Sunday, November 9, 2014

Namibia - An Overview

The Oryx - Linda's new favorite animal
It has been so long since I posted a blog entry that this is just going to be an overview of our time in Namibia. I’ll post individual entries later along with more from South Africa and Botswana.


Namibia is a dry country of amazing contrasts. Its European colonial history began with ‘discovery’ by the Portuguese as they were searching for that elusive route around Africa to the East and its spices. But as a colony, it was founded by Germany with the exception of the port of Walfish Bay (Walvis Bay) which somehow the British commandeered as a port to furnish its inland colonies. When Germany lost World War I, the colony was given to South Africa to administer. Over the years, the United Nations tried to get South Africa to give up control, but it took fighting and was not until 1990 that Namibia gained independence. Walvis Bay was added in 1994. Meanwhile, South Africa had extended its apartheid regime into Namibia. The legacy remains, but Namibians will tell you with pride that race is not an issue today.

Our camp from the air
The coastal city of Swakopmund is the most interesting urban area in Namibia. The German heritage is easily seen in the buildings and the monument honoring the 1904 defeat of the local tribe. Moreover, even though English is the national language, you are much more likely to hear German spoken on the street and in the shops. Unlike the other southern African naitons we have visited, the overwhelming majority of visitors here are from German or Switzerland. I had to go back four months to find another American in the guest book at our hotel.



Our first stop was Sossusvlei, a national park you have certainly seen in pictures. The red sand and the dead trees are unmistakable. Animal life is minimal which only makes the oryx and springbok more dramatic when you see them silhouetted against the dry landscape. Nor are there  a lot of birds, but eleven of the 23 birds we saw were new ones. The treeless landscape also allowed us the opportunity to see jackals and bat-eared foxes.


From Sossusvlei we flew 140 miles to Swakopmund and then drove to Damaraland for a different landscape experience. With just a bit more water and occasional river flow, this area has enough trees to support a healthy population of elephants. We also saw kudu and steenbok. As in Sossusvlei, the lack of predators means the animals can live in peace and humans are able to walk the property without a guard.



Our next to last stop is the famous Etosha National Park where animals abound. Almost a quarter of the area is the Etosha Pan, a dry lakebed so salty that nothing grows on it. The rest of the park varies from dry scrubland to forested areas. Waterholes dispersed about the landscape provide enough water for a good variety of animal and bird life, incluinding lions, leopards, and cheetahs. The only missing animals are those that need lots of water like cape buffalo and hippopotamus.  Best are the thriving populations of black and white rhinoceros, one of the few places in Africa that can make that claim. The facility manager says that the best anti-poaching unit here is the lions.


Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk

Tomorrow we leave Etosha for Otjiworongo and the Waterburg Plateau. More later.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Muchenje Game Lodge at Chobe National Park, Botswana


Zebra, Waterbuck, and Impala grazing together
View from our deck
Baobab Tree
I haven’t been as regular as I’d hoped  in keeping up with this blog. We are in Johannesburg now and headed off to our next stop at SpionKop where we will spend the next five days. We had a fabulous time at Muchenje with Robert and Joy as our hosts and David as our guide. Robert and Joy had great stories to tell about knowing Jane Goodall and Dion Fossey. They are also good friends with Peter Allison who wrote the marvelous book, Walk Don’t Run, about his adventures as a game guide. Since we have all read his books, it was a real treat to learn more about him.

We ate lunch with the Elephants our first day
Then waited for them to cross the road on our way back to camp
Of course, the real treat at Chobe is the animals. The park is about 11,000 square km. It was set aside in the 1930s and became Botswana’s first national park in 1968. Botswana has the largest number of elephants of any nation; over 70,000 of them live in Chobe along with lions, leopards and thousands of different species of antelope. It may be hard to believe, but by our fourth day we would drive through a herd of 100 elephants without stopping as we were in search of other animals or birds.
She is wishing that those zebra hadn't seen them




Just resting in the middle of the day

We saw 29 lions. This was the only male.
The camp sits at the top of a slope overlooking the Chobe River so we awoke each morning to a view of the expanse of Africa and its animals. Since the river is the border Botswana and Namibia, we were also able to watch Namibian fishermen working their nets. Zebra, waterbuck and vast numbers of birds usually had made it across the river to graze enhancing the view.

Tough times for the baboons as they wait for the rain.
The short neck leads to adaptive behavior.  They are not praying.
We saw one elusive leopard - a first for Rintas and Briggs.
The Chobe bushbuck is the only one with spots. This was a very rare sighting.
Slender Mongoose
Banded Mongoose
An unusual scene of a buffalo in the water feeding.
Spotted hyena at dusk
A beautiful Waterbuck


Kudu
Rather than write more, I am just going to show some of the better pictures. Enjoy.

African Fish Eagle
Tawny Eagle
African Jacana - also known as the Jesus bird as it seems to walk on water over the lily pads
Brown-headed Tchagra
Crimson-breasted Bee-eater
Blue Waxbill
Kori Bustard - Botswana's National Bird
Lilac-breasted roller - runner up for the title of national bird
Marabou stork - one of the "Ugly Five"
Yellow-billed Stork
Sunsets here are absolutely amazing.






Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Victoria Falls - Mosi-oa-Tunya (Smoke that Thunders)



Officially one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site being here truly involves all five senses. After a lovely sunset boat ride the evening we arrived, we were treated to a tour of the falls the next morning. November is low water time for the falls, but it is still spectacular as you can see from the pictures. The difference however is amazing as the high water volume is about 5000 cubic meters per second while what we saw is only about 500 cubic meters per second. Imagine if you can, all the rocks being covered by falling water and the spray so dense that it is hard to even see the falls from the vantage points we had on this trip.

Hippo on sunset cruise
Elephant greeting our boat on the Zambezi River
Linda and I visited the falls two and a half years ago during the high water season in March. This post ends with two photos from that time to give you a sense of the difference. On that trip we were not able to take pictures once we started walking along the falls because the spray was too dense for our cameras’ safety. This time we brought a water proof camera and hardly needed it.




The town of Victoria Falls was built for tourists, unlike Livingstone, Zambia which has a more authentic feel. The neat walkable streets are not safe at night because of the wild animals, not the wild people. We did hear a bull elephant roaring one evening. The staff was afraid that he was bellowing at poachers, but it turned out he was just angry.

In high season this would be a single wall of water.
Yes, those people are swimming in Devil's Pool at the edge of the falls. Several You-Tube videos show people having fun.
Cecil Rhodes envisioned a railroad from Cape Town to Cairo. It eventually reached Tanzania. This bridge over the Zambezi below the falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe is now used by rail, traffic, pedestrians - and bungee jumpers. The repainting job is half done. Notice the lack of protection for the river below. 

During the afternoon, Cherie and John Briggs and I did a zip lining tour of the gorge. First time for each of us and it was a fun, exciting afternoon with some outstanding views of the gorge. You can see some of them on Facebook. We were a little apprehensive when we arrived to see tents instead of a building, but our trepidation pass as they belted us up and made sure that we had a safety line at all times. Safety really was their highest priority although a couple of the takeoff points were a bit hair-raising over the canyon. Then after our nine zips, we got to climb out of the canyon. That part required some real stamina as we climbed the steps. The others took the afternoon to catch up on some needed rest.  


The next morning I hired a guide for a bird walk before we left for Muchenje Safari Camp in Chobe National Park in Botswana. I had an excellent guide who helped me find 12 more life birds in about three hours. We saw 45 birds in all as we visited several different spots for some short walks through across the landscape.

Much more water in March
Another March photo from our plane