Umm, can someone stop that Giraffe eating my book?

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
1
16
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Trip End Feb 13, 2011


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Where I stayed
Cheetah Park

Flag of Namibia  , Erongo,
Thursday, June 10, 2010

So, fresh from morning pancakes just before leaving Etosha, we found ourselves on the road for Cheetah Park. Given its name, you can imagine our surprise upon arrival at being told that this would be the place where we could experience cheetahs up close and personal! The family who own Cheetah Park started the park as a result of Namibian government policy towards cheetahs. In Namibia cheetahs are seen as a pest and farmers are encouraged by the government to shoot any that are found on their land – several years ago the owners of Cheetah Park had followed the government policy, shooting and killing what turned out to be a mother cheetah. After finding the cubs of the dead cheetah, the family decided to raise them - this eventually led to them helping other orphaned/injured cheetahs, which in turn led to the creation of Cheetah Park.

When we arrived at Cheetah Park our driver, Steve, was attempting to navigate his way from the entrance gate to our camping area. He somehow managed to lose his way slightly, leading to a hilarious truck-attempting-to-turn-in-narrow-passageway scenario not unlike the scene in the original Austin Powers movie. Eventually, after much tooing and froing, Steve did manage to extricate himself from the predicament and we were able to pitch our tents before that evenings excitement – cheetah feeding.

The brothers (who also ran the bar, as we discovered later) of the family arrived to pick our group up in two pick-up trucks, into the back of which all 24 of us piled. As we bounced along the dirt track leading to the cheetah enclosure I think most people were looking around and finding it difficult to not notice the fact that the back of the trucks in which we were stood would definitely be classified as 'open'. This only became more noticeable after entering the enclosure and seeing several cheetahs emerging from the high grass and starting to stalk our convoy. There was nothing but a four-foot jump between them and us. However, it soon became transparent that we had nothing to fear. Our guides jumped out from their enclosed front seats to get the black-bin of donkey meat sitting just in front of where we were standing – it was this that the cheetahs were stalking, not the live meat in the back!

           As we watched the brothers sorting out the meat, the cheetahs appeared on both sides of the trucks waiting in the best line I have seen in the entire time we have been in Africa! The older brother explained to us how he would feed the cheetahs and gave everyone time to line up for photos before he began. Then the chunks of meat started flying into the air, and the cheetahs started scrapping for them. Each piece was aimed in the general direction of one cheetah, but if it hit the floor it was fair game for any of them. You had to feel pity for one of the cheetahs – it was completely blind in one eye and couldn’t see the meat before one of the other cheetahs had run off with it. Eventually our guide took pity and (literally) threw a chunk of meat right into the blind cheetahs face. To feed all of the cheetahs in the enclosure – and there were over 10 took – no longer than a few minutes, but watching their speed and agility was exhilarating none-the-less.

            After feeding time for the cheetahs was over, we headed back to camp for feeding time for us. As we filled our own stomachs at dinner that night, we were informed that the bar was run to gain extra money to support the maintenance of the cheetahs – basically, we would be drinking for the cheetahs. Well, only someone without even a hint of compassion or mercy would be able to refuse helping such a worthy charity. So as soon as our plates were clear we set off for the bar – for charity! The two brothers (our guides from earlier) not only supplied us with drinks that night, but also a couple of challenges – namely to lift one of the cast-iron bar stools with one hand, and to attempt to get through the middle of the same bar stool without touching the ground. I can advise that both are much harder to do than they sound…especially when intoxicated. There were also house rules dictating that the loser of any pool game had to march around the pool table wearing an army helmet, using the pool cue in lieu of a rifle, before saluting the victor and then drinking a shot (no-one really knew of what) from the bum of a warthog. Yes, you did read that right – the bum of a warthog. I could explain further, but it may just be easier for all concerned to look at the photos below.

            The next morning was slightly hazy for reasons I can no longer remember, but we were up for an early breakfast as we were going to visit the tame cheetahs kept in the family house. Over breakfast a few of the more hardened drinkers (or as we preferred, ‘charity donators’) from the previous night admonished the few who didn’t stay up drinking ‘for the cheetahs’. We then convinced the Norwegian girl, Helena, that because so few people had spent money at the bar, several cheetahs had to be put down due to a shortfall in funds. She later claimed she only believed us because of the language barrier, but I think she only realized when we couldn’t hold our laughter any longer! After breakfast was finished, we drove the short distance (without getting lost this time) from our campsite to the main entrance, where the family house stood. As we approached we could see the rather surreal sight of two dogs and three cheetahs roaming inside the gated front garden. An even stranger sight was that of the girls, basically ignoring the cheetahs, walking over to pet the dogs instead!

            Our Dutch friend Esmerelda had decided to stay outside the gates, as she didn’t feel comfortable with the cheetahs roaming around her with nothing but air in between. This was all well and good to start with; she happily looked on whilst taking pictures through the wire mesh. However, she was concentrating so much on the animals inside the gates that she didn’t really notice the giraffe walking up behind her until our tour leader, Iain, felt the need to point it out to her. It turns out that while the giraffe was wild, the family had rescued it from a fence when it was only a baby, and it keeps coming back to them. The giraffe certainly had a fondness for our truck and, as we had left the sides open, decided the best thing to do would be to stick its head through the windows to enjoy some of our books and magazines – obviously being unable to read, the next best thing to do was eat them! It was then left up to Iain to sort out our hungry guest, so he wondered over to the giraffe, tapped it on the leg, and asked with a very typically British politeness if it would mind getting its head out of the truck.

            Much to the disappointment of everyone, we couldn’t spend all day sitting with the cheetahs and the giraffe – we had a long drive day ahead of us down to Namibia’s ominously named ‘Skeleton Coast’. The drive took us through some fantastic scenery - a nice change given that a normal days driving would be about 200 kilometers dead straight followed by one turn and then another 200 kilometers straight ahead. We rose up from the planes into hills and then dropped back down into valleys, crossing bridges only just wide enough for the truck. Looking over the edges of the road, it wasn’t uncommon to see the burnt out wrecks of less carefully driven vehicles, having plummeted to the bottom of the unforgiving gorges. Reaching the peak, the hills dropped away in front of us and opened into an endless desert – the only thing in sight was the road, snaking down to the foot of the hills then disappearing into the horizon across the plane.

           

As the sun was lowering in the sky we hit the Skeleton Coast, and as the sun disappeared from view we found a place for our bush camp that night. To say it was cold would probably be an understatement, the chill wind coming of the Atlantic combined with the lack of cloud cover over the desert-like area made it an uncomfortable night for all. We pitched all 10 of our tents in an area of about 5 square meters directly behind the truck in an attempt to shelter from the wind, and wearing full arctic dress went to sleep. When we emerged the next morning, not only was it equally cold, the entire place was covered by fog too. As such, we didn’t hang around too long for breakfast before we were on our way to see the seal colonies that littered the coast in the area.

Driving towards the colonies, it looked like there was no beach, just hundreds and thousands of black rocks running up about 50-100 meters from the sea. However, as we got closer we could see that they were not rocks. The beach was covered with seals as far as the eye could see in every direction. And boy, did those seals make some noise and kick out a smell! Having made obligatory jokes about going clubbing, we walked up and down the edge of the colony we had parked beside. After about 10-15 minutes of photos and imitation seal/Chewbaka noises, the cold and noise and smell became too much for everyone. So, saying goodbye to the seals, we all piled back onto the truck ready to head to our next destination – Spitzkoppe Hills.
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