arrived we found out that we had the wrong time on our clocks. Maybe daylight savings time happened in the last week? We’re not quite certain. But we had woken up at 6am, instead of 7, and it was now only 6:50am and the park gates didn’t open until 7:30. When we registered the vehicle the ranger finished off the license plate number, I think because he knows this rental vehicle. The same thing happened at the Sossuvlei park gate.
I would say overall the Skeleton Coast was underwhelming. That is not to say that it isn’t beautiful. We had seen great photos of huge ship wrecks but I suspect these photos were from 20 years ago. The land is completely barren, and that is in itself something to see. We took a walk around at the Huab River mouth and saw in a small body of water about 20 flamingoes and the same number of another type of large bird. I lost my binoculars lens cap so we spent a bunch of time searching for that (and found it).
We did see the ship wreck at Ambrose/Hogden Bay but then couldn’t find the wreck of Montrose further up the coast. We thought we had spotted Montrose from a distance but when we arrived closer we found it to be an old oil rig, which was nonetheless interesting. We passed by several ‘salt ponds’, which were water deposits covered in crystallized salt. They had a very pinkish hue.
We passed Torra Bay, which is only open during fishing season and also appears able to support hundreds of campers. North of Torra bay you again enter active dune fields. In between Torra Bay and Sesriem is still desert but the sand is scarce. It is more hard rock and bits of sand rather than the huge dunes seen to the North and South. At around 1 we arrived at Terrace Bay where we were to stay for the night. They had cancelled our booking (this is Africa) but after Don fished out the confirmation email we got our room keys.
We spent the afternoon on the front porch of our room with our South African neighbours. They thought we should try ‘real’ sausages and the fish they had caught that morning and we were more than happy to oblige. They have one of the best outfitted camping vehicles I have ever seen. In fact I have seen a lot of serious 4x4 camping vehicles in Namibia, and many are from ZA (it took me a while to figure out that ZA was South Africa). As diner approached we realized their camping vehicle was not unique and was the set up of choice, and you can understand why. Note the built in bar.
We took it easy for the rest of the afternoon, walked along the beach collecting rocks (some of the most interesting rocks I have ever seen here. Geodes they are called. Namibia, like Botswana, has produced a lot of diamonds and with the rocks you find on the beach and at the dune bases you aren’t surprised that that there are also diamonds to be found. We passed through an old diamond mining area on the skeleton coast- it certainly didn’t look like much and is unclear why it is a no entry region. Maybe because there are still diamonds there? Diamonds have been mined in Namibia since 1908, mostly in the South in Luderitz and Orangemund, near the mouth of the Orange River- the natural boundary between Namibia and SA. In the 1960s offshore diamond mining began as land deposits were depleted and continues to this day. The Namibian diamonds were originally transported via the Orange River into the Atlantic Ocean and distributed northwards by long-shore currents. Much, much more information than I have shared in this blog can be found at www.mme.gov.na/gsn/diamond.htm
The restaurant at Terrace bay is covered in the graffiti of those who have stayed over the years. Fishing photos, with the catcher standing next to his catch abound. There were very few what I’ll call ‘tourists’ like us who were here simply to see the Skeleton Coast. Rather the place was filled with people who were there for a serious fishing holiday with bigger fishing rods than I have ever seen in my life and huge outfitted vehicles towing freezers. Dinner was fantastic, though I was so full from lunch I could have easily have skipped dinner. We sat with Elsebeth (spelling?) and Arnold, our SA neighbours. They ordered us both a shot called a pancake- cinnamon liquor topped with baileys and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It was quite good. Arnold kept offering Don Jagermeister shots and drinks all night and I was again enjoying the red wine and coke I’d been offered at lunch. Don calls it Calimocho and the South Africans call it Karemba (again, spelling uncertain). IMG_3264.jpgIMG_3265.jpg

Posted by Jmclellan 07:23 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 9. Namibia. Save the Rhino Trust & Dorob National Park

sunny 36 °C

We woke with the soft early morning light before the sunrise. The night had been incredibly windy- coming in in big gusts and shaking the whole tent. We didn’t see many animals, save for a few birds, beetles, and hyrax like animals. There was however an overabundance of flies. Luckily they were still sleepy in the cool early morning.
We had a leisurely start, had coffee sitting in the tent, watching the sun rise and illuminate the mountain, and watching the ostrich family that had been around the previous day. We headed Northwest along secondary packed dirt roads up to Ugab River Canyon, where we had planned to tent the night before but hadn´t made it because of the waning light. Near the Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) camp we got onto tertiary rods that are only accessible by 4x4 vehicles. We didn’t have a thermometer but I’d guess it was 40oC. We were drinking water constantly and barely able to stay hydrated. The land here is absolutely barren, sun baked and nearly uninhabitable.
The SRT was a bit of a strange place, out in the middle of nowhere. Apparently it had been set up to raise rhino awareness and was marking a region where a type of desert adapted rhino and desert adapted elephant live. We stopped in at the reception area (there was almost no one in sight) to read their information on rhinos and wandered around the incredibly arid camp. The camp is on the Ugab river which was currently bone dry but does support a fair amount of green vegetation. We drove around for a short time, hoping we’d get lucky and see a Rhino. No such luck.
Worlwide there are 5 different types of Rhino. Two are found in Africa (the Black or Hook lipped rhino and the White or Square lipped rhino), the Indian or One horned rhino in India and two in Indonesia (the Sumatran and Javan rhinos). The Asian and Southeast Asian rhinos are critically endangered, the Sumatran being one of the rarest large mammals on Earth. On our trip we were lucky enough to see quite a few Black rhino whose gestation period is 15-16 months and who bear a calf every 2.5-3 years. Females mature at between 4-7 years and males between 7 and 10 years. A full grown male is approximately 1000kg, quite a bit smaller than the White rhino.

Rhinos are poached wherever they are found because their horn, made of keratin (the same thing as your fingernails) is thought to have medicinal properties and most famously used in traditional Chinese Medicine. It is also used in the far east, South Korea and Japan for medicines and in Yemen for dagger hilts and handles. Recently Vietnam has been a major supplier of rhino horns to China. This is a great website for information on rhinos and some of the difficult issues surrounding poaching such as whether to legalize the rhino horn trade, de-horning, whether to shoot poachers on sight and whether or not to poison rhino horns with arsenic. http://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info
The Rhinos are identified by natural (from fights, predators or damage by trees) or manmade notches. The females typically have triangular notches and the males round notches. In this area about 30-40% of the Rhinos have natural notches and the same percentage have man made notches. The calves are given a letter, A-E based on their approximate age. This region of Namibia is extremely important because it is the only region worldwide where there are free roaming desert adapted rhino.
We headed back through the rocky, mountainous terrain (you would absolutely bake out here if you stayed too long) to the secondary road to head into Dorob NP. Don had wanted to take more of the tertiary roads to cut down on our distance and because they would have potentially been more interesting but we decided to stay on the packed dirt road and head to mile 108, a ‘minor’ town on the sea because we needed more water. Not having enough water has never been a consideration on a trip but then again I have never done a trip in the desert. You do think about what you would do if you broke down, how long it would take to get help, and that then goes into your route choice. You can go miles and miles without seeing anyone or any cars. You see hearty animals out here, such as Oryx whose body temperature can rise to 41oC before they start their cooling mechanisms, and you realize just how fragile humans are.
Mile 108 is barely a rest stop. They sell toilet paper, whisky and a few other commodities but most importantly they sell water. We gave them our two 5L jugs to fill and the woman’s comment was they are so small. We also have a 40L tank in the car that was filled with ‘potable’ water (‘potable’ because the car rental company says not to use this tank for drinking water, probably because I can see rust on the inside..) but she was probably right- we should have been traveling with at least 20L of potable water. Note to self for the next real rest stop.
We checked out their campground, which I’d guess had about 100 campsites along the beach. Zero shade. Holiday season here is December and January and I guess from the facilities that it is a zoo. During those two months of the year they open more sections of the beach for fishing but to control access much of the coast is closed for a good chunk of the year to fishing. We ran into a few groups of people here on fishing holidays and they said the water was unusually warm due to southern winds and thus the fishing wasn’t great. They were still catching bigger fish than I’ve ever caught (not saying much) or bought (saying more) in my life.
We checked out two ship wrecks, which were fairly minor sightings. This coast is known for its wrecks but they apparently fall apart pretty quickly and are in 2014 not much to see. I imagine if you know some of their history they would certainly be more interesting. There are no park fees in Dorob park but once you enter the Skeleton Coast park you pay your fees, and they keep track of your entry and exit dates. You need to have a reservation at the only place to stay, Terrace Bay, in order to stay overnight. So tonight we camped just far enough away from the park boundary as to not be seen from the ranger station. We found a spot on the beach to watch the sunset (our line in case the ranger came by) and once it was dark set up the tent. Since I had already been sleeping in the front seat I was immediately asleep.

Posted by Jmclellan 06:58 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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