After breakfast, we drive to Katima Mulilo, at the border between Namibia and Zambia. We say goodbye to our car that has led us through Namibia for 2 weeks, and a driver drives us to Kasane in Botswana. Going through the border is a painless process. The lodge at Kasane is a bit too large with too many people around, and the all-inclusive activities are organised in a somewhat clinical style. Surprisingly, despite the huge group of people massed in the foyer, there are only a handful of people on the boat for the afternoon boat cruise on the Chobe river.
This river tour was the best in terms of game viewing, as we saw countless elephants, hippos, and buffaloes. That is the first time we can see buffaloes from so close. We also see two large crocodiles from very close, as well as countless birds.
Dinner is set up outside by the pool. When we arrive, all the tables are taken, so the waitress asks us whether we would be OK to share a table. When we say sure, she asks: “but she is black, is it OK?”. During dinner we try to get our table mate to talk, but although she is very friendly she only tells us the minimum about her presence in the hotel. She is from Botswana, is here on business, works for the government in “statistics”. As the lodge also has conference rooms, where a UN event is taking place, we suspect she is a spy, but her cover withstands our queries about software used for statistics. As there is an obnoxious American staying at the hotel, who is part of the UN delegation, we secretly hope her mission consists in sending him to sleep with the fish.
We will go for a game drive with the lodge in the afternoon, so we take advantage of the morning to relax and enjoy the view. We admire a book that was commissioned by the lodge to an artist who drew aquarelles of scenes from the nature and wildlife around. There is a note on the book that says it can be bought from the lodge shop, but it’s unfortunately sold out.
When it’s time to leave for the game drive, we discover that it’s only the two of us going (yay!), and that our guide will be Hidden again. There’s nothing wrong with him, but guides we had before were playing in another category. Once in the Mudumu park, we start driving inland and get some beautiful shots of elephants, some having just had a mud bath. We also hope to see a lion, as Hidden has spotted footsteps on the dirt road. Unfortunately, we were not able to find him or her.
We then drive to the river where a small elevated platform provides us with a perfect view of the river in which elephants are eating lotus, or coming to the water for a drink. Hippos, crocodiles and birds are also around. After dinner, we sit around the campfire and discuss with two young Namibians working for a nearby lodge. They have diverging opinions on the state of the country, but an interesting fact they teach us is that the passing grade in the Namibian school system is set at 30% to increase the number of passing students.
Today, we take our car again and continue east along the Caprivi strip until Kongola. It is only a short drive then until camp Kwando, located on the bank of the eponymous river.
Our tented room is a treehouse, not really in a tree, but there is one growing through the deck. Later in the afternoon, we join the boat tour on the river. We are again lucky, as it’s only the two of us. The river, which marks the border with Botswana, is narrow and counts many meanders and branches, which makes for a beautiful landscape. We see a few hippos in the rivers at different locations, and each time we can see that our guide, Hidden, gets a bit tense, as he speeds up to go over them. No way to go around, as the river is narrow, and given the size of the boat and the reputation of hippos, I can understand his concern. Besides hippos, we see lots of birds, a small crocodiles, and elephants drinking in the water.
Hidden is quite good at spotting wildlife, but he tends to use his boat to scare animals to make them move, which we find a bit odd, as our idea of wildlife watching is to be as unobtrusive and discreet as possible. Back at our treehouse, I discover that a cute little white frog is living on the light above the front door. I am reminded by a very pale Josh that he is afraid of frogs.
We have a quiet morning with a nice breakfast and then some reading on the deck overlooking the river. We even try the swimming pool, even though the water was as cold as in the previous lodges.
In the afternoon, we leave for a game drive in the nearby Mahango reserve. We start by driving to a waterhole and are lucky enough to find it occupied by a large group of elephants. After a while, some of them decide to leave, walking right in front of us.
We then drive along the river, with a stop at the foot of a giant Baobab. We see our first water buffaloes, another member of the big 5 group. They are very far though and we need the binoculars to look at them. Other animals we see around include hippos, a huge crocodile, baboons, antelopes and giraffes.
Today is mostly a driving day, going from Etosha to the Caprivi strip. We start early in the morning, first going south-east and then north-east, until the border with Angola. This region is definitely more populated than what we’ve seen previously. There are villages next to the road, children and cattle. We drive east in the narrow band of Namibian territory squeezed between Botswana and Angola, until we reach Divundu, on the Okavango river. Our lodge is located on the bank of the river, and we have a beautiful view from our room. Despite the long drive, we arrive just in time for the sundowner cruise, which we join. We see plenty of birds, a few hippos, and a small crocodile (probably Schnappi, das kleine Krokodil). We stop at Popa falls, which should be called rapids rather than falls. We admire the sunset on the river, and come back to the lodge for dinner.
Coming back to our room we find a dead bird on one of the chairs in front of it and wonder what happened. We notice that with the angle of the setting sun, the landscape reflects perfectly on the large window of the room. And indeed upon a close inspection of the window, we notice a mark of impact.
Third and last day in the Etosha park. We have a whole day to explore the eastern side of the park today. We start by driving around Fisher pan through beautiful landscapes, but not too many mammals. We see lots of birds though. At some point, we see a car stopped on the side of the road, and a couple looking intensely towards the bush. I don’t know exactly how I can qualify their way of observing as ‘intense’, but you can kind of see their eyes concentrating and brain smoking. We try to imitate them but the object of their attention eludes us. So we ask them. Oh, now that you tell me, I also see this female lion lying under a tree. So we stop for a while and look at the lion. Unbeknownst to us at the time, that is the last lion of our holiday.
We stop for lunch at a very pretty water hole, which also turns out to be very busy. When we arrive, a group of elephants is drinking and many zebras are observing, waiting for the elephant to go away before being able to drink. As we were able to see over the past few days, there is a clear drinking hierarchy at the waterholes. First, size matters, so being an elephant definitely helps. Then the importance goes to horns, and oryxes are well positioned with their impressive horns that even keep the larger zebras away. So unfortunately, the poor springbok with its small horns and tiny body does a lot of watching but not so much drinking.
Later through the day, we see giraffes drinking at different waterholes. It’s an interesting process, as they need to spread their legs apart so that their heads can reach the water.
At the end of the day, we return to the Mushara bush camp. The dinner is organised outside around a bonfire. It’s beautiful but very cold. There is game meat on the menu, so it seems that we can summarise this trip as: “watch them at the waterholes during the day, eat them at the lodge in the evening.
Today we cross the Etosha national park from west to east with our car. We don’t have a guide with an eagle eye to spot and identify the animals for us, so better keep our eyes open! The advantage of being in our closed car is that we don’t freeze to death in the early morning. However, the field of view is considerably reduced compared to the open vehicle, and we are also seated lower. However, we are still able to observe countless animals. The bes encounter of the day is an elephant that crosses just in front of our car. We also notice a few car stopped on the side of the road, so we stop as well and try to identify the object of the passengers’ attention. Oh there are some lions. They are a bit far away, but it is always nice to observe the predators.
For the most part, the road follows the edge of the huge Etosha pan that forms the large part of the park’s area. We use the little map/guide we bought to identify animals. If we can manage for the mammals, the task is harder for the birds: there are so many different species.
We stop for lunch at a rest area, but unlike the other ones we saw that were all fenced with an entrance gate, this just open in the park. We hope that lions won’t be attracted by our picnic.
Our stop for the night is at Mushara bush camp, a lodge with tented rooms. A dad that we saw at the previous lodge seems very keen on showing us the pictures and videos of the animals he saw. We ask him whether he saw a rhino. He says he has, but we decide he is lying: he was so enthusiastic in showing us his elephant pictures, so why not also shove the rhino pictures in our faces. When we come back from the dinner, we discover that the maids have put hot water bottles in the beds, which is a really nice touch!
We wake up early to be ready for a game drive with the lodge starting at 7:00 with John. We discover that it will only be the two of us, so we are quickly ready for departure before the sun rises. A few meters after leaving, still in the lodge compound, I notice a life-size ‘fake’ giraffe a few meters from the driveway, which I do not remember seeing when we arrived yesterday. But seeing a second and third individual (which are moving by the way) I realise that they are not fake at all. OK, so the game drive has now officially started.
Driving towards the park entrance before sunrise in an open safari vehicle enables us to experience the freshness of Namibian mornings, which hits us full force despite the blankets that John provided us. As soon as we enter the Etosha national park, we see more giraffes. The colours are perfect a few minutes after the sun as decided to wake up, leading to some very nice shots. We also see an elephant, but it is walking away, so we mainly see its backside, which is unsurprisingly quite large. We then have the chance to see about 9 lions sleeping on the plain. They didn’t seem that interested by the many springboks, zebras and ostriches drinking at the waterhole close by.
We have lunch at a waterhole that is quite busy with grazing animals, including a large elephant, which is quickly joined by two other individuals. Two of them start a staring contest.
We continue driving from waterhole to waterhole throughout the day, which gives us the opportunity to watch an outstanding number of thirsty animals. However, the elusive rhino and leopard are up to their reputation and have remained hidden.
Today we drive in the direction of Etosha National park. We stop on the way at the petrified forest to admire a collection of petrified trees. There are also some welwitschias around and we learn that the plant is the symbol of the Namibian rugby team. We arrive at the beginning of the afternoon at the lodge and relax for the rest of the afternoon. The water of the swimming pool is as cold as at the desert lodge, but we gather our courage and take a dip.
We admire the sunset from the deck of the lodge and go to bed early (that will happen for most of the trip) to be ready for a first game drive the next morning.
We drive north along the skeleton coast this morning and see one of the shipwrecks that give the coast its mysterious name (I think there are more further north). Some people have assembled a vaguely human skeleton on the sand using random bones, but they obviously have a dubious knowledge of anatomy.
After less than 2h of driving, we reach cape cross, which is known for two things. 1) it marks the location where the Portuguese Diogo Cao landed in 1486, thus being the first European to visit the region. 2) It hosts a gigantic colony of cape fur seals. According to some sources, there are more than 100000 seals in the colony. The stench and noise of thousands of seals are beyond what the wildest mind could imagine. Even back in the car, the odour follows us for several hours.
It is interesting to point out that about 95% of the cars in Namibia are white, and that most of the cars rented by tourists look strikingly similar: a kind of pick up truck with a hard cover over the bed. Therefore, it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that we attempted to enter a car that wasn’t ours at the seal colony parking lot. But seeing an unknown woman looking at me from the inside of the car told me that something was definitely odd.
Back in our own vehicle, we retrace our steps back to Henties Bay and then continue inland towards Damaraland. The landscape starts being very flat with sand, but soon mountains start to appear we enter a truly beautiful area. Our stop for the night is at camp Kipwe, which is located among boulders. It’s by far the nicest place we stayed at during this trip. The bathroom is outside, allowing to watch the stars while on the porcelain throne.
We leave with the lodge for a visit of the surroundings, with the most interesting stop being the rock engravings of Twyfelfontein. We are back just in time for a sundowner cocktail at the lodge bar which is located on top of the hill around which the camp is built. They have a cocktail named Welwitschia: I must try it. The sunset enjoyed from the top of the hill is epic, and the dinner that follows is excellent as well.