Jen

Apr 182015
 

Everywhere we went in Kaokokland, from Kunene River Lodge to the Puros Community Campground, “Himba tours” were offered. The Himba are an African tribe in northwestern Namibia, nomadic cattle herders who continue to live today much as they did 100 and 1,000 years ago. They’re the kind of people written about and photographed for National Geographic.

On a Himba tour, a guide would take you to a real Himba village (as opposed to one of the fake ones, I presume) where you could openly gawk, ask questions and get answers in English, take photos, and buy the handicrafts of the villagers.

Honestly, I wanted to do all those things, but not on a tour with fellow gawkers that I didn’t know.

At the Puros community campground, which we had entirely to ourselves, I was surprised to find such a tour offered. I didn’t expect the community to be that organized or attentive to guests. I was impressed and pleased with the service we’d already received, and so was happy to support the community with my money. A tour here would surely be a private affair, just what I wanted.

While exploring around Puros early in the morning, we followed a 4WD track up a rocky hill that struck me as more suitable for climbing on foot than tires. At the top, we had a wonderful 360-degree view of the Hoarusib River valley.

Himba village from a distance.

Himba village from a distance. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Himba village, closer

Zooming in on the Himba village. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

At the edge of the valley, we were surprised to discover a fenced compound with mud and stick huts. Vehicle tracks between the compound and the community campground hinted that this might be the village the tour visits. Or not.

Himba women walking the trail to get water.

Himba women walking the trail to get water.

As we studied and enjoyed the landscape, three women, each carrying a five-gallon bucket, walked from the compound to the dry Hoarusib riverbed.

I think the fenced area that I’m calling a “compound” is called a “village” by locals. It’s so tiny, though, that I think “village” is misleading. I don’t think there are more than three or four families here, and they may all be related. I don’t know.

Himba women getting water from a waterhole.

Himba women getting water from a waterhole.

We figured they were getting water. The buckets tipped us off. All three of us have lived in the Bush where we hauled water the same way. I wonder if these women would be surprised to learn that, or if they would understand that was unusual for Americans.

The girl on the left in the t-shirt is named Mickey, or something that sounds like that to our ears. She speaks English moderately well. The other two do not speak English.

Mickey and the woman on the right have scarves on their heads to cushion and help balance the full water buckets that will soon be up there. The woman in the middle has an ornament on her head that I think prevents her from carrying anything that way.

Because we were curious and already gawking, and because we’ve all carried water ourselves, and because it was a long way from the water hole to the compound, and because we just happened to be where they were at this time, and because Mike’s brother is willing to do this kind of thing while Mike and I are not, we offered to give them a ride back. They accepted with smiles.

At first, they just put their buckets on the tailgate of the truck, but then were persuaded to hop on themselves; we’d go very slowly.

Once at the compound, Mickey invited us in . . . for N$30 (thirty Namibian dollars, which equals about three US dollars) per person. Good on her!

Mickey, I suspect, is a tour guide. She put on her guide hat as soon as we arrived. As I understand it, she was born in this village—right there in that compound, I think—but went away somewhere to school and learned English. I didn’t understand where.

At one point, Mickey picked up a toddler, and I noticed they looked alike. I figured the child was hers, but Mickey said the girl was her little sister, “We have the same mother.” That implies they have different fathers. That jibes with what someone else explained to me about African social structure: Multiple partners are not uncommon, which is part of the reason AIDS is such a problem here in Africa.

We paid Mickey and embarked on a private Himba tour. In addition to Mickey, there were four women in the compound and a bunch of kids. No men. The men were all in Puros we were told, or out with the cattle which were taken rather far away due to the drought and lack of suitable pasture nearby.

It was weird and uncomfortable for me and Mike. What do we do? What do we say? Mike is uncomfortable taking pictures of people, but that’s what our tour fee pays for. Even so, we hemmed and hawed and squirmed while Denny made himself at home and chatted up Mickey.

Himba children in the village.

Himba children in the village.

Mike and I headed for the kids who were gawking at us as blantantly as we were gawking at them. Hooray for kids and their curious, straightforward hearts! Mike picked up three rocks and juggled, which they found amusing. Having won the children’s approval, we relaxed a little.

Himba huts

Huts in the village.

Mike took pictures of the compound, and I joined the conversation with Mickey. I had tons of questions, but Mickey’s English was limited, and so, then, were my questions.

I wanted to know what they ate. The answer seems to be “not much.” As elsewhere, cornmeal is the staple, cooked like polenta. Himba are herders, so they eat goat and beef. I asked about local plants that they might gather and eat, and a palm fruit was the only answer I got. A child was eating one. First the skin and flesh are eaten from the outside, and the shell is cracked and the nut inside is eaten.

This same nut—a palm nut?—is carved nowadays and sold as an ornament. It’s sometimes called “vegetable ivory,” and is offered as a sustainable alternative to carved elephant tusks. However, given what these people are eating, I wonder if the nuts should be used this way rather than eaten.

Stall with Himba handicrafts.

Stall with Himba handicrafts.

In the middle of the compound was a stand loaded with handicrafts made by the residents. Mickey led us there, naturally.

Himba handicrafts.

Himba handicrafts. Clickable pic.

There were bracelets and necklaces made from leather, palm-frond fibers, seeds, and beads. There were carved palm-nut ornaments, and wood carved into giraffes and gemsbok and elephants and zebras. There were woven baskets and trays.

As we looked over the merchandise—which I enjoyed; it was great—the women came out and stood behind the sections that held their work. We knew who had made what, and I loved that. Any money we handed over went directly to the crafter.

Himba woman and me.

Himba woman and me.

We purchased a number of palm nuts carved by this woman.

Himba woman with her baby.

Himba woman with her baby.

At that point, she was very happy and friendly, and it was easier to take her photo. Her child is eating the flesh of a palm fruit.

The woman was wearing a goat-skin skirt—or perhaps it’s cow skin. What do I know? She didn’t speak English.

Her belt, as best I could make out, is leather covered with ochre clay. Tiny metal beads were strung together and pressed into the ochre. It weighs a ton . . . or at least several pounds. I picked one up. The anklet on her left foot and her head ornament appear to be made similarly. The anklet on her right foot is ochre-covered fabric.

The string around her waist is made from palm fibers, and I’m not sure what is strung on her necklaces.

Her hair is braided into many strands coated with ochre. She joked that I needed to fix my hair similarly, which Mickey had to translate for me. I would have let her do it if she had offered.

Her body is coated with ochre, too—ochre powder mixed with animal fat and herbs, called “otjize.” This protects the skin from sun and bugs. I’m sure it also removes dead skin and more as it dries and wears off. I understand it’s taboo for women to bathe with water.

I asked where they get the ochre. “Far away,” Mickey said. Our guidebook indicated that ochre is available in just one place in the country. I wonder that the Himba use it so much when it must come from so far away. I suppose it’s like diamonds or gold or any other status symbol: it’s more precious because it’s not easily available.

Himba woman cooking cornmeal porridge

A Himba woman cooks porridge.

While we were there, one of the women prepared a pot of cornmeal mush, called “pap” here. (It’s pronounced “pop.”) I know it as “polenta.” Also cooking on the fire was a #10 can of water and bark which would become the black dye used to color some of the handicrafts.

Himba children eat porridge.

Himba children eat porridge.

The pap was given to the children who dove in with their fingers, scooping out a mouthful at a time.

Himba mud hut

Himba mud hut. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

We asked if we might see inside a hut, and we were invited to go in this one. Maybe I could stand up straight in the middle, but I didn’t try. It’s used only for sleeping, though, and who stands up to sleep? These people spend their days mostly outside.

I’ve been calling them mud huts, but the mud here was animal dung, and I have since read that that’s the norm. It did not smell like a barnyard.

Inside the Himba mud hut.

Inside the Himba mud hut. Clickable pic.

We asked how many people sleep in this hut. Five. I’m sure several are children, but still . . . that’s a lot of people in this tiny space and no privacy for anyone.

Inside a mud hut.

Inside a mud hut. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

The belongings inside the hut included several blankets and pieces of fabric, three skin skirts, jars of ochre and who-knows-what, a belt, an animal tail, and a woven tray or plate. Cooking implements are kept elsewhere. Someone mentioned “day huts” and “night huts,” so perhaps each family unit has two huts.

Himba children try on my hat and bandana.

Himba children try on my hat and bandana.

Before we left, Mike took my hat off my head and plopped it on Mickey’s little sister’s head. Seeing that, a little boy wanted desperately to try on my bandana; he looked as though he might cry if I refused. When I put it on his head, he gave me a big smile that was full of tiny brown teeth being eaten away by cavities. I was glad to think these are baby teeth that will fall and be replaced, but then what? We’re not elephants: We have just one set of replacement teeth.

It was a weird, somewhat uncomfortable experience, but I’m so glad we did it. Looking back, I wish I’d asked a million other questions. One woman beat palm leaves against the fence, and I wish I’d asked if I might help her, if she might show me how she braided a necklace from the fiber. Heck, I even wish I’d asked if I might sleep over. I could have made dinner, brought a snack, showed them my embroidery, traded bracelets . . . . I know, however, that we’re lucky we did as much as we did. Maybe next time I won’t feel so awkward. Maybe.

Apr 172015
 

Twelve (or twenty-two) photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

The Puros Community Campground is in the dry Hoarusib riverbed. The Hoarusib River is an ephemeral river, which means that every now and then, but not very often, for a brief period of time, there’s running water here. There is, however, underground water in the riverbed, which explains all the greenery. The surrounding area? Dry, dry, dry.

Sunrise on the Hoarusib

Sunrise on the Hoarusib. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

It’s a beautiful morning on the Hoarusib. We walked to the edge of the riverbed to see the sun rise on the surrounding hills. We happened upon several ostriches and giraffes. It was way flipping cool to see giraffes while on foot, to be roaming about with them in the wild. We didn’t try to get close to them. In fact, we made a point of circling around so they didn’t run away. Still, it was interesting to get a sense of their size compared to ours while standing with them in the sand. The perspective from outside a car is different from the perspective from inside a car.

The ostriches were funny. They caught a glimpse of us and took off across the desert plain. They ran and ran. When they got far away, they didn’t stop. They were tiny specks racing across the desert last we saw them.

Seeing the beautiful day in store, we decide we’ll drive out the riverbed a ways, and if the going isn’t awful, we’ll stay here another night.

Jen and the truck on the hill.

The view from a rocky hill.

First, however, we decide to drive up a rocky knoll for a 360-degree view of the valley. To me, this little hill looks like something we should walk up, not drive up. It’s steep and narrow with big rocks to climb.

(This is when we spot some Himba women and visit their village, which you’ll hear about next time. This post will be about the rest of the day.)

The sandy riverbed with trees and brush.

Hoarusib riverbed.

Our camp is somewhere down there in the green area.

A giraffe in the Hoarusib riverbed.

Wildlife. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

There is wildlife down there, too. See? A giraffe.

The Hoarusib river valley.

Where we are headed: Up the Hoarusib riverbed. Clickable pic.

This is where we will head, up the Hoarusib riverbed.

A track in the sand.

Our track.

Our track up the riverbed.

Palm trees and brush in the Hoarusib Riverbed.

So much green in the riverbed. Clickable pic.

The riverbed is lush.

Giraffe under a shady tree.

Another giraffe.

We spy a couple more giraffes as we head up the valley.

Hoarusib River valley.

Looking back.

At the top of the valley, we head up a rocky pass into the surrounding mountains. That’s the Hoarusib valley back there.

Rocky pass above Hoarusib River

Rocky pass above Hoarusib River. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

We’re going this way.

Tree in rocky pass.

Rocks. A pass. A tree.

Not much up here but rocks and a few trees. Very few trees.

Gemsbok comfy in the shade.

Gemsbok comfy in the shade.

And a gemsbok.

Gemsbok running from comfy shade.

Car! Run away!

Gah! A big, rumbling white thing! Run!

Gemsbok re-thinking its decision to run from the shade.

Is this really necessary?

Dang . . . I really want that shade.

A mud hut and a small shelf holding a few rocks.

A rock shop.

Wonder of wonders: a rock shop offering quartz, rose quartz, crystal-wannabe rocks, and the like.

Mud hut.

Shop-owner’s abode.

The shop proprietor lives here, I guess. Sometimes. Probably during the peak travel season. I wonder how many people come out here during the peak travel season. Not very many, I suspect. It’s a wonder a shop can stay in business.

Me with an oryx horn on my head.

Oryx gazella jenella

The fire poker is a gemsbok horn.

Look. I’m a gemsbok

Jen picking up rocks.

Rockhounding.

With the rock shop closed for the season, we’ve no choice but to find our own rocks.

Our track over the pass.

Our track over the pass. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

It’s pretty easy. Cool rocks are everywhere.

Beyond the pass.

Beyond the pass. Shall we go? Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

At the top of the pass, the road continues on and on and on to another green valley in the distance.

Rocky top.

Rocky top.

We’d love to continue on, or at least camp out here, but we left our tents set up back at the campground. We turn around.

Two waterholes dug by elephants.

Elephant-dug waterholes.

We take a different track—or several tracks—through the Hoarusib riverbed and discover waterholes probably dug by animals, probably dug by desert elephants. We read about these waterholes in the guidebook, and we hoped to see some. It would be nice to see the elephants, too. Maybe there are some around after all.

Apr 162015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

We re-supplied in Opuwo and headed southwest to Puros, or Purros, depending on the source. I’ve been spelling it with one r, so I’m going to stick with that. Puros is a tiny Bush village out in Kaokoland.

Grocery shopping in Opuwo was fun. Really. It was fairly early on a Sunday morning. I was well rested and alert. The appearance of the town was not a surprise. And we were on our way out of town, not looking for a place to safely and comfortably sleep. All those things make a big difference.

The unassuming store was well stocked, and at 9:30 a.m. was already crowded and hopping. While I get great pleasure from being well stocked with food, what made shopping fun was the variety of people in the store and the opportunity to watch and walk amongst them. I pushed my cart up and down aisles with the following models of humanity:

  • Himba women clad in goatskin skirts, no shirts, ochre-covered bodies, and jewelry to beat the band: necklaces, bracelets, hair ornaments, and sandals with lacing half-way up the calves
  • Herero women in long, voluminous European colonial dresses with triangular headpieces made to resemble cattle horns
  • Regular old Africans in jeans, shorts, and t-shirts, often in combinations Americans would deem unmatching

Some smiling guy came up to me as I selected a loaf of bread and started yammering away at me, not in English, as far as I could tell. When he finished, I giggled, shook my head cluelessly, and said, “Sorry. I don’t understand.” He laughed like it was a great joke, waved, and went on his way with his loaf of bread. I put my bread selection back and grabbed one from the cart where he had gotten his.

When I hauled my purchases out to the car, Mike was studiously ignoring a small crowd of locals hawking their hand-crafted jewelry wares. He had long since given up repeating “No, thank you.”

I, myself, was accosted by a young Himba woman as I exited the store. “Hungry baby,” she said, hitching her baby up and thrusting a handful of bracelets and necklaces at me. She followed me to the car where the swarm around Mike quickly swarmed around me. Three women and one man holding baskets of handicrafts surrounded me as I stuffed the groceries into the truck anywhere I could make them fit. I was being mobbed, which is like being mugged but less dangerous. I think. I hope.

I hate that situation, and we face it pretty much everywhere we go. But I was in a good, sturdy mood, so I went ahead and engaged. I didn’t mind buying a bracelet or something, but I despise this scenario, the pushing hawking of wares and the refusal to accept “no” for an answer. Of course, by buying something, I’m rewarding and encouraging the very thing I hate.

One of the three women spoke English. She answered my questions: Each person made the articles in his/her basket; the “beads” were seeds; the fibers were from palm fronds. I selected a bracelet from the woman with the baby. “That’s no good,” said the English-speaking woman. “There are three of us.” The man didn’t count, I guess. She indicated that I should buy something from all three of them. Believe me, I understand how much more I have than these people, and I have plenty of guilt for not giving more and more and more, but I also don’t have the resources to help every person I meet who is needy or has less than I. This is a big part of why I hate these situations and generally avoid them.

So there it was: my limit. I would buy the one or none. I was finished with the interaction, no longer willing to engage with the relentless pushing.

I wound up buying the bracelet, and the English-speaker pushed one more time, but I was done. No amount of pushing was going to move me.

Finally, we got out of town and headed out to the Bush where we could relax and feel comfortable. We drove along dry riverbeds, through canyons, and over rocky passes. The scenery reminded us of the southwestern US. Take a look. What do you think?

Rocky mountains near Puros, Namibia

Rocky mountains near Puros, Namibia. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Sand and bright green groundcover.

The sand accentuates the bright green ground cover. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

That yellow-green ground cover is something, isn’t it?

03 Tree on a Hill, Sesfontein, Namibia

Tree on a hill. Sesfontein.

This little tree is in Sesfontein. Not much else is. There must be six fountains somewhere, but I don’t know where.

Sandy river bed with green trees growing.

Ephemeral river bed. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Sandy river bed with green trees growing.

Ephemeral river bed. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

This is an “ephemeral river,” which means that every once in a while for a brief period of time water runs on the surface here. Most of the time, however, water is underground, where only tree roots, well drillers, and thirsty elephants can find it.

Mountain scenery, Namibia

Mountain scenery, Namibia. Scenic photos always look better when they’re big. You can click this one, too. Use your back button to return.

Red rocks and sand

Red rocks and sand intersperse with white. Clickable pic.

Ostriches in the Namibian mountains.

Ostriches. Clickable pic.

Ostriches. That’s not like the southwestern US.

A giraffe in the shade of a tree.

Wildlife!

As we neared our destination, we finally found a mammal.

Giraffe under a tree

If the tree fits, stand under it.

And it had found a tree big enough to provide ample shade.

Wide, sandy plain with a few dry grass tutfts.

Sparse vegetation. Clickable pic.

There’s not likely to be a ton of wildlife here, you know? I feel hungry and parched looking at it.

Wide, flat sand road.

Our road. Clickable pic.

The road to where we’re going.

Apr 152015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Here again, we’re going to play fast and loose with the term “daily.”

We got to Kunene River Lodge just after 7:00 p.m. when the gate and office closed. No matter, they accommodated us anyway. The following day was a day off to catch up, rest up, and clean up. And then we were off again, traveling from the Kunene River to Opuwo via Epupa Falls, which is not at all on the way, but close enough to make a detour easy.

Kunene River, Namibia

Kunene River. Now there’s some water.

Kunene River Lodge is on the Kunene River (surprise!), only the second substantial river we’ve seen here in Africa, along with the Zambezi. The river is low due to the current drought, but it’s still a good-sized river.

Kunene River and Angola

Kunene River and Angola.

Here, the Kunene River is the border line between Namibia and Angola. We’re at the tippy-top of Namibia. You’re looking at Angola. Neat, huh?

Vervet monkey with stolen bag of chips.

Bad monkey!

The lodge warns guests about thieving vervet monkeys, and they do what they can to deter such nuisance behavior. Being from Alaska, where there are grizzlies and black bears, we are accustomed to keeping a clean camp and keeping food in the car.

What we aren’t accustomed to is such heat as requires open windows; cheeky beasts willing to enter a car through an open window; and tiny, lightning-quick, too-smart-for-their-own-good monkeys.

Gah!

Vervet moneky eating stolen potato chips

Campground pest.

The monkeys seem to be in cahoots, willing to share, and teaching the young their wily ways. The bag was stashed out of our reach in the tree, and when the wind blew, chips rained down. The camp dog helped us clean them up.

Bad monkeys!

Not especially good campers, either.

Red sand, rocky hills, no understory

On the road to Epupa Falls. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

More rocks, sand, trees, and no understory, also more mountains and more red color into the bargain. It’s beautiful country. This is Kaokoland, said to be Namibia’s last wilderness.

Huts on the way to Epupa Falls, Namibia

Residential area on the way to Epupa Falls. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

There are a few people around, though, namely members of the Himba tribe, nomadic cattle herders who continue to live much as they did 100 and 1,000 years ago. We saw a few walking along the road. The women, more so than the men, are dressed in native attire, like you see in National Geographic. I wanted to gawk, but we were driving by.

More than that, I wanted to spend a day with a Himba woman, but that goes beyond my comfort zone. For starters, just taking photos of people feels too intrusive to me. Some don’t mind but expect to be paid. How much? Beats me.

Then there’s a language barrier and my personal social-standoffishness barrier.

But I’m curious, and I would love to spend a day or two or even a week living as a Himba woman does. Sort of. I’d want my long-sleeved shirt, hat, and sunglasses, thanks.

Mike on the edge of Epupa Falls.

Mike on the edge of Epupa Falls.

The waterfall at Epupa Falls was dang nice. That’s the Kunene River splashing down through the canyon. “Epupa” is a Herero word meaning “foam,” and I’ll leave you to guess why the falls are called this. The Herero are another native tribe. Like Himba women, Herero women have a style of dress that they stick with, but there the comparison ends. The styles are vastly different. I’m not sure we have any pictures of Herero women, so if you’re interested, Google it.

Our guidebook said that tourism at the falls is “developed,” so I figured that meant there was a park, a path to the falls, and an entrance fee. There were none of those things. In fact, there isn’t so much as a sign pointing out where to go or park or walk or where you might fall over the cliff and die.

There were some small, not-fancy campgrounds nearby inviting visitors to stay, but that was it. We parked on the rocks and found the falls on our own, which was no great feat, mind you, since they’re just sitting out on the rocks in the open, rushing, crashing, and making mist.

A local man was bathing in a pool at the top of the falls.

The Kunene River crashes down Epupa Falls.

The Kunene River crashes down Epupa Falls.

The Kunene is a sizable river. The water level is down, I’m sure, what with the drought, but that’s some serious water moving through.

The canyon below Epupa Falls.

The canyon below Epupa Falls.

And off is goes out into the desert.

Red rocks at Epupa Falls.

Rocks at Epupa Falls.

The rocks of the canyon offer great colors and patterns.

Good Road Market: the sign on a shop

This image speaks for itself—much more highly than I would speak for it.

We headed south again toward Opuwo. This market provides cold beverages for the long, hot drive, and a few other things.

“Opuwo” is a Herero word that means “the end.” What do you make of a town named “The End”? The end of what? The end of the road? The end of the world? The end of all that’s good and decent? The end of a great time?

I wonder if there’s a beginning of something else here. I sure hope so.

Huts in a compound, Namibia

Where the people live. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

As we neared Opuwo, the largest town in the area (a large area, at that), we saw evidence of more and more people. We also saw evidence of The End. Words like “rinky-dink,” “ramshackle,” and “dismal” come to mind.

Our guidebook listed just one accommodation that had Internet access, and after a week of no Internet in Etosha and uncooperative satellite Internet at Kunene, access was a higher-than-usual priority. However, as we pulled into said accommodation, Mike and I decided we were willing to do without the luxury of Internet access. In fact, the idea of sleeping in the car anywhere out of town was appealing. This accommodation, said to have a “strong Christian ethos,” looked and felt more like a drug den to me. Appearances, I know, can be deceiving.

When we indicated to the Kunene River Lodge owner that we’d be staying overnight in Opuwo, she said, “Well, of course you’ll stay at the Opuwo Country Lodge,” as if there was no alternative, so we headed there. The approach to the lodge left much to be desired, but we determined to have a look. Once in the gate, I breathed a sigh of relief. Ahhhh, comfortable, familiar territory. I am not proud of my response to Opuwo, but so it was.

The lodge was lovely. In fact, the main lodge building boasts the largest single-span thatch roof in the country. It was impressive. Did we take a picture? No.

And the lodge had Internet access, too.

We stayed in the campground on the property and had the place to ourselves. Well . . . we were the only campers there, anyway. There were also three domestic cats and Benson, the night watchman. Benson arrived and introduced himself shortly after we arrived. He spent the evening sitting or lying on the kitchen counter of the ablution block, watching over us as we slept some 100 feet away. I wonder if the lodge called Benson after we checked in or if he would have been there even if we had not.

I’d never had a personal guard before. I chose to not think about why the lodge felt the need to have a night watchman in the campground. I also ignored the five police cars that arrived silently but with lights flashing as we entered the lodge to get online after dinner.

Welcome to Opuwo.

Apr 142015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

We left Okaukuejo in Ethosha National Park, exited the park through the Galton Gate, and headed north to Ruacana and on to Kunene River Lodge. That was some 300 miles, and we weren’t sure we’d make it the whole way before dark, what with leisurely park sightseeing and then a reportedly difficult, slow 4WD road at the end, but we went about the day as usual, pushed a little at the end, got lucky and had no problems, and made it with just a hint of daylight left. Phew.

I’m grateful for the no problems part, especially once we committed to the 4WD track at the end; although, we were self-sufficient and could have spent the night or a week anywhere. We owe a great deal of our problem-free travel to the drought. Were the 4WD track and the river crossings not dry, this story would be different. It’s the rainy season; they shouldn’t be dry, but they are. The great disadvantage this creates for the locals—people, land, and animals—is our great advantage. We’re very conscious of that.

So the day started in Etosha with a game drive to the Galton Gate, which used to be closed to the public, accessible only to those with reservations at one of the private lodges on the west end of the park. (Sounds almost like Kantishna in Denali National Park, no?) The road is now open to the public, and it put us as near as we could get to our next destination, so we took it.

No understory, Etosha National Park

Sand, trees, and no understory.

The landscape continued to be dry and deserty, though we were heading into the mountains of Namibia. Parts, like the one in the picture, were sandy with trees but no understory, which I found interesting and pretty.

Man-made and natural waterhole, Etosha National Park

Man-made and natural waterhole, Etosha National Park. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Again, animals were concentrated around waterholes. If you click this image for a larger version, you can see a man-made waterhole on the left (a round concrete dish) and a natural, muddy-puddle waterhole on the right. The animals seem to prefer the natural one; isn’t that interesting?

At the moment, the waterhole is occupied by zebras and giraffes. They’re tiny in the picture, I know, but count the giraffes. So many glorious giraffes!

Warthog, Etosha National Park

Warthog, Etosha National Park

This guy was also at the waterhole, but he didn’t make it into the picture above. What are those warty lumps on his face? And why haven’t I researched them yet?

Those are some impressive tusks, too.

Plains zebras, Etosha National Park

Plains zebras. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Now, let’s have a look at these zebras. They’re plains zebras, the same kind we saw in Botswana. I pointed out the details before: gray/brown shadow stripes on the rump, stripes going under the belly, and faded or no stripes on the legs.

While we’re looking closely, check out the skinny black stripes on the farthest right adult and the bright white (not brown) color on the back-most zebra. The left-most zebra looks bright white, too. I love the tiny details and variations.

Four plains zebras drink at a waterhole, Etosha National Park

Four plains zebras.

Here’s another look at the plains zebras because I think it’s a cool picture, and because you can’t have too many zebra photos. Unless, of course, you’ve reached your limit of 12 photos in the Daily Dozen series of posts.

Hartmann's Mountain Zebra, Etosha National Park

Hartmann’s mountain zebra

Now look at these guys. Wow, eh?

These are Hartmann’s mountain zebras, and we’ve been waiting and looking forward to finding them. See the differences?

The back-end stripes on Hartmann's mountain zebra.

The back-end stripes on Hartmann’s mountain zebra.

There are no shadow stripes. Zippo. The black stripes stop on the sides, leaving the belly white. Bold stripes go all the way down the legs.

And there’s more: Look at the stripes on the top of the rump that extend down the tail. I call them “skeleton” stripes; I trust you’ll understand why. Plains zebras don’t have skeleton stripes on their rumps.

Plains zebras are beautiful, but if you ask me, mountain zebras top ‘em. The lines of their colors are clean and sharp, very striking.

Plains zebras and mountain zebras intermingle, Etosha National Park

Plains zebras and mountain zebras intermingle, Etosha National Park

According to one source, here in Etosha is the only place we can see plains and mountain zebras intermingled, and here they are, intermingling. How cool is that?

Male elephant, Etosha National Park

Male elephant, Etosha National Park

Farther along as we get more into the “mountains” (“mountains” is a relative term here; these would not qualify as mountains in Alaska), we found an elephant. We weren’t seeing ellies much, so it was exciting when we did.

Elephant Face, Etosha National Park

Elephant closeup.

He looks like an old guy to me, but what do I know? He’s mellow about our presence and proximity, so we got a nice look.

Giraffe, elephant, and gemsbok at a waterhole, Etosha National Park

Species mixer at the waterhole. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Another waterhole yields another collection of mixed species. This one just happens to have my favorites: a giraffe, an ellie, and a gemsbok.

I think this picture looks suspicious, too. Was one or more of these animals Photoshopped in? Nope. It’s for real.

I’m trying to think of a similar shot we might get in Alaska, and I’m coming up empty.

Mountains in western Namibia

The mountains of western Namibia. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

And that’s it. We’re out of Etosha and on our way into Kaokoland, the mountains of Namibia, to the Kunene River.

Apr 132015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

We spent the whole day in Okaukuejo.

Showers over the Plain, Etosha National Park

Showers over the plain. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Animal sighting-wise, it felt like a slow day. There may not have been fewer animals overall, but they were concentrated in fewer areas. We drove long distances without spotting anything, and that’s not the way it’s been.

We did, however, get a rain shower, and that’s a rare thing. This is the wet season, but it’s a dry wet season. In fact, it’s a drought year.

Elephant on the open plain, Etosha National Park

Elephant on the plain. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Elephant sightings are way down, but we expected that. Botswana has tons of elephants. Namibia, not so much. The rest of Africa, not so much. In Botswana, the number of elephants is actually a problem; they’re destroying the habitat.

We saw an elephant today, though. See what I mean about the landscape being dry? How much of that do you suppose it takes to feed an elephant?

Dancing ostrich, Etosha National Park

Dancing ostrich.

There are still ostriches, though, doing their ballerina thing.

Ostrich, Etosha National Park

Ostrich, Etosha National Park

It’s cute, no?

Jackal, Etosha National Park

Jackal, Etosha National Park

And there are jackals, bless their little determined-doggie hearts. They’re everywhere.

Cape Squirrel, Etosha National Park

Cape squirrel.

Because we’re not seeing bunches of big mammals, we’re paying more attention to the small ones. This is a cape squirrel. He’s got a racing stripe, too. Those hind feet seem bigger to me than other squirrel feet. I wonder if that’s true. I need to look more closely at other squirrels.

Cape Hare, Etosha National Park

Cape hare.

The “cape” name is popular; have you noticed? Cape buffalo, cape squirrel . . . and this is a cape hare. It reminds me of a jackrabbit, which is really a hare: long ears—quite naked here—and huge eyes. The back feet look strangely small, but I’m accustomed to snowshoe hares, which have enormous snowshoes for hind feet. Cape hares don’t have soft snow to contend with, so they’ve no need for giant feet.

Namaqua Sandgrouse, Etosha National Park

Namaqua sandgrouse.

A Namaqua sandgrouse. It’s a “near-endemic.”

Double-banded courser sitting on an egg.

Double-banded courser sitting on an egg.

We happened upon this double-banded courser on a not-well-used side track. She was smack-dab on the side of the road, and she didn’t fly or hop away as we neared and passed. Any guesses as to why?

Can you see what she’s sitting on?

Yeah. That’s her nest, except it’s just the ground, not a nest at all, which is how some birds do it. Although, I have to question choosing a spot practically on the road. I guess that demonstrates how often this road gets used.

Double-banded courser egg.

Double-banded courser egg.

Now my question is is she sitting on the egg to keep it warm or to shade it from the sun? I would guess the latter.

Rhinoceros, Etosha National Park

Rhinoceros.

No great picture of a rhino here, but look at that color. That’s a black rhino. Dumb name, animal namers. Bird namers change bird names. What do you say we change these rhino names?

Zebra on the Etosha Pan, Etosha National Park

Zebras on the pan.

And here it is: the giant pan that can be seen from outer space. I don’t imagine the zebras or anything else will venture out farther than this puddle. Even after the rain, the pan shimmers from the reflected heat.

Zebra and pan obscured by heat shimmers.

Heat shimmers on the pan in Etosha. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

The shimmering makes everything blurry. Or, perhaps, artsy.