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Report of a trip to Namibia, 29 June - 13 July 2003

Having seen photographs of the beautiful dunes at Sossussvlei, and heard about some of the other attractions of Namibia, I at last had my opportunity to visit this diverse country. The first surprise was the reaction of people on hearing where I was going: the fixed smile and "Oooh, nice" gave away that they didn't know where it was! Thanks to Megan at Rainbow Tours and Liz at Wild Dog Safaris. dune 45

Daily Diary

28th JuneFlying out: Glasgow - Heathrow - Frankfurt - Windhoek
There were no direct flight from London - Windhoek at the time of my trip, and unfortunately there were waits of 4 hours in both London and Frankfurt.
29th June 'Recovery Day' in Windhoek, because of flight timings.
I had intended to go out to Daan Viljoen NP, but I slept most of the day, then wandered down to a local mini-mall and got a carry-out Pizza (it was a Sunday and most of the shops were closed, including the restaurant!)
30th June Breakfast and then picked up by Wild Dog (the tour company) to go to their HQ and start my tour.
Met my two fellow-travellers - we were only three plus driver/guide.
I had worried a lot about who my fellow travellers might be, but that was just so much wasted energy. Liz and Barrie were English, camera-club judges and birders, so it was an absolutely ideal 'match'.
Met our guide, (Kavezembi) and started on our journey.
Travelled over the Khomas Hochland highlands and picnicked at the Spreetshoogte Pass. Nice view. Drove on to the Solitaire area and spent the first night at the Weltevrede Restcamp, which was OK.
1st July Got up very early to be at the Sossussvlei gates by sunrise. Bizarrely, you can't get through the gates before the sun is over the horizon *unless* you are staying at Sossussvlei Lodge (and possibly Kulala, but I'm not sure about that) or at the campsite there, when you can get in an hour before.
This means that you can't get to the most picturesque dunes at sunrise (nor, indeed, at sunset), nor to the vleis. Given that this is not private property, it is pretty shoddy, to say the least. I can imagine the outcry here if anyone tried a similar trick!
First stop, Dune 45. Everyone seemed to be intent on climbing it, and I went about halfway up before realising that it was a total waste of time (sometimes I can be very slow on the uptake!), so took the quick way down and spent the rest of the time photographing the stunning dune and the surrounding area from ground level.
Barrie climbed up to the top, and confirmed my suspicion that the photo views weren't so good from there as they were at the base.
Later on my trip, I bought a postcard to send Duncan, with a photo of a sand dune with the obligatory Oryx (not there when we were there, probably it would be there later in the day, climbing the dune to escape the heat) with the slogan "You never conquer a dune. You stand for a few moments at the top, then the wind blows your footprints away", which says it all.
After breakfast at the dune, we headed off towards Sossussvlei itself, where we were due to meet a desert specialist guide.
We were apparently extremely lucky to get a still day (the previous days had been very windy), so we and our cameras weren't sand blasted (mind you, I still have quite a few films ruined by scratches).
Our desert guide, Fritz, was very knowledgeable, with an interesting and humorous style, though he was had heavy competition from all the dunescapes that we couldn't resist photographing. We walked past Crazy Dune (curvaceous!) to Dead Vlei (spectacular) all the time being given desert survival tips as learned from the Nama and 'Bushmen'.
After a picnic lunch, we went down for a walk in Sesreim Gorge, where I spotted a snake.
Night at Solitaire Guest farm, which was very nice. The owner had a 'pet' scorpion which he showed us. Under UV light, its skeleton is green!
2nd July After breakfast at Solitaire, we headed off for Swakopmund, visiting the Moon Landscape and Welwitchia Drive en route. We lunched at Dune 17, then had a short tour of Walvis Bay, before arriving in Swakopmund, in time for a sunset walk along the promenade. 'Swakop' looks like a German town transported to the Mediterranean!
We had a very nice dinner at the Lighthouse restaurant, and stayed overnight at the Strand Hotel, which was good quality accommodation but could have been anywhere. It is the only Swakop hotel right on the beach however, and it was great to listen to the ocean lapping on the beach at night (and during the day). Amazing to look out and think that there's nothing between here and South America!
3rd July This was our day at leisure in Swakop.
Liz and Barrie opted for a sightseeing flight.
I had noticed the stunning dunes on the way down to Dune 17 (which is the highest, but IMO the least attractive), so I hired a taxi and headed off to the dunes between Swakop and Walvis Bay for some more dune photography. After a couple of hours, I went back into Swakop and walked out to the river (taking pix of the colourful beach houses along the way) to look for birds in the estuary. Great views of African White Pelicans on lamp-posts and flying en route, but sadly I'd only taken one roll of film, and I'd used it all up on the beach houses!) When I got back to the hotel it was about 3 p.m. and I realised I hadn't had lunch, so I had a quick ice cream and chocolate sauce then went to have a look round the well-maintained museum, then when I got turfed out (well, heavy-hinted) 1/4 hour before they closed, I had a sunset walk along the beach.
In the evening, we had dinner in the restaurant of the Strand Hotel, which wasn't anything to write home about. I understand the Tug does nice dinners.
Before I left on this trip I bought two new toys, a tiny 'laser' torch which I kept round my neck at all times on a thong, and a tiny head torch with two LED beams. Both very useful. The electricity went out on our floor at the Strand I was yakking to Duncan (at home in Scotland) on my mobile, with the two-beamed torch on my head. Anyway, I had the balcony door opened, and wandered out there. The woman on the next balcony saw me, screamed and jumped into the air in fright. I wondered what was wrong with her, but I suppose she couldn't see me, just the two beams. I must have looked like The Thing From The Deep!
4th July After breakfast, headed north to the Cape Cross Fur Seal colony. Very noisy and smelly! A photographer's delight, there are between 80,000 and 100,000 Fur Seals there at any one time. The only problem was separating them to get well-composed images! After spending about 90 mins there, we headed off through Damaraland.
Although we didn't see the desert-adapted Elephants (sadly) we did manage to find time to take in the Organ Pipes (which I thought at first glance were Basalt, but on finding that the structure wasn't hexagonal, discovered that it was Dolerite) and the Burnt Mountain before arriving, just before sunset, and the stunningly beautiful Twyfelfontein Lodge. (Who says you've got to suffer for your art??? Lies, all lies!)
Excellent dinner, with beautiful singing from the staff (is a musical audition part of the interview, I wonder?) and an early night.
5th July Headed straight out for the Twyfelfontein ('maybe water') rock art site, which we clambered round with our nice young guide, Dekla. Apparently most people do the 'long route' in an hour, but with stopping for photos (not only of the art!) we took 2 hours, which by now wasn't a surprise to Kavezembi! After that, a much briefer stop at the Petrified Forest. Here, I went to the very nice, clean, tiled, flush loo, and my 75-300mm lens dropped onto the tiled floor out of my jacket pocket :-( The lens hood flew off on impact and when I lifted up the lens, the front element was all smashed. However, on looking more closely, I realised that it was my warm-up filter which had smashed, and impacted into the front of the lens (the screw-in bit for filters and hood) and luckily the lens suffered no serious damage. Again luckily, just before I went, I had a panic about something happening to my 75 - 300 lens, so I ordered a second-hand 'spare', which arrived only 5 days before I went. It was untested (!) but was immediately pressed into use.
In the afternoon, had some time in a traditional Himba village, very interesting, and learned about the way that the Himba live in almost waterless conditions.
We arrived at Hobatere Lodge, another fantastic lodge with lovely accommodation and good food. They offer night drives, bush walks and game drives, or you can just sit and watch birds, lizards and geckos in the grounds. We all went on the night drive on the first night. It was cool and breezy, so we only saw a few animals.
6th July The next morning, we went for a bush walk with 'Orlando', a former member of the Namibian national football team! We sat in the elevated hide above the water hole for the rest of the morning. I had previously thought I'd go on a game drive in the afternoon, but had such a good time in the hide in the morning, that we all decided to go back to the hide in the afternoon. (NB for photography you need a minimum of a 500mm lens).
After dinner, I decided to go on another night drive. It was a warmer evening, and we saw much more on this drive
  • Oryx
  • Springbok
  • Hartmann's Mountain Zebra
  • Greater Kudu
  • Eland
  • Spring Hare (I love these!)
  • Scrub Hare
  • Bat-eared Fox (3 prs)
  • Cape Fox
  • **Aardvark** (whoop-de-doop!)
  • Small-spotted Genet
  • African Wild Cat
  • Black-backed Jackal
7th July Hobatere is situated very near the western entrance to Etosha, and the next morning we drove into Etosha, in the "western area which is reserved only for registered guides". The rest of you don't have to worry - there wasn't that much to see there, though a couple of Honey Badgers by the side of the road isn't too common a sight (though fierce, with long, strong claws, they don't seem to hang around for photos, sadly). We arrived at Okakuejo Restcamp after taking a picnic in a 'picnic enclosure' next to the Spokeiswoud (haunted forest). The Spokeiswoud would be a great place to spend time photographing or drawing. The picnic enclosure (it's fenced off, and you close the gate after you go in!) as you can well imagine has friendly Ground Squirrels.
The waterhole at Okakuejo has good sightings day and night (when it is lit by floodlights). We saw Black Rhinos there both nights (3 the first night, 4 the second) and elephants on the second night. An American couple I met at Okonjima had been there the two nights after us, and had great sightings of elephants (with babies, which we didn't see, so maybe another family) a Lion, and a hysterical episode of a male rhino trying to mate with a female who was 'blowing hot and cold', and ended in failure and frustration after several unsuccessful attempts.
8th July Today we spend most of the day driving around the water-holes in the western side of Etosha, without seeing much. As it turned out, the thing to do would have been to stay at the waterhole at Okakuejo all day, as in the afternoon a lot of elephants came and played in the water all afternoon, but them's the breaks!
At night before dinner, I washed my hair. My hair-dryer had worked fine in Windhoek and Swakopmund, but the instant I switched it on here, it flashed (from the dryer, not the plug) and put the whole block's electricity off!
9th July After breakfast, headed quickly along with a quick stop at Halali rest camp to Namutoni Rest camp on the eastern side of the Park. To give you an idea of size, if you look at a map of Namibia, most of them have an area marked out in white which is the Etosha Pan. The pan area alone is the size of The Netherlands! The park is just under double the size of the Pan.
Namutoni is a former German fort, all rectangular and painted white. Quite a photo, so I took one, and set my camera to +2, which was a pity, because I forgot to turn the setting back again. :-( We checked into our rooms, and Barrie knocked on my door to tell me we had a colony of Banded Mongooses living just outside! So I rushed back out and began snapping away. There were lots of the Banded Mongooses milling around all around us, and you can well imagine I was well intent on my task, so when Kavezembi snuck behind me and 'nipped' me on the back of my heel, you can well imagine I squealed and jumped!!! As I fell about, giggling, I noticed I still had my camera set at +2, and that's when the Mongooses decided to run off to see if there were any tidbits going at the swimming pool.
As we were having our picnic lunch outside our rooms, a sounder of Warthogs came along. The big attraction was a broken water pipe just outside our block of rooms, which clearly had been broken for some time, as we had grass and a mini-swamp in front of our rooms, but as far as we could see, all the others blocks of rooms just had sand. So we rushed up from lunch (you must set priorities!) and photographed the Warthogs. After doing Mum and some of the weans, I went after the tusker. I sat down some distance away, and let him come to me. but when he got within a certain distance he suddenly notice me, raised his head and snorted angrily for me to get out of the way - you can bet I didn't have to be asked twice!
In the afternoon, we visited the waterholes in the Namutoni area, the best of which (contrary to what the Bradt Guide says) was Andoni, where we saw inter alia, several Giraffes drinking and a family of Elephants, including three tiny babies which were happily playing in a dust bowl. When the matriarch started to move off after they had all been drinking, I thought, "They'll never shift the babies, they're having so much fun", but they dutifully fell into line and marched off with the others. The water hole at Namutoni is much more natural looking than the one at Okakuejo, and closer to the viewing area, but sadly had very little game when we were there, and virtually nothing at night (when it is floodlit)
10th July Our first stop this morning was at Lake Okjikoto. This is actually a steep-sided sinkhole formed when the roof of a huge subterranean cavern collapsed. When the German forces were retreating from the Afrikaaners in 1915, they were determined that their enemies should not have their weapons, so they dumped them into the lake. Near the lake, and included in the entrance, is a garden which, as well as captive Ostriches, has a lot of (wild) birds, but we didn't have time to check them all out, as we had to hurry, hurry onwards.
We stopped at for fuel at Otjiwarango, which Kavezembi told us means 'nice place', and it was well-named. After he had filled up with fuel, Kavezembi went off to buy lunch, and we photographed a couple of adjacent churches, and stood stretching our legs, a woman approached us and asked if we wanted to buy 'devil's clothes', which she assured us she had bags of. She seemed genuinely to be astonished that we had never heard of it, and said all the white people bought it and sold it on for a big profit in South Africa and even America! She was wearing rather a natty outfit, and I nearly added to the confusion by asking if that's what she was wearing, but luckily thought better of it (though for the wrong reason - I thought if I admired her clothes, and that was an example of her wares, I'd never get away without buying some!) Anyway, after leaving there, we thought about it, and I decided she'd been selling some sort of drugs. She didn't have any visible bags of anything, but was holding a mobile phone.
Kavezembi was maintaining a 'dignified silence' on the subject, which increased my suspicions.
About an hour before sunset, we arrived at Waterberg Rest Camp: just enough time for an exploratory walk. Three Dikdiks between the houses delighted us with their antics - at one point mum and youngster were running, leaping and playing, until mum got tired and lay down, apparently hiding, behind a thick tree trunk.
11th July The next morning was the last of the tour proper. We went out again before breakfast, but didn't see all that much. Then we headed southwards, Liz and Barrie to Windhoek where they were to have an extra night and me to Okonjima, where I was to have two nights.
I was met at Okonjima by a young guide, Clinton, who chatted away as we drove into the Bush Camp. The Bush Camp is to die for. The rooms are perfection, and the 'lapa' (reception/sitting room/dining room area) is delightful. The architect and interior designers must have had a whale of a time doing this. The service at Okonjima is wonderful, and the staff have somehow created a wonderful ambience which encourages the guests to mix and mingle.
The routine at Okonjima is:
Early morning wake-up call, then tea/coffee and muffins before the morning activity
After the activity, brunch is served: extensive cold meats and cheese with breads, cereals, fruit juices and fruits, eggs any way, sausages, bacon etc., tea or coffee. Tea and coffee are available in the rooms, with a kettle, as is a minibar. Tea and coffee are also available all day at the lapa, as is a variety of fresh fruit. At 3 p.m., everyone meets in the lapa for kaffee (oder tee!) und kuchen while the afternoon activities are allocated. The afternoon activity is from about 3.30 until about 6, the last half-hour or so being a spotlighted game drive. Dinner (gourmet!) is at 7 p.m. at communal tables, then there is a night drive to and from a hide, in front of which they put food out.
The day I arrived, I just missed brunch, so they made me a lovely 'light lunch', which took me an hour to eat since there were so many diversions, from the birds at the bird table/pool area and the Greater Kudus and Chacma Baboons which walked by.
After that, I went over to my fantastic 'ochre-and-canvas hut' to watch the birds at my individual room bird bath (seed provided in all rooms!) Inter alia, two Crimson-breasted Shrikes came to the bird bath area, but they were pretty skittish to photograph.
My afternoon activity that day was radio tracking the leopards: there are three radio-collared Leopards in an enclosed area of 10,000 hectares (40,000 acres in real money). We caught up with the young female, and then it was a challenge to photograph her without showing the radio collar!. At night at the feeding site there was a Honey Badger (Ratel) and four African Porcupines.
Later, going over to my tent (they are all spread out about 100 yds apart) I was startled by some rustling in a thicket I was walking through, and found my self eyeballing five Greater Kudus, who got more of a fright than I did, and ran across my path and a short distance away before they stopped to look at me, still within torch range.
I was awakened at about 4.30 a.m. by a 'rough cough'. My first thought was Leopard, and my temperature shot up to record levels (the hut is half-walled in canvas panels, battened down with velcro and press studs) then told myself not to be so daft, if was probably an Oryx or Kudu. My neighbours in the next hut heard it too, and the guides said it was probably a Leopard, which was confirmed by tracks in the sand. (I found that a bit disconcerting, but I'm of a fairly nervous disposition!)
12th July Early wake up call, and tea and muffins before going on the Bushman Trail, where Dex showed us how the Bushmen survived in the desert. Incredible and very interesting and impressive. In the afternoon, we went to feed some of the older cheetah residents (some of them the original ones who used to wander the grounds at Main Lodge) They came right up onto the bonnet of the extended Land Rover - sweetly waiting 'one at a time' (well, OK, it probably wasn't sweetness but hierarchy!). Some meat was also given to some Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks: lovely birds. At the night hide we saw three Ratels and three Porcupines. No Caracal, though one had walked right in front of the Lapa the day before I arrived (isn't that always the way?). Anyway, you've got to have something to go back for!
By the way, since there were a few Afrikaaners at dinner, I asked about the "Devil's clothes" which caused some amusement. Apparently it's 'Devil's Claws' and they told me " it's medicinal", but there was some discussion as to whether customs would see it that way!
After I'd emailed Liz with that information, she did a web search, and discovered it's supposed to have aphrodisiacal properties - especially for the 'older woman'. Cheek!!!
I notice that there are also claims for it with regard to arthritis and 'joint health'.
13th July Another early morning call for sadly my last day in Africa. Today's morning activity for me was radio tracking Cheetahs. Michael, one of the other guests, was put 'in charge' of the aerial and learned how to do it. It was enough for me to watch my feet and extricate myself from the thorns!!!
I was picked up in the early afternoon to go back to Windhoek, so I had four hours to sit at the airport (there isn't a lot to do there!) which made the journey seem very long, However, all flights were very smooth and on time, so I got into Glasgow Airport at 4.30 p.m. on Monday 14th.
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Welwitschia Cape Cross Etosha Moon Landscape Okonjima Twyfelfontein Misc
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