Expeditionary feeling and great wildlife spotting – snapshots of Namibia

What better thing to do in Winter in Europe than reminisce about a past adeventure and maybe plan a new one. Recounting past adventures is a bit like re-living them again. For a couple of hours, I am therefore transporting myself back to Africa and taking you with me. I took this trip in May 2014 but I still have vivid memories of all the places we visited. Everything started with

a delayed fight from British Airways. The flight taking about 45-50 min from Brussels to London was …45 min late. Of course Heathrow was not particularly easy to navigate (we had to change terminals as well) and we ended up loosing the flight to Johannesburg. BA was apologetic and put us in a hotel during the night. Of course, when we submitted the expense of one lost night of accommodation in Namibia (the hotel was already booked and paid for our first night in Windhoek) they declined any responsibility. Next day everything worked out fine and, another day later and a short flight from Jo’burg to Windhoek, we found ourselves in Western Africa. I had travelled to Morocco before so I considered I had already visited a bit of this expansive continent. It turned out that Marocco could well belong to another part of the world all together (let’s say… Middle East) as the resemblance, in atmosphere, with Namibia or Botswana was nowhere to be found. The layout of the next three weeks was planned as follows: pick up rental car, drive to the South of Namibia, visit Sossusvlei, drive to the Atlantic coast, visit Svakopmund, drive to the Etosha Park and visit some more scenery en route, visit Etosha, drive through Caprivi strip and enter Botswana. Botswana will be in the next blog post so we will stop at the Botsoana border today (figuratively of course, crossing this border turned out to be hassle free in real life). Namibia is two and a half time the size of Germany so driving was an important component of the trip. On average we would sleep two nights in one place and then drive for 200 to 400 km per segment. The scenery was so beautiful that we did not mind driving so long. Roads are ok: tar roads cross the country from South to North and also link the capital with some of the most visited cities, secondary roads are usually gravel. First night we spent in the vicinity of Windhoek (Okapuka Ranch). Here we got familiar with two concepts that we would use a lot later in the trip: 1. Waterhole watching and 2 Sundowner. Ideally you would combine these two activities, meaning that you would watch the waterhole with a drink in your hand at sunset. Which we did. A lot and all over Namibia.  Of course, waterhole watching can be more or less interesting depending on the location (the ones in Etosha were the best). Next destination was Sossusvlei. A landscape I will remember forever because there is nothing like it in the world. Part of the Namib-Naukluft Park it was our fist encounter with the desert. DSC_0106DSC_0987DSC_0046 The best views of the dunes are in the morning so waking up early was the sport of the day. The tasty breakfast at Sossusvlei Lodge (located just in front of the national Park) made 5.30 AM fell a bit better, to the stomach at least. Next stop was the coast at Svakopmund or for the locals: Svakop. The city is pretty and has a few great seafood restaurants. We tried the Tug (best Tuna stake so far) and the Jetty (at the end of the, you guessed it …jetty). There are one-day trips combining the exploration of the Walvis bay with dune riding/sand boarding in Sandwich Harbor. Both recommended. The seal colony at the Cross makes for an impressive atmosphere in terms of sight but also sound. DSC_0369 DSC_0304 En route to Etosha we stopped in Damaraland for a few days. We explored the Vingerklip (based at the Vingerklip lodge) and the rock paintings (based at Ai-aiba lodge). The landscapes were out of this world, rugged and reddish but not as dry as the South. DSC_0541 Next stop was Etosha. We spent 2 nights in the Park and one night just outside the Lindequist Gate. The accommodation outside the Park (Mushara Bush Lodge) was far superioor in terms of comfort, food and facilities but nothing can beat the proximity to the animals that you get inside the Park. In the Park, we spent one night in Okuakuejo (the best waterhole in the entire West African trip) and one in Halali that is famous for the spotting of cats. We saw everything from elephants to rhinos, lions and tons of large grazers. Okuakuejo is like a theater stage, with an unbeatable wildlife show, especially at sunset. The Halali camp has a different atmosphere and a less scenic waterhole. The reason why we will always remember Halali is for its night game drives. In the park camps you can drive freely in and out during the day but the gates are closed at sunset. They do offer the possibility to see the game at night with their own experience drivers. And this is for the best as we would not have been able to see/spot anything at night. However it is at night that the ‘cats go out to play’! So we witnessed a full blown lion vs hyena fight over prey. In that moment it felt really dangerous, with only an open safari Jeep’s protection bar between us and a cornered female lion. When the driver said that she might hide under the car (she was being chased away by 3 hyenas) my hear probably skipped a beat. ‘Luckly’ she called out for reinforcement and 4 more lion friends joined the squabble. There is no way to explain the sounds that filled the air,  from both lion and hyena, each trying to re-assert their superiority. Finally the hyenas were chased away and the small lion pride stated enjoying their dead springbok. A great adventure came to an end, with a few photos left to remind us witnessing the fight for survival in nature. Unfortunately, as it was the middle of the night and the animals kept jumping at each other, photos are not of the best quality. DSC_0931_01 We left the Park and headed towards the Caprivi. Here the landscapes become lush and green and the climate almost tropical. We stopped at Fiume lodge for one night to explore farm life and then continued driving through Bwabwata national park (with one stop at Camp Kwando). Before entering Botswana, we spent two nights on the Zambezi banks at the beautiful Namushasha River Lodge. In terms of accommodation, the best facilities and food were, for us, in the Mushara Collection accommodation (they have a few around the Etosha Park) followed by Gondwana Collection (several in Namibia, we tried two locations). A well deserved 3rd place is the Taleni Africa group (we also tried two locations – in Sossusveli and Svakop). This concludes the first episode of the West African adventure. To wet the appetite of the avid traveler, here are a few more snippets of Namibia. Safe travels, DSC_0560_01DSC_0987_02DSC_0838_01DSC_0884_01DSC_0654DSC_0906DSC_0753

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