Thursday, November 27, 2008

Like camping at a zoo (Nov. 25, 2008 - Okaukuejo, Namibia)

After a somewhat fitful sleep (dreaming about being trampled by elephants!) we were up before dawn to be on the road, bound for Etosha National Park. Etosha is the holy grail of wildlife in Namibia, and it protects over 22,000 square kilometres of savannah and salt pan that is home to hundreds of thousands of animals.

We drove east for an hour and made a stop to a site that was home to petrified logs left over from 280 million years ago. It was pretty amazing actually - full sized logs from ancient pine trees that grew in central Africa that washed here in the ancient sea that existed when Gondwonaland began to intact. Glaciers moved in and preserved the logs (no oxygen was available to allow rotting), and the increased pressure and temperature eventually brought in minerals like silica that replaced the organic wood material. Those minerals are very hard and not easily eroded, so the logs are so perfectly preserved that the knots, bark, and even the rings are still visible. I loved how I was apprently the only one who read the blurb in the trip dossier, so I ended up explaining everything since the tour guide sucked.

Onwards, our next stop was a medium sized town called Outjo, where we had a snack, bought some funky African jewellry, and took a minute to visit some traditional Bahimba women who were hanging out at the town square. These people never bathe, so they rub some sort of ochre-coloured plant all over themselves - skin, hair, clothes - to absorb the smell and protect their skin from the sun. The women only cover their lower half, so there were boobs all over the place. The babies were adorable, laughing and dancing and chubby (and orange!).

From Outjo, we drove north to the entrance of Etosha National Park, and almost instantly, we were spotting herds of zebras on both sides of the road. It was funny how silent everyone became when there was animal spotting to be done! The camp site is beautiful - big empty tenting areas and lots of cute little bungalows, a store, a restaurant, and a pool. The highlight is the watering hole - the camp site is built about 200 feet from the edge of a large watering hole, which is bounded on three sides by open savannah where all sorts of wild animals roam. Benches line the edges of the viewing area, and they even have flood lights to illuminate the area at night. The animals are used to the lights and don't hesitate to come in for a drink. When we first arrived, the animals present were kudu, springbok, wildebeest, and a herd of zebras. Just as we were walking away to have lunch, we spotted a lone elephant slowly lumbering toward the watering hole. Lunch can wait! Even though he was walking so slow, it didn't take him long to reach the water. He was just as huge and magestic as the elephants we saw yesterday, but this time we certainly felt safer. We watched for a long time as he drank and splashed water over his head and under his belly to cool down. So cute! When we came back after lunch, there were three elephants there, and we counted at least 45 zebras! The zebras splashed and drank on the opposite side of the pond from the elephants, some going in up to their bellies for a swim.

At 5pm, we all piled into the truck and set off on a 2 hour game drive. This basically means driving around the huge network of dirt roads that traverse the park, keeping an eye out for anything other than bushes or logs. Right away, we drove right up to a giraffe munching on a tree at the edge of the road. Score! He was adorable - huge long neck and the goofiest faces as he pulled leaves off the tree. We visited several watering holes, and by the end of the day, we had spotted 16 giraffes, hundreds of zebras and springbok, a few dozen impala, kudu, oryx, and as a grand finale as we were gunning it across a barren piece of unvegetated piece of land to make the 7:15pm gate closure, two black rhinos were spotted running toward the road. They were quite far away, but still, they were rhinos! Awesome. We were told that there were only 20 of them in the park, but either that number is wrong or we're really lucky, because after dinner as we sat in the dark watching the parade of animals come and go to the watering hole, we were lucky enough to see eight black rhinos all at the same time. Amazing - they were close, and so cool to watch. Slow moving, yet graceful. Most came in pairs (mother and baby), and some went in up to their bellies for a swim. We saw a few arguments between the males and one of the larger babies kept trying to nurse. Two large bull elephants joined the drinking party soonafter, and we just couldn't get enough of it. It was like watching one of those night vision documentaries on the Discovery Channel - yet so much better. The lightening on the horizon made for an eerie effect as we watched them in silence until we could barely stay awake.


  1. black rhinos are super rare, I know they told us to count ourselves extremely lucky if we saw one because they are nearly extinct (or at least super endangered). So yeah, count yourself lucky! Are these parks fenced? Are the animals kept inside?
    Glad to hear you're still a dork over there and are fascinated by rocks, haha. Anyone else share your fascination/obsession?
    xox your sista

  2. Yup we were very lucky to see so many black rhinos! They are rare, apparently. Yes the national parks/game reserves are fenced to keep them safe, but only around the outside - and it's like 22,000 square km or something! Otherwise no fences. very cool. And yes, a few others enjoy learning about rocks and other dorky things like that :)