It breaks my heart to say that this is my LAST post from my trip to Africa. It was truly the trip of a lifetime, both as an incredible family adventure as well as a photographers dream destination.
Days 13-15. As mentioned in my previous post, the tail end of our trip was in Etosha National Park. The last three days were spent in the Erindi Private Game Reserve with such creature comforts as a cool bed, air conditioning, and all you can eat buffets surrounded by clean smelling tourists. It really felt odd to be experiencing Africa in this manner, and we frequently longed to get back to the true bush. The morning and evening driving safaris were now with the private Erindi team (our FANTASTIC guides Sascha and Jimmy from Southern Cross Safaris had left us in Erindi and headed back home to prepare for their next trip). These tours now felt a little more like theme park rides in that many of the larger animals were radio tagged for easier tracking, and there was often a number of vehicles surrounding the larger animals. Overall, it was still a fantastic experience and we were treated to a huge and diverse variety of animals on every tour.
Finally, I want to thank Southern Cross Safaris for an epic experience. Sascha and Jimmy made us feel like family, and their wilderness knowledge and experience opened up a world to us than few get the opportunity to see. We can’t wait to return!
Click to enlarge images.
Days 11-12. When planning our trip, we designed the last few days to be a little on the easier and more comfortable end of the safari spectrum. Rather then set up our own tents and cook our meals while isolated in the deep wild, we decided to stay in two different safari lodges (complete with hot showers and beds…and crowds of clean tourists and all you can eat buffets overlooking watering holes). It was a bit of a shock, and we felt awkward experiencing Africa in this more controlled and catered manner. The first two days were spent at the Halali Camp, and luckily our original guides stayed with us at this camp and also took us on the early morning and evening game drives in Etosha National Park. Click to enlarge images.
Namibia Day 11 began with a morning game drive, our first at Etosha National Park. Soon into the drive we came across a fresh kill, a springbok that had been taken down recently by presumably a cheetah. By the time we arrived, the cheetah had eaten its fill and moved on, leaving the remains for the scavengers. What ensued appeared as somewhat of a survival “dance” between the jackals and the vultures as they repeatedly parried each other for a chance to feed.
Click on the image below to view a short video of the encounter. Caution: Gory! Also, please change quality to 1080p (auto is 720 ) and view full screen!
Day 10 brought a drive out of the wild and into “civilization”. We were headed to Etosha National Park (with showers and beds), a 22,270 sq km/8,600 sq mi park which gets its name from the Etosha Pan, a salt pan which covers a quarter of the total area of the park and is so large that it is identifiable from space. Our drive to the park took us through scattered Damara villages, where farmers who subsist on herding cattle, sheep, and goats still live primarily in simple homes constructed from dung and termite mud (collected from MASSIVE termite hills) spread on a wooden frame.
Massive termite hills were scattered throughout the countryside.
Himba Women out for a stroll
Night 9 brought a goodnight and goodbye to the Damaraland (Palmweg) Concession in north-western Namibia, bringing to a close the most primitive wild camping portion of the tour. From here we head back to “civilization” in the form of Etosha National Park.
Click on photo to view an enlarged 10 panel shot of Milky Way taken from the edge of our campsite.
Namibia Days 8 and 9 were spent exploring the massive Damaraland (Palmweg) Concession in north-western Namibia. Daily sunrise departures from our camp into the concession provided the best opportunity to enjoy the cool mornings and experience the wildlife as they completed their nighttime activities and began to settle in and take cover from the approaching scorching sun and high temperatures. Our afternoons were spent taking cover as well, mostly resting/reading and playing games in the shade at camp. Late afternoon and evenings consisted of additional drives to explore the surroundings and/or gin and tonic “sundowners” as the sun dipped beneath the African horizon.
Rhinoceros rubbing stone, which has been polished to a shine over the centuries by Rhinos scratching themselves.
Baking bread in a cast iron pot over coals, a nightly ritual.
Creepy to think that if we stepped out of the vehicle these guys would tear us to shreds.
Welwitschia (Welwitschia mirabilis), the “National” plant of Namibia and endemic to the Namib Desert. Each plant produces only two leaves, which split into many segments as a result of the leaves being whipped by the wind. The largest plants are over 1500 years old.
The long day 7 drive through the concession area was a slow, difficult, and at times uncomfortable (very steep terrain mixed with heavy rains) journey. As we arrived and searched out a campsite, the clouds began to clear and we were treated to a spectacularly beautiful double rainbow sunset over the camp. We were now as far out of touch from the rest of the modern civilized world as I have ever been. Over dinner our guide Sasha described the “lion” protocol for the camp (imagine him telling us this at night as light from the small fire flickered on half of his face): Never leave your tent alone at night. Need to pee? Take the bucket from outside your tent door into your tent, pee, put the bucket back outside of the tent. Need to do a #2? Wake the three men up and walk as a group to the makeshift toilet as you scan the surroundings with headlamps for reflective “eyes” around camp. Hear something at night creeping outside your tent? Don’t move, make a noise, or turn on your light. Do not call for anyone. Follow these rules, and you likely will not get eaten. We all slept great after that. And for the record, we did hear some hyenas not too far from camp as we were falling asleep.
This is my favorite photo from the entire trip. Click to see it in full resolution!
Day 7 was when the adventure really stepped it up a notch. We were now headed out for three nights of wild camping in the Damaraland (Palmweg) Concession, a massive, roughly 5,500 km2 /2,200 mile2 conservation area in north-western Namibia. This open and wild region is the home to a large variety of species, including lion, elephants, mountain zebra, giraffe, and nearly 70% of the world’s free roaming black rhinos. Traveling and camping in the concession would allow us to experience these animals in their true open and untamed native habitat, unlike what we would later experience in the more commercial National Parks and Reserves. A long and arduous drive on little-used uneven roads, at times through torrential downpours, was worth the surprise we had waiting for us when the rains stopped and we arrived at our remote campsite (see next post!).
Two male Greater Kudo
The Day 6 Namibian agenda called for us to drive out from the Erongo mountains and head into the scenic Damaraland, a massive, untamed, and ruggedly beautiful region in the north-central part of Namibia which is home to one of the oldest nations in cultures in Namibia, the Damara people. Our Damaraland landscape starts with open plains and grasslands, granite hills and deep gorges, but changes dramatically to endless sandy wastelands. Somehow, though, the Damaraland is able to sustain a wide-ranging variety of animals which have all adapted to survive in this harsh and almost waterless desert. Two notable sites along the way were The Brandenburg aka “Fire Mountain”, Namibia’s highest mountain, as well as a tour of the San (Bushman) rock art in Twyfelfontein, a site that has been inhabited for 6,000 years and was used for a place of worship and a site to conduct shamist rituals. Throughout the rituals, at least 2,500 items of rock carvings have been created, and as one of the largest concentrations of rock art in Africa, has been designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Click to enlarge.
Himba woman in traditional clothing
The Brandberg ‘Fire Mountain’, from the effect created by the setting of the sun on its western face, which causes it to glow red like molten metal.
Twyfelfontein, one of the most extensive galleries of rock art in Africa.
Springbok grazing at dusk (one of my favorite pics from the trip)
Welcome to Aabadi campsite, guys!
Sunset over the Damaraland
Our second hike on day 5 sent us straight into a rainstorm as it rumbled towards our afternoon sundowner (happy hour) destination, Bull’s Party rock formation. Bull’s Party formation stems from regional volcanic activity dating back 110-130 million years, followed by erosion of the earth’s surface, which resulted in massive granite blocks being exposed throughout the area. Millions of years of extreme day/night temperature fluctuations caused the blocks to chip off and form rounded boulders, which rolled down into the valley. The formation gets its name from the belief that the boulders resemble a group of bulls facing each other.
We enjoyed our anti-malarial Gin and tonics under cover of the massive granite boulders as the sky opened up and torrential rains created streams and waterfalls where seconds earlier there were none. The Gin Gods were smiling down on us though… for the rains ended as abruptly as they began, and, as the sun set below the clouds, our surroundings were illuminated by an unearthly yellow-orange hue. As we left the protection of the rocks and headed back to camp, the intense colors made it feel as though we were walking across a Martian landscape. As the eerie colors faded, the clouds gave way to the last rays of the sun and a magical perfect double rainbow over the Elephant Head cliff formation. As always, click to enlarge.
Baboons taking shelter from the approaching storm
Bull’s Party Panorama
Taking our medicine: anti-malarial Gin and tonics