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    Namibia 2016

    Sundowner

    Sundowner

    My last weekend in Windhoek was a treat. It in so many ways summed up my trip and by the time I made it to the airport, I was ready to go. 

    My drive back in to the city was relaxed, except for the moment when an Audi burst past me at over 200km/hr, and unbeknown to me there was a head on crash just metres behind me resulting in six fatalities. The roads are rough in places but ok, it is the rampant overtaking at speed that gives Namibia a terrible road toll. 


    I made it into the city and headed for the shelter of Joes Beerhouse where for 20 bucks I can have a couple of seasonal Urbock 7 percent beers, washed down with a delicious medium rare Kudu loin steak. I feel a little guilty at indulging in the flesh of this majestic animal , but it sure tastes great and just laps up those 7% beers!


    Football in Africa is legendary and I love the style. I was chuffed to see a southern African tournament beginning in Windhoek. So into Katatura I headed , adorned in my shining All Whites top. Such a bad name for a team! As it turned out not only was I of course the only All Whites supporter in the ground, I was the only white supporter in the ground. It was a surprise, but I had suspected this, as when I asked a couple of my local cousies to accompany me the answer was no way!


    I loved the football. Zimbabwe playing Swaziland with all the Namibians supporting Zim! I was in the right camp for what was an enthralling tough encounter with plenty of vocal support.

    Things got interesting waiting for the second game of the night when it seemed pretty much the entire crowd got really drunk! It was a bit like the beerhall at Marchfest late in the evening!

    I was ok not drinking but as a succession of fellow supporters started asking me did I feel safe enough and just saying to call them if anything happened, did I start to have some doubts of how to get to my car. It all turned out fine and my first real taste of football in Africa left me wanting more. It was interesting driving back through Katatura at night and seeing all the nightlife with the Shabiens everywhere as well as other night stores open. 


    My final day in Namibia was spent cooking a good bye meal for my cousies. It was a treat to be able to cook another meal as a farewell. I have enjoyed the chance to get to know my extended family and their hospitality has been great. Their brai was memorable with the closely guarded marinade recipe!


    Before my flight to start my homeward trip, I enjoyed one last morning in downtown Windhoek, shopping for a mask for our son Willow. The masks are used in northern areas in times of seasonal celebrations, sometimes to boast about ones achievements in cattle rearing or , as a link to the ancestors or just as a disguise. I appreciated the stories of the masks, gives meaning to an object.


    My flight out of Windhoek was delayed, but it was a fitting finale to fly out into the sunset, one last Namibian sundowner….

    For now anyways:)

     

    Tsumeb to Omaruru

    Tsumeb to Omaruru


    My homeward journey began once I left Etosha. In my pickup, slowly making my way south, endless long straight roads through the African Savannah. Local music on the radio , setting sun turning the sky orange. Straight roads. It is pleasant stuff. 


    My first town out of Etosha was Tsumeb, a small mining town in the central north Namibia. Looking for a safe park, I followed a sign saying Arts Centre. I parked and wandered into the compound.
    Through the gates I was confronted with a circular array of round thatch roofed rondavel huts. A large stage was set amongst a beautifully landscaped garden complete with lifesize sculptures of hunting San Bushman.

     


    “Welcome” was the greeting and before me stood a small man with tightly curled hair. “ This is our local performing arts centre, can I show you around”. For sure :) My host proudly introduced himself as Heke, the Gardener of this beautiful oasis and a local San Bushman. Heke explained how each Rondavel hut was the teaching room for A particular instrument. He proceeded to take me from the recorder room to the clarinet room to the violin room and so on. I was introduced to each teacher. Initially set up with sponsorship from a Swiss benefactor, the project was to offer musical and art opportunities to the local children. Heke described how each afternoon over two hundred children participated in learning the different instruments and disciplines. I can only imagine the afternoon sounds.
    I found Tsumeb to be a really busy and vibrant small town set in amongst green trees and watered lawns. A big street veggie and fruit market was underway with heaps of people milling around, a guard in front of the bank with a AK47 pointing down at his side. Plenty of elderly walking the streets dressed in traditional dresses and head scarfs.

    I sat down with a grass bowl weaver and her small children. So cute , trying to sell me their wares. It worked , just too cute. They gave me some sweet berries from the tree, sort of like a tart passion fruit flavour with a large pip. The mother telling me their traditional Ovambo names.


    Further down in the town I found a well known arts and crafts shop. Brigitte, the owner, told me how her parents had started the shop in the eighties to promote the work of the local indigenous groups and how the first Namibian President, Dr Sam Nujoma, had visited the store. It was filled with the usual assortment of crafts but with it came the stories of many of the makers which is the backstory I am always after. I could not help but collect more bits of carved wood to add to the grass bowls from the morning. Brigitte's mother, the originator of the store, came by. She was a similar generation to my Oma, and although she had not known her, she had friends in common and well remembered the hotel in Okahandja my grandparents owned. A small world.
    At the back of the store sat an older women beading with grandkids hanging about after school.



     

    I didn't want to leave this cute town.

    The wild animals start darting across the road as the day ends. I saw Kudu, deer, foxes, and warthogs. Unluckily I collected a small warthog heading late into Waterberg. I couldn't miss it as it just ran across the highway, I swerved big time but still collected it and narrowly missed the large mother, which would have been another story for sure. I had not gone much further when another large warthog just barrelled straight across the road. It gets dangerous.
    The wildlife is never far away here. It is part of this landscape.

     


    Late on my second day I made it back into Omaruru. I relaxed here for a couple of days. I have made a point of not rushing! It is more enjoyable.

     


    I had a great day in Omaruru. The local women in the Slagtery (butchery) and the supermarket all wanting to come to back to n.z with me. Traditional society here is not strictly monogamous, but I don't think I could handle it :) I promised to send postcards!

    Anyway it was sweet to have fun with the locals.
    I cooked a feast for my hosts and their guests, my infamous Tagine array, but this time with a wild game oryx curry as a side dish. It took me all afternoon to cook. My hosts housekeeper, Julia, helped me try this exotic dish. She spoke no English, but somehow cooking crosses language barriers. We had a great time before Julia and her groundsman son Colin returned to their township homes, another day's work done.

    My  hosts here in Omaruru, by opening up their oasis of a house to me, really allowed me the space to relax and enjoy my time in Omaruru.

    Thanks heaps Wendy and Heine, I hope I can return the hospitality.



    My final day in Omaruru dawned hot and sunny again. It is this way 350 days of the year. It is just so dry, that it is now getting into serious drought conditions.

    One more stop in Omaruru was to visit the writer Jean Fischer. I had been given her number by the poet Mvula Ya Nangolo in Windhoek. I was hesitant but was so glad I did as it turned out to be such a positive afternoons conversation that I felt it was such a good way to finish the trip to my birthplace.


    Jean, a journalist originally from Cape Town has lived and worked in Namibia her entire career. She has witnessed the transition from oppressive apartheid regime to independent liberated nation. A longtime supporter of the Liberation struggle she expressed such a sense of pride and elation at this fledgling country and how it has broken the shackles that imprisoned it. We shared so many similar values, it was refreshing. It showed me how in amongst all the old attitude which gave silent support to the apartheid regime, there still existed voices who opposed the status quo. Free thinkers who place their values as a statement of who they are. No silence needed. Not an easy task when surrounded by friends and family who differ in opinion. It was just such a refreshing conversation and we could have talked for hours. Thank-you Jean, it was a great way to finish my stay in Omaruru.



    My last stop was to visit the graveyard to say my goodbyes to my Opa. I have been visiting for a sundowner each night I have been in town. The desert has long ago claimed his dust, but I still enjoy sitting and chatting over a Windhoek draught as the sun sets. Somethings don't need to change.

     

    The Springbok

    The Springbok


    My departure from Etosha yesterday was soul wrenching. I had really settled into the routine camp life, the daily excursions out into the Savannah on the edges of the salt pan. Spotting animals for close encounters. The nightly sundowner at the watering hole as the birdsong boomed and the sky turned orange and purple.

     I have taken to doing life drawing with the giraffe, elephants, springbok. Any creature that will stay still long enough and is close enough for me to view well. My drawings are not very good , but every now and then I grab the gesture and it makes sense. I love the opportunity to closely watch the muscles moving , the twist of the of the neck , the munching of grass on the faces of elephants, giraffe, zebra. What has really struck me is just how tactile they are with each other. Resting heads on each other, staying in touching contact with their flanks as if is a game. It just has been such an fantastic time. The giraffe at close quarters are just so cute. They have a kind of cool swagger, like John Travolta street cruising in Saturday Night Fever! It entices you to follow. Of course if you make any move out of your car they run really fast. It's only for viewing.

    No touching allowed!
     

    I saw Lions again. Two huge Hunting males. The Batchelor males are dangerous and huge. They were lounging near the edge of the Rietfontain waterhole. I Knew something was up because there were few animals. I saw a zebra train heading nearby and stop. Similar a group of Impala come from the other direction. They went to the waters edge tentatively, far enough away. They can smell the lions. Then the two Lions stood up to move to the shade. They slowly meandered over to the trees, super chilled. However in threesixty every animal was poised facing the lions as if at attention. It was quite a sight. All facing forwards. As the Lions lay down , everything went back to normal.


    Apparently later in the day, when the Rhino came in for a drink they chased the Lions out from their shady spot. Too close!

    Horns facing forward.


     I found a really small idyllic waterhole down a really bumpy road. No people, no animals. So I parked up with my book and waited. It's a low stress occupation waiting for wildlife. Africa Time.


      I started to think about this small natural waterhole. Spring water showing small bubbles on the surface. How long has it been here. Fifty thousand years, Hundred thousand years, Hundreds of thousands of years? How many hoofs and feet have trodden the circumference of this small pool. Elephants parading around, ostrich, zebra, giraffe, humans. It starts to dwell on you this sort of thinking. Africa is a place like no other. It is the fountain of life. Where our very being has bubbled from the mud. Lived , died , evolved. I had this thought in the desert , how each grain of sand is a life lived and died. Dust to dust. How the dune is like a living organism , who need the dust of lives lived in order to grow itself. This place gets me thinking like this. How from this mud of Africa our seed have spread , washed, blown, carried global. How we have sprouted our lives in any piece of fertile soil, to become almost weeds in foreign lands. Yet the one thing that ties us all together is our common genetic source from the fountain of life that is Africa. It gets to you this place.


    Back at the waterhole a giraffe slowly swaggered in , ever cautious, checking me out across the pool. It was just such a visually beautiful moment. Fleeting, for me important, for the giraffe just another slurp of water from the ancient waterhole.
    The whole afternoon a train of Zebra had been lurking around the back of the pool. Unsure of me they stood and watched, pretended to leave , came back, left, came back , stood. It's Africa Time! Everything just takes the time it needs. I waited and waited, I love this low stress wildlife watching! Eventually the zebra came down to my little pool of Eden and took turns to drink as they probably have for all time.

     


     

     

    I have been looking for The Leopard. I hear tales of , I saw it here, I saw it there.
    I see it everywhere. When sitting at the pool of Eden I was out of the car, when I saw a dark shape in the long grass. It sure looked like a Leopard, pointy ears , mouth, spotted body. Just sitting and watching. Gave me a fright. I stayed in my car.

    Just a rock with a bit of dead wood.


    The camp attendants Keep asking me have I seen it and suggesting where to look. They tell me that ‘ you only see the Leopard when you are not looking for it’. I look into his eyes and I see the Leapord looking right back at me. He even has spots.

    I see the Leopard everywhere.


    But it is not my turn.


    I had to wrench myself away. I want to stay, just one more night! But I know I have to leave sometime.


    My friend Peter died today. I sat drawing a springbok at that time With tear filled eyes. The wind gusting huge clouds of dust off the endless Pan. I sat and drew the Springbok, sitting there looking back at me. I got out of my car and said ‘Can I name you Peter’. The springbok looked at me, got up and ran off into the endless vastness of the Pan.


    It was hard to leave Etosha, every Giraffe I stopped by seemed to ask,’ where ya goin?’ ‘Why ya Goin? Stay here in the Garden of Eden.’ I turned back , I turned again. I was getting Dizzy. My heart in a twist.


    Eventually I made it to the gate. The women in Uniform saw a sprig of daisy on my dashboard. ‘Did you get out of your Car?’ No , I lied. “You are not permitted to Leave your car. You must have left the car to get the Sprig.” She called the Police over to search the back of my ute. No I havnt a stash of wildlife to take home! Maybe they won't let me leave! But I was on my way and out of Etosha.


    Even now sitting on the outskirts , I feel the pull to return. I have a million  elephant , Zebra, giraffe and……. Pics. It is not the same. As long as I can remember I have wanted to visit Etosha, it shows something of life. I am so glad I made it here and had the time to slow down and get to appreciate this in 'Africa Time'.

    Thank you.


    R.I.P. Peter 
    6th June 2016

    Etosha Namibia

    Waiting for The Leopard

    Waiting for The Leopard

     

     

    I am waiting to see a Leopard. They are definitely here, in numbers, but I am yet to see one. They are elusive, but they do come to the waterhole. Its just a waiting game. They don't drink every day. It depends how much fresh blood they have been drinking.

      Last night I was again the last one watching. Again I happily fell asleep just sitting and staring at the floodlit dark pool. It's kind of relaxing as I mentioned earlier. Something about the expectation of some drama waiting to unfold is compelling. Even though nothing can happen. It's peaceful.

      I awoke to see two new Rhino come into view. A mother and young calf. I was treated to the baby suckling right in front of me. They are like dinosaurs , the rhino. It is a view back into a prehistoric past. All the posturing. Always face forward with your horns at the ready. Face everything. I was thinking its kind of like that in Africa. It is important to always be facing what is coming at you. A protective readieness. Zen in the art of anticipated readiness.

      I waited for the Leopard. Come on we have a date!! I'm here now! A half bottle of Namaqua Red. But actually there was just nothing , not even a hyena last night. 

    So I headed for bed around midnight. It's the thing when you are waiting for the Leopard, when I walk back down the path to the camp I sort of feel like I am being watched. Maybe the Leopard is waiting for me? 

    I really need some horns to face forward with.

    I just finished reading ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. It is one of the classics of African literature. The short novel tells of African Village lives and beliefs prior to the arrival of the Albino white man with his ‘iron horse’. The ability of the writer to get inside the African mind through the story and then tell of the crash of African society as colonialism takes hold, is powerfull, sadly disturbing and way too familiar. The devastating mix of religion and governance devouring traditional cultures. It sadly continues in the name of modern progress.

      Today, my fifth in Etosha, has me taking up residency at a different waterhole. It's a wide open expansive area with a threesixty view of wildlife. I am close to the water and so as I write I have an endless procession of zebra, and wilderbeast taking turns to come in and drink. There is little urgency, everything just take its time. The occasional small whirlwind of dust races through out of the stillness. I think it gets whipped up on the salt pan, these small wind vortexes, and then they rip along the ground and engulf you in an intense cloud of sand for a minute.

      Although all seems quiet and peaceful, almost idyllic, the slightest unpredicted movement, like a bird flying over casting a shadow, sets the animals off in a scramble. So the life flight awareness is constant. The lions and other cats will be here. I was told there was a Lion here with a fresh kill last night ,and a cheetah on the road. But no sign … So far. Maybe the areas in this landscape where I can see no animals is where the lions are chilling out. Somehow the animals just adjust to these life threatening possibilities. But you can't tell from afar. It's idyllic restfullness.

      No one here is waiting for The Leopard.

    Halali, Etosha Day 3

    Halali, Etosha Day 3

     

    Well it's all gone quiet again this evening at the waterhole. It must be a nightly occurrence. We were just treated again to the dance of the Four Black Rhino. Mother and child teaming up against all comers. Four horns are mightier than two it seems. Earlier there was an altercation between a Rhino and an Elephant. The Rhino backed right into the water to escape the advance , but when threatened started it’s own attack at the Elephant on the shore , who quickly gave ground. It seems backing away is enough to end a confrontation, without any blood spilled.

     

    Earlier I arrived to find twenty one elephants drinking, sumo wrestling, and generally mucking around. It was the second spell of elephant play today as I parked myself for the afternoon at the waterhole. The earlier group also had some really young ones who, when arriving at the water in the afternoon heat, plunged themselves fully into the pool. Submerging and then surfacing with much splashing. It looked like fun.

    I was told to check out the early morning action on the roads. So after a restless sleep on a hard surface I was in my car and out on the road at 6.20 am when the gates open. The gates are closed from sunset to sunrise to keep the game out of the camping areas. It seems to work but I am not fully convinced. There is a lot of disrepair around the place and I am sure a determined predator could get through. Lucky with so much abundant springbok and other deer life, we humans are probably the least desired of the food on the menu.


    Huge elephant just appeared on stage from Right. Now doing its two legged pose. They are amazing in the wild. And seemingly plenty of them around here.
    Anyways earlier, was driving about seeing little, having a tear or two over Peter’s farewell email which I received early. I sat for a spell at a pretty spot, a large natural spring fed waterhole watching a parade of large deer and zebra and Impala walk right past my car for a drink. I headed past a basking hyena or maybe native dog, when I came upon my first encounter with Lions. Lionesses to be exact. They were sitting on the high ground watching over a group of zebra, Impala and wilderbeast, who were around a water hole in the distance. Nestled into the long grass they were perfectly camouflaged. I only just saw them. Three large females and three younger females to the rear. They looked dangerously powerful. I was not getting out of my car!
    With Cats it seems it's all about waiting. At times they seemed very disinterested but mostly they were very focussed on the what was happening. At one stage as a group of wilderbeast ranged closer, they got really keen and one of the larger ones crept forward but still in cover. It was a stake out! I stayed there for a couple of hours but nothing changed. This Savannah game of cat and mouse is an end game! I was chuffed to hang with a lion hunting party.


    As I drove back for an overdue coffee I saw another large flock of ostrich grazing as well as another peculiar looking foraging bird which I think is a Southern ground Hornbill. The bird life around here is as abundant as the animals are. I've seen plenty of hornbill with red and orange curved beaks, as well as Kori Bustards as well as others I still have to I.D.


    I played hide and seek with a couple of giraffe as I reversed a couple of times to get in their path for a close up pic as they moved to cross the road. They eventually just sprinted around me but I got the pic. Another elephant crossing the road, and of course just springbok and wilderbeast all over the show.   
      It's just such a splendid experience.


      In the arvo I was chatting to an South African Afrikaner couple who were telling me how in their opinion, “the only good boer is a dead boer as far as the Black Africans are concerned”. I could see her point but other than doom and gloom she had little answer to how the situation could change. It was one of the few times I have come up against the hard line Afrikaner attitude. On the whole the Afrikaner Boers I have met here in Namibia have been very genuine in their desire for a positive outcome in this part of the world. I have really been adjusting my opinion, but it shows the hardline attitude still does exist in places. She was hard out criticising the African intellectual capacity, but really I was left questioning hers. It is a difficult situation. I was glad to slip back into the waterhole experience where we sit like an audience watching the play evolve in front of us, mere spectators.
    It was a suprise to meet a kiwi extended family touring Namibia and Botswana , but even more surprising was that the parents live in Parapara. I would never have found that out and met some new neighbours if I had obeyed the ‘Total Silence in the Temple of the Waterhole’ sign.


    Anyways the elephant has departed, the Waterhole stage is once again empty and the audience are drifting away. I think I can handle another day or two of this even with the hard as ground to sleep on. I still havnt seen the Leopard, and the African sunsets here are just beautifully long and amazing.

    P.s just after finishing this post, a Hyena ran through the undergrowth on the other side of the waterhole, there was a scream of an animal, then for the next hour or so loud chomping noises until I saw another hyena slink away with a bit of something in its mouth. The Hyena are busy.
    So the show does goes on….