African safari journal – one year ago – never get tired of the elephants

June 19, 2019 — We got our cold weather yesterday, up at 5 am for the morning game drive. Camp Kipwe wasn’t cold. I’d assumed it might be at night, knowing the wide temperature fluctuations you get in the desert and judging by the heavy blankets the resort laid on the bed. But it remained warm all night and it felt like the mid-60s at breakfast and when we set out on the drive. But it quickly got colder as we went across the desert – into a different micro-climate? – and the wind whipped through the open safari truck. We drove for more than an hour down relatively smooth dirt roads, rough dirt roads, and rutted desert landscape – more African massage – until we found a dozen elephants.

Even though we’ve seen literally more than a hundred elephants so far, this was worth it. These were desert adapted elephants, of which only about 600 remain here, with longer legs and broader feet. We got pretty close, a dozen or so yards, and saw a mother with her baby, including breastfeeding, and two immature males play fighting, locking tusks and tossing their heads around.

On the way back we stopped for coffee in the middle of a flat sandy desert plain, nearly devoid of visible life other than ourselves, with irregular notched mountains in the distance. The temperature got up to the 80s or 90s by then.

We were really surprised by this heat. We were expecting more of the same, even colder, temps in the 30s or 40s first thing in the morning, and 70ish in the hottest part of the day. Instead, it’s hot and the sun is bright, the kind of weather that makes you want to stay inside in the a/c bxack home. Fortunately we’re prepared, with clothes for any temperature from 40 degrees to 100 degrees. (After that, clothing won’t help you.)

I wonder what the temperature is at home. No internet means no way to find out.

At lunch, we decided to skip the afternoon activity and just take the rest of the day as a down day. This was a comfortable spot for it. We’d once again been upgraded to a suite, with comfortable chairs. We had a good nap – those 5 and 6 am wake up calls add up, combined with long, leisurely dinners that start at 7 pm. After nap, I had a shower, which was lovely, as our African schedule has allowed me only three or four of those per week.

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We woke up this morning for breakfast at Okonjima Lunxury Bush Camp and were driven to Okonjima Airstrip by Gabriel, the manager of the resort, a South African with a nicer four-wheel drive vehicle than the others we’ve ridden in. He told us that he ran the place with his wife Sarah, a Canadian, who we’d met previously. The staff is, as Julie surmised, all men. He said that started by coincidence, but they kept hiring men and turning away women because that meant they did not need separate housing. Also, no maternity leave, ha ha. Other than institutional sexism, Gabriel was a pleasant fellow, and told us about difficulties running a resort in Namibia. Hard to find supplies, businesses close at lunch, no Internet access, to name three.

We took another small plane, big enough for eight passengers but with the seats taken out and only me and Julie riding. We encountered moderate turbulence over the mountains. I’m doing much better with that; I still don’t like it but my brain continues to function. I keep my eyes open and concentrate on looking at the horizon; I think I read that somewhere. Also, while there are no handgrips in the plane, I gripped the bottom of the seat with one hand, which was helpful. No big deal. We landed at Twyfelfontein Airstrip after 50 minutes, a smooth landing. Our pilot, Nick, bid us farewell.

As was the case at most of our other stops, our guide greeted us at the airstrip. As with most of our other stops, he will be our guide for the duration of our stay. His name was Festus, and over the course of our first few hours together, he revealed an encyclopedic knowledge of natural history, including botany, zoology, geology and anthropology – I was interested to learn from Festus that there had been a recent discovery of a new human ancestor, Homo Namibius, placed between Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus, at about 3.5 million years before present, if Festus recalled correctly. He knows African and Namibian history, and he served us a tasty lunch of beef schnitzel, green salad with feta cheese, and fresh fruit, along with fresh water, with soft drinks available but not requested. The schnitzel, along with apple strudel at dinner, is a byproduct of Namibian’s colonial history, it was a colony of Germany.

Twyfelfontein proved to be another hotbox, and Festus drove us through the desert for two hours in heat I estimate at 90 or even 100 degrees, and me wearing hiking boots and medium-weight cargo pants. The desert is even more austere and beautiful than Okonjima, all khaki and a few hardy plants and animals, with flat plains stretching off to abrupt mountains.

And now we are at Hoanib Valley Camp in Kaokoveld, which is in the middle of the desert, surrounded on several sides by khaki mountains and abutting a broad plain of desert life. The camp is about a half-dozen guest tents, with a big common area for meals and relaxing, with coffee, tea, wine and treats on tap. The food and service are impeccable, as at nearly every place we’ve visited on our trip. We have the Honeymoon Tent, with a big broad king-size bed, linen sheets, a small writing table on which I’m writing this journal entry, and a living area with couch, table and chairs, and front deck beyond, with chairs, looking over the desert. Like Camp Xakanaxa, it’s basically a lovely hotel room inside a tent.

The manager, TJ, showed us around the tent, including the shower, which has a steel bucket in one corner. He said he expected we encountered that arrangement before, but we had not. He explained that the bucket is a water conservation measure. When the shower starts and runs cold, you run it into the bucket. When you add hot water and have the temperature the way you like it, you push the bucket aside and shower normally. The maids come in and use the water from the bucket to clean the floors.

Hoanib Valley Camp has WiFi, and the electricity runs 24x7. The WiIf is slow but functions. I’ve got my iPad plugged in and am uploading photos to the cloud.

(Click the photos for a bigger view)


View from our tent at Hoanib Valley Lodge.


Our shower at Hoanib Valley Lodge. The bucket is for water conservation.


Nice bathroom at Hoanib Valley Lodge.


Our tent at Hoanib Valley Lodge.


These little birds hopped up on the table and begged for treats at Camp Kipwe. The waiter scolded Julie for feeding them. The staff’s attitude at Camp Kipwe contributed to this being not our favorite place in Africa, despite the camp itself being lovely.


Panoramic photo of the desert. That’s Julie next to the truck.

🌍📓

Mitch Wagner @MitchWagner