Monday, September 3, 2012

Namibian Vacation: Game Drives in Etosha

Between our package tours to the desert and Etosha National Park in Namibia, we stayed one day in Windhoek at the same guest house where we were earlier in the week. While seeking the crafts fair during this free day, I found Uncle Spike’s Book Exchange, a used-book store with hundreds of paperbacks in English, German, and some Namibian. He actually had a stack of tattered comic books, none from the Silver Age, but I bought one for 5 Namibian dollars—which is about 60 cents US. It was a ragged copy of Captain Atom, a Charleton Comic drawn by Steve Ditko in 1967. The most interesting element was a full page house ad for Charlton, a second-rate house which trailed behind DC and Marvel. The ad read “Action Super Heroes? We Got ‘em! And they’re not half bad.” Not a very ringing self-endorsement.  We also learned of the death of Phyllis Diller which made me sad because when I was a kid, she was on TV all the time. Her braying laugh, bizarre outfits, and mile-long cigarette holder always made me giggle.

Our four-day excursion to Etosha started the next day. Our guide was Hella, a Namibian-born woman of German descent in her 70s who had a thick German-African accent. The only other person on the tour was Crystal from Austria, a pharmacist who spoke very little English and had been to Africa over 20 times previously. We drove to the park in a large 4x4 vehicle (pronounced by Hella as “beetle”) equipped to drive on the rough roads and afford views of the animals. The drive to Etosha was just as long as the one to the desert.

We stayed in four different lodges and took several exciting game drives, sighting all kinds of wildlife. The most striking images were at the watering holes when almost all the animals—giraffes, elephants, zebras, springbok, etc.—were not moving because they are afraid of a single lion.  Cars surrounded the scene as if they were at a drive-in movie. The elephants actually were not afraid of the lions and did move, two shook trunks with each other in greeting. But all the rest were standing perfectly still as if posing for a picture.

The first lodge was commercial and upscale, full of German and South Africans, with very few Americans. We got up at 6AM the next morning looking for lions since we had spotted that one at the watering hole the previous evening. We were one of the first ones out of the lodge and were rewarded with viewing of a pride of lions consisting of two males, and several females and cubs. The head male was obviously hooked up with the female who was currently in heat. He followed her around as the pride crossed in front of our car, allowing us to get several close-ups. Later we saw elephants washing each other and zebras having sex.
That evening’s lodge was more rustic than the previous one and not as nicely kept. The public toilet in the men’s room was blocked and had been for a week—according to an angry letter written on the toilet door by a tour guide. There was a watering hole at the lodge where we saw a rhino during sunset and a matriarchal herd of elephants after dinner. There was no internet and the only TV was tuned to European soccer and South African rugby, but we didn't need any other entertainment.

The next day Friday was spent driving to the Etosha Pan, previously a huge lake, but now a dry stretch of salt. Later we encountered secretary birds and khory bustards, two species of cartoonish birds which looked like crosses between the Roadrunner and Franklin Pangborn. I had always thought secretary birds were so called because they looked like they should have dictation pads and were ready to follow you around and make travel arrangements. More elephants, zebras, giraffes. We stopped for a swim at a tourist center then drove out of the park to a lovely private lodge. At cocktails, we learned that there was a shooting outside the Empire State Building that morning and that the US political world was still in an uproar over Missouri Congressman Todd Akins’ stupid comment about rape not leading to pregnancy so it should not be an exception for abortion.

There were about ten guests including us. Hella explained there was a surplus of accommodations nearer to Etosha so this place, which was done up in a mining motif, was relatively vacant. The rooms were luxuriously safari style and the dinner was more game like oryx and springbok.

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