Etosha National Park; In which the weather does not cooperate; Gemsbok, a caracal and finally, a rhino

Etosha is Namibia’s famous National Park, and tourists flock to it in droves every year, looking for the animals. For most of the year, the park’s pans - alkaline lakes - are dry salt flats, but now at the beginning of the rainy season, they’re beginning to flood. We arrived at Namutoni Camp in the east of the park around midday, and went out for a “game drive” after lunch. I call it a game drive, but I knew we weren’t going to see anything. It’s the rainy season, which means that water is everywhere and the animals aren’t forced to gather around the watering holes; it was afternoon, when nearly everything was hiding from the heat; and we were driving a gigantic, crashingly noisy truck which would terrify anything on four legs. I was unfortunately proved right. All we really saw were herd animals, which are too stupid to be scared, and giraffes, who are too curious. We did see two new animals, though - a big hoofed thing with a striped face called a gemsbok, and a little ginger wildcat with tufted ears called a caracal. But Etosha’s landscape is very cool and well worth the time spent driving around just in itself.

Later in the evening after dinner, we were treated to a spectacular lightning storm on every horizon, and a couple of little jackals wandering through the camp. They’re really just like little wild dogs. I say wild, but as an experiment I called one and it came almost to my hand and then lay down and panted at me. I could probably have patted it with a little more persuasion, but there are limits to even my stupidity - and presuming upon the goodwill of jackals is outside them, if only just. The morning and afternoon of the next day were taken up with game drives too, with the eventual aim of reaching Okakuejo Camp at the western end of the park. We didn’t see an awful lot of animals, besides the usual zebra and other herd animals. There was an ostrich family, though - I’ve never seen young ostriches before, they’re even uglier than their parents. Oh, and a small group of lions all crammed into the same tiny patch of shade under the only tree to be seen for kilometres around.

Lightning storm in Etosha, Namibia

The real drawing point of Okakuejo Camp isn’t that it’s the oldest camp in the park (it is) or the best appointed (it’s not), but rather the watering hole. Like Namutoni, it’s floodlit and has seating all around a stone wall which rings it at a 50m distance, but it’s a better view, with fewer obstruction like reeds and things. Sheryl and I waited there from 7:30 in the evening until 11:30 without seeing anything beside a jackal, a bat, and one tortoise. The bugs were hugely annoying and we were just on the verge of giving up when a rhino appeared. We’d missed out on seeing any rhinos in any of the four game parks we’d visited previously, and it was the only one of the so-called Big Five that we hadn’t yet seen (the others being lion, leopard, elephant and water buffalo) so we were very happy to see him. He was a big Black Rhino. He came into the floodlights quietly and sidled up to the waterhole, had a couple of big drinks and then a bath, scratched himself all over on a tree stump, and then ambled off into the dark again.

Sunset at the waterhole; Okakuejo, Etosha, Namibia

Sheryl and I thought about staying up later, but we reckoned that our main reason for coming had been satisfied, and anyway it was starting to rain, so we went off to bed. Later we talked to some people who had stayed up all night, and they said there’d been another rhino (or the same one) and hour afterward, and then nothing for the rest of the night, so we definitely made the right decision.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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