Animals, LOTS of Animals

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Nov 2007

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Greetings from Tsumeb again! We're back from the Etosha Pan National Park with a few bazillian pictures having seen most of what we were looking for, except a rhino. The park is set up in two halves; on the east, it's all self-drive, on the west, it's only by guided safari through specific lodges.  Being budget travelers, we're naturally on the east side. We rented the cheapest car we could find, which turned out to be a VW golf. It's a cute little car, and might even outweigh our fully loaded bikes.  Might.  Car is an interesting cross of old and new;  the frame, and engine are clearly from the original line - I couldn't get it to start until the rental guy showed me where the choke lever was.  Dang, last time I needed a choke was on a lawn mower....  But it also had a key-less entry system, and a car alarm possessed by minor demons from Hades which resulted in the alarm going off at random, un-expected times.  This made us no friends in the campground...  And of course there's the bit about the steering wheel on the right side.  Now driving on the left is not a problem anymore - we've been doing that for so long that Europe is going to be a shock in the other direction. But having the stick shift on the left.... now that caused some cerebral confusion for a while.
It was raining as we set out -rather unexpected since we thought Namibia would continue to dry out as we headed west.  But we went anyway, and the rain didn't seem the bother the animals. In fact, very little bothered the animals, which, big or small, will stand in the middle of the road and look at you, then slowly saunter off, just to let you know who has right-of-way around here.  The park is very large, and the self-drive section is just a set of roads with 3 camp-sites. There is no driving after dark, so one just basically wanders around the roads, and side roads, hoping to see something. Etosha could, unfortunately take a BIG lesson from the US National parks on being user-friendly.  In a US park, you get a nice info packet when you enter, including a map, and can then go ask the rangers what's happening, where to go to see what etc.  There was none of that here; we had a terrible map in the Lonely planet book, and there were no helpful rangers anywhere, or any park staff really except the ones taking money for concessions and accommodations (camping or chalets).  As we were leaving we found the very nice, third party guide to Etosha and wildlife, which we should have found at the beginning, but at least now we know where we were lost! :)
The animal viewing was actually best near the entry - lots of giraffes, wildebeests, zebras and springboks in the first 10k, and then, a very rare treat; a lion had just killed a wildebeest very close to the road. The location could be identified by the large traffic jam watching him sit there, mostly oblivious to the noisy tin boxes with little black cylinders sticking out the windows.  That was pretty well the highlight of the first day, we wandered along the edge of the pan for a while, saw a few Oryx, and a few more zebras, but not much else before reaching our camp in the middle of the public section.  All the camps have a big fence around them, and then a watering hole for viewing whatever comes to water. The watering hole is floodlit at night, since animals tend to come back for water around sunset and sunrise.  While our camp was known for Rhino, luck was not with us on that score, and all we saw at the hole were a lot of bats and birds feeding off the moths flocking to the floodlights. Good entertainment at least. 
The second day we got a nearly-dawn departure, but still the water holes were pretty well bereft of population, so no snazzy pictures of all the Zebras coming to drink. Perhaps it's too wet in the park still, although there wasn't a lot of water around.  We found lots more zebras, including some nursing ones, but what we really wanted were Elephants. Finally, on a less-traveled loop we came around the corner and there was a damn big elephant! Screeched to a halt, as he wandered into the high bushes making viewing difficult, and also a problem, when / where would he pop back out?  Then there were two!  They charged and bonked heads a couple times, but mostly playful. We hung back with a small herd of mongoose and waited for them to come back out. Meanwhile a couple cars came the other way, so now the elephants are sandwiched; we hoped that wasn't bad since they'd most likely go for the little white box rather than the three much bigger boxes on the other side!  They eventually left, the elephants didn't seem to care so we got more bold, and got a few good views, and pictures!  
So we left the park pretty satisfied with the animal count.  Just for a bonus, the road out was full of giraffe, and one more elephant sauntered by as we drove out, but was quickly gone again in the bush.
As for whether we're still in "Africa", last night we definitely were not. We ate out for a change (the menu here is generally "what sort of meat would you like with your meat?", and the camp sites all advertise that they have a 'braai' (grill) at every site - that's the only way people know how to cook here.  Anyway, we weren't in "Africa" because:
1. We found what we wanted on the menu, and ordered it without a problem - usually we point to something interesting on the menu and the immediate response is "finished" (i.e. don't have that anymore. maybe never did, but it looked nice on the menu)
2. The service was quite timely, and accurate
3. We got pizza, a novelty in and of itself, the last time we ordered pizza, it was more like sorta-cheese on ketchup spread on white bread and toasted briefly
4. The whole meal, including a beer and a glass of wine was $9 (US$).  The same would have cost 2-3x in Zambia.
So anyway, we're now angling southwest to the coast. The terrain will switch to desert eventually as we reach the skeleton coast, and the final road down the coast is listed as a 'salt road'.  Will oil the chains extra well first. We'll also be about half on gravel road from here on out. The Namibian gravel roads are supposed to be very good, but we'll see.   Swakopmund is the next destination - the most German of the Namibian towns, should be there in about a week.
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