Africa journal – one year ago – spectacular leopard encounter

June 17, 2019 [Note from 2020: Overlap here with yesterday’s entry. I’m repeating myself.] We arrived at Windhoek in Namibia two days ago, after a commercial flight of less than two hours, and were greeted outside customs by Antone, who put us in an enclosed VW van with air conditioning and car seats. He drove us through Windhoek, a relatively new city 29 years old [Note from 2020: That’s what Antone said. Wikipedia says it’s about a century older], the capital of Namibia and apparently a commercial center as well. Antone told us that Windhoek grew up as a crossroads between other major Namibian cities and for its proximity to mines. Because Namibia is surrounded by mountains, the airport is 38 km out of town. We drove out of town, stopping at a Shell service center that seemed a little sketchy, though it was clean and well stocked and I suspect that if I were to ever find myself living and working in Windhoek, that service center would be a place I’d stop for gas and coffee and a snack and never think twice about it. [Note from 2020: It looked like an ordinary American or British highway rest stop. These moments of sheer normality were dissonant on our trip. Almost everything was so alien.]

It was a 3.5 hour drive to our camp, which was frankly too much.

The Okonjima Bush Camp turns out to be inside the Okonjima Game Reserve, which is owned by the Africat big cat rehab center. We stayed in a spacious private round lodge, with a simulated hut motif and what appeared to be stone walls. The lodge was separated in half by a partial wall, with the bathroom facility on the opposite side of the beds. The shower was open.

Opposite the beds, a picture window with two comfortable chairs overlooked a desert plain, beautifully silver lit by moonlight at night.

A separate round building with a thatch roof was a sitting room, with chaise lounges and an open wall overlooking the plain. The wall had a two-foot ledge separating the room from the outside plain. The sitting room is equipped with a jar of birdseed and a small flock of guinea hens comes hopping over for treats when we come into the room, like the dog and cats at home gathering for feeding.

(Click the photos for a bigger view)

We were feted by the staff for Julie’s 70th birthday and our 25th anniversary. The staff came out and sang in African harmonies and brought champagne and fruit and chocolate. We already had sparkling wine in the car from the travel company, so that’s a lot of bubbly. And we have had similar birthday celebrations from other places we’ve stayed. We met a few nice couples at the lodge, and had dinner with one, Becky and Anthony from Leceistershire, England, who have been on many safaris previously, including to Namibia. We had dinner with them and split the wine.

We had spectacular success on our game drives. On our first morning, yesterday, we went to the big cat rehabilitation center, and learned about the work they do there. We saw a few cheetahs in a fenced in reserve.

In the evening we went out in search of leopards. Danny, our guide, had a handheld radio antenna like a capital “I” with broad top and bottom, attached to a device that looked like a walkie talkie. That was used to detect the cats’ radio collars. We located a big, 12-year-old male sleeping on the side of a large riverbed. We watched a while to see if he would get up but he did not. Still, the experience was interesting and we saw a few other animals and birds and stuff so we were satisfied.

On the way to our sundowner drinks Danny caught another signal and so we abandoned sundowners and went in search of more leopards. And we scored big.

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First we found a half-grown leopard cub gnawing on part of a baboon carcass on the side of the river. Then its mother came from across the river, with another cub about the same age. A brown hyena stalked the smell of the carrion, and came slowly down the riverbed, but thought better of the project when it saw three leopards, and retreated with its fur all bristly to look more threatening. Somewhere along the way, the first leopard cub retreated to the top of a dead tree, taking the baboon carcass with it, and it gnawed on the carcass from up there,sometimes letting it dangle, playing with its food.

This whole process played out over the course of an hour or so, and was very exciting.

This morning we went out and used the same radio mechanism to locate several white rhinos. We tracked them quietly on foot for the last part of the expedition.

Then at 1:15 or so our guide drove us to the local airstrip – why didn’t we fly in there in the first place, rather than drive? Compared with some of the airstrips we saw in Botswana, this was elaborate, with a hangar and a small waiting area, a two-room rectangular structure with glass sliding doors, the interior of which looked like it had been transported from an office building in a big city. It was decorated with flying memorabilia.

Our plane was an eight-passenger prop driven Kodiak, and we got to our next destination in 35 minutes.

Getting out of the plane was quite a contrast. Okonjima was a scrub desert, with lots of thorn bushes and other dark green foliage, much like home in San Diego. Temperatures were about 40 degrees F in the morning – I needed my puffy jacket and hat and midweight pants and wished I had gloves too – to barely 70 in the hottest part of the day.

Our current location, Twyfelfontein, is hardcore desert, a flat plain of khaki colored sand punctuated by hardy shrubs each a few dozen yards from the other, and big piles of rocks dozens of feet high, with mountains off of the distance in every direction like a backdrop. The sun was bright and the temperature topped 90, maybe even topped 100. And me still in my heavy fleece, which I ditched quickly.

We took one of the ubiquitous khaki colored trucks, with comfortable seats mounted in the bed, to Camp Kipwe, our home for the next two nights. The camp comprises the usual cabins with a hut motif, built into stacks of boulders on the side of a hill. I have sworn off of my usual media pop culture references for the duration of this trip, but if I had not done that I would say this place reminds me of the Flintstones, whereas Okonjima reminded me of Gilligan’s Island. It’s beautiful and luxurious here, and we have the suite, at the highest point in camp, with a bedroom and living room, and open walls overlooking the spectular desert vistas. Even the bathroom has specatulcuar views of the desert; from the toilet I can see a beautiful plain.

As ever, the food is delicous, though all we’ve had to eat so far is a couple of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches done up for our late arrival, along with small green side salads.

On a housekeeping note: Apparently we may not have laundry this stop. And us sweating in the heat. I don’t think anyone will be offended. Also, I decided for the first time to convert my convertible pants, which I have resisted doing until now because it seemed like getting the legs back on might be a hassle. Why have convertible pants if you don’t convert them?

Also, no Internet here whatsoever for two days. We’ve had good internet in Okonjma; I got to upload photos to the cloud and update Flickr. OK internet in Johannesburg, as you’d expect at an airport and airport hotel. Bad and unusable internet in Botswana. but now two days without Internet whatsoever.

Sundowner in a few minutes, then dinner. Tomorrow we’re up at 5 am for a game drive and visit to some interesting archeological formations and ancient bushman wall decorations. As with the other places we’ve stayed, other than Chobe, we have a nice long break in the early afternoon to regroup. Then we’re off to our next location the day after tomorrow.

I can feel we are on the downhill side of our African holiday.

🌍📓

Mitch Wagner @MitchWagner