To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries
- Aldous Huxley

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Namibia - The most underrated country on Earth

The Namibian border crossing couldn’t have been any easier, quicker or stress free. A quick form to fill out, no entry visa and we were in and out before you could say Windhoek.
I wish other countries could take note, however in saying that there was literally no one else bordering crossing. No cars, no trucks, no people. It was pleasant.

The Namibian landscape is not what I thought it was, it isn’t as deserty (so far) as I thought it would be. The soil is dusty and it looks like they haven’t had a whole lot of rain lately, but there are still a lot of green trees and bushes.
The weather wasn’t too bad today and it was a quick 10km drive from the border – through a small national park (we saw Zebras and Elephants) to our campsite where we had lunch.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing, for some reason there was no power so we couldn’t get anything cold until later in the day and everyone was feeling lethargic so there wasn’t a whole lot of interest in doing much.
The campsite does have a little bird sanctuary hosting a few interesting looking parrots. I am not sure if they are native to Africa but I did like the look of some of them, they had some very nice colours.

We were hit by a sudden windstorm right after dinner, so strong it was blowing our tents to-and-fro before it calmed down about an hour later. It was strange how quickly it came and went and we hadn’t a clue. There was lightning and thunder but thankfully no rain.
By the time we fell asleep the wind had died down to a breeze.

We awoke the next morning and began our journey to Etosha National Park. The trip took about 8 hours including 2 stops for food and ATM and then for lunch. We reached Etosha around 3pm.
Etosha is the biggest national park in Namibia and it covers 20,000 square kilometers. So it’s pretty big.
Camp gates closed at 6pm so we had a 90-minute game drive close to the campsite where we saw A LOT of giraffe. More than I have seen anywhere else. We also saw a couple of Oryx, which marks a new animal for me. They are Black and White and quite large with equally large horns. Aside from a lot of Giraffe’s and the Oryx’s we saw some Zebra’s, a couple of Mongoose (including 2 at the campsite who didn’t seem to have any fear of humans) and a male, brown-backed jackal.

A couple of the 3 million Giraffe's we saw in Etosha

The next morning we took another game drive on our way out of Etosha. Today we saw a lot. No lions or leopards or Cheetahs, but a lot of giraffes, elephants, oryx, hyenas, jackals and even the rare Black Rhino. It was a pretty cool drive and I like Etosha a lot, probably one of my favourite National Parks I’ve been too. We also saw the salt plain, a large part of Etosha is a former lake-gone-dry and as such is now a salt plain. The animals largely stay away from it but the sicks ones go there and lay in the salt to try and draw up the minerals to help them get better.
We camped just outside the national park gate.
The next day we arrived at a Cheetah park around midday. The park is a 7000 hectare farmland owned by a family who farm it, and set up a camping ground but also have permits to own Cheetahs. They have 4 tame Cheetahs and 15 wild ones in a large pen.
The day was stifling hot and we spent most of the afternoon in the shade before we were picked up around 4pm to visit the tame Cheetahs at their house.
There were 4 cheetahs, 3 of which we were able to play with, the other didn’t like to be patted.
It was so cool to be able to play with these cats. They are really big, but so skinny. Their fur feels very thick and you can feel the bumps where their spots are. They were very playful, one of the cats took Danni’s hat and kept playing with it, batting it around, holding it in its mouth and running around it. Then when the hat was finally taken away, the Cheetah decided it would attempt to steal Danni’s thong (flip-flop/sandal – whatever you call it) and it wouldn’t let it go. The owner finally managed to get it back but not without a big chunk of it taken out of the back of it.
To my reluctance we had to finish with the tame cheetahs and jump in a trailer where we were taken to the 15 wild ones. These wild ones have been saved/rescued/captured by other farms and given to the park. These Cheetahs have killed cattle or sheep on a farm and instead of killing them, farmers capture them and give them to the park as a way of preventing the destruction of the Cheetahs.
Like lions and leopards, once Cheetahs get the taste of blood for an animal they will continue to hunt them and therefore cannot be let loose.
The wild cheetahs were split into two different pens. The first one held 7 Cheetahs who all knew what to expect when they hear the truck with the trailer coming. Dinner time!
They crowded around waiting for the driver (one of the farmers) to throw some donkey meat up in the air. It was awesome to watch them leap in mid-air to capture the meat, fight over it and then run off with their catch. The good thing was no Cheetah went hungry so they all got a feed.
The second pen had 5 of the roughest, scarred Cheetahs I’ve ever seen. They look like they’ve been in a couple of fights and I get the feeling these ones are more wild than the previous ones. They were fed the same way but we were outside the pen this time, unlike the previous one where we were right amongst the Cheetahs.
I went back to the second pen later that night since it was close where we were camping and they were prowling around the fence line, one of them even hissed at me and feigned an attack. It scared the crap out of me. I didn’t expect that at all.

I…I can explain

The next morning I went back to the Cheetah pens and caught sight of the five wild ones still prowling but at the other pen, there was a since Cheetah, a young one I think, who sat near the fence, facing the other pen and kept meowing, as if trying to call one of them from the other pen.
It was fascinating to see them act like a domestic house cat, s/he even began rolling on the ground like a house cat.

All in all I was very impressed with the Cheetah park and would love to spend some more time there. Cheetahs are one of my favourite animals and as I didn’t really get to see one in the National Parks (from a distance in the Masai only) I was happy to get a close and in depth look at how they act, even if they are confined.

We left the Cheetah Park and arrived at Spitzkoppe during the mid-afternoon. Spitzkoppe is a basic campsite with one distinguishing feature, it has a lot of huge boulders which meant we were able to sleep on them under the stars. No tents.
It was freezing cold and we had to use our sleeping mats for the first time since the first night we started this trip but it was magnificent. A clear sky allowed us to peer into the heart of the universe. Stars scattered the sky like freckles scatter the face of the palest redhead you’ll find, we saw Scorpio and we even saw two shooting stars - a first for me.
I was quite content to fall asleep under such a canopy.

An Oryx walks into a bar... 

The next day we headed to Swakopmund, one of the bigger tourist destinations in Namibia, situated on both the ocean and the desert, with a lot of activities to see and things to do. It’s also very cold.
We spent 3 nights there and naturally with a whole lot of activities at our disposal we decided on one thing - Quad biking in the Namib Desert.
The first night we relaxed and explored the small town, there were a lot of shops and we did a bit of shopping, buying some shoes, a wetsuit and other clothing. It’s very cheap in Namibia.
That night we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant, a last night to say goodbye to the 4 people leaving the group here.
The next day was Quad biking. I’ve never used a quad bike before so I was keen to see how I would go and try not to make an ass of myself. But, like my sandboarding in Dubai, I was awesome at it from the outset…granted I used an automatic and all I had to do was steer and make sure I had enough oomph to get up the steeper dunes.
We departed into the Namib Desert and I was incredibly surprised at our it looked, especially compared to the Middle Eastern Deserts we had visited before Africa. The sand here is a lot finer and the dunes look fake, I felt as if it was merely a background that I would drive through any second, but it was not to be, the airbrushed dunes were smooth with shades of red and black from iron in the air caught on the dunes. We rode through the Desert, riding up and down the dunes, going through what they call the rollercoaster before stopping at the top of a tall dune where we could see both the sea and the rest of the desert.
It was great fun.

We relaxed the next day and got some much needed R&R, it was nice to have a bed for 3 nights before back to camping so we much as much use of it as we could.

Our next destination was Sossusvlei, home of the petrified forest, apparently one of the most photographed places in Namibia and the Southern Hemisphere. It was another stinking hot day and we trudged through the sand for 20 minutes before reaching the plains where the forest is. 65000 years ago a river ran through the desert and the area was green and lush, due to the shifting of the sand the river was cut off and then eventually died out leaving the petrified forest. Upon approach I was a bit underwhelmed by it. It just looked like a couple of dead trees on a plain but when we reached the plains and walked amongst the dead trees I felt a little more better about it all. It is by no means a forest, it’s probably less than 50 trees but it still was pretty cool once we walked amongst them. We rode out the rest of the day at camp, relaxing and trying to stay cool.

The next day we headed towards Fish River Canyon, arriving around 4pm. Fish River Canyon is the second biggest canyon in the world, behind the Grand. We strolled around the edge of the canyon, glimpsing the chasms and the dry river down below. The views were great and it was a relaxing walk, though it is still hot in the afternoon in Namibia.

We relaxed the night in camp and at the bar, it was a cool night and also our last night in Namibia.

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