Notes from Namibia: part two
When it comes to fabulous weather and wildlife, there is nowhere like Namibia, says Adrienne. Over the next few weeks, she will be sharing her notes from Namibia – arguably Africa at its most authentic – exclusively with CD-Traveller readers. Today: Windhoek to Okahandja, the adventure begins…
Continued from yesterday
The first real day of our trip! We wake up in good time and go up to the breakfast room, which is above our rooms. Breakfast is hearty – lots of cereal with yoghurt and fruit, and toast with butter and marmalade.
Our driver collects us at 8am and takes us to Wild Dogs HQ in a very comfortable Land Cruiser. HQ has nice gardens – a jungle scheme around the base of an enormous tree, which provides welcome shade which contrasts with a strip of desert style garden featuring cacti and succulents. We sit and drink tea and water until the others arrive. We get quick introductions – John from Oldham, and two Belgian ladies – Peggy and Tilly, and then we meet our driver and camp assistant – Tuhafeni and Joseph.
Now I’ll be honest, when we are shown our vehicle I am not exactly impressed. It’s like the safari minibuses in Kenya, except for the lack of a lifting roof. There is at least plenty of space for everyone Cath up front with Tuhafeni (because she gets car sick); Joseph and John on the front passenger row; Peggy and Tilly in the middle row and finally Ciara and I at the back. The luggage trails behind us in a trailer. The vehicle’s nickname – the vacuum cleaner appears to be apt.
The Namibian landscape is like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. It’s totally bizarre, not beautiful but it has a magical feel. Semi-arid scrubland with occasional lumps made out of enormous round, pillowy boulders. They look as though they have been swept up into piles, waiting to be cleared away.
We reached Okahandja, which at first sight appeared to be a Shell petrol station on the left and green tents of the craft market on the right. Nothing else. We didn’t see much else, so it might as well have been!
The traders’ tactic seemed to be divide and conquer, so we were quickly separated. There was a nice necklace that I negotiated for two and paid 120N$ (about £9), although it wasn’t until I reached the airport that I realise what a good price this was. A lady quickly dropped the price of some salad servers from 150N$ to 50N$ (about £12 to £3.80), and a persistent young trader, John showed me lots of what I call tourist tat carved wood – not my taste at all. I eventually relented and bought a pair of rather beautifully carved faces for a now defunct boyfriend.
I persuaded John to escort me out of the market so I could avoid any more sales pitches. As I suspected I was not only the last to leave, but had also bought the most. Back on the vacuum cleaner we headed off, but we didn’t get far – we stopped for essential supplies – beer, wine, water and snacks. This was a strange experience – a Spar! Somehow this was the most surreal aspect of the culture shock so far. Even more than the way men openly, unashamedly and constantly stare at your breasts.
Well stocked with provisions, we left Okahandja behind and swept into the bush along the B1 – the main drag from Windhoek to Etosha National Park. Straight as arrows, the roads are better laid than in Kenya. Even the gravel roads are better than Kenya. Mostly.
After a few more hours we reached a chain link gate that was opened by two men. A further few kilometres on we headed up a tiny dirt track winding its way through the bush. Kudu and various bird species got out of our way as we passed. I made a mental note to buy myself a bird book so I could begin to identify them. Turning uphill we suddenly come to a wide, flat opening, set up for camping. A private campsite – it was fantastic and had incredible views!
Okonjima is home to the Africat Foundation, a cheetah, and leopard rescue and release programme. It has featured in various BBC documentaries and was where Angelina Jolie elected to give birth. The private campsite has probably the best toilets and showers in the world, stockades surround individual units, but unlike your usual facilities you get to gaze out over the vast expanse of the apparently empty Namibian bush while you use them – not something you want to pull a curtain in front of.
After lunch of salads, cheese, cooked meats and bread rolls we waited for our afternoon activity to collect us. I have binoculars loaned by a friend, so I spend my time practising with them. Soon enough I spot the tell-tale signs of the rock hyrax (a bit like a guinea pig) – known in southern Africa as the dassie. The trail of white guano streaks down rocks on the hill behind our camp is unmistakable. At 3pm Dax and France came to collect to show us round the Foundation. We trailed into a hide while France baited the area in front of us with fresh raw meat and released a leopard that unfortunately couldn’t be released back into the wild. Admittedly in far better condition for his age than he would be in nature, he was still an awe inspiring sight and we all sat entranced for a good 30 minutes.
Reluctantly we left and got back in the vehicle and headed off further into the bush. We were looking for something… I wasn’t sure how many there were at first. One looked very skinny, but as permanent residents we knew they are being well looked after. We counted eight cheetahs in total – a family group which, again, cannot be released. After a further 30 minutes we left through another gate and travelled through two compounds of cheetah that were to be released. We continued in the converted Land Rover when we saw some buildings, which we assumed were the main complex. It turned out however that it’s a research station. We stopped and got off, while France headed off down the side of a compound a little further away. He was dragging a long stick along the chain link and the resulting noise was enough to stir the curiosity of the inhabitants – a pack of wild dogs.
The dogs were rather shy of people, unsurprising as when they were pups their mother was shot. The puppies were gathered into a bag and buried alive. Fortunately they were found and Africat took them in. All the animals at Africat have similar stories; human/animal conflict is all too common across Africa.
We watched the dogs play for a while before they headed back out of sight into the deeper area of their compound, and then headed off to the shop before being delivered back to the campsite as it got dark.
Tipping Dax and France, we settled in with some wine and beer for the evening. Curried fish was menu of the day and once full, we sat and chatted. One by one we peeled off to bed.
To read the next part of Adrienne’s Namibian adventure, don’t forget to log onto the CD-Traveller website next Monday (November 7).