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African Adventure Part Seven: Waterberg, Etosha, Shitemo

Passed the petrified forrest (several actually) on the way to Waterberg, and hiked. Continued on to the Etosha National Park for three days safari, and finished at Rainbow River Logde near the boarder to Botswana.

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Petrified Forrest to Waterberg

Your restful morning was made in no way peaceful by the early-leaving cattle trucks. It would - and should - have been an empty and calm desert scene there without them, but never mind. You left camp on this cloudy and not particularly warm morning for the Official Petrified Forrest: a large collection of petrified trees unearthed by rain. Last year there had been significant rainfall in Namibia and this unearthed many more petrified forests, so it was quite hard finding the Official one amongst the Best, Biggest, Longest and Prettiest Petrified Forests. The Oficial Petrified Forest was state-run and seemed far less shifty than the others. It offered guided tours with stories told by locals. Your guide was a well-weathered middle aged man with a walking stick. He explained the trees were between 260 and 270 million years old and came from central Africa. He also told you a lot about Welwitschas - 2cm anual growth in good conditions, male / female plant distinction, root system, etc. - and about the area, which was far more interesting to hear from him than some travel guide. Inside the reception building there were various souvenirs for sale made by locals and taged with made by labels; all sales were made on behalf of the craftsperson and profits sent back to them. You found yourself some salt and pepper shakers made from giraffe bone (you clarified that) to take home. Nice!

You decided for a tiny detour along the road to see Fingerklip Mountain. It was nice to see but not really impressive enough to both walking through the bush to see up close. In the area were people cutting and collecting grass by hand, perhaps for cattle feed of roofing materials. On the way back to the road you passed some of the largest termite towers you've ever seen!

You drove to Khorixas for petrol (finally rejoining sealed roads), stopped in Otjo for cash and went shopping in Otijwarongo, where you refused to pay a security guard for watching the vehicle. The countryside was progressively becoming greener, at first with sparse tufts of grass and then later trees and eventually forrest. You drove towards Waterberg and suddenly there were bugs and birds everywhere! All of a sudden, and with a little change in the colour of the countryside, there were animals everywhere. Your tachometer totaled 4704km upon finding your camping spot in the forrest at the base of the mountain plateau.

Before setting up camp, you went for a hike up the mountain. Hiking is not generally a comfortable activity in the desert during the day, but the shade from the trees made it nicer. There were bugs and beetles crawling and flying all over the place, which was kinda distracting while trekking up the not especially well maintained trails. It felt rough, but better for it because it felt more natural. Along the way was a group of Rock Dassies - you still have trouble believing they're related to elephants - and a really colourful bug of some kind. From there looking up at the plateau's vertical rockface illuminated by the afternoon sun it looked as if painted by the various lichen growths, bird poo and mineral accumulations. You and you lovely lady hiked to the top and back, every now and then stopping to watch a giant beetle try clumsily scrambling over the rocks and falling off edges with a noticeable *tock* sound as they landed / crashed.

You visited the pool in the afternoon and amused yourself spotting the sunburnt tan lines of the whiteys, and made you way back to camp. You showered while dinner cooking - steak and corn cobs cooked over an open fire BBQ - to the focused interest of a large Meercat family. They were determined to act cute enough to be fed, but there were signs warning guests not to for fear of domestication, so all they got from you was the rest of your hanging bag shower water. As soon as you let it rain the meercats ran over and started drinking and playing in the water; it seemed like a real treat for them. After the shower had dried up and they realised that begging was getting them nowhere, they went back to digging and playing around their dusty burrows. Your evening ended with some Tall Horse South African wine.

Depart Waterberg

There were a lot of flies buzzing around in the morning; it was just like home. While spying on some nearby Dik Diks you had baby pineapple for breakfast, and the went for another short hike. Along the path were some tiny black bear-like animals that looked like very fluffy ferrets, but of course they made tracks as soon as you came close enough to take a photo. A less camera-shy creature was the Velvet Mite you found. He was willing (or more likely unwilling with no alternative) to be photographed, and even be brought back to camp for a full photo session with lighting (torch) and all!

Etosha Day 1

On the way out there were hoards of baboons bouncing about near the roads, accompanied by the occasional warthog family. It was time to head north for your next adventure in the Etosha National Park. You had three days of safari planned, during which there were high hopes to see some big cats. At the gate you received a tip there was a lion pride just ahead at the first waterhole. Lions are exciting too see for the first time for the first five minutes, and then you realise how lazy and boring the bastards really are. If you're lucky one lion will lift their head and then flop back down again. Because it'd been raining there was little benefit in guarding the waterholes (a means of hunting) because there was water everywhere and other animals were no longer limited to one spot. As such, there was no action whatsoever on the lions-going-hunting front. Boo!

There were quite a few giraffes wandering about - being signs of water and all - which only became more fascinating over time. You see, giraffes never learn they need to straddle and bend their knees to drink; they first dip their heads, realise they can't make it and then try again with a different stance. They look utterly spastic, as if they were never designed to go that low. You passed camp and found your spot for some cucumber salad and too much watermelon, then headed out again for an afternoon safari near Fairy Forest. There wasn't much there, only a fenced-off area to protect some trees from elephants. On the way back you found a stranded safari tour in need of a tyre iron. You came to the rescue - conveniently ignoring the strictdo not leave your car rule - and were rewarded with an insider tip to check a certain waterhole. There was nothing there appart from a few zebras (*pfft*, how passé), wild dogs and crows, so you played battleship for an hour waiting for something to wander by.

After an hour waiting and an approximately even battleship score you gave up and turned back to camp. On the way back some ominous clouds rolled in. Before you knew it, you were enveloped in mist and couldn't see much of anything until a lost-looking hyena crossed you path. This hyena sighting was already impressive for such an otherwise uneventful day, but when you came across two black rhinos (mother and child) that topped everything!

Since it was still raining you had dinner in your tent, which amused your neighbor so much he took a photo. This was perhaps the first time you'd been chatty with fellow camping friends; up until now they've all just been too close, noisy or somehow just annoying. That night you watched a mexican standoff between some elephants and a pair of rhinos at the camp's floodlit waterhole, while a tiny gecko on the retaining wall was unsure of what to do with the bugs bigger than him flying about - he somehow looked scarred: help, my dinner is bigger than me!

Etosha Day 2

The howling hyenas, unlike the cattle trucks, didn't actually keep you awake at night. Rather the howling just helped to saturate your in Africa feeling. You departed camp for the next few waterholes but the most interesting part was actually the driving between. Along the road were many puddles to drive through, and lots of active animals to see. However, if you stopped to look at any for too long they'd turn and show you their backsides - you suspected this was on purpose to ruin photos. You had begun to suspect One stop was on the mud pan itself - normally covered with a thin water layer, where the pink flamingoes come to breed - which was nothing but an endless smelly wasteland without its migratory birds. None the less, you had an enormous amount of fun doing doughnuts and power-drifts with the 4x4 on the slippery mud. The car looked and smelt abominable afterwards but it was worth it!

The next camp had a pool so you went for a laze on a poolside deckchair. As active as this holiday was (in respect to distance), it sure felt relaxed at times. You left camp to check the Goas waterhole where you found four lazy lions and three thirsty giraffes. Some antelope thought about approaching the waterhole which was almost exciting until they decided against on better judgement it and left. You played battleship on a notepad and ate dinner in the car until it started raining and the lions left. The sunset back at the camp's waterhole was breathtaking but no animals came past. Thunderstorms and heavy rain battered your roof-top tent all night.

Etosha Day 3

With you phone set to Swiss time getting up early to watch sunrise at the camp's waterhole didn't quite work as planned. You drove east back to Goas, still having a ball with all the puddles until you saw a turtle in one and decided to avoid them from now on. There were some rhinos on the move, some more giraffes here and there but nothing outstanding on the way to the next camp. Here you did some washing, because you dirtied yourself ever time you go in or out of the bloody muddy 4x4, and soaked your cloths in mosquito repellent - you'd be entering malaria regions soon. As a general hint to travelers: don't boil water over an open fire - it takes hours - use gas instead. Subsequently your pasta was kinda cooked. You went to Okavi waterhole and saw some turtles, to Dik Dik Drive and saw some young Springboks and a vulture, to Klein Namutoni and saw some zebras and giraffes, and then went back to Okavi but didn't see any leopards. The only interesting thing were the centipedes on the road - huge buggers!

That night you watched for wildlife at the next camp's waterhole but there were only bugs flying about the floodlights. You bought and tried a packet of BBQ Steak Pringles which tasted like goat. Try everything once you guess. That night it rained again. You heard dripping, thinking it was inside the tent but you couldn't find any leaks.

Etosha Day 4, Rundu, Shitemo, Rainbow River Lodge

It was still raining when you woke up so you waited 30 minutes until it dies down. You went to the three closest waterholes but only saw some birds, gnus and zebras, so after breakfast in the car you decided it was time to leave. You departed for Tsumeb - 3rd largest town in Namibia - for petrol and general shopping, where the lady at the checkout didn't seem to want to serve you. Racist? You drove to the Hoba Meteorite, which is the largest metallic meteorite to have landed on earth. Outside reception was a black lady enthusiastically spraying the ground with insect poison; the whole building and the surrounding paths were under siege from bitey ants with huge pincers. The little bastards ran at you as soon as your foor touched the ground at every step along the way to the meteorite, so you kinda danced your way there. It was a big metal block and it looked like people had tried shaving corners off. There was enough of it not to worry. On the way back there was a fat white guy doing the oh-shit-bitey-ants! dance. You were amused.

You continued along the B8 towards Rundu (wasn't that a town in The Lengend of Zelda 2?) and saw the first actual food-producing farms in Namibia. It seemed anywhere further south couldn't support farming crops from lack of water. You drove along passing many straw hut villages, a few school zones with 90km/h speed limits, and then passed a sign... wait a minute! Did that just say...? You made a u-turn and drove back for a minute or so to discover the greatest place name in Africa: Shitemo. It is an actual, real place on the boarder between Namibia and Angola.

A few police checkpoints later you arrived at the Rainbow River Lodge. The owner bred birds and had a collection near reception which you looked at while he told you to be careful of hippos. There was apparently a male hippo who snored at night, but all you could hear was the buzzing of a thousand mosquitoes trying to penetrate you net.