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Friday 24 Oct 2008
Etosha National Park, Namibia

Swakopmund to Etosha

The last morning in Swakopmund I managed to enjoy the luxury of a bath in our lovely room, despite the last minute notification that bags had to be on the truck instantly! It wasn't long before we were back into the routine of flapping our plastic plates/cups dry and then back on the road. I soon realised that I was increasingly disappointed with this tour, in terms of the attitude of the leader, lack of activities included and general atmosphere, which was frequently stressed because things were badly organised or made to be a rush unnecessarily. That's not to say I wasn't having fun, and making the most of the experience, amazing scenery, wildlife etc. However, it was a real contrast to the approach taken by the companies I'd used for my other tours in Asia (Intrepid), New Zealand (Stray) and Australia (Western Xposure) - for goodness sake, the truck didn't even have a name!!!

The first night back on tour was a proper bush camp at Spitzkoppe, where we did a walk around the huge rock formations, seeing Natural Bridge - another nature's window - and some bushman paintings, which were not as impressive as the Aboriginal ones I'd seen in Oz. I soon discovered that I'd been quite lucky with the timing of the rota jobs up until then, as I'd avoided the worst of the lot - pot wash! Scrubbing away in the dark, with limited water, and with de-blackener gunk smeared all over the bottom of the large pans to prevent the fires charring them, all made this task even worse! After that trauma I was exhausted and went to use the lovely facilities (a drop loo hidden behind a rock) only to discover a huge spider at one end and a nasty looking beetle the other! I was pleased to get into the safety of my tent that night!

We continued to start our days at silly o'clock and then spend hours in the truck covering the ground to get to a campsite, with the occasional stop to find a tree (if you were lucky) or more often to hide behind the truck itself! We'd normally have lunch when we got to camp and then we'd have a few hours in the afternoon to relax by a pool, a welcome chance to cool off in the seemingly ever increasing heat! I was really impressed by the facilities at the camp sites, hot water for showers, electric points to charge things and often a bar - so much more that I expected.

The sunrise over Spitzkoppe (similar to the effect at Ayres Rock with the changing orange/red colours) was more beautiful than the sunset and, to me, the start of the real African sun. New Zealand is the land of lovely views. Africa, as well as having the Big 5, is definitely the land of beautiful sunsets/sunrises. Our journey that day took us to a campsite with not only a pool and great little bar, but it was also home to 3 pet cheetahs, which we were able to stroke!! They also had a 9 month old giraffe that they'd raised after it had got caught up in their fence, which would let you stroke him too! There was an enclosure of 'wild' cheetahs that we were taken out to watch being fed. A group of five came first and pounced on the meat/caught it mid-air, making odd little mewing noises. The next group were friskier and one of them hissed at the guide! Then we saw a mum and her three cubs, the highlight!

It was interesting seeing how some of the local people dressed. In one town we passed Harero ladies, who wore huge chandelier bottomed dresses and a headdress that resembled a cross between Princess Lea's and Madonna's pointy bra! At another stop we were told about the Himba tribe, where the ladies wore very little and were covered in red clay, even into their hair! They were sat near where the tourist trucks parked with their trinkets to sell and to also offer us the chance to take their photographs - at a price! It was all a bit chaotic when we approached, seeing a couple from our group having the hard sell being put on them. I was going to give it a miss but, as we walked past, a lady on her own called out and, as it was more common for them to stick to groups so they could charge more, I thought I'd take the opportunity. After asking the lady to put the money I'd paid her out of sight so it wasn't in the photograph (!!), I got a couple of nice shots - it seems they all had the brooding look down pat. However, after this I wasn't able to escape so easily and the girl tried to sell me one of her bracelets. Then, the rest of the pack (that's the way it felt!) surrounded me and put loads of pieces on my arms and tried to get them around my neck too! I had to quite forcefully tell them to stop, and haggled myself a good deal for the one bracelet from the girl whose picture I'd taken, before making a sharp exit!

There wasn't a whole lot to see out of the windows sometimes, the scenery didn't change that dramatically and was dry and desolate. Hence it was very exciting when one day a kudu (large antelope/deer) came from nowhere at the side of the road, ran right in front of the truck, and then leapt over the fence the other side! Cows and goats were frequently wandering at the roadside, seemingly oblivious to the traffic. There was also the odd ostrich that wanted to play chicken!!

We had a fantastic day game driving in Etosha National Park, seeing loads of animals including giraffe, jackal, zebra, springbok, kudu, oryx, impala, wildebeest, elephant, lion and even a rhino! It was great to stop at the watering holes and see the different animals seem to take it in shifts to drink, watching the giraffes bend down from their lofty height was amazing, and rather amusing too! We also saw a 'white elephant' so called as it was giving itself a dust bath and was covered in the stuff! The Etosha Pan was bone dry and a vast flat expanse to the horizon - cue Alison jumping, doing cartwheels and handstands! ? Another fantastic sunset by the waterhole at our campsite, where 4 lions were relaxing was followed by an even better sunrise, the huge orange orb reflecting through the trees. Despite this, the camp won the prize for my least favourite so far, for reasons that will soon become clear. It was as we made our way out of the park, that I discovered my legs had been eaten alive by the mosquito I'd heard buzzing in our tent the night before. By the time we'd made it through our shopping stop in Rundu to use the last of our Namibian money they were driving me crazy. I soothed them in the pool at our campsite next to the Kavango River, and counted…. 96, plus one on each forearm! A short while later the sound of a hippo grunting could be heard and we watched it from the riverbank, an awesome sight when it yawned, especially after a tourist boat motored too close and it snarled at them!

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Gap Year Adventure 2008

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