Osaka by day
Osaka by day
Mar 082012

If you want to go on safari in Africa you have two choices: book it in advance or turn up and hope for the best.  The latter approach generally yields much better deals but demands some flexibility.  I researched some of the options ahead of time and the costs were downright scary.  We are talking well north of US$1000 for an 8-day tour!  To put that in perspective, that is roughly equivalent to our monthly budget!

Fortunately, our turn-up-and-see-what-happens approach worked out just fine.  On our first full day in Windhoek we visited a couple of tour agencies including the Cardboard Box Travel Shop where we learned about a tour that was departing in about four days.  Chad, the owner, would personally be leading the 8-day “participation safari” to some of Namibia’s headlining attractions.  Unlike the expensive tours, we’d be responsible for feeding ourselves, erecting/stowing the tents and loading the vehicle.  The itinerary included two nights in Etosha Park, a night in Damaraland, two nights in Swakopmund on the coast and finally two nights near the dunes at Sossousvlei.  Don’t worry if those names don’t mean anything, I’ll be writing about all of them in the coming posts!  I’ll also put together a budget summary for the safari in the final post on Namibia.

Namibia has some great roads
Namibia has some great roads

On the first day of the trip we made the 400km drive north from Windhoek to the southern entrance to Etosha.  The roads in Namibia were much better than we were expecting (Mongolia certainly altered my concept of what constitutes a bad road!) so we reached the park by mid afternoon.   As soon as we were through the gates we started to see the animals and lots of them there were.

Sometimes the birds dwarf the mammals!
Sometimes the birds dwarf the mammals!

Like many of the parks in Africa, Etosha is basically a huge fenced-in area.  The park is a little more than 22,000 km² which is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey but the wildlife is a bit more exciting!  The animals that live in the park roam freely, eat each other and do what wild animals do.  Water is the only thing that is provided to them by humans and this is because they are not able to migrate long distances in search of water as they would do in the wild.  The park staff drill boreholes to make small ponds for the animals.

Oryx (Gemsbok)
Oryx (Gemsbok)

Etosha is also the only game park in Africa where you can turn up in your personal vehicle (we saw people driving tiny VW’s!) and go on a self-guided safari.  The roads inside of the park are sealed and comparable to what you find in many national parks back home.  The rules are simple: stay on the roads and never get out of your car except at designated points.  I guess this makes sense considering you could very well end up as a tasty meal for one of the park’s residents.

A black rhino!
A black rhino!

There are a number of camps within the confines of Etosha.  We stayed at Okaukuejo lodge, a German-built camp dating back to 1901.  The facilities there include a luxury hotel, a campground, a swimming pool, a small airport and probably lots of other things I am forgetting.  We stayed in the campground but were treated to hot showers each evening and even running water at our campsite.

The best part of Okaukuejo was the adjacent watering hole.  Just a short walk from our campsite we could go sit and watch the activity at the watering hole behind the safety of a formidable fence and stone wall!  Sitting at the watering hole you have basically a nonstop parade of animals coming through.  At first there might be some giraffes awkwardly drinking from the pond (did you know they pass out if they keep their head down in the water too long?).  A short while later a pride of lions might come in for a drink and a nap while the lesser animals watch on cautiously with envy.  After they leave it could be rhinos, wildebeest, springbok, etc.  The parade goes on and on around the clock.  Amy and I both agreed that we could have spent days hanging around watching the action.

It took us a while to spot her!
It took us a while to spot her!

The main activity inside of the park is to go on game drives.  We completed a number of drives in the early morning and late afternoon when the animals are most active.  Chad had large modified Land Rover was perfectly suited for photography with huge windows.  Combine the vehicle with Chad’s uncanny ability to spot animals out in the bush and we had more than our share of animal sightings!  Be sure to check out the gallery below for many more photos from our time at Etosha.

Namibia – Etosha National Park
Beware of the warthogs!
Beware of the warthogs!
Namibia has some great roads
Namibia has some great roads
The group just outside of the camp ground at Okaukuejo
The group just outside of the camp ground at Okaukuejo
Kudu
Kudu
Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)
Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)
These springbok have figured out how to share the limited shade.
These springbok have figured out how to share the limited shade.
Springbok
Springbok
Red-Crested Korhaan
Red-Crested Korhaan
Jackel
Jackel
Sociable weavers - massive bird colonies
Sociable weavers – massive bird colonies
A black rhino!
A black rhino!
Etosha Pan
Etosha Pan
Cats and birds.  Both bigger in Africa.
Cats and birds. Both bigger in Africa.
Zebra crossing?
Zebra crossing?
The viewing area at the lodge's watering hole.
The viewing area at the lodge’s watering hole.
Black Rhino
Black Rhino
Helmeted guineafowl running for the water
Helmeted guineafowl running for the water
Oryx (Gemsbok)
Oryx (Gemsbok)
Southern Masked-Weaver?
Southern Masked-Weaver?
Kudu
Kudu
Helmeted Guineafowl
Helmeted Guineafowl
Looks like we aren't going to be continuing on this road.
Looks like we aren’t going to be continuing on this road.
Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)
Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)
Gemsbok (Oryx)
Gemsbok (Oryx)
A lone wildebeest listening to his radio
A lone wildebeest listening to his radio
Sometimes the birds dwarf the mammals!
Sometimes the birds dwarf the mammals!
Gemsbok (Oryx)
Gemsbok (Oryx)
The more vulnerable animals come out to drink in the light of day.
The more vulnerable animals come out to drink in the light of day.
Tuna sandwich.  I ate a few of those in Namibia.
Tuna sandwich. I ate a few of those in Namibia.
Acacia (also known as camelthorn)
Acacia (also known as camelthorn)
Jackel
Jackel
Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus)
Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus)
Jackels
Jackels
Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus)
Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus)
Cape Fox (Vulpes chama)
Cape Fox (Vulpes chama)
Mongoose
Mongoose
It took us a while to spot her!
It took us a while to spot her!

Sep 112011

Tusker.  That’s what the locals call Sri Lanka’s indigenous pachyderm.  Actually, the term refers only to the male tusk-bearing variety which make up a mere 6% of the population.  We learned that fact and many others on our evening visit to Minneriya National Park.

The park is located about an hour’s drive west of Polonnaruwa and you need 4WD to visit.  By Sri Lankan standards, visiting the park is by no means cheap.  We weren’t able to find any other tourists to accompany us in the jeep so we ended up paying the whole 4,500 rupee (US$41) ourselves.  Upon arrival in the park you are escorted into the visitor center to pay the 2,600 rupee (US$24) entrance fee per person.  Nearly $90 for a three hour tour is pretty expensive for our budget but we are glad we did it.

Sri Lanka’s elephants actually migrate around the island but our visit coincided with the time they spend in Minneriya.  They spend most of their day in the shade of the forest but come evening they move into the nearby grasslands and lakes and this is of course the best time to visit!

A slow and bumpy drive through the bush followed our brief stop at park HQ.  Eventually we broke out of the forest onto a huge open grassland with a small lake.  Off in the distance we could see elephants and lots of them!  Our driver took us pretty close to them but I noticed he always made sure he was ready to make a quick get-away (engine running, vehicle pointed away from the animals).  I suppose you don’t want an elephant to go after your jeep/livelihood!

When we arrived there were perhaps 50 but that number grew to close to 200 as the evening wore on.  Given that they all must eat about 10% of the body weight each day, you really start to get the picture as to how much space and resources these giants need.  The total population of elephants in Sri Lanka is estimated to be around 5,000 individuals and they are listed as an endangered species.  Habitat encroachment by humans in mostly to blame.

Watching them graze was particularly interesting.  They use their trunks, of course, but they don’t simply tear off grass and stuff it in their face.  They seemed to tear it off bit-by-bit and form a small pile of grass on their ground.  They also use their front feet to help break grass free from the ground.  All the while they are rolling around their slowly-growing pile of grass with their trunk.  Maybe they do this to get the dirt and sand out of it?  Our guide/driver’s English was insufficient to find out.

Another highlight was getting to watch the baby elephants.  There were two small ones that might have been twins who were constantly wrestling with each other.

Another even younger baby was keeping himself entertained by pulling the tails, ears and trunks of the adults around him.  He was surprisingly energetic considering his size but eventually he just collapsed and fell asleep.

Getting to see them in a wild setting was an excellent experience.  They are fascinating creatures and it’s a shame that they are such a threatened species.  Hopefully the funds they get from tourists like ourselves helps to keep parks like Minneriya up and running.

Minneriya Park
Rugged late 70's Misubishi jeep
Rugged late 70′s Misubishi jeep
Some bats hanging out in the information center
Some bats hanging out in the information center
Pea fowl
Pea fowl

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