Jun 15 2015

Day two in Etosha

I awoke in the dark after another night of freezing cold temperatures. A plan was urgently needed for the following night. The sleeping bag wasn’t up to the task. But those thoughts quickly disappeared as we packed up camp and wondered what awaited us during the day.

Again, we were first out of the gates when they opened at sunrise, the rest of the camp displaying only slight stirrings of life. The sun rose in front of us as we aimed our vehicle eastwards.

The first waterhole raised our hopes for an exciting day. As we drew close in on the waterhole I laughed at Viking Exlorer. “That log over there looks exactly like a lion! The mind certainly plays such tricks on us!”

Only this time it didn’t. There in front of us was a male lion lying quietly. We must have disturbed his morning nap as he casually stood up and slowly meandered away from us into the bush. Along the way, a female appeared and joined him as he disappeared. It happened too quickly and too far away. Then we looked towards the large water storage tank with low retaining wall, broken in places (evidence suggested elephants at work). This proved to be the playground of four very boisterous adolescent cubs: two females, and two males with the early wisps of golden manes. We watched them play and tease each other, swatting each other with big paws, nipping back legs, chasing tails. They walked across the top of the wall, or ran around the base of tank out of sight. Occassionally they basked in the morning sun before continuing their antics. After an hour’s play, the four cubs jumped down from their perch on the wall and wandered off into the bush.

The next three waterholes we visited were all dry. It explained why there had been so little life – either birds or animals – for almost an hour. We had driven more than 30km only admiring the scenery, which was indeed beautiful and rapidly changing. The grasslands and bush gave way to drier open conditions. It felt hotter as the sun beat down on us and reflected up on us. For me, a very different type of beauty: harsh, stark.

Life returned at the next waterholes with the presence of water. Again, the mixture of animals we had grown fond of. Gemsbok (Oryx), zebra and springbok taking turns to quench their thirst and graze on the limited grass.

Our first glimpse of the Etosha Pan itself was breathtaking for us. So far, we hadn’t been anywhere near the Pan that gives the park its name. The first glimpse on the horizon was a combination of a mirage, an appearance of water, and the knowledge of the white salt. The heat playing tricks on the eyes. It took us a few days of arguing backwards and forwards to reach no conclusion of whether there might have been water in the pan or not. There must have been a hint of moisture in the ground, as the waterhole we approached had ample water and the grass was green again after hours of only brown dry grass. The animals were aplenty – herds of wildebees, springbok, hartebees, zebra, gemsbok.

Other sights from the day before reaching the rest camp:

The rest camp was busy! Being the main gate for the park, Okaukuejo was bustling. We checked in, grabbed an ice-cream and climbed to the top of the fort to see the gorgeous view.

Our wildlife sightings of the day were not yet done. After eventually finding a suitable camping spot (not easy given how busy it was) we grabbed sundowners, cameras, warm clothes and wandered down to the waterhole.

At first, it was quiet. The sun descended in the sky, and a lone elephant or two casually came down to drink. We watched with much joy. We were so fortunate to see these animals. But the surprise was yet to come. From a completely different angle, a large breeding herd of elephants appeared with the impressive matriarch leading the way. It was time for an evening drink. As we had seen before, the waterhole itself was shunned in favour of the identified supply pipe. One at a time, with a little bit of jostling and pushing, the elephants manoeured their way to fresh water. Some smaller family units gave up and took their babies out of the way of legs and feet to the water’s edge to drink.

We watched for over an hour. The floodlights came on after the sun set. Eventually, the matriarch retreated into the darkness beyond the circle of light and without commotion the rest of the herd gently, quietly followed.

It was time for us to retire. Dinner and beg were calling.

Another magical ending to the day. Very special sightings once again.

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