Beware crocs and hippos in the river.

It was another early start this morning, up at 5:45 again to pack up the site and be ready to leave at 6:30. It seems practise has made perfect as we were pretty much all done and on the truck by 6:15, eager and ready to get going on another African adventure day. Today we are leaving Etosha National park and heading to Ngepi Camp on the Kovango River – and the Botswanan border. It is our final night in Namibia – a country I have really enjoyed, albeit from the comfort of a tour truck.

Our final game drive through the park was short and we did not see anything exciting enough to hit the stop button in the truck and we were out of the park just after 7:00 and hitting some nice black top for the five hundred kilometre drive to the border. It was going to be a long driving day.

Having some fairly smooth driving and with the town of Grootfontein ahead – and its potential for internet access, I spent a good chunk of time writing emails on my phone hoping to tap into some wifi and send them once we got to town.

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However, as is normal with travelling, expectation and reality are often miles apart and there was no wifi and the internet access we did pay for was hopeless. I initially tried to upload one of the blog posts I have queued up ready to go, but that failed so many times I gave up, I did manage to get a message away to one of my boys on FaceBook, but that seemed to be the end of any access so I quit trying and wandered off in search of the next most important thing – coffee.

We got coffee at the local supermarket and it wasn’t too bad either. Tomorrow we are heading off into the Okovango Delta so we have stock up on important provisions at the supermarket – beer, wine, snacks – and of course water! Compared to SE Asia travelling in southern Africa is not too bad when it comes to water availability, most of the places we have been staying have potable water, it doesn’t always taste the best, but it is safe to drink. The Okovango is the exception so we have to stock up with a couple of days worth of bottled water and I have also taken a liking to fruit flavoured sparkling water as well.

I am feeling pretty good today, after a good sleep, plenty of water and no alcohol last night my hydration levels are up and am back to normal again. I must get back in the habit of drinking more water and stick to one type of drink of an evening.

As we moved into Kovango province there was an almost noticeable change in the countryside, there are a lot more trees and grass and subsequently there are a lot more people, a lot of small dusty hamlets on the road side as we moved north. With the villages and homesteads come a lot more people and animals, there are massive verges on the sides of the road, often grazing grounds for goats and cows – but there to allow drivers good visibility over the animals that decide to dart across the road. We were constantly braking and tooting at live stock on the way. We have been advised against taking photos of people from the truck, some get deeply offended and the throwing of rocks and sticks at the truck is apparently not uncommon if slight has been given – so there wont be too many photos of people.

The area is quite poor with a lot of the villagers being herders, there are few permanent structures and not a lot of power or water. Most of the trees have been chopped down for firewood but most of the family hamlets had a big tree were people sat during the heat of the day.

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We passed a small bush fire as we approached the end of the journey, it is the start of fire season and there are signs of last years fire damage everywhere. I imagine a few sneaky land clearing fires were lit as well as the normal damage from lightening.

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We arrived in Ngepi camp at 5:00 pm, it was not overly hot, but it is quite humid – the most humid of the journey so far, and of course it will get a lot worse as we go north.

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As we are by the river and surrounded by trees we have moved into mosquito territory so it is now time for long trousers and shoes in the evening, as well as mossie repellent. I had read a book on malaria on the truck today and there is one strain of the bacteria that is particularly unpleasant, so double up on the precautions as well as the anti-malaria tabs.

Ngepi camp is quite amazing, it was set up a few years ago by some South Africans and is uniquely fitted out, it is quite basic but has the key amenities – a bar and a swimming cage in the Okavango river. As soon as we arrived and had pitched tents I was in my togs and down to check out the swimming cage. It is small square metal grilled cage – about 4 * 4 metres on the edge of the river. On the distant shore – in Botswana, I could see a couple of hippos bathing, and there are crocodiles all over – apparently, I didn’t see any though. The river was warm and fresh and it was so nice to be able to wash the dust off.

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After a couple of drinks in the bar and dinner I watched a bit of England v San Marino on the TV with some of the bar staff and then went to bed early and listened to music while the others carried on socialising.

It was a long day in the truck and I needed some space to chill and contemplate, very hard to do in this situation, music in the tent in the dark is pretty good.

The elephant and the moron

Day 281, Thursday 11 October 2012 – Namutoni camp, Etosha, Namibia

I woke feeling hung over, dehydrated and tired even though I had pretty good sleep and not too many drinks last night. I really did not like getting out of bed at 5:30 and packing up the tent to be on the truck for 6:30. I am looking forward to a decent lie in again! However, getting up before dawn is the only way to see the best wildlife in action.

The sunrise over Etosha was quite spectacular though I was not particularly excited about moving and didn’t kill myself to get a great shot.

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I did magically perk up once a cup of coffee was on board after a roadside breakfast – and not in one of the human cages either!

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The first things we saw were jackals and some wart hogs, I love wart hogs and have really been looking forward to seeing them, they were a bit far away for great shots so I am hoping to be able to get up close and personal later on the trip, still at least I have seen them.

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We found a couple of very lethargic lions by the side of a watering hole, there were a couple of males hiding in some nearby bushes but after a long wait we gave up and moved on. The park is big and we have lot of driving to do before we get to our camp site on the far side before the gate closes at 6:30pm.

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Wise advice when you are one hundred metres from a small pride of lions!

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Strangely this is one of my favourite photos from the day, I mean I loved the elephants and I like my elephant photos, but visually this really appeals – a turnaround area near the salt flats.

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There was a lot of excitement on the truck when this secretary bird was spotted, it didn’t mean much to me as birds are not my thing, but I believe we were privileged to have seen one.

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Our real find for the day was a small family group of 10 elephants at a water hole, we spent quite a bit of time watching them interact, especially the young ones, it was pretty damn cool.

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There was a bit of push and shove to access a small water hole.

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but it all ended with smiles all round,

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and some love.

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We stopped for a lunch break at a camp in the park close to the centre and we all got too ooh and ah at a skops owl that lives in a tree there.

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After lunch we drove out into the Etosha salt plan, a massive salt pan in the middle of the park, it was like being on the surface of the moon.

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On the final drive into the camp we came across a small herd of elephants with one of them in the road feeding on a tree.

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We stopped to photograph it and this car passed by us and tried to go round the elephant, scaring it into action. There was a bit of a stand off between car and elephant and we were all hoping the elephant would charge the car as the driver showed no concern for the animal at all, almost appearing to be trying to shoo it off the road.

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Later we spotted this lone male elephant, definitely the largest I have seen so far.

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We stopped for a “comfort break” and I took a photo or ten of trees – so much more interesting than birds:)

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We arrived in Namutomi a little later than planned, the campsite was quite crowded and by the time I had put the tent up and cleaned up it was time for dinner, a quiet sparkling water and off to bed.

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LIONS !!!!

Day 280, Wednesday 10 October 2012 – Okaukuejo Camp, Etosha, Namibia

I had a lousy sleep last night; the herbal sleeping pills didn’t work so I popped half a proper one at midnight in the hope of a decent sleep. I still failed. It was the first warm night and the first night I did not need to use my sleeping bag.

Up at 6:00 and on to the truck with no breakfast as we were off for an early morning game drive.

We did not see much for quite a long time into the ride, the scenery was spectacular though and I enjoyed looking out the window trying to spot game. We were granted an interesting but unspectacular sunrise. As I have said a few times I love the landscapes here, so varied, so harsh in some cases but there is a photographic opportunity everywhere.

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I really like the patterns the animal trails make in the grass, it would be great to see this from a hot air balloon and look straight down on the trails.

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The animals are so well designed to fit into their environment, this does of course make taking clear photos from a distance quite tricky as these tussling male oryx show.

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We did see zebra, springbok and finally some decent shots of ostriches.

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After a bit more hunting around we saw a group of vehicles parked up so went over to have a look see and found a male lion (Hell yeah!) lying down sunning himself. I love this pose ๐Ÿ™‚

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Apparently in the nearby bushes were a number of cubs but we were unable to see them clearly due to the other vehicles blocking the view.

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We waited and waited and finally gave up, I gave them a brief verbal server out the window as they were being incredibly rude. This actually turned out to be an awesome move as 500 metres up the road we spotted mum on her way home.

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We stopped to take photos and after a while everyone left the cubs and came to see what we were doing – so we nipped back to the cubs and had prime position for the reunion, first of mum and cubs and then of the whole family. Just fabbo stuff, my first wild big cats, not too far away and so beautiful to see.

Dad finally showing some interest in his baby sitting.

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The kids hear mum approaching.

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The reunions.

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Dad giving a mighty roar yawn.

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and they finally left, probably to go find a kill that mum made.

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What a fantastic expereince, certianly not something that is seen every day.

Brunch was at 11:30 and another great meal of salads and meats and potato cakes, I certainly loving the food here and it is not doing my waist line any favours at all, I am going to have to get out for a run sooner rather than later. After lunch we had three hours of down time before the evening game drive left, so I was back into the shade and on the computer again. I am enjoying having access to electricity for a change.

On the second game drive we didn’t see any more of the big five but I got some great shots of the other game, zebra, oryx, springbok etc.

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My first wilderbeast

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which often travel with zebra

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sand squirrels ๐Ÿ™‚

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We stopped for a break in one of the human cages in the middle of the park, there are a number of these sanctuaries scattered around.

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Some sort of basted

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After dinner I went back down to the waterhole and a different rhino was there with some reasonable light so I managed to get a couple of shots before the sun was too low, and this was a better rhino shot than last nights, but only just.

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Another African sunset!

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I would like to a rhino in a more natural environment, the park is huge – at 22,000 sq km it is the second biggest in Africa, so it is pretty natural, but the waterhole is purely man made and totally geared up for tourists to look at the animals over a chilled chardonnay (or cardboard red in my case).

We had a couple of drinks after dinner and I think I managed to drink, beer, white and red wine, whisky, a G and T and an amurula. Only one of each, but a ridiculous combination…

It was the best in a series of best days!

The road to Etosha National Park

Day 279, Tuesday 09 October 2012 – Okaukuejo, Etosha, Namibia

We had moved the worst offending snorers to one side of the camp site last night so with a little less noise and the help of half a pill I had a great seep, complemented by a wee lie as we were not on the road until 9:00. The campsite was typical of most of the campsites so far – dusty and dry, but there were some quite cool trees to photograph, I love the shapes of the dead, dying and otherwise leafless trees I have seen.

The road to Etosha National park, was not too bad, relatively smooth going considering some of the roads we have been on lately and the countryside here is positively lush, well less dry, dusty and arid then the previous days.

We stopped for coffee and a brief and largely unsuccessful internet session in Outjo and then hit the road again and stopped for a roadside lunch at mid day.

We were all dozing in the truck as we approached the park and I just happened to open my eyes as we passed our first giraffe just outside the gates. I will soon be bored with giraffes but it was very exciting at the time. OK, not really bored – no one can get bored with giraffes, but we don’t stop for them anymore !

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The camp ground is a couple of hours drive inside the park, so for the first time on the trip we popped open the roof hatches and went game driving. It must look a wee bit odd.

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This end of the park has seen some severe fire damage and is quite badly burnt.

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This did not seem to stop some of the wildlife and we saw a good collection of zebra, springbok and a couple of giraffes and a black back jackal. Some of which were photographable with the long lens.

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Once at the campsite and set up for the night we set off for the nearby waterhole for the late afternoon drinking session – not us this time, but the local wildlife. I got there just in time for a small group of zebra, a couple of springbok and the some giraffe followed by three elephants that hogged the waterhole for quite a long time, loved it !

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As the sun set this small group of zebra wandered off, kicking up a small dust cloud as they went, such a magnificent sight.

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Ibron baked me a beautiful piece of hake for dinner and it had been flavoured to perfection. After dinner I went back down to the watering hole to see if I could spot the black rhinoceros which is apparently due at the waterhole at 8:00 pm every night, and he was there on schedule, but very hard to photograph in the dark – lit only by some strong lights.

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A great day, our first game drive, first time seeing some of the animals here and tomorrow promises to be awesome!

Photographing wildlife is hard ! I was using the 2x extender on my 70-200 mm lens and pretty much every shot is at the maximum focal length of 400mm. Hand holding a heavy Canon 5d mk1 with this lens steadily is not easy and shooting at slowish speeds due to the low light made for lots of not quite sharp images. The rhino was shot using a tripod though. I may try and set the tripod up in the truck when we go to another park.