Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Namibia May 2016

My first day started out a little earlier than planned – I did not realize Namibia time is an hour earlier than Botswana – ended up rising at 4 am rather than 5 as planned. I will sleep well tonight – although I may find the absence of hippos grunting and baboons barking a bit disconcerting. The flight from Windhoek was interesting – began like a major flight, with security check and everything; pilot and co-pilot – and the plane was a six seater with me as the only passenger. Starkly beautiful desert mountain country, deep box canyons carved by the rather scarce rains, scrubby trees scattered here and there. We landed on a gravelly airstrip hardly distinguishable from the surrounding terrain – disconcerting to hear the crunch of rolling gravel under the wheels instead of pavement.
I was met by my guide, Mervin, who called a San tracker when I told him I wanted to walk before lunch. The tracker, Gideon, is a nice guy, very knowledgeable, good at explaining the finer features of the desert and how to track animals ranging from oryx (plentiful around here) to the small beetles that gather moisture from fresh antelope droppings, and who must dig a hole in a firmer spot of sand to keep from dying in the midday sun. He also showed me the burrow of the white dancing lady spider. The female constructs a trap door, just like the trapdoor spider in Queensland – but this spider is not very poisonous if at all. He showed me how to track the spider, the little jumping mouse, the local ground bustard, and chameleons – with his considerable help I managed to see and photograph one of the latter. Apparently they are not that easy to find and see, so I felt great about it.
I am writing this on a lounge chair in the shade of my tent-cabin, which is actually quite luxurious – gorgeous view of the desert mountain across the valley. The resort I located near the crest of a large dune, above he airstrip. This place is very different from Botswana of course. I was warned not to expect to see many animals, but already I have seen a number of them, enough to satisfy me, and the landscape really is beautiful, in much the same stark way that southern California is. It appears that a major oryx trail runs across an open area right in front of our tents so I will see plenty of them.
Lunch was great – smoked salmon on an avocado slice, chicken salad, passion fruit cream custard. Afterward I went for a vigorous 35 minute walk over a couple of dunes, which left me feeling great after such a long spell of idleness, then sat on the deck in the shade until 4:00, time for my afternoon / evening drive.
The afternoon / evening drive was nice – dunes in the evening twilight. Dinner was spectacular. It began with the kitchen staff humorously presenting the menu – first the chef explained each course in English, then one of his helpers translated it into one of the local languages, clicks and all, singing it. Very fun. The main course was springbok steak – which I had been hoping for – cooked to perfection, juicy and tasty. I ate slowly savoring each bite, so as usual was the last to finish.
The kitchen staff here, like at Selinda but in contrast to Kwara, take pains to assure, when the desert is flour-based, that my gluten-free dessert is of high quality. I am beginning to regard that as a sign of true excellence. At dinner the dessert for me was a small light crème with a delicious pear poached in red wine. For lunch both days it was a truly wonderful fruit salad.

May 24
Second day started with another walk with Gideon. We didn’t see many animals but he told several wonderful stories about the beliefs and customs of the San people. When we came to a fairy circle, he explained some of the large variety of scientific theories about them – he favors the theory that termites clear the circle and keep it clear. But his people teach that the souls of their ancestors gather to dance in a circle and the fairy circles are the dance spaces.
When we came to a certain low bush called ostrich grass that has long straight stems, lined with spiky thorns like the acacia tree, he told the most charming story about his people’s ancient marriage customs. When the elders decide a young man is mature enough to be married they visit a neighboring tribe and negotiate for a bride. Then they tell the groom’s cousin to tell him to prepare himself. The elders prepare a house for the couple, then when time for the wedding arrives, they build a fire. The bride, covered with red powder, sits inside the new house. Her family gather on one side of the fire, his family on the other side. Her grandparents come and sing and dance outside the house until she comes out. Then she leads them to the fire, singing and dancing, and pauses in front of her family, where she continues singing and dancing. The groom then leads his elders, singing and dancing, toward the fire. Along the way, he gathers branches from the thorny bush, shaped like arrows, and makes a makeshift bow – not a real bow, but a ceremonial one. When he reaches the fire. he shoots the spiky arrow so that it sticks to the animal pelt she is wearing. Then he continues around the fire to his family. The bride takes the thorn branch from the pelt, and sticks it to her breast, signifying “this breast belongs to you forever.” The then proceeds to the groom, removes the thorn branch, and hands it to the groom. He sticks it to his breast, signifying “my heart is yours forever.” Then the elders of the two families lead them to their new house, where they instruct them in the ways of a marriage couple. However, the marriage is not yet complete, and they may not yet share a bed. The next day, the young man must go out hunting alone, kill an Oryx, and bring it back to camp by himself. He may not return until this task is complete. Once he returns with the Oryx, he has demonstrated that he has sufficient hunting skill and strength to become fully a man, and the marriage is complete.
The other story, when we came to a plant called euphorbia (sp?) that looks a lot like a cactus, tall and round, but belongs to a different plant group entirely, he explained that the milky juice from the plant is deadly poison: if it touches your skin it causes a painful burn-like rash; if it gets in your eyes it can cause blindness, and if it is ingested, death comes quickly. (Other related plants are less strongly poisonous, but still troublesome.) He explained how his people discovered which plants can be eaten and which are poisonous. If they chance upon something that looks like it might be good to eat, they prepare it and feed it to a very old member of the tribe, who can no longer walk and no longer participate in the functioning of the tribe. If the old person survives and experiences no problems, the new plant becomes part of their diet.

After breakfast Mervin took me for a longer, rambling drive past the original Wolwedan camp and down onto the plain, where most of the animals other than oryx are to be found. We did see several springbok – beautiful animals – so I now know what I feasted on last night so gloriously. We saw one ostrich at some distance – barely close enough to photograph. At lunch I talked to another guest who saw both of those plus zebras and baboons. Luck – or perhaps the quality of the guide. Melvin is nice, but doesn’t really rise to the standards set by the guides I had at the last couple of camps.

Overall assessment: The dunes are quite impressive and quite beautiful – but not more so than several places in the American west. The staff at Wolwedons are very good, kitchen staff excellent – with one exception. It seems all the resorts have a tradition of a “sundowner” – they pack some light snacks and drinks – gin and tonic, wine, whatever, and have a little cocktail party out somewhere in the bush. At Selinda the staff always packed things I can eat; at Kwara they never did; here there will be a few pieces of fruit or, tonight, some bacon wrapped around olives (pits still in them – careful!) But there were also some things clearly made of wheat flour. Similarly, they deliver coffee makings first thing in the morning, with some cookies that also looked suspicious to me – no explanation whether I could eat them or not, so I did not. Otherwise the staff handled the challenge of my dietary restriction quite competently. My guide was indifferent – not terrible but not brilliant either. Gideon, the San who took me for walks was much better – more knowledgeable I think, quite funny, enjoyable to be with. I think Mervin got ticked off at Gideon because Gideon explained the nature and uses of several of the plants, and co-opted part of what Melvin planned to say. I’m sure there’s enough about this desert for both of them if they really knew their stuff.
I enjoyed the visit – two days was definitely enough, and I suspect there are other places in this region that I would have found more worthwhile. I later learned from another visitor that there are Neolithic cliff art sites and an interesting cave nearby – either or both of which I would have enjoyed far more than driving around looking at sand dunes and oryx for hours.
I hope I will see some of the really interesting desert plants like the baobab tree, for example. It was interesting, however, to see how much plant and animal life can be supported in a desert that gets maybe an inch or two of rain per year – just off what the plants can extract from the fogs that blow in off the Pacific.

Tok Tokkie Trail
This three day hike was definitely the highlight of my time in Namibia. We first visited a sustainability training center, NaDEET (Namibia Desert Environmental Education Center) which was quite interesting. They’re doing some amazing stuff – recycling, solar power, minimizing water and power use. Then we arrived at a waterhole where we began the first leg of the trip, about 2 miles over a series of dunes – not large as the dunes in this area often seem to be. One member of the party, Ruby (from Texas struggled with the first three dunes – her husband, Adam, and I hung back with her to minimize discouragement, but finally she asked the guide, Richardo, ro arrange for the truck with our supplies to pick her up along the way. She rode in the truck the rest of the way, probably a good thing since it got more difficulty. She had recently had heart surgery and gotten out of shape and had not got back into shape. Two French couples made up the party – very nice people with good sense of humor.
The first day’s short hike ended at a fixed camp atop a large broad dune, with a beautiful panoramic view. What a camp! The staff, Lulu (the chef) and Willie had laid out army cots with thick mattresses and bedrolls for me and each couple, spread out over the dune probably 30 meters apart, each with a little solar powered light, a rug to step on to keep from tracking sand into bed, and three little camp tables. Two toilets, a good distance from any “desert suite,” were marked with solar lanterns and a signaling system, white on one side, red (occupied) on the other. In the center was a camp kitchen where Lulu worked her magic, with a canvas wall on the upwind side, and a counter perpendicular to it. A few meters from the counter stood a long table, spread with table clothes, wine glasses, and flatware. The table was set with four solar lights, each embedded into the top of a pint mason jar so the light pointed down into the jar; in the bottom of the jar, a bit of sand with topical items like a little sculpture of the tok tokkie beetle or a bit of oryx dung and acacia fruit. Drinks were served as soon as we had settled in drinks were served.
We sipped, admiring and photographing the sunset and examining the ever-present oryx through binoculars. After a while we seated ourselves and Lulu and Willie came out to announce dinner – as at some of the other camps, Lulu in English and Willie translating into his own childhood language.. I don’t recall all the dishes except that they were uniformly excellent – one I do strongly recall was the kudu steak, served the second night, which was tender and very tasty, kind of like the best elk I’ve ever had, but with a slightly sweeter and very complex, subtle taste.
Breakfast was an assortment of cereals, yogurt, fruits, cheese and meat, and bread and jam. Lunch, left for us along the trail, was sandwiches. They took very good care of me, with gluten free cornbread, and gluten free versions of all the other dishes, including dessert.
The second day we hiked for an hour or two over a series of ever higher dunes, then off onto rocky terrain, then onto a rocky trail that wound around the side of a mountain called “horse-shoe mountain” because of its shape. In addition to the ubiquitous oryx we saw a few springbok and several herds of zebras. We did not make very fast progress, because Richardo kept stopping us to point out some interesting feature of flora and fauna, including the dancing white lady, a rather large trapdoor spider that digs a hole a foot or more into the dune, lines it with silk, and constructs a trap door at the top of silk – like the trapdoor spiders we saw in Australia. You can find them by the subtle crescent-shaped indentation in the sand above the trapdoor.
The trail steepened and got rougher as we progressed around the curve of the mountain toward a pass between it and another mountain, a total climb of about 400 meters. On top we stopped for tea / coffee and chocolate cake – Lulu provided chocolate covered cornbread for me; not quite the same, but quite good. Then we headed down toward the plain below – a much rougher descent. One of the French ladies was lagging behind, so I lent her one of my two trekking poles, which she later said made it much easier for her. At the bottom we walked for over a mile across a field strewn with rocks from pebble to small boulder in size, rounded the foot of another mountain, crossed a series of four increasingly high dunes, to our second camp. It was set up as before, except that the “suites” were set up in hollow spots in the top of the dune. Not as convenient for seeing the horizon but otherwise quite cozy.
Each night, the stars were spectacular until the rising moon, 4 days past full, put an end to star-gazing. Everyone went to bed soon after dinner, around 8 or 8:30; it was very pleasant, almost magical to lie under a cozy feather bed / duvet, feeling the cool breeze on my cheek and looking up at the most brilliant display of stars I’ve seen since my childhood (before all the desert entry farms filled Idaho skies with dust). In the morning, I woke up around 4:30 each day, with the smell of dew-wet grass, which lingered for about an hour until about the time Willie brought around coffee and hot water to wash, when the warming air had dried it all off the grass.
The setup for washing was quite interesting – a sort of plastic bucket on a folding 4 legged rack with a tin can to dip into the water after Willie had poured in the hot water – each can had four holes punched in the bottom so when you hung it from the top of one of the legs, four soft streams came out to wash with.
The third day we walked over dune after dune, a total of over two hours, back to the headquarters shared by the tok tokkie trail people and NaDEET. There we had refreshments, said goodbyes, and my driver arrived to take me to Kulala Desert Lodge.

Kulala Desert Lodge
This place is situated across a dry wash from the dunes – did manage to see some Ostriches here. The first evening my guide, Cliff, just took me out for a brief drive then up onto a high ridge for the ubiquitous :sundowner” – gin and tonic and some light snacks, this time stuff that I could safely eat including jerky made from kudu which is very good. Dinner both nights was good – I was spoiled by some of the previous resorts. The room is comfortable, with a nice, fairly modern bath.
The one full day I spent here was a lot better than the first afternoon and evening, which were rather boring. It started with early breakfast and a drive out to a famous pan – a dried up seasonal pond/lake – overlooked by a 350 meter dune called “big daddy.” A group of four friends from Oklahoma joined me; they are all nice people with a good sense of humor so I enjoyed being with them. Two are retired doctors, the other two geologists – very convenient; they explained many of the features we saw, including dune shapes.
Along the way we stopped for a brief walk that included a look at the dancing lady white spider, aka trapdoor spider. Cliff actually dug it out for us so we could see it – much larger than I thought it would be; I took a few photos of it. We all took several pictures of interesting dunes along the way. When we reached “Big Daddy” one of the other guys and I decided to climb it; the others decided to climb a shorter, 100 meter high dune and we decided to meet in the pan. About two thirds of the way up the other guy turned back so I plodded on – climbing sand is not at all easy. At the top there was a group of what must have been thirty US high school girls; I could barely find a place to stand on the top much less actually take pictures. Finally they left, giggling and yelling all the way, and I was able to take some pictures before I descended, half glissading in the heavy sand. It took 50 minutes to go up, 10 to go down. A lot of fun, and the first really strenuous exercise since leaving Germany.
After lunch, we met at 2:30 for a drive out to a very old canyon, eroded by occasional floods from a sedimentary rock that combines sand with pebbles and rocks up to several pounds. Very interesting. Another sundowner, and back for dinner.

Overall assessment:
The dunes area of Namibia is a bit of a letdown after Botswana. It is promoted for the scenery – which would be spectacular for someone who lives in Eureope or eastern U.S. It reminded me of nothing so much as New Mexico with oryx, zebras, and a handful of ostriches. I would have been happy with the Tok Tokkie trail and maybe one full day to see a few of the other sights.
Wolwedans is a pretty luxurious place – excellent food, well managed, but a mediocre guide and not much to look at other than sand dunes and oryx. Kulala is comfortable and well-maintained but not nearly as well managed. Several frustrations: I did not get hooked up to wi-fi until about 30 minutes the morning I left; other guests said the had problems, but most were able to hook up once in a while. I would get connected to the kulala server but “no internet service.” There was supposedly a password but the login page never showed up. Staff gave contradictory and confusing answers to questions like meal times – I ended up hanging around the dining room from 6:30 until 7 the first night, waiting for service; the second night, I joined my friends at 6:40 and they were already seated and ordering. Laundry: I was told it would be picked up in the late afternoon – others were told first thing inn the morning. I gave up and washed a few things that absolutely had to be washed in the rather small sink. The guide, Cliff, was better than Mervin, at Wolwedans, but not up to the Botswana guides. (At least he doesn’t drench himself in perfume as several of the Kwara guides do.) Kulala uses closed-top vehicles instead of the open-top used elsewhere, which means two very wide blind spots, one on each side. As a result it was impossible to see when we were approaching something interesting until we were almost past it – the only ostrich I saw that was close enough to see (or photograph) clearly, I barely saw as we sped by because of that blind spot. By far the best here in the dunes area is the Tok Tokkie trail, which was magic from start to finish.
Several people I met here rented cars to drive around southern Africa, and all swear by it, as a chance to really see the countryside. But when I flew out toward Damaraland, I feel I saw the countryside as well as I would have on the road – a lot faster, with a lot less hassle. I can see how it would work with 3 or 4 people traveling together, though.

This area is radically different from the dunes.. This is lava rock over limestone and sandstone, so it is dotted with flat-topped buttes reminiscent of much of the intermountain west. The camp setup is familiar – very comfortable, open tent rooms with a clean, very serviceable bath; meals served at a common table – only ten rooms, so not a huge crowd of guests. Routine is similar to other camps – staff sings and dances in native tongue at dinner time, great food – very nice. Good guide; very interested in rocks.
I discovered what may be the reason for the gluten problem I had – the person who greeted me told me they had been informed that I have “a preference for gluten-free.” I quickly informed him it is not a preference but a medical necessity – and made sure to talk with the cook as well, which I will continue to do. Later, at lunch the second day, they served a rice dish, then came to inform me that it wasn’t gluten-free and wanted to take it away. So there is a good deal of confusion, understandable I suppose. On the 2nd night they led us down to an outdoor place they have fenced off and set up for outdoor dining – a great experience overall. It was somewhat spoiled for me when the server brought me a dessert, then came back and took it away from me – apparently it was not g-f. Usually they bring some kind of substitute but this time they didn’t. I don’t really care, but after a while one of the women in the foursome sharing a car with me looked at me and asked “Aren’t you going to get a dessert?” For some reason that underscored for me the overall confusion. The next morning the manager apologized to me, which made me feel somewhat better about it.
The g-f issue intruded in a more unpleasant way the last day of my stay there – I woke up in the middle of the night with gluten poisoning; as a result, reluctant to get to far from a bathroom I gave up a sunrise walk I had planned. This was the third such incident in two weeks, so the consequences were more pronounced than usual – I’m not sure what is happening, but I suspect the chefs are using some bottled sauce on some of the steak dishes without reading the ingredients label fully. One more example of the general lack of understanding about this. I will have to do more investigating.
The first afternoon we visited a local village – people who were relocated to this wasteland from South Africa not long before South Africa lost its control over Namibia. They have adapted to the landscape, have gardens and livestock – but their cut of the tourist dollars is very welcome. If I understand correctly, the local population gets about a third of what we pay, which makes me feel considerably better about the costs. However, as I chatted with my guide, Teek, later, he gave a somewhat more cynical view. We visited a pretty little valley the afternoon / evening of the second day, with short cropped grass and several beef cattle, many of which did not look terribly fat. Teek talked about how desperately difficult farming is in this area – little water, poor forage, especially in a drought, poor prices for the beef. The third morning, we visited what had been a similarly pretty little valley, which farmers had burned from one end to the other in an attempt to make more room for grass for their cattle. Teek also saw lion tracks – he drove to the farm and talked to the farmer who said lions had killed one of his dogs and injured the other the previous night. We talked about the conflict between farmers and wildlife, especially lions – Teek said the farmers were supposed to get paid for any cattle killed by wildlife, but said it rarely happens, and that much less of the tourist money makes its way down to the local people than the official line suggests. It was a bit depressing but not surprising. Teek did have an optimistic side – Namibia, which is quite a new country, is trying to learn from the mistakes of other countries, notably Zimbabwe. However, prices rise fast, especially for housing, and the value from natural resources do not make its way back to the people.

In search of the wild elephant.
The second morning we went on a game drive, in search of a newborn baby elephant. Along the way we saw a flock of ostriches, several herds of springbok, some mountain zebras silhouetted against the sky, a couple of jackals at a bit of a distance. We found tracks from a couple of lone males, then Teek went to where he thought the main herd would be, and found a huge bunch of prints, what looked like 20 or so elephants. We followed the elephant trail as they zig-zagged through the spring-fed valley, found several tracks headed for a rocky hill – we could hardly believe they would make a newborn elephant cross such difficult terrain, but Teek drove around the hill. He heard over the radio from another guide who had seen sign of them going up a different valley; we met the other guide, who went off to the left following the trail. Teek, on a hunch, drove up to the top of a rocky little hill and stopped at what looked to me like the edge of a cliff. He climbed to the top of the hill, swept the valley with his binoculars, and saw a couple of them in the trees. So we all clambered back into the vehicle and – to my surprise – he drove over what I had interpreted as the edge of a cliff, actually just a steep rock-strewn slope. We bounced down over the rocks and sped toward the site, where we saw several elephants browsing on the tree branches (I got a nice shot of one elephant with a branch in its mouth) and several others, including mother and baby, in the shadows beyond. The guide said the distance from where they had been previously spotted was about 40 km – a long way for a newborn baby, I would think. We watched them, relaxing in the shade of an acacia, for a couple of hours. I got some really nice photos of the baby, including a blurred shot of it falling down and some nice shots of its mother helping it back to its feet. I also got some shots of other slightly older juveniles playing and rolling around under the feet of and in the shadow of the adult elephants, which makes it slightly difficult to following the action.
Tracking the elephants: They always set the hind foot down on and slightly ahead of the front foot, so you can tell the direction of movement by which circle is complete. When fresh, each print has ripple marks, which fade with time and wind. They also leave signs like fresh droppings with still wet sand from the urine, and bits of broken branches they have ripped off of the trees for food. Teek, like the other really good guides I’ve had, makes a lot of guesses based on his knowledge of the herd’s typical behavior and the terrain of the landscape – sometimes he’s wrong but often he’s spectacularly right.
The following day my companions left so I was Teek’s only guest. I wanted to visit a nearby petroglyph site (which I later discovered is a world heritage site). We drove around first – viewing the burntout valley, etc. seeing a flock of ostriches and several other animals. Teek told me that the ostriches have an interesting social structure. The alpha female lays eggs and the other females lay eggs in the same nest, but only the alpha male and female tend the eggs and then the chicks.
The petroglyphs are really great, although difficult to photograph because of the odd angles and glare reflecting off them. Some of my photos are very good but many are hard to read. They drew by scratching off “desert varnish,” like the Navaho, but they often engraved the picture much deeper. The only abstractions are circles with a dot inside, a symbol for water. Otherwise, local animals prevail: giraffes and hippos, which are also symbols of water. There were several varieties of antelope, several elephants, some quite lovely.
After I had toured the rock art, Teek asked if I wanted to go back to the lodge or if I was willing to go with him to see if we could find where the elephant herd went. That sounded like an interesting adventure so I said “let’s go.” We had some coffee, some g-f chocolate muffins the staff had made for me and some of what I thought were g-f chocolate cookies (a later experience cast doubt on that – but that is a different story.)
Teek drove up the valley, watching for tracks crossing the road. We saw a couple of single sets of tracks, but did not find the main herd tracks until we had reached a point where the valley started narrowing. He drove across the valley and back, then drove to the opening of a steep draw and stopped. He said they were probably heading on their annual migration to the foot of a large mountain some distance away, and they would either follow the road as it wound around the mountain or go up one of these draws. We started to walk up the steep rocky hill with the initial idea of climbing to the ridge to see if we could see them, then Teek motioned me over to where he was, to see if we could see tracks in the sandy bottom of the creek bed. We didn’t, so we circled back to the vehicle – a nice 40 minute walk in all. He went back to the road and drove along it for a ways, then turned up a rough track, up to the top of the ridge. We got out and looked down into another draw, where we saw several of the elephants, far below us. Teek started laughing, I think because he had managed to figure out where they were. However, as we drove back to the lodge, he mulled over the issue of leading a newborn elephant calf over such difficult terrain, and decided at least the mothers of the two young calves must have stayed behind with the calves.
Teek also explained some differences between the desert-adapted and other elephants. The desert elephants never tear down trees or even break off large branches; they never stay at one water hole too long – he says they preserve their environment. They do rip small branches off a particular tree, strip the bark (which is nutritious) and leave the leaves for other animals – the trail of stripped branches with fresh unwilted leaves is one of the signs we had used to trail them.

Desert Rhino Camp – final Namibia destination
Basically similar layout with one addition – a self-appointed “pet” jackal, a nearly grown pup who hangs around in the mornings and evenings in spite of the staff’s attempt to discourage it. Very pretty animal who doesn’t understand the law against feeding wild animals or making pets of them.
The first day there were only two other guests, an elderly couple who left Zimbabwe 40 years ago and now live in South Africa, Janet and Dusty. Dusty is very interested in photographing birds, particularly the more challenging very small birds. The result can be rather boring for a non “birder” – as long as five minutes at a time sitting in the middle of nowhere while he tries to focus his camera on a rather boring-looking sparrow-sized grey bird with a slightly long beak. Otherwise, the first evening’s game drive was pretty interesting – saw a mother hyena nursing her pups, a couple of jackals, a desert giraffe. We came back to meet the trackers for Save The Rhino who were scheduled to help us find a rhino the next day, then had a very nice dinner in a dining place set up next to the small pool – and first met the self-appointed pet jackal.
The next morning it was up at 4:30, breakfast at 5, and off to find rhinos at 5:15. As we bounced along over the miserable roads (I finally took a photo of one) we saw several other animals (after the sun rose) including more giraffes, lots of springbok and steenbok and of course the ever-present oryx. (Not to mention several more tiny grey birds with subtle distinguishing features and a few larger, actually interesting birds.) Finally the guide got a radio call from the trackers who had found a rhino for us. We drove up to where they had stopped their vehicle, got out, and followed them, single file, along the road to a point downwind and slightly uphill, maybe 50 meters from the animal, who was contentedly and noisily munching on a low bush near some euphorbia bushes, and continued to do so while we took photos for about 20 minutes.
There are several varieties of euphorbia – all of which are quite toxic to most animals. The euphorbia bush is interesting – rhinos and kudu are the only animals who can safely eat it, and it forms an important part of their diet. There are two varieties around here, one has fibrous long grey green stems, which both rhinos and kudus eat. The poison in their blood kills parasites. The animals get moisture as well as nutrition from the bushes. The other looks like a cactus, with thick ribbed stalks lined with spiky thorns. The black rhino uses his pointed prehensile lip to strip off the thorns to get at the stalk - white rhinos do not eat them.
After our time was up (guests are rarely allowed longer than 20 minutes with a rhino, less if the animal seems at all disturbed) we drove around some more, saw several ostriches, mostly at a distance and running away. We also stopped at an area thick with Welvicha, which I had noticed and wondered about. They have only two broad leaves, which usually split into thinner sections as they grow. The leaves are a dark grey-green, turning brown then grey as the ends age and die; they can live over a century, grow very slow, and look like they are almost dead the entire time. The leaves have a leathery or plastic texture; the male has thin pollen stems, the female fruits that look like small upside-down pine cones. They do not actually flower – they belong to a category of their own, with no relatives. Elephants sometimes rip them up to eat the roots; antelope sometimes chew the leaves for the moisture and nutrients and spit out the fibrous remains.
We also stopped and tasted the brilliant green ostrich salad plant, a succulent that is not poisonous and is rather tasty – a hint of lime – but survives a thirsty and hungry world because its leaves are exceedingly high in mineral salts – it tastes like something you might rub on a margarita glass, but not something to put in a salad. (I guess the local people have not discovered margaritas or it would be endangered.)

Overall assessment: It took a while to get used to the different rhythms etc. in Namibia but once I did I have found it worthwhile. It adds considerably to my understanding of Africa generally, and also added a lot to my understanding of several species, especially elephants. It is very interesting to observe how the behavior of identical species is adapted to two remarkably different ecologies. Namibia itself is beautiful but in a harsh, forbidding way, not unlike Death Valley. The desert is 60 million years old, and 60 million years of wind have blown away most particles big enough to be picked up by wind, leaving a landscape that is either strewn with rocks of various sizes or covered with dunes from the sand that blows in from the Atlantic. This sand itself has an interesting history – it washes down the Orange River, is carried north by an ocean current, washes up on the shore of Namibia and is blown in by the prevailing winds which blow from the west.
The camps are almost all quite well run, with excellent food and friendly, enthusiastic staff. They tried hard to understand and deal with my dietary restriction, with mixed success – the failures are probably due to food industry labeling practices, although I’ve not yet worked out exactly what is happening. Watching the guides at work here, as in Botswana, was a big part of the pleasure of the game drives and walks. They know their animals well, and approach tracking as an exercise in puzzle solving. They tend to begin with a “canned” package that will appeal to the average tourist, but I found that showing a consistent interest in culture and animal behavior encourages them to open up and share much wider range of knowledge – a huge advantage of staying longer at one place rather than hopping from one camp to another as many tourists do. Longer stays also makes it possible to observe and understand a wider range of animal behavior and ecological relationships.
Flying in and out is interesting – gravel air strips; the guide is expected to get you there a half hour early and drive the full length of the strip to check for hazards – usually animals nearby ready to bolt across. Aircraft are usually 6 seaters, I had one 4-seater, sometimes 12 seaters.

One final adventure on the way out. When the bush plane was due to arrive the wind gauge was showing 15 knots, with gusts to maybe 25 – perpendicular to the runway. The intrepid pilot (a young South African woman – about ¾ of the bush pilots seem to be from SA) circled around, started the landing, and just as her wheels were about to touch the gravel her right wing dipped and almost touched the ground as a gust hit the plane. She jerked back on the throttle, climbed rapidly, radioed the guide that she’d be back in three minutes, circled around again, and this time made a perfect landing. I reassured myself that she’s done this lots of time, etc. etc., and, admittedly with a bit of trepidation, climbed into the plane as per her instructions. With me as the only passenger, she taxied onto the runway for a perfect takeoff. Fortunately the next strip, where I was to change planes for my flight back to Windhoek, is in a much less windy area, no incidents.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

2Kwara Camp
The plane was late. Flight interesting – saw several elephants in waterholes, barely identifiable from the air. Got to the camp late, so had only a bit of time to settle in before tea and the afternoon game drive.
They prepared me a special tea – gobs of onions with a piece of pretty good meat between two corn cakes. The onions were so strong I couldn’t eat them but fortunately there was some fruit, and I am never that hungry in the mid afternoon. But the contrast with Selinda was potent.
The game drive started out well enough. We were looking for a group of three year old lions, two males and two females. We drove around for a while, then Mike, one of my two companions, saw the lions off in the woods. Neither the spotter nor the guide had seen them. We drove over and watched them and took a couple of pictures while the guide radioed the news to the other guides. Two other vehicles arrived before the lions started out on their hunt. We circled around while the other two vehicles followed – all very familiar from Selinda. The lions emerged from the wooded area into a large meadow of relatively short grass. Then we saw several giraffes across the meadow. They obviously saw the lion and the lion saw them. Ordinarily you would expect the lion to ignore them, since a lion cannot run as fast as a giraffe – you would also expect the giraffes to leave. Instead, the lion started toward the giraffes, and one of them started toward her. It was very dramatic – three year old lions are pretty inexperienced, and it was entirely possible she would try to take the giraffe. At that intense moment, inexplicably, Jacob said “We are only allowed to have three vehicles at one spot and if another vehicle comes we will have to leave.” He heard another vehicle coming, so we left! I was flabbergasted – one of us saw the lions, we were first on site, and we had to miss the most exciting part. We drove around a while, saw nothing exciting, and stopped for gin and tonic at sunset. On the way home we also saw nothing of interest. I later learned from passengers in the other, Johnnie-come-lately vehicles that some zebras with babies showed up and the lions turned away from the giraffes and tried, unsuccessfully, to take down one of the young zebras. I am so, so very pissed about it. One of the other guides at dinner explained that “Your guide knew from their body language nothing was going to happen and it was time for the sundowner.” Gin and tonic instead of a zebra chase!!! Not a very good exchange.
At dinner, the waitress announced the buffet was set up, then said everyone else had to wait while David served himself first. I don’t care who knows about my celiac condition, and I make no secret of it, but it is awkward to be singled out that way. The food was good, but one dish tasted somewhat like German spaetzel. I ate part of it but should not have eaten even a bite – I woke up in the middle of the night with familiar symptoms of wheat poisoning. Symptoms lasted most of the next day, although I gradually got better.
Based on the first day and night I am very unimpressed with this camp. The staff has a hard time understanding things – I still don’t know if they quite understand gluten-intolerance, and will have to be fully on my guard the whole time here. The guides are competent but not spectacular. Similarly, the food is reasonably good, but doesn’t come near Selinda. If I’d come here first, without the comparison, I’d probably feel more positive toward it. On the other hand, I’ve managed to have a really good time here thus far, and I’m sure the remaining two days will be just fine.

May 19
Morning game drive was better – managed to spot a male leopard who did not want to be photographed and quickly vanished. However, we saw lots of other interesting game so it was overall pleasant. Vultures alerted us to a kill – all that was left were a few ribs and the lower jawbone of an impala, which looked very fresh – Jacob thought the vanishing leopard may have made that kill in the morning, and the hyenas probably finished what was left.
Jacob is a nice person, very knowledgeable, although I don’t think he is nearly as knowledgeable as Obi. Aside from not sticking up for his passengers, he’s a pretty good guide.
In the afternoon we drove down to the river and got on a flat bottom boat for a slow ride downstream to the main river, where we drank gin and tonics and watched the sunset, then took a much faster ride back up to the car to come home. We saw a baby crocodile on a log and a couple of elephants in a field of grass, plus a couple of hippos. But on the way back we bumped the back of two more hippos – Jacob says that a small bump like that won’t hurt them – and if you go slow when they get active around dark, they have been known to kick a hole in the bottom of a boat with their sharp hooves and strong legs. It was a fun leisurely afternoon / evening – quite a change of pace from other recent activities.

May 20
Today started out on an interesting note. I awoke at midnight and there was total peace and quiet – then the mayhem started; lions roaring, hippos grunting and munching near camp, and what I believe was two baboons fighting, culminating in what sounded like one of them humming a sad song. When I walked over to the fire pit for breakfast, I learned that two of the guides were chased by – actually faced mock charges from – lions near the parking area. Then,, as I was eating my sweet roll and sipping coffee, someone spotted a lion just behind the trees next to the fire pit. Eventually we saw three, two females and a male. I had to take a picture in spite of the very poor light. After breakfast we followed them for a half hour so the guide could identify them. It turns out the male is not part of the same pride as the females, and they appeared to be trying to lose him so he wouldn’t take over anything they managed to kill. He is a mature lion, still strong enough to dominate others, although he has a wound in a hind leg from an old fight. It appears to be a tendon problem – his stride is normal and gracefully smooth until the very end, when his leg appears to pop as he lifts it. I’m sure a vet could diagnose it just from a video. In spite of the gimp, the guide says he is still a good hunter.
We had to take the couple from New Zealand back to the airport, so we drove out in that direction. For a while we didn’t see much, then we came to a large park-like setting with deep lush grass a few inches tall – green and edible unlike much of the grass here. In that area we saw several varieties of antelope, zebras including two males fighting, wildebeest, giraffes, including a cluster I had to add to my large collection of giraffe photos (I’m struggling to delete as many poor pictures as I add good ones). Particularly amusing – we came to a tree literally filled with baboons who were chasing each other around, leaping to a nearby bush, and leaping down to the ground, a fall of about 20 feet. At one time at least a dozen fell within a few seconds, like it was raining baboons. Unfortunately we drove on before I could deploy the camera. I realize I need to have the small pocket camera out when we’re driving, take out the larger camera only when we stop so I have time to fuss with it a bit.
Afternoon game drive started out leisurely. We dropped off Mike and Carrie but picked up two others, brothers from New Zealand, so we still have five in the car, the most I’ve experienced. All nice people, fortunately. We watched a large male elephant eating grass for a while. They use the hard sharp front edges of their front foot to loosen the grass, then grasp a clump with the trunk, beat it against their chest several times to knock off the dirt, then put in the mouth to chew up. We revisited the water hole where we saw the hippos this morning and there were three as well as some ibises and geese. Then we drove around a little, and the spotter saw cat tracks in the road, so we headed off into the grassy park-like area and found the four three year old lions again, and watched them watching a couple of kudu and a red antelope for a while. Then a call from another guide came – he had found a cheetah and her cubs eating a freshly killed impala. Jacob said it was on the other side of the concession and we’d have to drive very fast to get there before sunset but we all wanted to see it, so he set off. There followed the wildest ride I’ve had in a long time, bouncing over the hardened roads and plowing through the deep sand parts. We got there just as the sun was setting and I took sixty photos, some using flash (which didn’t seem to bother the cats). About forty turned out quite well.

May 21
Two interesting events today. In the morning we went for a nature walk – again with the guide carrying a big game rifle. As before, we saw some interesting wildlife from a respectful distance, including elephants, zebras and several species of antelope. We also saw a pad terrapin, a small turtle that lives in the water holes but, when we found it, was several hundred yards from the nearest one, on the way to another one. It is lucky we were walking not driving. The tracker picked it up to show us and it peed on him – a very stinky substance that serves as a defense. We also learned about a creeper vine that is used as soap – a few leaves and a little water, rub it together, and it emits a soapy, slightly oily liquid that serves well. I used a little, didn’t rinse, and found that it dried leaving my hands feeling as if I had used a good hand lotion.
In the afternoon we came back to the same area, looking for the lions spotted the previous day, and saw a surprising (for hear) scarcity of game – as if everything was hiding. About an hour before dark, a radio message came that some wild dogs had shown up at camp (some days it doesn’t pay to leave home!) Apparently they chased an antelope right through camp, overturning chairs and making a general ruckus.

May 22
Some days it doesn’t pay to go very far from home. Jacob wanted to see if the wild dogs were still around so we drove around some of the nearby roads and, instead of dogs we found three spotted hyenas. We followed them for about a half hour and I managed to get a couple of pictures (I was on the wrong side of the vehicle, then they were in high grass, then another vehicle was between us ant them, then they went back into high grass). Jacob said they were heading into the brush and he didn’t want to spend the morning bouncing around in the brush so, instead of following them we headed for a different area to see if we could find four male lions who have formed a coalition.
I was rather disappointed about the decision to abandon the hyenas – I would have liked to observe a lot more of their behavior. One of my minor disappointments about both camps, really, is the tendency to focus primarily on cats and on species count (see it, photograph it, move on to the next photo op). I would prefer focus on primates and canid species, and on more prolonged observation of behavior such as hunting and the male competition happening now as mating season approaches. However, my disappointment was at least partially assuaged when we found the three cheetahs again and I had the opportunity to watch the cubs playing.

Some general observations: The veldt is covered with several species of grass, each of which has a barbed or burred seed that is worse even than cheat grass. Several times we would see a lioness start limping and stop to dig a burr out from between her toes. The elephants and termites seem to play the major role in shaping the landscape: elephants rip up and pull over trees, and they keep the trees they like to eat pruned down to barren stumps with only a few leaves showing. They also eat the bark off of a certain acacia species, so that it is girdled and dies, accounting for all of the standing dead trees. Termites build the huge mounds, which are often populated by trees. As these areas connect up they form “islands” (which actually are islands during the rainy season floods). The islands are often covered with forest – either the tall, more open forests or groves of brush and trees stunted by elephant grazing habits.
One frequently encounters several prey species grazing together – it appears that each species has a particular perceptual talent, eyesight, smell, hearing, and grazing together increases all their safety.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Selinda Spillway.
The flight from Cologne to Johannesburg was less than half full – I was able to nab a full row of 4 seats and lie down for 6 hours – half slept most of the night but had at least a half hour of real REM sleep, with dreams. I was dreading this flight but it turned out pretty well. The flight to Maun was nearly full – all but two obviously tourists. I was met by a representative of the camps, but ended up waiting around for an hour and a half for the plane to take me to my camp.
The flight itself was pretty interesting – we saw several herd of elephants and one herd of some smaller animal below. Upon arrival I was met be a man named Spike, one of the guides but assigned just to pick me up. They organize us in groups of 2-4 with one guide; my group had already left. Spike offered to take me to meet them, which we never did. However, while we were chasing them down we saw two small groups of giraffes, scores of impala and elephants (both thick as fleas around here), and several other animals. We ended in a small meadow at sunset, with a herd of about 20 elephants at the far end, including one baby. As the sun set and filled the sky with color the herd crossed the meadow and walked behind the vehicle, about 30 feet away. The guide was silent; all we could hear was the birds and crickets and the elephants passing by. It was sublime. When the elephants had moved on into the brush Spike started the vehicle and drove on to camp. Along the way we passed another herd of elephants in a grove of small trees, munching noisily on the leaves; I later learned this tree is one of their main sources of protein.
I arrived at camp as it was growing dark and was greeted by the entire staff and a glass of lemonade. The manager sat down with me and explained their procedures and rules, the most onerous of which is that guests are forbidden to leave the camp at all unattended, or to walk between our tents and the lodge area unattended after dark. The only down side to the entire experience is the almost total lack of physical activity.
A word about camp procedures. Every morning the guide awakens us (if we’re not already awake) with coffee or tea and cookies. (The first morning I had nothing except one of the granola bars but after I asked he started bringing me a banana.) He picks us up at 6 and we get into the vehicle – a 4 wheel drive truck-like land rover converted to have three rows of two seats – but usually there are only 3 or 4 people in it. We pull lap robes (lined parkas) over ourselves and set out for the first game drive – as soon as the vehicle is moving it is relatively cold until a couple of hours after sunrise. The game drive lasts until 11:30 or 12, when we return for lunch, followed by 3 hours of siesta. We meet again at 3:30 for tea – accompanied by pastries for everyone else, fruit for me, followed by the evening game drive. We return well after dark, usually around 8, for dinner. If you want, there is a fire for conversation after dinner but most of us are very aware of the 5:30 wakeup and forego it. The roads are all quite rough; half the time is spent off-road, which is even rougher. Whenever we get back from a game drive we are greated with hot wet clothes to wipe off the dust (although there isn’t much dust, surprisingly.) The animals are totally accustomed to the vehicles and usually ignore us – although some of the antelope and the warthogs are often a bit skittish, especially a lone animal away from the herd.
Lunch and dinner are invariably gourmet experiences – to my immense satisfaction, including lots of fruit vegetables and salads. The staff have done an excellent job of accommodating my gluten free diet. There are drinks before dinner (and after if you have the stamina for it) and plenty of wine with dinner.
Game is as abundant as the literature says – the reason, I suppose, for the prohibition on unaccompanied walks. My only real complaint is – I was told there would be a variety of activities, including canoeing on the river and long nature walks – but in fact, the river is too low, and thus far there have been no walks. Six days of absolute idleness is going to be difficult to take. If I return, I will come for no more than 3 days, with a visit to a more physically active place on either end.
Internet connections are sporadic at best, so I will upload no pictures until I have a better connection.

Selinnda Day 1
My first night’s sleep was, to say the least, interesting. Hippos came up out of the river to graze, snorting and farting as they munched; then some elephants came by, feeding much more noisily – all this very near my tent. (It was too dark even to think of seeing anything. Finally they quieted down and I was able to get to sleep.
After 26 hours of travel with only dozing followed by an interrupted night of sleep, I was sound asleep when Obi knocked on my tent door. I got up, dressed quickly while drinking the coffee he brought and munching a granola bar, and was ready when he came back to fetch me.
Right outside camp we saw a handful of jackals – beautiful animals, really – playing next to the road. This was followed by kudu, lots of birds, more elephants.
The evening drive was even more interesting. Obi had heard that a young leopard had been sighted nearby, so we set out for the vicinity. He frequently drives off the road to inspect tracks (the animals seem to prefer the road to the tangled, head-high grass for some reason). When tracks head off into the brush, he will often follow, circling around to look for the animal.
We saw many of the same animals as during the morning – it is astonishing how many large animals this area supports – it’s as if all the large animals in Wyoming were concentrated in Yellowstone.

Selinda Day 2
On Day 2 Obi said we were going to try to find some lions that had been spotted in the vicinity, which had been seen beyond one of the other camps, so we set out in that direction. Along the way we spotted impala, a couple of Wildebeests, several other antelope species. Along the way we drove around for a while insome brush where footprints suggested they might be hiding out, to no avail. Finally one of the other guides reported having found them, so we drove on in that direction. When we arrived we found – two fat lumps of fur, swacked out sleeping off an obviously heavy recent meal. We watched them for about an hour and finally it warmed up enough that they got up and moved into some shade, where they flopped down for more sleep.
We drove to an open field covered with relatively short grass (chosen, I assume, so Obi could keep an eye out for potential danger) for another lovely breakfast, eaten off the hood of the vehicle.
On the way back we stopped by the sleeping lions again. The sun had moved so one of them was no longer in shade so we waited for him to get up, stretch and yawn, and move back into the shade, where it was obvious he would spend the rest of the day.
On the way back we saw more antelope of various species, many hornbills, but not much else. After another hour or so of driving around Obi asked if we were ready to return for lunch. We all said fine, so he headed down a road that leads more directly toward camp. Almost immediately we came around a corner and – right beside the road – saw a lioness ambling through some sparse grass toward a clump of trees and brush. Obi stopped where we could watch her: She stopped briefly, staring into the brush at something, then turned and walked into the brush opposite of where she had been looking. So Obi drove around that clump of brush, where we saw nothing, but he said she was stalking something, so we stopped in another clearing and waited a while. After several minutes, the lion came around the clump, circled the vehicle, obviously looking at something beyond, then went back into the line of brush. Obi drove around her into the grass and around to the far side of the long line of brush and trees and again we waited.
After several more minutes she came out of the brush, walked around us again toward a spot on the far side of a large clump, and sank into the low stalking position, which she held for at least five minutes, creeping forward so slowly you could hardly see her move. Abruptly she sprang, and through the brush we could see a warthog running for all he was worth, with the lion about a foot behind him. He was too fast for her, and got away. Again we drove around to see if she had caught him, and she walked around the vehicle again, headed out toward the marshy area – all very nonchalant, completely ignoring the vehicle and humans. We followed her for close to an hour as she patrolled, looking for other prey; then we returned to camp for our own lunch. In the afternoon we went back to see if we could find her cubs – Obi was pretty certain they were in a patch of brush covering several acres, but we couldn’t locate them.

Selinda Day 4
We started a little later today because the other three members of my group had to catch a plane out before noon so needed to pack. We set out to look for the cubs again but, instead, ran into three lionesses, two adults and a juvenile. So we followed them the rest of the morning, watching as they tried for two or three warthogs. Obi says warthog is a main part of the diet because they have poor eyesight so are easier to catch. The lions spotted a herd of warthogs out in an open area beyond a grassy field. One of the adults circled around through the grass and the other started slowly maneuvering toward the prey: Then the adolescent started walking straight toward them. In spite of their poor eyesight, the warthogs could not help seeing them, spooked and ran. The same thing happened with a solitary warthog. We followed them for quite a while, until they sank down in the shade to rest. Whenever they go after an animal, they put on a burst of speed that exhausts their anaerobic energy so they have to rest about 15 minutes before continuing the hunt. Obi says they are actually not very fast compared to most of their prey, so stealth and tracking skills are vital.
I was transferred to another vehicle while Obi took the others to the airport; had I thought faster I would have gone with them because they were going back to look at the giraffes again, but I didn’t. We drove to an open spot away from the lions and had a bite to eat, then drove back to see if they had become active yet, but they were obviously settled down to rest through the heat of the day. As we were turning back toward camp, we saw a lone warthog headed toward the lions, so we circled out well out of the way to watch. At first the lions didn’t seem to notice, but as the warthog drew near and started digging for roots, one of them rose up and started to watch it. Just as she was starting the stalk the warthog apparently smelled the lions, bolted and ran. This time I don’t think it was the adolescent’s fault. It appears life is pretty tough for lions – they have to try several times for one kill, and each try uses up a lot of energy.

It apparently pays to make one’s needs known. Before sending the other members of the group to their airplane Obi told me that he would be guiding me alone, and that we would take some walks as well as filling in other things I’d hoped to see. So after lunch I put on hiking boots and, after tea, we drove out to an area with thin woods and sparse grass (good visibility to watch for danger. He carried a high-powered rifle just in case, and we took a nice long walk – about 2 hours at a moderate pace. I had a chance to experience the country close at hand, learned more about grasses, shrubs, and birds. We saw an impala male chase another male away from his harem, then, even more exciting, saw a group of males doing competitive displays. They jump high and kick their heels – Obi says that it releases pheromones from glands above the hoof. We also saw wildebeest and kudu in the distance – much more like I’m used to seeing wild animals. The silence, the turtle-doves calling all around, was very nice. My legs felt much better after the walk, and I felt more connected with Africa. Driving home after dark, we came around a bend and a herd of roan antelope crossed the road, single file and taking their own time. Lovely in the headlights.

May 16
Morning drive to see giraffes – they are scattered and we only saw a few. We did see another group of impala males, this time sparring with their horns; I got a few good photos. We saw a solitary zebra, and a Steenbok (sp?) that defecated then covered the pellets with dirt, like a cat. One of the other guides reported a male lion and some wild dogs, so we went over to check it out. The dogs had killed a small antelope and the lion chased them away and stole it from them. After a while we followed them as they went back to see if the lion had left any – the wandered around looking indecisive, then the lion made up their minds for him – he rushed out from a hiding place in some bushes and chased one of the dogs around a group of brush and out of sight. A little later he came back without the dog, which rejoined the other dogs. We followed them for a while as they set out to find something else for themselves. When they finally stopped to rest the heat was growing and Obi said they probably wouldn’t hunt any more until late afternoon so we drove off to find a good breakfast spot, then went looking for other animals. Along the way we came to a small pond with no fewer than 8 hippos in it, some of them more than half out of the water.
On the way back, we saw fresh leopard tracks going off into the brush, and spent 20 minutes or so looking for the leopard. Then, we saw a line of elephants heading toward the river. Obi drove on to a field of grass, where we saw two more lines of elephants. He drove out and stopped in front of one of the lines where we waited as quietly as we could, snapping pictures all the while. They kept coming, eventually veering slightly to our right to pass within maybe 15 feet of us. It was totally silent except for the sound of their feet through the grass and their breathing – an awesome, almost mystical, experience. I tried to shoot a movie of another line but I don’t think I pushed the right buttons. Then, as we approached the camp, we saw two rhinos on the far side of the river, one of them noisily munching on the riverbank grasses. They are most likely the ones who have been keeping me awake at night.
Afternoon drive – went to spend some time with the baboons. Unfortunately some were in the tree, some in the thick undergrowth, and some sleeping. A couple of them were grooming, which was interesting for a while. In any case I got a hundred photos to sort through and select from. I also learned what baboon turds sound like when they’re dropped from 50 feet up. Don’t ever set up your picnic under a tree with baboons in it. After that we went for another walk, shorter this time. Saw more impala and a herd of zebra – as yesterday, it seemed entirely different, seeing them on foot. Not necessarily better, just different. After having a gin and tonic back at the car we drove back to camp, Obi using his flashlight to find a very quiet and hardly distinguishable bush baby and a genet, very pretty little animal who let us look at him for a couple of minutes then disappeared around the tree trunk. Finally we saw an African wild cat – looks exactly like a grey house cat with black stripes on its legs.

May 17, 2016
Great morning. Up at 5:30 to the coolest morning yet – had to put on pullover, fleece, and down jacket. We set out to find the leopard, who is quite elusive. Along the way, shining the flashlight around to look for small animals in the bushes, we accidentally shined it in the eye of an elephant 30 or 40 meters away; he bellowed in annoyance, and we turned off the lights. Around the next bush we saw another elephant almost on the road. Found some leopard tracks, (everything out there walks on the road if possible) and followed them until we saw tracks going back – drove off in the bush to see if we could find it; finally gave up when we came across tracks of a lioness and cubs. Followed those about 30 minutes and found the entire pride – five lionesses, three 3 month old cubs. Watched them a while, waiting to see if the lionesses would go hunting but they seem settled in, so we drove off to a large watering hole with about 50 elephants. As we sat there watching, more and more kept coming in groups of 10 or more, all of them lining up to drink, snuffling and grunting. Several babies. One adolescent who flicked her ears threateningly at me, then did an odd little shuffling dance, picked up and threw a twig, scratched at the dirt with a hind paw.
One of the guides who had stayed with the lions radioed that they had caught scent of a herd of zebras and were stalking it, so we headed off back toward them, Obi driving as fast as he could and me hanging on. Then the other guide radioed that the juvenile who has already spoiled several hunts spoiled this one too, starting the chase before the adults were in position. So we went back to the elephant watering hole for breakfast. About half the elephants had left but more were still coming. I watched and photographed several babies, including one who kept rolling in the shallow water and playing – the only one, baby or adult, who bathed like that. Obi set up breakfast and we ate watching the elephants, being as quiet and non-threatening as we can. After we’d eaten breakfast another juvenile came up and stood 30 feet away, flicking her ears in an annoyed way. She did mock charges several times, stopping about 20 feet away then backing off. It is not easy to stand your ground when three tons of elephant comes charging toward you.
Like yesterday’s elephant parade, this experience had a magical quality to it – the grey shapes moving through the background shrubbery, the sounds, the slow but very graceful walk of the animals, the occasional annoyed trumpeting. The feeling is almost indescribable.

May 18 2016 - Last day at Selinda
We went out early to see if we could find the lions. Once again Obi found them first. We saw some leopard footprints but Obi said it is a male who is very shy and all but impossible to find. Then we hit paydirt – several sets of female lion prints, which left the road to the right. It took about five minutes to spot the lions. We watched them for a while; eventually two other vehicles showed up. There were five females; eventually they started yawning and pulled out, one by one – sometimes separated by several minutes. One was ranging off to the left, three at first walked abreast with one behind, then they formed a line. As before, it reminded me of gunfight scenes from western movies – the slow, ambling stroll, stopping now and again to scan the horizon, sniff the air. We would drive ahead a ways then lag behind, staying out of their way. One of the occasions when we were ahead of them we saw a kudu raise his head and turn toward the lions. It appeared he smelled but didn’t see them – he ran off into the tall grass but, it turned out, did not run far enough. After a while I noticed we had passed a warthog – which the lions had obviously missed – his lucky day. The other vehicles tracked the four females, but Obi had a hunch and drove along a road parallel to the solitary female, who had entered the same patch of the very tall grass, probably following the kudu.
When we saw a small cloud of dirt off to the left Obi exclaimed “that’s it!” He stepped on the gas and turned toward the dirt cloud, racing through the grass in a short but very bumpy ride until we came to the scene of the crime. The kudu lay on its side, threahing around wildly and kicking out with all four hooves while the lioness had her jaws clamped tightly onto his left haunch, pinning him down. This went on for a while, then she started working her way up his belly, finally clamping her jaws on his throat, which quickly suffocated him. Once he quit threshing around she lay there beside his head, panting for several minutes. Then she started dragging the antelope, a few feet at a time with interludes of panting between, toward a nearby tree, where she left the animal, concealed by the tree and the surrounding tall grasses. By the time she reached it the two other vehicles had arrived. When she left to go fetch her cubs, Obi said it would take her a while, so we drove to a nearby clearing to have breakfast. He explained that she was taking a serious risk that someone else would find the carcass and she would lose it – but her cubs were ready to start weaning, her milk drying up, and she had to feed them.
We drove back well before the cubs arrived, and Obi positioned the vehicle in as good a place as possible, given the tall grass. Eventually the lioness arrived, her cubs stringing along behind. There followed a growling and grunting feast, as she tore open the flesh in one spot for the cubs to begin feeding, the tore the belly open to expose the soft innards, easier for the cubs to handle. I think I got at least one picture of her snarfing up a shred of stomach or intestine – apparently it is crucial for her and her cubs to eat their fill as rapidly as possible in case a pack of hyenas or a male lion comes along to steal it away from her. We watched the mayhem for a while, then Obi took me back to camp for lunch and departure. Along the way I got a good laugh from him by commenting “I think for this lunch I’ll stick to salad and fruit.” I meant it in jest, but in fact that was all they had prepared for me.
It was overall pretty disgusting but at the same time fascinating. Among other things I learned about lions is that they do not have it easy. They are slower than most of their prey, so must get close enough to catch the prey with a short quick burst. They miss at least five times for one success, and patience is all-important. The kudu also faces a quandary: they can’t run too far because they must eat almost constantly in order to get what they need.

Overall assessment:
Selinda (They have two; I think this one is Forest Camp) is very well run, a great place to spend a few days. Most people stay only 3 or 4 nights; I was very glad I stayed 6, especially since it was my first experience of Africa. The food is excellent, and the staff did a great job of accommodating my dietary needs. I had different but delicious appetizers and desserts, and they sent excellent food for the game drive breakfasts. I think all the guides here are quite good but I also think my guide, Obi, was among the best – he has an almost instinctive feeling for the animals’ behavior and anticipated where to find them more often than not. He explained stuff clearly and at the right level of detail. My major complaint (which applies to this entire area because of the abundance of very dangerous wildlife) was the prolonged lack of exercise; Obi also accommodated this, taking me for two walks, one about two hours and another about an hour. Everyone is friendly and knowledgeable. Five stars – highly recommended.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Itinerary for Southern Africa and Europe May-July 2016 cgrd@pdx.edu

May 6 PDX to AMS May 6
Will spend a few days in northern Germany with Anja

May 11 Frankfurt  Johannesburg to Maun

May 12 Arr. Maun, Botswana; bush flight to Selinda Camp

May 18 Okavanga Delta – Kwara Camp

May 22 Maun to Windhoek; overnight at Galton House, Windhoek

May 23 NamibRand Nature Reserve – Wowedans Dune Lodge.

May 25 Tok Tokkie Trail Mobile Camp.

May 27 Sossusviei Kulala Desert Lodge

May 29 Damaraland Camp

June 1 Damaraland Desert Rhino Camp Palmweg Concession

June 3 Windhoek – Galton House.

June 4 Flight to George, South Africa
Will spend two weeks visiting with old Stanford friend Manie Breytenbach
May hike part or all of the Otter Trail (depending on weather and other options).

June 13-19 or 20 Tour Cape area.

June 20 Fly Capetown to Madagascar Antananarivo
A little over a week seeing some of this large island

June 29 Antinarivo to Berlin via Paris – flight leaves 1:30 a.m. (ugh)
Five days in Berlin attending RaAM metaphor conference.
Berlin: Hotel Pension-Spree, 19 Trautenaustraße

July 5 Berlin TXL to Zurich then on by train to starting point for ten day trek in the Bernese Oberland

July 15 Kandersteg to Zurich airport; Delta to Amsterdam; overnight at the airport Sheraton; fly