Winding down to Windhoek

​Namibia Pt. 3

When we got the car back from the shop, with a new control arm installed, we got ourselves ready to head back on the road. One of our first stops along the way was to visit a small Himba village for the morning to get a sample of the traditional ways they still live. The campground staff had called ahead and arranged for us to get a tour and we met the guide at the entrance to the tribe’s land. There were actually two villages living together under the same chief. Almost all of the men were out watching over the tribe’s herds as they grazed, so we only met with the women. They were a fun group with some jokesters and had a way of making the whole experience relaxing. The women were mostly dressed the same with animal skin clothes, no tops, and hair stretched with mud to create a long dreadlock-like style.Each of us, the French couple, the Swiss guy, and I, took a slightly different perspective into and out of the experience. Mine was not to get caught up in my own stereotypical vision of tribal life, but to take time to ask as many women as possible how she was doing and what she was doing. Many of the women were in their early twenties and had at least one child of their own to take care of, while also helping each other maintain their hair, and making goods to sell to tourists, like us. We learned about how men have multiple wives and provide a hut for each one, visiting them in turns throughout the year. The tribe was traditionally nomadic but stayed in this one place permanently now, with children attending a small school to learn some basics of math, language, and science. All in all, the trip was worth it to visit and give them money to buy food and supplies. 

Straight from the village we headed on a safari of Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. The park is supposed to have it all in terms of animals, so we wanted to give ourselves time to go slowly and see it all. By the time we arrived, it was almost dark, but we had gotten the inside scoop on a campground, which cost less than half of staying inside would have cost, just outside the Galton Gate, which is not always open. We missed the entrance to the camp the first time round, since it was only a dirt road in the middle of a desert and all, but ended up inside with time to set up camp before it got too dark. We ate, played cards, and went to bed early to be at the park gate when it opened. 

The morning is when things got a little interesting. I was the first to wake up around 5 a.m. While I was waiting for the sound of the others waking up, another familiar noise caught my attention. It was the same noise that had kept me up all night in Serengeti, the sound of a lion growling! I might have mildly panicked at that point. The sun was not up yet to be able to see anything outside, but the lion was close and getting closer. I started to hope that the others heard it too, so nobody would get out of their tent. Fortunately, nobody got out, but only because none of them woke up and they missed the whole episode. I explained to them what I heard and passed it off as no big deal. Minutes later a worker for the campground checked on us and pointed out that the lion prints went right around our campsite. Everyone was pretty shocked, but we had a plan to get to the gate and rushed ourselves to pack up. 

Etosha National Park is on a huge pan, a flat land that was once a lake, where animals of all shapes and sizes take refuge. Namibia has done a good job securing the area and leaving as little human influence inside it’s borders as possible.  Entering Galton Gate on the west, we planned on heading to Andersson Gate in the central part on day one, then over to Von Lindequist Gate on day two. So we had two full days to check out on the different watering holes located within the park. Since I had already been on a safari, I was lukewarm to the idea of being there, but looking forward to the chance to see some of the animals from closer or in action. The French couple were really excited about the two days and had a camera and video recorder at the ready the whole time. I will just write about the highlights here to try and wrap up this part of the trip.

For the most part the trip was worthwhile, being cheaper than Serengeti and having most of the more recognizable animals, just in a slightly different environment. Giraffes and elephants were among the most common ones we saw. We also got to see lions, impalas and zebras out the wazoo, coyotes, hawks, vultures, bisons, ostriches, and scores of others. We played a card game to keep it interesting, when someone spotted and called out an animal they got a card (first person to call out that group only). By noon we all had enough cards to play two hands of poker. At one point, we must have seen fifty giraffes all hanging out between two watering holes near each other. Then suddenly a rhino, all by himself, came strutting up behind us and over to the watering hole. I was amazed! Everyone else was too. We got our cameras and watched the other animals make way for the rhino. Kinda funny. Another watering hole had some lions just wandering around, not bothering any other animals. The grand finale of the trip took place as we were heading towards the eastern gate to leave the park on the second day. A few elephants were walking around on the road nearby and we started counting once we realized what was going on. We found a nearby watering hole on the map and headed there in hopes that the elephants would go there too. Our guess was right! Probably thirty elephants in total walked all around us on the road where we had parked ahead of them, some precariously close, to get to the water. They played and pushed for position, with old and young all mingling. Even though it was our second close encounter on this trip, we were all in awe of how impressive elephants are. 

Once we left the park, our only other side trip on the way back to Windhoek was to visit a park which had a giant forest on top of a plateua. Unfortunately, the camping costs at the park were a bit on the hefty side for us and we moved on. Instead we made our way to some dinosaur prints found near Mount Etjo somewhere in central Namibia. We stayed at a campsite founded by Jan Oelofse, a very famous conservationist. This time, after eating and resting, we were woken up by the sound of wild horses running across the fields to a small pool of water, much more to my liking. The dinosaur footprints were cool and only a short hike away from the camp. The impressions were clear enough that we were able to see the path the three-toed creature had taken through the soft ground. Crazy to think the footprints were over 200,000 years old!

That was the last day, though. We drove down to Windhoek, settled our account with the car-rental shop, had one more meal together, and finalized plans to go our separate ways. A little anti-climactic, but understandable for a group of people who had nothing in common two weeks before. We had shared a great adventure, I had asked lots of questions, we had played cards, seen new things, cooked and essentially lived together 24/7, and had not killed each other. What more could you asked for? Now I was ready for a flight back to Johannesburg on my way to Durban to fulfill my promise to visit some friend again. 

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