Drinking hierarchy

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.

Lion at Etosha National park

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.

Giraffe drinking at a waterhole

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.

Curious giraffes, Etosha National Park

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The Etosha pan

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.

I think he has spotted us…
But he doesn’t seem to care…

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.

Wildebeests

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.

Zebras at Rietfontein

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!

Bird at Rietfontein

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So many animals

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.

A curious giraffe at sunrise

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.

Lions resting in the early morning sun

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.

Elephant at Okaukejo’s waterhole

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.

Nebrowni water hole
A Zebra crossing…

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Cold water

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.

Petrified tree

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.

Nice pool, but cold water!

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The noise! The smell!

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.

Shipwreck on the skeleton coast

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.

That’s a lot of seals!

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.

Rock engravings at Twyfelfontein

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.

Enjoying the sunset from the bar at the top of the hill
The sunset from Camp Kipwe

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Welwitschia

We have a full day to explore Swakopmund, which is apparently well known for its adrenaline-rush-type of activities, but it’s not really what we’d like to do, so after a bit of reading, we learn about a self drive itinerary in the Namib Naukluft national park that will make us discover the local desert landscape. Our quest to get an entrance permit for the park leads us to meet a lady who cannot start speaking to us before we have locked the metallic gate behind us, as she “cannot take her eyes off it until it’s locked”, which apparently uses all of her brain power.

Moon landscape

The itinerary first makes us discover lichens, that are all crumpled and black, but open up and become green when sprinkled with a bit of water. Good that we have enough water bottles with us. We then drive through the moon landscape, which unsurprisingly looks like a moon landscape and is quite breathtaking. A few km later, we meet the Welwitschia, a very curious endemic plant that has two continuously growing leaves. Because of damage induced by wind, sun and sand, each leaf gets split into several bands, which gives the plant the appearance of a not-so-fresh lettuce. It takes 20 years until the plant gets flowers. The plant is either male or female and can leave for thousands of years. At the end of the itinerary we reach a 1500 year old individual inside a fenced area. Given its slightly alien appearance, it’s difficult to decide if the fence is protecting the plant, or the tourists…

Weltwitschia plain

We have dinner at a German restaurant (Swakopmund has a strong German influence), in which radiant german-speaking customers are happily drinking boots of beer. The Jaegerschnitzel was very good, but huge.

a 1500 year old Weltwitschia (on the right)

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A concerning noise

Today, we drive towards Swakopmund through a beautiful desert landscape. We spot a few animals, such as oryxes, zebras, and ostriches. From day 1 our car has emitted intermittent squeaky noises that are a bit concerning, as if something is not quite right with the transmission. The agency quickly arranges for us to visit the Nissan garage once we reach Swakopmund; they even give us the name of a person they have been in touch with.

Dirt road to Swakopmund

We reach the Atlantic coast at Walvis bay, where we stop for lunch before continuing to Swakopmund. We stop by the Nissan garage to get the car checked and have to deal with a very unhelpful guy who pretends the agency didn’t get in touch with him, even though he is plain lying. When a phone call confronts him with the fact, he serves us a half cooked excuse. It turns out nothing is wrong with the transmission, and the squeaky noise is caused by the slippage of the belt that drives the compressor of the air conditioning. The problem is semi-promptly (we have to come back the next morning) fixed.

Sunset in Swakopmund

We visit the city (it has a definite German feel) under the beautiful light of the setting sun and have dinner at the Tug, where we enjoyed a great view of the agitated Atlantic ocean.

Our travel itinerary, which amongst other things describes our overnight accommodations, specifies that this one has a wifi that actually works. Turns out it’s not true…

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Red Sand

We wake up when the sun is still sleeping and we grab our packed breakfast from the lodge before heading towards the sand dunes of Sossuvlei. The park only open at sunrise (7.30) and we are car number 5 queuing in front of the gate. The dunes are supposed to be best seen at sunrise, hence the motivation to enter the park as soon as it opens. There is about 60km between the park entrance and the dunes, which should take about 1h given the 60km/h speed limit. However, everybody seems to drive at twice that speed, so let’s follow the movement.

Cars queuing to enter the Namib-Naukluft National Park

The landscape of red sand dunes bathed by the first rays of the sun is impressive and full of contrasts. The last 5km are on a very sandy track, and we decide to leave the car and take the shuttle, despite the fact we have a 4×4.

Red sand dunes in the early morning sun.

Once around Sossusvlei/dead vlei, we start the climb of the big Daddy dune, which gives us a breathtaking view of the surroundings. Climbing the sand dune requires a fair bit of effort, but going down is a treat: simply run down the side of the dune to the bottom of dead vlei.

Running down is an easier task than climbing the sand dune…

Dead vlei is a very well known sight of Namibia, appearing on many guide books, with its dried clay pan, dead trees and a backdrop of red sand dunes.

Dead Vlei

On our way back to the parking, we realise that leaving the car before the sand was a good decision, given the number of cars that got stuck and have towed to firm ground by the locals. Towards the end of the day, we drive back to the desert homestead lodge for a beautiful sunset.

Sunset from our room

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The adventure begins

After a long trip that started in Auckland and included a 9h layover in Perth (we initially intended to visit the city, but the constant downpour discouraged us), we finally arrived in Namibia, and after a good night of rest, we are ready to start our exploration. We have a brand new Toyota 4×4, and — Io and behold — I realise that I can still drive a manual car. Our objective of the day is the desert homestead lodge, in the vicinity of the famous sand dunes of Sossusvlei. We start driving south, and at some point, stopping on the side of the road to search for a grocery store on the gps, I drive on a freshly painted yellow line. Well, now our car has some yellow spots. White is a boring colour anyway…

On our way to Sesriem

The tar road soon turns  gravel road with a beautiful desert landscape. In the middle of the afternoon, we reach the lodge, which sits amid an extraordinary landscape. The weather is warm and the pool seems inviting, but we soon discover that the water is freezing.

Desert Homestead Lodge
View from our room

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Retour à Marrakech

Dar Daïf – Marrakech

Après un copieux petit déjeuner, nous quittons Ouarzazate pour retourner sur Marrakech. La route passe par un col de montagne et tourne passablement, mais offre de jolis paysages. Après un arrêt pic-nique en route nous arrivons à l’aéroport de Marrakech. Nous sommes heureusement assez tôt, car Easy Jet a “oublié” que le Maroc retourne à l’heure d’hiver pendant le Ramadan, et notre vol part en fait une heure plus tôt que prévu. Et bien ça fait ça de moins à attendre!