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Though my trip to Namibia in 2016 was focused on meeting and interviewing people for the documentary film, "African Witchfinder," we also took time to see some of the iconic landscapes and animals to include in the footage. While I had been to several of these places two years earlier, it was a completely different season, which affected both the landscape and the animal sightings; and also traveling with Berrie, who knows his country so very well, was a different experience than the previous time. I had not been to the Caprivi Strip on my first trip, so that was all new territory. It was fun traveling through the game parks with Mally and Toby who had never been in Africa on safari before and were quite beside themselves over animals that seem commonplace to me by now.
Elephants will never seem commonplace! One neat thing we saw in the game reserve of Bwabwata in the Caprivi Strip was the largest herd of elephants I'd personally ever seen. (I haven't been to the big savanna regions of Kenya and Tanzania yet to see such herds.) The bushes were so thick it was difficult to see beyond the sand tracks that we were driving the Berrie Bus on. Berrie must be commended for driving what would normally be considered a 4x4-grade route with our 10-passenger van. After driving for some time and seeing not much more than a couple female kudu, we decided that driving through thick bushes was not the best use of the film crew's time and we should go back and interview some people. Berrie said, "Let's just drive up around this bend and we'll turn around up there."
You can guess what we saw just around the bend! Through a rare clearing in the bushes we could see an idyllic landscape with a lake and marshy shores with a herd of elephants grazing. It was hopeless to get a good view of them from the van. So we decided to get out and climb a small knoll to look out over the marsh. We could just see above the bushes there, and Mally actually put me up on his shoulders to get some better photos. The elephants were still so far away and I only had a 200 mm lens, so I couldn't get anything stellar, but under the circumstances, I has happy to even just witness them. Here are a couple shots that portray the Edenic feel of the scene.
After watching them for awhile, they began to move off into the bushes and we couldn't see them any more. So we hopped back in the Berrie Bus and managed a turn around in the sandy tracks and tight quarters of the bushes. And then what did we spy on the side of the road?
Next thing we know, the whole herd wants to cross the road. We drove down to what we felt was a safe distance away, and parked with the door open so we had a nice clear view of their crossing, but with the bus left running and facing down the tracks away so we could high-tail it if any of them started acting aggressively. Berrie and I both have enough experience with elephants to recognize when they are chill and when they are agitated. These lovelies were just causally munching their way across the road. We could only see a few at a time, but they just kept coming and coming and coming out of the bushes. It was so cool.
We had some beautiful accommodations in this area, run by the national park service at Popa Falls. If you're in the area, I recommend it. It's right on the Okavango River with spacious chalets. Here we are taking some relaxing moments. The only time that wasn't relaxing here was when we saw a baby cobra in the swimming pool! I tensed up a bit.
I showed you a lot of houses and businesses along the roadside in the Roadsides post and beauty shops in the Beauty Salon post. Here are a few pics with more intimate views into the courtyards and homes of people in the northern Kavango region of Namibia. Within a courtyard there would be sleeping huts and cooking huts. You can see in these pics the pots and pans in the kitchen huts and drying racks.
Chickens, chickens everywhere!
I don't think I've included any backdrop for the Himba yet. All my posts about the Himba take place near the Angolan border near Epupa Falls on the Kunene River. Here is a look at the falls in 2016, which were much fuller than in 2014, near flooding conditions:
And a couple more shots of Himba homes inside their family kraal. At one point I thought I might make a post focused on homes, but then decided against it, but had already processed these pics, so just throwing them in here kind of randomly. But this is a random round-up anyway. :)
On my first trip to Namibia, I spent some time in the desert region of Sossusvlei, where the dunes are numerous and composed of a very deep red-orange sand. It almost doesn't even look real, somehow falsely saturated, in the dawn light. The Namib desert near Walvis Bay and Swapkopmund, where Berrie makes his home, is a completely different color and texture, with soft pastels -- mauve and peach and light purple. The extra light patches in the second and third photos are actually sand in motion, it's blowing down the face of the dune. The sun was at a good angle to see it lifting and swirling from the surface.
We drove the "dune belt" near Walvis Bay and Swapkopmund to see these beautiful scenes. There's an old passenger train and train station. Also we stopped at a "truck stop" to take the landscape photos below, which amused me, as it was just a couple little food stands that people sell food and sodas from a cooler, almost like a hot dog stand.
We stopped in at Dune 7, the highest dune in the area. Berrie suggested that if we were to climb to the top it was better to do barefoot otherwise your shoes just fill up with sand. The sand was much too difficult trekking for my decrepit knees to spend much time in; I only climbed up a little ways, but I did try it with bare feet. It was challenging because the surface of the sand is so hot and your feet don't feel cool until they sink in to the cooler sand beneath. It was like playing "hot potato" but with your feet. The dune was far too tall and wide to fit even into my 10 mm wide-angle lens, even from quite far back on the road. In these shots, I'm part way up, looking up at Mally, Toby and Susanne. You can just make out Susanne as a little speck at the top in the second photo.
Now I'm looking down at the ground from my perch part way up the dune, which I'm sorry to say was not very far up! I basically stopped at the point where I took the photos above. Susanne took the photo below of me from much farther up the dune. Can you pick me out? Little speck of orange? And check out my gigantic shadow! Biggest one I have ever had.
Berrie says in the windy season, sand infiltrates their homes everywhere and it can be quite miserable -- it comes through around door frames and window frames and every little crack. But Swapkopmund, his home, is a lovely seaside town with extremely mild weather compared to the rest of the blistering hot and dry conditions of Namibia. Founded by Germans, you really feel that you are in a European city rather than an African one. The architecture and the neatness, orderliness and cleanliness are a little out of the norm for most Sub-Saharan African towns. We stayed there a couple of nights while visiting the ADN Alzheimer's care home (see my post on that, "Bridging Dementia"). Flocks of flamingos populate the ocean along a boardwalk near the main part of town.
Lastly, we drove through Etosha National Park, which I covered in my posts from 2014. It was "low" season for wildlife this time, being the rainy season when the animals move inland away from the waterholes, which are where as tourists you can see them. We lodged overnight at one waterhole where two years previously in June, elephants came and rhinos and zebras and just all kinds of critters. This time, not a single one! But we still saw some animals while driving through the park. I was told by the guide I had in 2014 that I was unlikely to see elephants or anything at all in March. So, in light of that caution, I think we did pretty well!
And we had a treat to stay at the chalets in the Onkoshi camp. I highly recommend! Because it was off-season, the lodging was dirt cheap because Berrie got them at a discount for being a Namibian citizen. And we were pretty much the only people there! It lies at the edge of the Etosha salt pan. I've read mixed reviews about the camp, but honestly I don't know what people are complaining about with such beautiful chalets and epic setting. Berrie says during high safari season, elephants come right up. The only animals that came near my chalet were kudu and oryx. But they're my two favorite antelope species in Africa!
The only freaky thing was that two boomslangs, which are quite poisonous snakes, visited Toby's room and he had to be relocated to a new room. Susanne and I insisted (it didn't take any persuading, actually, the staff was happy to do it) that every square inch of our chalets be turned upside down and cleared for snakes before we could sleep. Susanne said she still laid awake all night, but I actually slept. Still, it was creepy as hell for a snake phobe like me! Toby likes snakes, so he wasn't even alarmed when he saw them!
On the other hand (the pleasant, non-freaky hand), we were treated to a rainstorm, in which we got to see the salt pan fill up with water impressively fast, and then it cleared away and left us with a gorgeous sunset.
The next morning we, sans Berrie, took a game drive with the camp's guide and, once again assuming to see very little in the way of wildlife, came away with a lovely experience. The lighting of the pre-dawn grasses was so beautiful, colored in pink and gold and purple pastels. I could not capture it correctly, but these first two wildebeest shots can give an approximate representation. The third one was taken later in the morning, after the pinks and purples had passed, wildebeests tussling with each other, something I'd never seen before.
But this morning turned out to be a very unexpectedly special one, indeed. We found three male lions right next to an unused spur of the safari tracks. It was clear that typically the drivers were not supposed to go there, but knowing that we were literally the only people in that area of the park right then, unless somebody drove in from a different camp far away, the driver looked around then said, "OK, let's go see them. Take your pictures quickly and then we'll leave." So we toodled right on over to them. Could practically reach out and pet 'em. Was very special experience for me and for the rest of the crew, too! We were on Cloud 9 driving back to our chalets.
Driving along the salt pan we saw these oryx (aka gemsbok), which I thought looked particularly picturesque for the kind of lonesomeness they portrayed when standing alone. The trio I liked just because, well I dunno, just because a trio of animals all looking right at you is fun, I guess. :)
I leave you with a corn cricket. These things give me a wicked case of the heebie-jeebies. They are gigantic. Like, seriously, they make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Yet, they are quite beautiful and fascinating if I can keep my impulse to flee screaming in check and inspect them more closely. This is one of the most amazing things photography has done for me. I have overcome some serious fears in order to take a picture of something that I would normally run away from because I think to myself, that in spite of my personal loathing, this critter would be cool in a photo. And then once I'm concentrating on zooming in and focusing on it, I become genuinely interested in it for that brief period of time when my fears and willies take a back seat to photography. Didn't get a nice crispy of this fella, but you get the idea, and the cool thing is that the quality of the resulting photo is irrelevant to the brief respite of fear. Even a poor photo still grants the same interest and relief. I think that's a pretty special thing about photography.